Katharine Patterson has to be very quiet when she's typing at night. Not because she's afraid of disturbing a sleeping spouse or baby, but because she doesn't want anyone in her San Francisco Bay neighborhood to hear sounds coming from inside the van where she lives. In a piece for Quartz, Patterson says that even though she's a software engineer for a Silicon Valley company, the rent in the Bay Area is so high that, after sifting through ads for ridiculously priced apartments, she decided to keep a half-joking promise she had made to a friend the year before: "If I get a job in the Bay Area, I'll totally live in a van." She scrimped together about three months' rent and bought a red 1969 VW camper, complete "with a hole in the floor and a family of spiders that has more of a right to be here than I do," she writes, noting that "sleeping in your car on public land in California is illegal."
She says living out of a motor vehicle isn't so bad: She can shower at work, and people generally don't harass a young white woman or assume she's a vagrant. Patterson does issue a preemptive strike to fend off accusations that she, a decently paid white tech worker, is crying poverty when there are those much worse off than she is. "There are many people who are forced to live in their cars because they really cannot afford to live in the Bay Area," she writes. "I am not technically one of them, and in doing this by choice I am inevitably appropriating their hardships." Still, she says, she's trying to do the right thing by saving her money and paying down debt, and she even notes she's learning how to build and fix her own stuff—"invaluable life skills." Plus she takes more than a little glee in being able to tell friends, "You're going to have to pay up on the $5 bet you made that I would never go through with it." Read her full piece at Quartz. (Read more opinion stories.)