Why I Chose to Spend my Last Semester of College Homeless
How I built a lifestyle out of living nowhere
It began with a thought like this: My New York rent is six times more expensive than my rent in Taiwan, but am I six times more satisfied with living in New York than I was in Taiwan? No, no I was not. New York is exciting, yes, but Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and Berlin all grant the thrills of the cosmopolitan city for a fraction of the cost. Also, I was bored. I was bored with my apartment. I was bored with my commute. The New York experience was turning stale for me, but I was still in school, so I couldn’t leave the city yet. All I could do is move out.
I found a room in Jersey City where I paid just one-fifth of my Manhattan rent. No, Hold up. I’ll tell you the dollar amount. $320. That was my monthly rent. If you don’t live in New York, perhaps that sounds normal to you. If you do live in New York, you just fell out of your chair. A similar apartment in Manhattan would cost around $1,900. How could a place just across the river from West Village be so much cheaper? I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s because the French door separating my room from my roommate’s allowed him to peer into my room at all times. It felt like living in a fish bowl. I was always on display.
Within a month, I began to feel lonely. Everyone I loved was on the other side of the river. I coped by not coming home. My thought process was, I’m barely paying for this apartment, so I barely need to use it. I stayed at friends’ houses in the city often, returning home only once or twice a week to do laundry.
Eventually I couldn’t be bothered to go home at all. I stashed my belongings into friends’ closets and cupboards. I kept a toothbrush in five different apartments. I was moving in with everyone, and they didn’t seem to mind. One friend even gave me keys to her house as a Christmas present. Suddenly, I had no answer when people asked, “where do you live?”
I also began to colonize the empty lockers at NYU’s student center. One locker became my pantry, another became a sock drawer, and another became a bookshelf. At its height, my fiefdom spanned eleven lockers. I shaved and brushed my teeth in the men’s restroom and showered each day at the gym.
I didn’t want to impose too much upon my friends, so sometimes I couch-surfed in the homes of strangers. Couchsurfing is a website similar to AirBnb, except it runs on good will — not money. I know what you’re thinking: Who would let a stranger like me into their home for free? Well, only some of the most interesting people in New York City. The virtues of couch-surfing and the way it connects people could be the subject of another article altogether, but suffice it to say I met some of my favorite people in New York through the peculiar encounters that sprang out of this platform.
This period of living nowhere marked the happiest chapter of my time in New York. My new living situation purged the monotony from my everyday life. I had no more routines. The previous three years in New York had been marked by frequent bouts of loneliness, but suddenly the heaviness of independent living dissolved. I cherish the hours spent watching “Broad City” with Sam, cooking chicken nuggets with Andres, and doing laundry with Albert. Small, intimate moments like these grew out of a lifestyle built around people.
Affluence can be isolating. I had to leave the comforts of my East Village studio to learn this much. I am thankful for all the people who carried me through my last semester in New York, and I hope one day they will allow me to do the same for them. I am searching for a future that is interdependent. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know exactly what it will feel like.