As we move closer to a cashless society, some consumers are quietly challenging the idea of money in the first place––by giving it up completely.
Daniel Suelo, 50, traded his nine-to-five for dumpster diving and a cozy cave in Utah’s canyonlands back in 2000.
But before Suelo, there was Germany native Heidemarie Schwermer.
When she was in her early 50s, Schwermer wanted to see what it’d be like to leave her cushy job as a psychotherapist and live money-free.
Sixteen years later, she hasn’t looked back.
“I noticed less and less that I needed money,” she told BI by phone from Hamelin, Germany. “I didn’t want to go back to my old life.”
Her fascination with finding an alternative way of life goes back to her childhood. WWII refugees, Schwermer’s family fled from Prussia to Germany in the 1940s. Her father had owned a successful coffee roastery and kept a nanny and full-time gardener on his payroll. Then they lost everything.
“We were well-off but ended up as riff-raff,” she says.
Once her father was able to start over with a tobacco company, cash started pouring in again. But she still found herself at odds with their lifestyle: “We became rich again and (we) had to defend it. I’ve always had to justify myself, whether we were rich or poor.”
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. Most of her hosts are acquaintances she makes at the speaking engagements she travels to across the country. Others are long-time friends.
In a documentary made about her life, “Living Without Money”, she’s seen foraging for leftover produce at fresh air markets and trading a shopkeeper a few hours of cleaning services in return for food. She often receives clothing from friends, donating what she doesn’t have room for in the small suitcase she carts from home to home.
But she bristles at comparisons to the homeless, explaining that she sees herself in a much different light.
“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.”
“I am something like a peace pilgrim. I go from house to house sharing my philosophy.”
Part of that philosophy requires her to put a lot of faith in the unknown. Other than the small notebook she uses to keep track of her scheduled speaking engagements and housing arrangements, most of her plans are left to fate.
“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,” she explains. “I think these miracles happen because of our thoughts.”
When seasons change, she gives away whatever clothing she has and waits for new items to come along. Most are given by hosts and friends she meets along the way.
The road wasn’t always easy. With two adult children and three grandchildren, Schwermer admits her family wasn’t exactly on board when she pitched the idea. She now sees them only a few times per year, but says they eventually warmed up to her come-and-go lifestyle.
“Now they’re proud of what I’m doing. It’s enough for us,” she says.
Although she never had plans to go public with her life, after a German book publisher pushed her to put pen to paper, Schwermer relented. The latest of three books on her journey, “Seeing Miracles In Life Without Money,” will be released this summer in Germany. As with its predecessors, all her royalties will go to the various charitable groups she supports.
“Now, more and more young people want to change something in their lives and often they don’t know what they can change,” she says. “I changed something in my life.”
Despite the legion of fans that have followed her for years, Schwermer has met her fair share of critics. After a trainwreck appearance on Italian talk show RAI TV, she stopped doing television interviews (in one taping, a host actually rifled through her suitcase).
More often than not, however, it’s her friends who become frustrated with her come-and-go lifestyle. She’s turned down many invitations to extend her visits, including offers to stay permanently.
“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.”
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