(I lived out of my friend’s closet on campus during the first month of my senior year at UCSD. I ended up finding a place of moving out, but here’s what I noticed from the experience – TLDR: I recommend it)
I’ve been living out of my friend’s closet for the past month. It’s the first month of my last year of college, and I’ve been searching for appetizing off-campus opportunities with no luck as of yet. My friend Anna lives on campus, and has a very convenient closet with a spare mattress pad, so to me, the answer to my temporary homelessness is obvious.
Living out of a closet is much easier than it sounds at first. Anna’s room mates don’t know me and are probably confused about the smelly man in their storage space, but it’s very easy to remain on friendly terms with them as long as I don’t crowd the living space. I basically have a curfew at about the time the girls go to bed, so that they can let me in at night, but other than that, I can be invisible. As long as I shower at a time when they don’t, the most they see of me is a half naked guy combing his hair in the morning, and a skateboard by the apartment door.
My closet somehow has a slight breeze that creeps under the door, so it isn’t too hot – it’s dark and in a corner, so I have a nice sleeping space and don’t bother anybody in the main room – and it’s wide enough for me to stick out my elbows on both sides. What more can you ask for? In truth, I prefer it to the official bedrooms in this complex because I no longer have to deal with the bright morning sun.
The situation sounds uncomfortable and inopportune to many, but to me, an active Couchsurfer and traveller, it’s a far simpler arrangement than I’ve had in many other countries. My host is someone who enjoys seeing me and vice versa, so there’s no awkward forced interactions. Indeed, it is quite nice because I no longer have to schedule time in my days to see Anna – because I see her by default every single day. You’d be surprised how big of a difference that makes with good friends who aren’t in any of your classes or extra-curriculars.
The campus has wifi available everywhere and plenty of mediocre eating options, so there’s no need for me to return to the living space during the day. It’s very handy to have during the apartment search process, because I have a rock solid Plan B, which means I am not forced to hop in on the first decent shared flat that shows up (and on Craigslist, there are some flats you don’t want to commit to).
It’s tempting to stay here the entire year and just not deal with rent and off campus housing. Since the girls are already paying a fixed fee, they don’t require me to pay them subletting money – so far I simply take out the trash for them and they love me.
The situation is unique because I also have a few other friends scattered around nearby my host, so I have some of my favorite people close at hand – people who want to see me when possible and have no problem sharing food or lending me their car. I am a man who has nothing but a backpack and skateboard – but I have so many resources available to me because of my network. It’s a stark contrast to foreign cities where I have the same basic accessories, but must invest significant research or money in order to move around and experience as much as I am currently. I always knew about the power of your network, but did you know you can functionally live off them? As long as you don’t use them for all your food, and spread out the little favors needed from them, everyone is still happy to see and help you.
America loves their big houses full of things, but I am actually more happy with my little closet – I never lose anything, and I don’t have to worry about ‘Stuff’ in general. The girls call me their own “Harry Potter’, which is adorable. I know that not everyone has friends with such nice closets like this one, but anybody with good friends could make a situation similar to this work with a couch or air mattress.
Everyday I am reconnecting with people who haven’t seen me in over 18 months. It’s way too much fun to walk into a room and see the looks on unsuspecting friendly faces when a veritable ghost appears before their eyes. Other than the initial surprise, you’d be surprised – they ask me “How were your travels?” as if it were nothing more than a weekend that they missed. There’s no way you can actually convey the substance of 9+ months of travel in such an encounter, so I’ve taken to replying “Oh, you know, life-changing, I found myself, all that stuff” and they accept it at face value. Then I ask them how they’ve been and very little has changed. It’s the same story as when I left them – work, school, gym, etcetera. It’s mind boggling to hear that, in their own words, nothing is different in their life than when you left, when so much has happened to you. Everyone is afraid of missing things when traveling, but it’s the opposite – everyone else is missing out.
Anna told me upon first sight that I looked ‘more peaceful’ than she remembered, which is perhaps the most meaningful response I’ve received. I suppose I am more at peace – with the world, with myself, with enduring discomfort in the name of experience. Replace ‘San Diego’ with an exotic locale and the role of my friends with ‘abnormally gracious Couchhosts’ and my current situation would fit in perfectly next to all my far flung travels of the past year. That may be why I am so happy with my closet – I’m home, but my traveler mindset is still at work. I’m seeing and doing more here, as I did abroad, because I don’t have a cozy home to return to. Instead, I must stay out doing and seeing things, as travelers do on purpose. There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same.