I Didn't Anticipate Living in My Car After College
It was one of those days where I’d gotten out of the shower and discovered, now that I was squeaky clean and soaking wet, that I had no pants.
Most people would tread gingerly to their bedroom to find some. But I live in my car, and my pants were evidently still on the other side of the gym parking lot. Tempted as I was to make a half-naked dash across the asphalt, certain obstacles—people, doors, icy winds—dissuaded me.
I’ll confess that more of my days begin like this, with some sort of haphazard mistake or mundane-task-become-challenge, than I like to admit.
I began living out of my car when I found myself faced with a short-term loan payment of $900 a month. That, I quickly discovered, is a lot of money to add to your expenses. My debt and I stared each other down like bitter enemies in a superhero movie—until I decided that, rather than putting every penny left over toward rent, I’d move into an SUV.
This has worked out well, for the most part. I’ve got a cozy place that’s all mine, a gym to shower at and I get to sleep outside. I’ve learned where not to park (for instance, on steep hills), how cold is too cold to be in my sleeping bag (below 15 degrees) and that it’s very important to leave my shampoo upside down (because if it freezes solid it will be impossible to extract from the bottle). And yes, when I occasionally show up on friends’ doorsteps, wrapped head to toe against the howling wind, they graciously let this weird, abominable-snowman-creature-who-lives-in-a-car inside to sleep on their couch.
There are some challenges with this lifestyle, the hardest of them being that I’m a perfectionist. I like to know where I’m going, what I’m doing and when I will get there. But instead of feeling ordered and empowering, many days feel like I’m unconsciously holding together the fragile illusion of someone who can dot their i’s, cross their t’s and keep all their ducks in a row with a genuine smile on their face.
Living in a car is good for me, because it doesn’t allow for perfection. It cracks through my denial. Many of us (at least many people in my city) have a need to convince the world that we’ve got it all in hand and we know what we’re doing.
It’s hard to keep that put-together illusion going (even to yourself) when your life is contained in 150 cubic feet of space and you can’t find your pants.
I am forced to acknowledge a somewhat different version of myself from what I’d prefer to be and to show to the world—as demonstrated by me writing this under a pseudonym. One of the greatest gifts to come out of my current habitation is an acceptance of my own messiness. Just like the inside of my trunk by the end of the week, life has a way of acquiring clutter and dirty laundry.
This does not feel neat and ordered. It does not feel like I’m in control of what’s happening to me (surprise!); at times it even feels claustrophobic.
I’ve learned that some days are going to begin with a scramble for clothes, my curtains falling on my head, someone knocking on my window or the sudden noises of early-morning construction. (I’ve also learned that most people aren’t angry about a young woman being in their parking lot, just very surprised and a little concerned to find her in her own trunk. In case you were wondering.)
There are days when I wake up grateful for the luxury of being able to sleep wherever I want, thinking to myself how lucky I am to have such a cozy home. And then there are days when I wake up cursing student debt, housing prices and all things mobile. But these are both valuable parts of my story. I’m discovering that the messy and the imperfect are doors into acceptance and a kind of peace that comes from having to roll with the punches and respond accordingly, because I can’t change certain things.
Interestingly, being okay with the mess means that as these mundane moments take on a strange (and sometimes challenging) tone, they also take on more meaning. They teach me to be merciful to myself, for we humans don’t really come all neatly wrapped up with a smile and a bow on top, no matter how much we might try to look and act like it. Sometimes that means showing up to work with my hair sticking up because my shampoo froze again, and feeling free to laugh about it. (What does it look like for you?)
Living out of a car has caused my idea of success to morph from a certain appearance and level of accomplishment to some strange combination of enjoyment, laughter and willingness to respond to the unexpected. My new goal, when these moments full of uncomfortable reality sink in, is not to achieve, do everything right, or at least do damage control on what other people might think. Instead, my goal is to respond graciously, to be kind to myself, to embrace the story of who I really am and what I’m really doing. Even when that story involves putting grungy pajamas on over clean skin and fighting my way through the snow, there is something vibrant and hopeful and real in accepting myself in these moments.
It turns out my life doesn’t require a weirdly perfect image that isn’t the real me. My friends don't require that image, either. They’d rather have the real me, just like I’d rather have the real them.
Life is messy.
Like living in a car.
That turns out to be—in its own, crazy way—freeing.