Serious Downsizing: How One Man Converted His Prius Into a Full-Time Home (with Bed!)

Posted by on July 3, 2017 in Economy, Tiny Homes & Frugal Living with 6 Comments
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© Chris Sawey

© Chris Sawey

By Kimberley Mok | Tree Hugger

Times have changed from a generation or more ago. Happiness for the older generation may have come through a stable career or buying a nice car and house in the suburbs. The younger Millennial generation, however, is ditching all of these conventions, opting for flexible work hours, working remotely, carless-ness and using technology to share things rather than own them.

It seems like more millennials are consciously choosing to live alternative lifestyles too, be it living a mobile, “van-life” full-time, or going zero-waste in the city. Twenty-seven-year-old Chris Sawey is yet another young man who has deliberately chosen to join the ranks of the rent-free, by opting to live full-time out of his modified Prius for the last year, which he affectionately calls #HotelPrius.


Related Article: Watch As This Filmmaker Converts His 14 Ft Van Into A Traveling Home [Video]

Fresh out of college, Sawey came to this unconventional decision after a series of less than fortunate events: after a post-graduation road trip from Boston down to Austin, his previous Prius was broken into, and all his important possessions were stolen (camera gear, laptop, a decade of data including his design portfolio). To top it off, a week later he gets into an accident and totals the car. Thankfully, he’s able to replace it with a newer and better Prius with the insurance money, but Sawey has to start from scratch, and so begins a depressing period of temporary jobs and financial anxiety of how to make the monthly rent.

Sawey finds that with two part-time jobs, he’s not able to afford renting a room. But, he eventually hatches a plan to get rid of the rent expense and to outfit the car as a place to live. “I knew this season well. I called it ‘survival mode’,” he says. “If life has taught me anything, it was that limitations always force creativity, and I’ve been served a fair share of limitations growing up.”

Chris Sawey © Chris Sawey

With some experimenting, Sawey is able to transform the car into what he calls a “small efficiency apartment”, equipped with a soft bed, custom-made closet, curtains, desk, kitchen pantry, table and chair, a bike rack, solar panels for charging and an “attic” (roof storage bin) and “balcony” (the roof).

Chris Sawey

Chris Sawey

Chris Sawey

Chris Sawey

Sawey is graced with the opportunity to work for a new hotel restaurant starting up in downtown Austin, and this turns out to be a blessing in disguise for his new setup:

This hotel downtown had everything #hotelprius needed to thrive. Free downtown parking, a great view on the parking garage overlooking the city. Perfect access to sunlight to charge my solar panels during the day and cover from the occasional storms at night. I had access to water and ice when I needed it, and restrooms and free food on the days I worked. Plus the commute was less than a minute to work, and the YMCA [membership for showering] was a 5 minute walk down the street. How could I not stay living in my car? With limited expenses and bills I was saving over $1000 a week. It could not have been more perfect.

Related Article: You Won’t Believe All of the Awesome Features This Tiny Teardrop Camper Is Hiding

Chris Sawey © Chris Sawey

Sawey’s new job allows him to meet new people from all over the world, while permitting him to make relatively decent money. He relates how the name #HotelPrius came about:

After long satisfying days working for the hotel I would go “home” to the top level of the parking garage and sleep for the night, only to do it again the next morning. Because I practically lived there already, when asked where I lived, I could’t lie, so I told people I lived at the Hotel. When they asked what floor, I told them “the top.” Confused when they asked what hotel, I told them “Hotel Prius.” It actually started as a joke but after saying it to my co-workers and friends enough, the name kinda stuck. At first, I was too embarrassed to admit I was living out of my car and kept it under wraps for the first month or so. But after awhile I realized I had nothing to be ashamed of and became actually proud of my lifestyle. It was smart and resourceful. It was a direct representation of who I was as a person.

Related Article: Small Home, Big Views! Another Stunning Tiny Home

Chris Sawey © Chris Sawey
Chris Sawey © Chris Sawey

Sawey’s setup gives him a lot of freedom financially and emotionally; he has since travelled onto Pennsylvania, Nashville and beyond to new projects. Choosing to live out of a vehicle full-time is not for everyone, and certainly not something to be taken lightly, but Sawey’s story is one of many inspiring ones we are hearing; like many other young people of his generation, he is resolutely hopeful, seeing opportunity in unlikely places and adventure not just as an activity, but as an attitude toward life:

[#HotelPrius was] the launching board to discover and explore new things, new people, new cultures, and helped me hone in on where my gifts and talents lie. It helped me strategize and write my story without the distraction of bills and debt hanging over my head. Eventually, I’ll settle down, and you know, get a house and a wife and kids in all that. But right now, I’m enjoying this chapter as best I can because I will never be able to live it again.

To read more of Chris Sawey’s story, visit his blog.

Read more great articles Tree Hugger.

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