Could you live without money?

I’ll confess I’ve got a couple of obsessions and bad habits. One is a persuasion for fairly expensive handbags and the other is buying cushions – You can barely see the sofas in my house because of the mountains of cushions!

We (typically) all tend to think that possessions increase prestige whereas Heidemarie Schwermer by contrast thinks ‘our’ system will collapse and that we should live independent of money.

For the last 16 years Heidemarie Schwermer has been living in Germany without money, without her own home and with only a few possessions just by sharing. The former teacher and therapist, who had previously had a house and raised two children, decided to change her life and gave away everything she owned.

Today in the Lab Heidemarie shared her philosophy on sharing, her experiences finding places to stay and stories of how she finds food before we all watched her movie “Living without Money”.

So, as the movie asks, is she crazy or just living off other people’s money?

Heidemarie says “it’s not money or no money but how you choose to live”. Her goal is to get more people to join in but adds that she’s not in favour of ridding money completely. In 1994 she founded the ‘Give and Take Centre’ in Dortmund, one of the first swap circles in Germany as well as a weekly Sunday exchange market. She is in favour of bartering and exchanging gifts. She says that because we live in an affluent society we can benefit from non-monetary exchanges. I can identify with her point of view. I once taught a friend’s two children to scuba dive in return for having a new kitchen fitted! And my friend Bronwyn’s friend Sam – from whom I borrowed Collaborative Consumption – only gives recycled gifts, which is interesting and fun!

The movie showed Heidemarie and her friends trading cleaning windows for surplus bread and mopping floors for out-of-date but edible groceries. They even managed to exchanging singing at a Tourist Information Centre for an afternoon at a day spa!

According to Heidemarie the ‘system’ isn’t working as it is because we have to justify ourselves if we are rich and equally we have to justify ourselves if we are poor. She says we need a new mindset and a move from ‘competitiveness’ to ‘togetherness’. She defines ‘luxury’ as having what you need and not more than you need. For her expensive doesn’t equal important and free or borrowed doesn’t stand for unimportant.

So how does she survive in this capitalist world of ours?

Well firstly she has a large networks of family, friends and followers. Whilst denied on film, her extensive network of connections and contacts, and her media appearances, are her currency.

Secondly she is resourceful – apparently us girls are ‘earlier adopters of change’ – she looks after people’s houses while they are away, she ‘cat sits’ whilst friends take vacation and then gets access to a computer and internet, she does cleaning in return for a place to stay, she uses friends theatre subscriptions when they are out of town, she gets pre-paid mobile phone cards or train tickets in exchange for public speaking and borrows public transport season tickets when people don’t need them.

Thirdly she has her ‘Little Miracles’ – the things that she makes happening; her “ask and you will receive” philosophy.

So what can we all do?

There’s a perception that ‘sharing’ just means using someone else’s ‘old junk’ and that bartering is for ‘hippies wearing sandals’ but according to Heidemarie we can all take small and gradual steps to change our cities; for example we can all help to mainstream the perception of sharing, we can start a ‘give and take’ box in our local community centre, school or apartment block, we can establish a community exchange street market and we can educate ourselves, and others, in ‘giving and taking’ with our communities.

Heidemarie says that money detracts from what’s important: togetherness and selflessness. She’s 100% convinced that life would be easier without money and ended with a word of warning. We should not wait for a shock in the economy or a crisis before we start to share, barter or exchange in our cities, because then, according to Heidemarie, we will be in chaos and we won’t have the time we need.

Could you live in the city without money?

I know that I probably couldn’t do what Heidemarie does but I most certainly admire her for provoking discussion and spreading the seeds of change – and that’s why she is “Fab in the Lab’ today!