Tuesday, April 23, 2013

But I NEED it, Mommy!

I thought I'd take a brief segue from describing my life and how I do things to focus for a moment on one of my motives for being homeless and how it applies to someone . . . normal, I suppose. Since I want this blog to be applicable beyond just entertainment or simply describing what I do, I figure sharing some of what I learned might be handy.

Needs versus wants. This is something that our mothers beat into our heads in the toy aisle and as we begged for candy at the checkout line. It's something every college student learns to appreciate when going to the grocery store. However, it's something that all of us ignore (sometimes regularly) when armed with a credit card and flexible financing options. What causes hundreds of millions of mature adults decide to be so irresponsible, often to the point of financial despair? Is it merely greed? A pursuit of happiness through materials, perhaps? Maybe it's the fact that our Western culture has made us so accepting of debt. I would venture to say that it goes beyond these factors, but I'm not really sure what the cause is.

Since becoming homeless, I've been forced to reconsider my needs and wants for several different reasons. Obviously, I have more money to spend (which I'm trying to use to pay off debt), but I also have FAR less space than before. With all of my possessions in a 5x10' storage unit, I can't exactly pull out a pot when I need it or grab a book off of the shelf. I've had to rearrange a few times as I adjusted to my lifestyle and realized what was important and what I needed.

Coupled with having less space, I also want to keep from drawing attention to myself. Sure, I could strap a car-top carrier or a hitch cargo box on my car, but people would likely notice me pulling clothes and toiletries out of my car. How small can I live while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle that doesn't raise eyebrows?

Though I've been forced to reconsider my needs and wants due to my lifestyle, this likely isn't the case for anyone who might be reading my blog. The average American doesn't have to think about whether or not to get a new set of towels versus two cheap ones because a set takes up too much space - I do. So, what do I want you to do, humble reader?

It's fairly simple, really. We need to re-attach our brains to our credit cards. Before being anything, ask yourself: do I really NEED this, or does buying it give me a guaranteed return benefit that makes it worth paying for it? It's a very simple question, but our impulses seem to help keep us from asking it. It applies to anything, really. I have three pairs of shoes - do I need another pair? No, not if the others are in good repair. Should I get the salon-quality shampoo or the off-brand? They both clean just as well, don't they?

However, I'd argue that there are times where spending more is justified. The low-fat yogurt is a little pricier than the regular variety. Your health is too important skimp on, though in no way does that justify spending $75 dollars for a bulb of organic garlic at a health foods store. Is it worth using high-quality synthetic oil in your car instead of getting a oil change for $19.95? You tell me - your car is one of the most expensive things you own. How long do you want it to last? I'd treat it well.

All in all, I think that living smaller is smarter, but I think it takes a conscious effort to remember what's important and necessary. While every person has to make this judgement for themselves, are you remembering to make that judgement at all?


Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Life in 5x10'

I have so much that I could write about from the past several months that I don't even know where to begin, really. I suppose I just need to start from the beginning - seems fairly logical, after all. I'll start by talking about what I did with all of my "stuff."

I started by getting a storage unit and moving my belongings out of my apartment in the last month of my lease. Each morning, I'd load up another few boxes and drive them to the unit before work. I got rid of most of my furniture since it took up the most space and was almost all Craigslist or garage sale purchases, so hardly any of it was something I was attached to.

However, I still had a LOT of stuff. At first, things were a wreck - the unit was packed, and I couldn't get to anything. Half of my clothes were none-so-inconspicuously hanging up in my car, I couldn't get to dishes, and I knew I had another tube of toothpaste in there somewhere. I had to prioritize what I needed to have access to and keep things as tidy as possible. Otherwise, I'd waste time trying to find what I needed, purchase duplicates, and perhaps even break something rooting around.

The first thing I did was put in a closet rod. By using the beams on the sides of the unit, I was able to bend brackets into place and use steel strapping attached from the wall to the rod to keep the rod from sagging. This allowed me to store all of my clothes in a way that kept things organized, clean, and accessible. Even better, by hanging up my laundry instead of using my dresser, I didn't have to iron as much, and I freed up my dresser drawers for storage.

As much as I love to cook and bake, I knew I wouldn't have access to a full kitchen anytime soon, so almost all of my kitchen supplies went in boxes in the rear. Any furniture went back there as well. I decided that the space freed up in my dresser and desk would be used for two things: storing seasonal clothing and items that I would need regularly such as important documents, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and the like. This way, they'd be out of the way yet easily accessible.

You can tell from the picture that I kept a few things right out in the open. Two that I'd like to point out are my tool chest and my shop vac (behind the dresser). Since I live in my car, it is a huge priority. I have to keep it clean and maintained just like a homeowner keeps their house vacuumed and plumbing repaired. It is my house, you know . . .

In the end, this picture represents all of my worldly possessions crammed into a 5x10' storage unit:


(I know. I'm pretty awesome).


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fully Employed and Fully Homeless

On July 30, 2012, I became homeless. It wasn't something I was forced into, though. I have a full-time job, a Master's degree, a car, a supportive family, and plenty of friends in the area, so it wasn't by misfortune that I made this decision. I became homeless by choice.

I'll pause for a moment while you ponder all of the questions you have for why I would decide such a thing. Are you done? Okay. To be honest, my reasons were half experiment and half financial. I wanted to see if it was something I could do. I'm an Eagle Scout, so I ought to be able to live without a house, right? I wondered how hard it could be and what challenges I would face. If nothing else, it would make a heck of a story . . .

I also realized that in the grand scheme of things, I don't really own anything at this point in my life. The bank owns my car. Sallie Mae technically owns my degree. My clothes are pretty much worthless in the grand scheme of things. In all honesty, the only thing that I own that has a good resale value is my KitchenAid mixer. Wow. That's . . . pathetic. I have years of college education, and the only things I can claim in life are my mixer and my mountain of debt. How can I justify paying hundreds of dollars for rent when I don't even own my car? What part of that is living within my means?

We live in a society that has accepted and embraced personal debt to the point that our world economy is in doubt. In the wealthiest country in the world, the average adult has 12.7 credit accounts, our government can't even pass a budget, and I just want to be debt-free. I want my parents to be able to retire after spending their retirement putting my sister and me through school. I have ideas for great business ventures and inventions, and I want them to come to fruition. I want to make a difference to better this world beyond myself. I want the American Dream and I'm willing to fight for it - I just hope it's still attainable.

So, that's it. I'm homeless. It wasn't something I just jumped into, though. I planned and prepared a lot. I am still solving daily problems and making the lifestyle easier. It is for that reason that I write this blog. I wanted to share my experience and provide tips to others who, while they may not be so insane as to live in their car, just want to live a little smaller and dream a little bigger.

I want to end by saying that in no way am I intending to take away from those who truly are homeless and who must live on the streets, but not by choice. There is still a need for compassion and aid to such people, and I don't want to belittle that in any way. Perhaps my experiences will somehow help them, as well.

I dedicate this blog to George Alvin Waldorf, my great-grandfather, who provides the pseudonym for this blog. He was the cheapest penny-pincher who ever lived, but he lived a long, rich, and incredible life. It wasn't until after his death that we realized that he had managed to squirrel away a million dollars as a high-school physics teacher, a portion of which he left to my family for our education.

Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of wealth, Grandpa. In memory of George Alvin Waldorf, October 10, 1900 - August 17, 1995.