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Life behind the wheel: calling my car a home

In order to prepare meals, Ris Twigg cooks dinner on a small two-burner camp stove at Columbus parks. Credit: Ris Twigg | Assistant Photo Editor

To some, home is where the Wi-Fi is. But for me, home sits atop four tires and a hybrid engine — without internet.

I had originally planned to live in a spunky, colorful, two-bedroom apartment on Summit Street, but during the dark abyss that was finals week last spring, my would-have-been roommate dropped out of our lease.

I felt stuck. What was I going to do?

All my friends had places to live already and I couldn’t afford to live in Columbus on my own. So I made the decision to sell, donate to charity and give away to friends most of my material possessions so I could move into my Prius.

Now, you might be thinking, “How are you going to live in your Prius? It’s so small!” But, I’m 5-feet tall.

Height jokes aside, I knew I would fit comfortably. The design I vaguely followed was developed by a 5-foot-11 man who calls his set-up “#HotelPrius.”

And when it comes to staying warm in the winter — or cool for the summer — I can leave my car on all night with the heat or air running. Because of its hybrid system, the engine only comes on just enough to charge the battery, which means I spend roughly two dollars or less on gas each night.

But why did I decide to leave the comfort of a four-bedroom house with a full bathroom, kitchen, and living room? Several reasons.

From a student’s perspective, life goes a little bit like this: you wake up, go to class, study, go to another class, meet with your student organization, work, study some more, sleep and repeat.

Each day I’d leave my house at 8 a.m. only to return home from work after 10 p.m. It didn’t make sense to me that I pay for all that extra square footage if I wasn’t ever spending time in my house aside from cooking, sleeping and bathing.

Second, I listened to The Minimalists’ podcast for quite some time. The duo from Dayton convinced me to ditch my stuff and invest in things that add value to my life.

Reducing my possessions frees up space in my mind. I’m not distracted by filling my time with objects. Instead, I get to focus on the relationships that matter most to me.

Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t say part of my motivation is financial. This year I accepted a position as assistant photo editor of The Lantern and although the experience is incredible, I’m taking a major pay cut. With a monthly income of about $400 — less than half of what I previously made — paying for rent, tuition, food and medical expenses has become increasingly difficult.

Lastly, I just want to see if I can do this. I’m always up for trying new things and challenging myself, but this might be the wildest thing I’ve done yet.

And after three months, it’s going pretty well.

Although I don’t have many complaints, I have had a couple of scares while living in my car.

The first night I slept in my car started off smoothly. I hung up grey curtains to hide myself from view by reusing a bedsheet that matched the interior of my car. After cozying up beneath the blankets on my bed made of sleeping bags, I drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Clothes hang behind the driver’s seat in the space that Twigg calls her closet, followed by a hammock, a cooler for food storage and a laundry bag. Twigg’s bed is located behind the passenger’s seat with extra storage underneath. Credit: Ris Twigg | Assistant Photo Editor

Hours later, my eyes burst open and I jolted awake at the sound of someone pulling on my door handle. “Someone’s trying to break into my car,” I thought to myself.

I looked out the window and spotted a man briskly walking down the street, pulling every door handle on his way. My initial instinct was to jump out of my car, run the man down and somehow explain to him why he shouldn’t break into cars. But then the final remnants of drowsiness left my mind as I pressed my face against the smooth glass and I realized that was an absolutely terrible idea.

All of this happened in a matter of seconds. I looked at my phone to check the time: 5:30 a.m. The sun hadn’t even risen and I still had a few hours to sleep before the heat of the sun made it too hot to stay inside my car. It took some time for my heart to stop racing and my thoughts to quiet down before I could fall back asleep.

I hoped it would never happen again. But that was wishful thinking.

The same thing happened a second time just a few weeks ago. I’ve learned to quadruple check my car at night to make sure it’s locked. When you carry all of your life’s possessions in your car, security is of the utmost importance. Especially as a woman living alone in an urban area.

But living in a “mobile” home isn’t as rough as it might seem. Sure it gets a little inconvenient at times, but for the most part living in my car has proven to be extremely advantageous.

On a road trip with my friend Katie this summer, we couldn’t find a cheap place to stay in Denver. So we found a free parking spot in the RiNo — the River North Art District — and spent the night in my car after attending a music festival.

We were within excellent walking distance of the festival and were able to tour the arts district in Denver. And we didn’t have to pay for an expensive hotel or Airbnb. Convenient.

Calling my Prius a home has its ups and downs, but overall I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself and the generosity of my friends.

That year includes all four seasons and whatever whacky weather Mother Nature wants to bring us. It includes graduation, spring break, 8 a.m.s, late nights at Chumley’s, and late nights studying.

Whatever this next year brings, I’m rolling with it on all four wheels.

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