In the summer of 2012, Terry K. rented out his Venice Beach apartment and moved into his office, better able to navigate the elaborate production that was keeping his living situation secret from his coworkers than to pay rent in Los Angeles.
“Terry K.” isn’t his real name — it’s the pseudonym of the writer who tells his story on Salon, who presumably wouldn’t want his company to know that he used his cubicle as a bedroom for over a year.
Average rent in the Los Angeles metro area is about $US1,300 a month, and it’s estimated that to buy a median-priced home, you’d need an income of $US89,500 a year, making the area one of the most expensive in the US.
Residents of cities with similar housing costs — like New York and San Francisco — have higher average incomes than people living in LA. A UCLA study found that tenants in the area spend nearly half (47%) of their income on rent.
K. explains his situation on Salon:
I’d been working two jobs — 60 hours a week to keep an apartment I rarely had time to enjoy. Then, disaster struck. Company raises and bonuses were frozen. My identity was stolen. I got a hefty hospital bill for a surgery earlier that year. With existing student loans, a car payment and my rent set for its maximum-allowable annual increase under the California law, I started to wonder: What happened to my American Dream?
I had little left to sacrifice. Without money, I had two choices: Give up my dreams of working creatively or surrender my time working even more. Either way, the outlook was gloomy. Until I remembered my ace in the hole.
That ace in the hole was his office, which, along with everything in the neighbourhood, was closed and empty at night. And once he moved in, sleeping on an air mattress, he realised that his quality of life was actually improving.
He was able to save over $US20,000, and free up the time and money to travel and pursue his interests. At his annual performance review, his boss complimented the improvement in his work, and noticed that he also seemed happier.
Even when the opportunity presented itself to move back into an apartment with a roommate, he didn’t do it. He writes:
Having spent over a year rent-free, I realised I valued how I spent my expenses differently. Dropping over a grand every month on a single budget item felt like it ought to result in overwhelming returns. Instead, the housing options were bland. Each had a laundry list of glaring flaws — ageing units with no parking, thin walls with no outdoor space, poor walkability and a long commute. What’s more was the sense of entitlement on behalf of many landowners, like I was doing them a favour by handing over 40 per cent of my income for a glorified doghouse. The transaction felt oddly imbalanced, a product of seriously misplaced supply and demand.
When his company went under and he was in the first round of layoffs, “I lost my job and my home all in one, but I saved over $US20,000 in living costs and 216 hours of commuting,” K. writes.
Today, he lives in a tiny home attached to his truck, working a few part time jobs about 20 hours a week and writing. He says:
I finished building it before I left the office. Everything I needed — a plywood base of shelving housing a tiny fridge, a portable butane stove, a sturdy water jug, a paper towel rack — I was fortunate enough to purchase while money was good. Mostly I stay local, picking up odd jobs while writing, pursuing the career I’d always wanted but never had the time to try. It’s a different routine from the office. It’s Henry David Thoreau meets Henry Ford.
Follow Terry K’s current experiences on his blog, The Office Hobo.