Heidemarie Schwermer from Germany has lived without money for 16 years following a lifetime of guilt about wealth stemming from her time as a World War Two refugee.
Growing up in Prussia, Heidemarie Schwermer was the daughter of a successful businessman and her family kept a nanny and full-time gardener on their payroll.
But when war struck Europe in 1939 for the second time that century Heidemarie Schwermer and her family became penniless and were forced to flee to Germany.
After years of hardship Heidemarie Schwermer’s father was able to start over with a tobacco company and cash started pouring in again.
But she now found herself at odds with their affluent lifestyle.
“We were well-off but ended up as riff-raff,” Heidemarie Schwermer said.
“We became rich again and we had to defend it. I’ve always had to justify myself, whether we were rich or poor.”
Heidemarie Schwermer, now 69, worked at a teacher and then a psychotherapist on a good wage. But instead of welcoming the hard-earned cash she yearned for those formative childhood years of struggle and strife.
As a result she became obsessed with finding new ways to live without money, eventually setting up Germany’s first exchange circle in 1994.
Give and Take Central helped people swap simple services like babysitting or house cleaning for tangible goods and Heidemarie Schwermer found she need money less and less.
Eventually when a friend asked the divorced mother-of-two to house-sit for her, Heidemarie Schwermer decided to take the plunge and live without money for one whole year.
She sold everything – including her apartment – saving just a few small items that she packed into a suitcase.
What was only meant to last 12 months became her life for the next 16 years.
“I only wanted to try to do an experiment and in that year, but I noticed a new life,” she told Business Insider.
“I didn’t want to go back to the old life.”
In the beginning Heidemarie Schwermer stayed with old friends but as word of her lifestyle spread she began giving talks on her mission – meeting new hosts on the lecture circuit.
She only accepts train fare for her speaking engagements and rejects any other attempts to pay her.
At first she also did odd jobs around her hosts’ homes, like gardening or window washing, to earn her keep but she says that these days they don’t expect anything in return.
In a documentary made about her life entitled 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.
Heidemarie Schwermer often receives clothing from friends, donating what she doesn’t have room for in the small suitcase she carts from home to home.