A new documentary titled “Living Without Money” details the life of Heidemarie Schwermer, a self-described “peace pilgrim” who 16 years ago decided to quit her psychotherapy job, stop using money, sell most of her possessions, and depend on “miracles” (i.e. charity) for sustenance.
"I noticed less and less that I needed money," she told Business Insider in a phone interview. "I didn't want to go back to my old life."
The first step Schwermer took in the cash-free direction was in 1994 when she started "Give And Take Central," Germany's first exchange (i.e. barter) circle.
She became interested in her current lifestyle as a young child when her family fled from Prussia to Germany during World War II. One moment her father was a successful businessman and her family lived well, the next moment they had nothing.
"We were well-off but ended up as riff-raff," she says.
And although her father was able to start over again with another successful business, Schwermer felt there was something wrong with the way she lived.
"We became rich again and (we) had to defend it. I've always had to justify myself, whether we were rich or poor," she said.
Years after this childhood experience, when she was in her 50's, Schwermer decided that she wanted to see what it would be like to live cash-free. What was supposed to be a simple 12-month experiment eventually turned into a 16-year long lifestyle.
“For all intents and purposes, you could call Schwermer homeless. She has no permanent address and drifts between lodgings, spending no longer than a week at each,” BI’s Mandi Woodruff writes.
In fact, there are moments in “Living Without Money” where you can see her foraging for leftovers at open air markets, offering shopkeepers cleaning services in return for food, and traveling from place to place with little more than a suitcase.
"I see a lot of miracles in my daily life. For example, in the beginning I found food. I thought about things and then I found them in the street or people came to bring them to me," Schwermer says. "I think these miracles happen because of our thoughts."
Oh, by the way, when she says “miracles,” she means “charity.”
“She's a light packer. When seasons change, she gives away old clothing and waits for new ones to come along. When they do -- usually donated by hosts or friends -- she calls them 'miracles', rather than charity,” Woodruff writes.
But don’t call her homeless!
"You cannot compare me to other homeless people," she says. "They are not well-liked and invited into people's homes."
"I'm always thinking about how I could make things better for life in the world," she says. "I am something like a peace pilgrim. I go from house to house sharing my philosophy.”
What is her philosophy?
"I think it's necessary to see that we are all from one fountain and that the whole world is one organism. We are little cells and we have to work together," she said.
Heidemarie Schwermer (image courtesy livingwithoutmoney.org
Say what you want about her cashless-drifter-we're-all-part-of-one-organism-lifestyle, but people love to hear her talk about it.
“Her schedule is pretty strict. After a week, she's off to somewhere new, usually running the lecture circuit at speaking engagements around Europe and lately helping to promote her documentary,” Woodruff writes.
“The only payment she accepts, however, is enough to cover her train fare,” she adds.
Needless to say, when she first got the cashless-drifter idea into her head, her family wasn't exactly thrilled. Oh, yeah, we should have mentioned that: she has two adult children and three grandchildren. Because of her constantly being on the move, she only sees a couple of times a year. But she says they eventually warmed up to her lifestyle.
"Now they're proud of what I'm doing. It's enough for us," she says.
Apparently, it’s her friends who are the most critical of her “come-and-go” lifestyle. They regularly offer to let her stay longer than she plans (sometimes even permanently), but she always refuses.
"There are so many people who are lonely and they like to have friends at their side," she says. "But I say no because I can't. I feel that I must go. It's always my job to be in the world with people."
She has written three books and donates all the royalties to charities. She also gives away her pension.
Front page photo source: livingwithoutmoney.org