Sometimes, life gives a person unexpected turns in order to lead them down the path they belong on. This happened to one courageous and innovative woman, who saw the need for change in the world. This observation motivated her to seek a change in her life as well. Her name is Heidemarie Schwermer and in 1997, she decided to make the drastic decision of living without money.
Jilted by a divorce and the sole provider for her two children, Schwermer packed up her charges and moved to Dortmund in Germany. She was a seasoned teacher at the local school, but her destiny pulled her in a different direction.
In Dortmund, Schwermer noticed the large and steadily increasing population of homeless people on the streets. This prompted her to begin a career as a psychotherapist. The desire within her to help other people was all- consuming and it pushed her to make certain decisions. She considered the meaning of happiness and how to obtain and sustain it. These were the first inklings of what would become her monumental experiment that sprung in her book, Das Sterntalerexperiment: Mein Leben Ohne Geld, roughly translated in English as “The Sterntaler Experiment: My Life without Money”.
Schwermer established what became known as a swap shop, called “Give and Take.” It was an organization that operated on terms of exchange. Not a cent has been used in any exchange, but instead patrons could trade items and even skills for things they need. Her tiny shop was the first of its kind in Germany, and it harvested a lot of attention because never before had people seen this type of trading in modern times. Give and Take created opportunities for the homeless and undervalued population to get the resources they needed at no monetary cost.
With the shop gaining attraction, Schwermer found herself at a crossroads. She was trying to solidify bridges between homelessness and happiness. Schwermer conceptualize giving and taking on a larger scale. She was attempting to find a middle ground that allowed for a place in society without completely isolating the homeless population and configuring the real worth attached to money.
Schwermer knew the value of money because of her upbringing. Her family rose to a comfortable position of wealth after facing devastating poverty. The problem of hunger and never having enough was an issue when her family was poor, but once the money came, Schwermer never found herself truly happy. She always felt the need to compensate, feeling like an impostor in a financially stable world. Schwermer had insight to both worlds and saw money as the culprit. So, she gave it up.
For twenty-two years, Heidemarie Schwermer has lived without money. She adapted her life to that of a nomad, doing chores for accommodations and trading goods for necessities. What started out as a yearlong experiment became a new found lifestyle. Heidemarie Schwermer has inspired people to reevaluate their values and discover what makes them happy.
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