How I came to be living rent free all expenses paid during a Pandemic

Part 1

Covid-19 has been a blessing for me. I know that sounds horrible, but this corona virus has a platinum lining for some people.

I have not had a vacation in about 15 years because I have not had jobs that gave benefits.

I have had time to reflect and decide what is useful in my life and what isn’t. But first some background on how I came to be living rent free with all expenses taken care of in the middle of a pandemic:

How I ended up living rent free with full (though modest) pay during covid-19

I designed life so that I have not paid rent or have paid very low rent for the last 7 years.

I had started to divest from the current culture and simplify over the last few years. But I didn’t have a logical plan or have any good models for how this was to be done.

It has been a rough ten years or so in reality

I won’t sugar coat it. I have been working without benefits for the last 10 years cobbling together enough to pay the bills while continuing to build my art projects and sites doing things like house cleaning, vacation rentals, Doordash, Uber and taking corporate jobs here and there.

I had a horrible sales job a job selling hot tubs, during the slow season. It can be a good position for a creative person if you can hack sales. I was still making ok commissions and having time to work on art and writing during work hours.

The last real job I did was working for Apple on contract.

I have tried lots of work arounds to try and make a living while still making art and trying to figure out the business and marketing piece of the puzzle.

How I became rent free

The first year I stopped paying rent I lived for free in Sebastopol, CA in trade for being home after 8 pm 7 nights a week for a whole year of living with an elderly woman. She was very independent and would not let me help her out much. I found the place through a friend. I moved to this little town in Sonoma County California to teach pilates for the final time.

I had a place to stay for a week with the business owner’s parents but I didn’t know where I would live or how I would pay for it while I grew my class roster at the studio. But then this free living situation dropped in my lap.

Why I stopped teaching Pilates even though the pay was good

I have taught Pilates on and off for the last 20 years. I have worked at ten different studios and had my own home studio. I am really good at it and can get hired anywhere any time to teach pilates.

But being really good at something is not the same as loving it. I hated teaching from the moment I began. 

I didn’t know what else I could do to make a living and I had already spent thousands on my certifications.

I could see that being a Pilates trainer was not my path. It was the life path of my friend who had introduced Pilates to me. She was passionate about Pilates. It was revolutionizing her life and transforming her very core as an empowered woman. But it wasn’t doing that for me.

It was something that paid well right away and Pilates teaching was in demand. I happened to have a knack for it the same way I did with massage therapy because I was very good at anatomical stuff, and teaching didn’t hurt my neck and shoulder the way massage did.

When I finally decided not to teach pilates anymore I found another free rent in exchange for work through position Craigslist at this Zen house from hell back in Berkeley, CA.

After a week I could see that being chosen out several dozen people who had applied to live rent free in Berkeley in a beautiful old Victorian was not such a blessing after all.

The “spiritual” Zen teacher and disciples were as messed up as any dysfunctional family I have known and even more materialistic and petulant than most.

So I put my stuff back in the storage unit and lived in my car, a VW hatchback, for a few weeks. Then I found an art studio space for only $400 per month. This is unheard of in the bay area, so I grabbed it while it was there.

Urban stealth camping for 3 years

Berkeley California art studio
Berkeley, CA group art studio

I spent 6 months of stealth camping at the community art space doing web design and driving for Uber. I set up walls around my space which was in a far corner and pretended to close it up when I wasn’t there. Then I would go to work and sneak back in at night. There was one other woman who would sneak in really late at night, but she was quiet and was at the other end of the large warehouse. I don’t think anyone figured out that I was sleeping there.

Then a noisy alcoholic moved into the art space next to mine and got the same idea to squat there and made life a living hell again.

Then I found another stealth camping situation in Oakland for only $300 per month at another studio space for another 6 months until I was kicked out of there. The handyman who was doing construction was squatting in a studio down the hall and figured out that I was staying there and started working late at night and playing a huge stereo system so that I would leave.

After the art studio spaces were gone I spent a year and a half of sleep in my Toyota Corolla while selling hot tubs at a commissioned sales job in Silicon Valley, CA. I was also doing Doordash, and then I worked for Apple for a couple of months under contract.

