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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living Penniless by Choice

Recently, Sarah Weir, a writer for Yahoo! Financially Fit, reported on a story of a woman who voluntarily chooses to live without money. Could you go sixteen years without spending any cash? That's how long 69-year-old Heidemarie Schwermer (photo), an Austrian grandmother of three, has lived without any dinero! Schwermer's journey to live without cash is the subject of a documentary film, Living Without Money, by director Line Halvorsen, which is screening internationally and will soon be available on DVD.

In 1996, Heidemarie, a former schoolteacher and psychotherapist, decided to try to live without money for a year as an experiment. As a child she had experienced deep deprivation as a refugee fleeing from Russian forces during World War II. Her family had escaped what was then East Prussia and ended up in Germany "penniless." She has always felt a sense of compassion and empathy for the homeless community that live in the city of Dortmund where she settled as an adult.

Two years before she began living completely without money, Schwermer had opened a swap shop where people could barter services and goods. It was such a success it gave her the confidence to take the leap of quitting her job, giving away all of her possessions except what could fit into a single suitcase and backpack, and moving out of her rental home. According to the Austrian Times, Schwermer says she "had become irritated by the greedy consumer society" she was witnessing.

She acknowledges that her friends were confused and her two grown daughters were initially shocked (she says they now accept her lifestyle). Schwermer lived nomadically, trading gardening, cleaning, and even therapy sessions for food and a place to sleep. She found it liberating: "Living without money gave me quality of life, inner wealth, and freedom."
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