What I learned from living five years in a van

This was not the life I’d imagined. I’d graduated from UCLA with honors, and had won awards in my corporate tech-sales career. Just eight months earlier, in April 2009, I was sipping margaritas in Cabo San Lucas at the annual resort trip for top-sellers. I pictured a house on Los Angeles’ Westside, a nice car and a baby on the horizon. But then, in response to the ongoing financial crisis, my biggest account cut spending, and I got laid off.

At the same time my partner, Tree, facing a cash crunch as the owner of a small online business selling outdoor sporting equipment, slashed his own salary and used all his personal savings to pay invoices and make payroll, all to avoid sacrificing a single employee. Like millions of other Americans reeling from the Great Recession, we suddenly couldn’t afford to pay our bills and the rent on our studio apartment any more. Something had to give.

Hence, the funnel.

To make ends meet, I sold my car, and we moved into Tree’s van with only the bare necessities – some clothes, a few dishes, one pot and pan. For months, we slept in 24 Hour Fitness parking lots and used the wifi and toilets at coffee shops, but after a customer complained and the supervisor at Starbucks in San Clemente kicked me out for brushing my teeth, we headed south, where there would be less shame in being poor.