Bargaining for a Living

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

Heidemarie Schwermer is a sixty-nine year old German woman who lives entirely without money.  Until 1996, Heidemarie lived her life pretty much along the same lines as her compatriots – she taught for almost 20 years and practiced as a psychotherapist for many years after that.  She raised two children and now also has three grandchildren.

In 1994, she moved to Dortmund where she determined to do something about the homelessness she saw all around her.  So she opened a swap shop – a place where people could trade skills or things for other skills or things.  The shop didn’t succeed in helping the homeless but it did attract many unemployed people and retirees and thereby became well known.

As time passed, Heidemarie grew tired of her life and quit her job.  She began to do all sorts of other jobs – whatever she could find – in exchange for low wages or other services.  By 1995, she was spending almost no money and still managing very well.  In 1996, after her children moved out – she embarked on an experiment that was to last a year – she sold her apartment and decided to live like a nomad – trading goods and services for goods and services.  She loved it so much that she’s still living that way, 15 years later.

Everything Heidemarie owns fits into a single-back suitcase and a rucksack.  She has an emergency fund of 200 euro and any other money she earns she gives to charities.

Interesting experiment which at the very least make us question the way we view – and use – money in our societies.

(Thanks to Tales from the Lou’s Blog for posting on this yesterday – see below for link)

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18 comments on “Bargaining for a Living

  1. ElizOF says:

    I applaud Heidemarie Schwermer for her courage… and for bringing attention to the subject of homelessness. Even though what she did is not for everyone. TY!

  2. A very powerful post that presents much for us to think about. I think that within our societies we would do well to value the opportunities to engage with others, exchange skills etc. It’s a currency that used to exist and be valued but has certainly died away and in many respects is not encouraged. I like the idea of people being able to place their own value on things rather than these be imposed on us by a consumer culture.

    I’ve also, through my studies and my work, been focussing quite a bit on homelessness and have been staggered to learn that a high percentage of homeless people are unable to engage and benefit from support services because they have an animal (usually a dog). In the UK at least there are a high percentage of people who are choosing to sleep rough because the hostels there to support them do not welcome their animals and so the choice they are faced with is a bed for the night or giving up their beloved animals. I could go on at length about this but I wouldn’t want to hijack your blog and the important points you present, but I will say that in terms of homelessness we do need, as a society to reflect on what homelessness is in real terms rather than trying to shoehorn what we feel homelessness is and force it to fit into the structure of support that is more aligned to our ideas of homelessness rather than the realities of homeless experienced by people living with the challenges of this day to day. Thanks for this incredibly interesting post.

    • Thank you so much for your comment and to be honest if this is hijacking then hijack away! I am very interested to hear what you have to say about homelessness. For me it is one of the most awful things I can imagine and I totally agree that we don’t understand it – I certainly don’t. In many countries that have a system of social services – no matter how depleted – it would seem strange that people are actually on the streets and I think that must be because of what you are saying which – even if it’s well intentioned – means we are missing something. I posted a story a few weeks ago about adding iron to diets in rural Cambodia (sorry to self refer but it’s faster than explaining – I think it’s the same thing. Until we can at least realise that we may not be speaking the same ‘language’ as each other – it’ll always be difficult to connect and even to meet needs. Thanks again for your comment.

  3. granbee says:

    This story, which I am most grateful you posted here, reminds me of the growing number of young adults leaving professinal jobs to return to small farm life, growing and crafting and bartering to meet all their physical and material needs. They love doing it, especially in the American Midwest and Northwest. They need very little currency to lead happy, healthy, secure lives of peace and service to others.

  4. kianys says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I remember seeing something about her on the news some time back

    🙂 K.

  5. nrhatch says:

    Hope I can see the whole movie.

    It’s a fascinating look at our warped relationship with money . . . which should be nothing more than a convenient means of exchange.

  6. I just read my comment and it looks so odd – sorry – I meant sorry about the past tense obviously not sorry your dad was an interesting man.

  7. patricemj says:

    This was good to read. To think she started out as a therapist working with the homeless. I will think about this for awhile. She looks so vulnerable sitting there on the sidewalk, it’s hard for me to think of her as free, but then again, I just wrote a post about a heart that felt there was no place in society in which it could feel truly free. Perhaps there truly is strength to be found under bridges. At least for some.

    • I think her experiment is a good lesson to the rest of us insofar as it shows up presumptions we have about money and possessions and allows us to question what we take as immutable reality. But as far as she herself is concerned and if she is free or just afraid and running – I have no idea. I read that post you wrote and it was very powerful and I think (as you know) that that lonely heart problem is maybe the human condition – if not lonely necessarily, then alone at least. Thanks for your thought=provoking comment.

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