It was a bumpy ride.

During the time I was sleeping in the car I got scabies twice from using the internet at the library and once from someone sitting in my car for Uber. I began bringing a folding chair to the library and spraying the table down before working on my laptop every day.

Doordash while car stealth camping

The perfect transitional job for creatives

A couple of years ago I lucked out. I landed in the air BNB position I am in now with free rent and still get my weekly stipend even during the lockdown.

In 2017 I stumbled upon the job I have now, working for a Silicon Valley software engineer who sold his company and began refurbishing properties and renting them out in Palo Alto.

I have to be available 7 days a week from 11 am to 3 pm. Most days there have been less than 4 hours work and sometimes during slow seasons there no work to do at all.

I have been able to live rent free in the various apartments when they are not being rented out. occasionally I end up stealth camping again out in the garage for a week or two. But it isn’t that bad.

Last year I started to make money freelancing and selling affiliate products, but I have not cracked the code of online marketing enough to save up for land and support myself yet.

I am presently working on creating my own art reproductions for sale and creating digital products so that I will have that elusive passive stream of income.

My goals have changed since the covid-19 lockdown

The photo editing business

Right before the covid-19 thing hit I started a photo editing business and was gaining traction with my first 2 clients. I wanted to do something related to visual arts that would bring in steady freelance income and had a large steady customer base. I love writing but I wanted to find something that was more visual to do for freelance income.

Wedding photographers where the target of my marketing because they are the steadiest photographers who use editors.

But when covid hit I could see that there was not going to be any business for a long time since weddings are pretty much prohibited for the time being.

The lie of the fairytale wedding and the fairytale life to follow

Although I liked the editing process I don’t even believe in weddings. They are beautiful like a fairytale, but not something I really want to promote or support. The idea that one person is going to complete you and make it all better is part of the fairytale.

There is nothing wrong with couples and relationships. I just think too much emphasis is put on trying to get fulfillment and happiness out of this avenue when our culture is so bereft of true friendships and community.

So many people put too much energy into pursuing the perfect coupled relationship. People have bought into media lies about love. I really find it nauseating. I wasted a lot of time on trying to gain happiness from romantic relationships in the past. Looking back I feel only pity for the poor men I expected so much from.

Relationships can be wonderful if you are a full person with your own financial and spiritual issues worked out.

But all the books and media in our culture brain wash little girls into thinking that getting a relationship is the first goal instead of the thing that will come from being an attractive person because you are whole.

I could have been building community and business connections and building my character in a much more useful way if I had not bought the lie that “real women” have to be in a good relationship to be happy and fulfilled.

Many weddings are blatant acts of over consumption and waste.

So I took down the photo editing site and the Instagram account that I had put 5 months of full-time work into and started to direct all of my focus into things that really are important to me.

Getting clear

Once I had cleared a way the photo editing business project I had much more time to work on creative projects that are nearer and dearer to my heart.

I started devoting more time to gardening at my community plot and found the free permaculture course by Heather Jo Flores. She has risen again after her success with the book Food Not Lawns.

I started watching and reading about what Rob Greenfield has done to inspire me to contribute more.

He has a listing for the Workaway site where you can connect with people doing projects all over the world including building ecovillages.

Other things I am working on during the covid lockdown

  • completing my autobiography and illustrations
  • I finally set up a Patreon account to support all my projects
  • I am getting ready to publish Plangent Noise a sci-fi eco novel. I am working on getting the final rewrite done and the illustrations finished.
  • Learning Zbrush for turning the 2D art into 3D figurines for another art project and site of mine.
  • Learning After Effects and recording audio for explainer videos on animal rights, and ecological issues, and plant-based diet information for my health site
  • I have started working with an animals rights group volunteering and getting to do illustrations, graphics, and articles
  • Getting involved with Climate Healers on the vegan world 2026 project
  • I am continually learning about marketing with courses by Ramit Sethi, and Courtney Foster Donahue.
  • Meditation with Kyle Cease and Lincoln Gergar materials.
  • Working out with Kim Constable, TRX, exercise balls, and my new cross rope jump rope set.

Read part two for what floated to the surface during the pandemic break