Could you live without cash - for 16 years?!

euro coinsHans Wiedl/DPA/Press Association Images

Heidemarie Schwermer, a 69 year-old from Hamlin, Germany, has lived for the last 16 years without money. This was no accident - she was earning a good living as a psychiatrist when she decided to give it all up. She sold everything, and has since lived without any material wealth.

She says it has made her far happier, but what do you think?

Her story

Schwermer's story has been reported by Business Insider. Her background was turbulent. Her family had a privileged life in Prussia and employed staff to help ease their life of luxury. However, all that came to an end in 1939 with the outbreak of war, when her family fled to Germany. They endured years of hardship while Schwermer was a little girl, until her father built up a new business and the years of privilege returned.

However, the family wealth never sat easily with her after those hard years. She started on her path towards a cash-free life by setting up an exchange circle 'Give and Take Central' where people could trade skills and time for other skills or goods.

Shortly after that she decided to spend a year living without money - after a friend asked her to house-sit and she realised she could go cash-free. She told the publication: "I noticed less and less that I needed money. I didn't want to go back to my old life."


Since then Schwermer has lived with friends, foraged for food, worn hand-me-downs and cast-offs and worked by lecturing about her lifestyle - although she refuses payment and just asks for travel to be covered. Sometimes she swaps food and accommodation for work - sometimes she accepts them as gifts or uses those things that others discard.

She has written three books about her lifestyle - with profits donated to charity, and says that she has found happiness as a 'pilgrim' travelling the world and sharing her philosophy. She told the publication: "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."

Is she right?

She has her critics. There are those who argue that being homeless and living off the kindness of friends - who presumably have to work and earn money in order to offer her their generosity - is not the same as being a 'pilgrim'.

However, you can also argue that it's the rest of us that have a skewed view of the importance of owning things. Kim Stephenson, creator of, highlights that our drive to accumulate isn't reasoned or logical, it's genetic: "Basically people are hunter-gatherers. Status and hierarchy is seen as particularly important in this sort of group. It used to be that if you were the best hunter or the best at finding food you would be seen as a more attractive mate. Now we tend to judge people by the stuff we have."

He adds: "People think that if they collect a lot of stuff it will make them happy, but that's not what the research shows. There is always a new status symbol to buy: a new house or car or gadget. We will never stop and decide we have enough."

Schwermer has stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses and finds status in other things: sharing her philosophy and exploring life along the way. Who is to say she is the one with the odd approach?

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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