I Lived in a Shipping Container

This is a scheduled post as I am currently camping and soaking up the sun! 😀

I am packing my room up. All of the detritus of six years of university (and one accumulates a lot of STUFF) must go into boxes to be transported 1,000km away, to my old-new life.

For the past three years, I have lived in a modified shipping container. I wanted to post about it before, but I was worried about privacy and the big bad internet, so you know, I had to wait.


Our medical campus has real problems with providing accommodation for their students. It probably doesn’t help that the medical campus is right next to the large tertiary hospital in the industrial wastelands of Cape Town. There just isn’t anywhere to expand to unless you want to build on the Rugby field… The main campus in Stellenbosch has similar problems with providing housing, but at least the town itself offers a lot of private housing for students.

So a few years ago a company called TopShell started converting shipping containers into student housing. It is not a completely new concept, but it was pretty novel for South Africa.

Now, these containers are butt-ugly from outside! They are this horrible off-green colour that kind of make them look like army barracks. But inside… they are relatively gorgeous.

Although the containers are insulated, they are still pretty susceptible to the elements. In the hot months it can heat up like an oven, and during the winter it can get freezing – hence the need for the air-conditioner. Luckily it is quite a small little container so you don’t need much to heat it up or cool it down.

If it’s not clear from the photos, it is basically six meters long with the study, sleep and cooking area all in one room. The bathroom is separated by a sliding door. The entrance to the room itself is a massive glass sliding door (with curtains in front) so if you want fresh air and sunlight it is as easy as opening the door! For security reasons (it is South Africa, after all) there is also a big sturdy (and fugly) gate in the front.

Did I mention the stove is a convection plate? I mean, I presume that is something awesome, although GeekBoy and my sister cooked on it more than I did because… I’m pretty useless at making anything that isn’t pancakes, mac and cheese or cake.

Also, the walls are magnetic, so I had loads of fun with that.

If I haven’t quite convinced you of the awesomeness, perhaps you want to see some of the other university accommodation I stayed in prior. It was decidedly less awesome.

These rooms ranged from double to single, where I always shared a bathroom and a kitchen with at least fourteen other girls. In 2011 I had my own bathroom but the room itself was so horrid that it seems I never even took a picture of it!

So, I was really happy when I got to live in these shipping containers. Initially it was really easy to get placed there because nobody wanted to live there. They all said it reminded them too much of living in a shack, or that it was too ugly, or that the setup seemed isolated. We had 24 containers arranged in a figure-of-eight (twelve male, twelve female) so it was hardly antisocial, but you certainly could choose whether or not you wanted to interact with the others. In terms of a studying environment it was also a lot quieter than the shared buildings.

People soon caught on that it it a pretty cool setup – we are, after all, the only ones with air-conditioning! So now, it seems to be a little more popular.

The campus continues to have housing problems. Some students prefer to stay privately off-campus. For me, living on campus is preferable because if I finish a late shift I don’t have to endanger my life by driving in an exhausted state through an unsafe area. I don’t have to worry about fuel to get to and from campus. And I don’t have to worry about being socially isolated.

These containers are quite affordable AND they can be stacked on top of one another, alleviating the space-problem. So, instead of kicking more senior students out of the campus-housing, as they recently have done, I don’t understand why they don’t simply invest in more of these containers.

P.S: it also makes for great jokes, as my parents love asking me if I’m still enjoying my cake tin!


  1. That’s a fantastic idea! Looks like a very comfy living space 🙂

    1. Yes, it was quite comfy, relatively!

  2. Wow, that’s so amazing!

  3. Nancy Ackelson says:

    🙂 Really nice!

    (…But what about your cabin on the MVExplorer?)

    1. Aaaah! Well, it definitely wasn’t the roomiest of my rooms but I didn’t feel it was fair to compare the cabin because even though it was quite small I still loved it 🙂

  4. Wow. That’s roomier than my dorm during med school!

    1. Hah, yeah, it’s probably the roomiest dorms we have on campus so it is pretty cool. It gets crowded pretty quickly during finals week though 😛

  5. harveylisam says:

    Holy crap that’s amazing. Love it!

    1. Thanks, I quite enjoyed living there!

  6. That’s pretty damn cool.

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Thanks, I liked it too!

  7. StephD says:

    Hi there..loving your blog. I’m a first year Med student at Tygerberg and was wondering how you went about acquiring your res, it looks really amazing and I’m still on the waiting list for all the others.. x

    1. barefootmegz says:

      Thanks Steph. The containers are part of Meerhoff but I do believe their contract is coming to an end 😦 which is sad because I think that ultimately they could solve the accommodation problem on campus.
      In terms of getting res… the best suggestion I have is becoming friends with the lady who works at the accommodation office. Just… talk to her, be friendly, but don’t be too persistent. That might help.
      Good luck, and I hope your first year is going well for you so far!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s