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September 21, 2015 12:45 PM

More than 4 million people subscribe to Eva Gutowski‘s YouTube channel of bright and glossy videos, however the 21-year-old’s childhood was anything but picture perfect.

“It was tough,” Gutowski says in the latest issue of PEOPLE of being in sixth grade when her mother lost her job and her family of four had to move into a one-bedroom apartment. “My bedroom was a living room that I shared with my little sister, and we were eating Cup O’ Noodles every day.”

Once an outgoing and confident child, Gutowski says she had to “let go” of her creative aspirations, and even became embarrassed to invite friends over.

“They always had these big mansions, and I lived down the street on the couch,” the Southern California native explains.

Eva Gutowski, a.k.a. MyLifeAsEva
Ramona Rosales

Though her family got back on their feet, Gutowski says she still had to live at home during her freshman year of college at California State University at Fullerton.

“My friends were dorming and had cars but I just couldn’t afford any of that,” she says. “I lived at home and found myself really, really lonely because all my friends were enjoying college and partying and I didn t have that.”

Noticing his daughter’s mood, Gutowski’s father, John, encouraged the broadcast journalism major to play around with his video camera.

“I started to film myself doing random stuff around my house and I would put them on a blog for my friends to watch,” Gutowski says of her early days experimenting with YouTube.

But once she noticed it was more than just her friends who were watching her videos, she decided to quit her job at a pizza place and dedicate all of her free time to making as many beauty, comedy and music videos as she could for her channel, MyLifeAsEva.

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In less than three years, Gutowski’s online star has skyrocketed. Thanks to her success, she’s been able to move into her own two-bedroom apartment, something she “never thought” would happen while she’s still in college.

“I want to inspire people,” Gutowski – who is currently starring in the lightly scripted YouTube series How to Survive High School – says of what she’d like to do with her massive influence. “You have to work hard and break your limits and stay until 4 a.m. writing [out your plans]. You’re the only person that can make your life happen. If you really want something, you just have to promise yourself that you won’t stop until it happens.”

For more from Gutowski – including how she’s using her financial freedom to help her younger sister – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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