I Lived in My Car for Two Months — On Purpose

This is what I learned from my adventure in practicing minimalism.
Publish date:
April 4, 2016
Arizona, cars, exploring, hiking, Minimalism

I was already practicing minimalism as a way of life and decided to take it to the extreme. I put my house up for rent, gave away most of my possessions, and moved into my Prius with my boyfriend. My goal was to live in it for two months.

The first thing most people wonder about is where I slept. If you have ever done a road trip and slept in the driver's seat or passenger seat, you know it's not very comfortable. I knew that would not be a sustainable solution. So, I went to Walmart and bought a cheap egg-carton foam mattress and put it into my trunk. At night, I would fold down the back seats and lay the foam into the trunk. The mattress fit perfectly for two grown adults to sleep on comfortably. During the day, I rolled up the foam and folded the seats back up. No one was ever the wiser.

The first night I slept in my car, I parked in a public park. That night, I was awoken to police rapping on my windows. Turns out you can't stay in a park's parking lot overnight. I drove into a quiet neighborhood and slept there instead. I knew I couldn't continue sleeping in neighborhoods, as that would probably arouse suspicion, so I did some Googling.

It turns out that Walmart is cool with people sleeping in their cars in the parking lot. In fact, truckers and road-trippers do it all the time. I was a convert. (I still continue to sleep in Walmart parking lots when I am on a long drive.)

But because I had the freedom to move my home every night, and I lived in beautiful Arizona, I would often go to nice hiking areas. After work, I would go to the mountains and hike for a few hours, then head back to my car for my nightly rest. I got to explore so much of the beauty that was around me.

Since I was practicing minimalism, I couldn't resort to eating out all the time, so I hacked my car into having a kitchen. I bought a portable mini-refrigerator with a car adapter and plugged it into the cigarette lighter under the dashboard. The food stayed cold as long as I kept ice in the fridge, but the temperature would never be as cold as normal fridge, so the ice would only last 24 hours. Still, a bag of ice for $1 a day was way cheaper than rent.

I went to my local REI store and bought a bunch of camping gear for cooking. I got a mini-stove that I could light with a lighter, a folding plate, folding cup, sporks, and a folding wash basin. I was all set to cook, eat, and clean up.

During my lunch break at work, I would drive to the local park (no cops during the day!) and cook my food at a picnic table. In the evening, I would cook dinner wherever I happened to be — usually somewhere out in nature.

I also learned the art of thermos cooking. Turns out, if you put boiling water into a thermos with oats, in the morning you'll have oatmeal. You can also use rice and lentils and have lunch ready the next day. There are so many delicious, healthy recipes that you can cook in a thermos!

I was fortunate that my job had showers, so I could bathe there; but if I showered there every day, it would seem weird. I was very open about my new adventure with my colleagues and boss, and everyone was super-supportive, but I didn't want to draw too much attention, so I looked for alternative locations to wash up.

Luckily, the gym near my job had showers, too, so I would go there on occasion. On the weekends, I did longer travels and could easily find big truck stops. You know the kind that have mini-malls of several restaurants and stores? They always have showers available that you can rent for a few bucks. They even provide free towels.

I also bought a solar shower to use. It was basically a black rubber bag that heated up the water with the sun, but it was always just easier to go to the gym or truck stop.

For laundry, I just went to the laundromat once a week. I kept my clothes in the compartment in my trunk that was meant for a spare tire. I also kept a large plastic bin with more clothes, costume jewelry, and makeup in the back seat. At night, when the seats folded down for my bed, the bin went in the passenger seat.

The craziest part of my escapade was that I was doing all of this with my then-boyfriend. Let me tell you, living in a super-cozy situation with another human being can cause serious cabin fever. You very quickly learn to hash things out, and get over things. It really taught me a lot about communication and teamwork.

Because it was the two of us and not just me, we couldn't just sit in the car every night. We began to have evening adventures. Every night, we would go explore the area surrounding us. We went to all these little towns and learned their histories, and found amazing hiking trails and saw nature like we never had before.

I'll never forget one night we drove on this mountain for what seemed like forever, and all of a sudden, we came upon a magnificent church. It was so old and so beautiful. There was nobody there, but it was open. We went inside and stayed for a while. It was very peaceful and magical.

On the weekends, we went for longer drives into neighboring states. I saw so much of New Mexico, California, Nevada, and Texas. My Prius was economized for fuel consumption, so gas was cheap. And with sleeping in my car, there were no hotel or restaurant bills.

I was able to save a ton of money while living out of my car. Not only did I no longer have a mortgage payment, but because I had rented out my place, I was making a little profit. By being forced to live on the absolute essentials, I didn't go shopping for needless things. And even with cooking, I only bought a few items instead of having a big pantry with numerous items and expensive condiments.

I learned to not be so attached to all my possessions. I had forced myself to give away most of my closet (and my 30-pair shoe collection!) before moving into my car. After living in it for a month, I realized I needed only three pairs of shoes: one for work, one for hiking, and one for going out.

At the end of my two-month stint, I thought about continuing to live out of my car and looked at purchasing a mini-trailer that would attach via a hitch. However, I relocated to Iowa, and I didn't think living out my car in freezing temperatures would be such a good idea. In the Arizona heat, I didn't have to worry about the cold. For the heat, I bought a loose piece of mesh (like the ones that are on home windows) from Home Depot and used magnets on the inside and outside of my car to hold the mesh together. With the window rolled down, and a big piece of mesh cut to fit the window held by magnets, I had perfect airflow. And no bugs.

Living out of my car was an amazing experiment. I learned how to be resourceful, saved a ton of money, and was able to let go of my attachment to possessions. Going on mini-vacations and becoming a better partner were unexpected consequences that have created lasting memories and lessons.

Today, I live in a fairly large home surrounded by things, and I look at my trusty Prius and think What if I let go of it all again? A good purging may be in order. Who know what adventures await?