By Matthew Kesselman & Alex Nguyen
Written portion by Alex Nguyen,
This experiment was conducted purely for entertainment and curiosity purposes. I do not condone living in UVA facilities for extended periods of time.
When Matthew and I left the comfort of our apartment Friday afternoon, our mission was simple: to see if a UVA student could live without permanent housing and save thousands on rent. In order to test this question we ran a week-long experiment in which we lived without housing. We left our apartment with duffel bags full of clothes, backpacks full of books, and minds full of uncertainty.
Prior to moving out, we established some ground rules:
- We could not break any laws.
- We could not break UVA policy.
- We could not return to our apartment for the week of our test period.
We realized that if we actually lived without housing, the situation might be slightly different: there might be weekends when we could crash in a friend’s apartment, for example. But in order to simulate a more difficult sample week, we decided to use only our own resources.
Crucial Elements to Living Without Housing
I do own a car, but throughout the week I only used it once: as a place to sleep our first night. If you are considering living in libraries, a car is a near mandatory tool. It can easily be used as a storage space and a place to sleep on Friday or Saturday nights.
Another utility that proved essential was UVA dining. Our consensus is that it would be incredibly difficult to cook for yourself while living out of libraries. Not only did we discover that there were no kitchens open for student use and nowhere to safely store food, but the storage and transportation of silverware and dishes would also be a hassle.
My experience was fantastic. I slept like a baby every night, exercised every day, and got more work done than I initially anticipated.
Sleep surprisingly wasn’t an issue throughout the week: I had an average of just under eight hours every night. I will concede, however, that I am a relatively deep sleeper. The cleaning crew, which we quickly learned comes to Clemons Library on Monday’s at 5:30am, wasn’t enough to wake me. I managed to sleep through the vacuuming, the chit-chat from people studying, and the opening and closing of doors.
Matthew, on the other hand, averaged under six hours of sleep, and woke up unexpectedly almost every single night.
A note to consider: whether you’re a sleeper like Matthew or a sleeper like me, the unusual surfaces at Clemons will take their toll on you. There were a few mornings that I had to spend five minutes after waking up to stretch just to ease some discomforts from the night’s sleep (especially the night I slept on a table in Clemons 1).
When Clemons Library is your home, you will naturally get work done. I had one exam and two papers to finish during the week of Project No Housing and I never had the opportunity to escape my work. But, as the week progressed, I did notice a slight decline in my productivity in the library: I got so accustomed to being in the library atmosphere that it no longer threw me into the grind.
We stored all of our clothes and toiletries in Memorial Gym lockers. It costs $25 to rent a locker out for an entire semester and I was able to easily store and organize my clothes in a single locker. Beware if you plan to store your clothes at Mem Gym long-term, though: by the end of the week, my locker had acquired a strange smell from the confinement of dirty clothes and towels in one nasty conglomerate.
If I were to do this for an entire year, I would rent at least two lockers: one for clean clothes, and one for dirty clothes, a towel, and shoes.
Our decision to use Memorial Gym as our primary storage had another advantage: it forced me to work out every day. I’m historically not the best at going to the gym, but every time I went to change clothes or shower, I couldn’t escape working out in good conscience. Since I never felt comfortable doing push-ups or sit-ups in the libraries, using the gym everyday made up for the lack of body-weight exercise I usually do in my apartment.
The main challenge both Matthew and I experienced in our trial run was planning trips to and from Memorial Gym and managing where all of our stuff was at any given moment. Other than that, I personally didn’t have any major issues with the whole experience. I did have to get over some minor issues, such as the insane amount of hair on the chairs you sleep in each night and the total lack of privacy, but these proved not to be significant problems.
Semester Long Considerations
In the long run, there would definitely be some nuances that we didn’t experience in our week. For example, no one caught on to the fact that we were sleeping in the library every night. Had we stayed for two or three weeks, a librarian may have taken notice, which could compromise the long term feasibility of living in libraries. We also didn’t do any laundry throughout the week. With no public washers or dryers on Grounds, we would have to either take our laundry to a first year dorm or to an off-Grounds laundromat.
Additionally, towards the end of the week (and even earlier for Matthew), I began to feel a weird sense of detachment in that I didn’t have a true place to call my own. I would see people sitting in the chairs that I slept in the night before and feel as if they were invading my space, when it was really me who was invading the public space. This is the main concern that would hold me back from living here semester-long myself. I take pride in having a bed that I can go to at any time to sleep or watch Netflix on.
Other problems: Pooping in public restrooms would get old after a while; I would probably become the guy in the locker room that walks around naked without any shame; and there is no bringing girls to your place.
I personally do not think the money saved by living in the library outweighs having a place to call your own. I definitely could do it permanently and my quality of life wouldn’t diminish much, but I would not achieve the same level of happiness I can in my own place. Despite all of this, it was a worthwhile endeavor.