Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Was the Smallest Year

Last January I wrote a blog post wrapping up 2015.
I didn't go anywhere in 2015. My car stayed in my home county and two adjacent ones in Georgia and Florida.

Nothing awesome happened to me in 2015.

My house sank, but I fixed it. A duck dented my car, but I fixed it. I felt like crap all year, and I couldn't fix that. When I take my car to the mechanic they keep replacing parts until it works better. If doctors did anything like that I might go to them for help. I did not see a doctor in 2015.

I had no drama in my life in 2015. Nobody told me what to do, I never raised my voice in anger at anyone. I woke up every day and did exactly what I felt like doing.

I think I was the best hermit I could be in 2015.
I decided to try to make 2016 even smaller. I drove my car to the coast in July, so I added two counties to my range. But this year I decided to go the whole year without seeing the mechanic. I bought my car new in 1996. Seemed like 2016 was a good year to test what I get for doing consistent maintenance throughout its life. My speedometer stopped working about halfway through the year, and the odometer too. So I don't know exactly how far I went. But I do know I only bought one tank of gas a month so I probably went around 3600 miles.

My house was fine this year. No sinking. I had a double Decora light switch break. I bought a new one. It cost $11. My refrigerator won't go below 44°F anymore. I got a quote for $125 to get it recharged with refrigerant. I didn't do it. It still keeps Romaine lettuce fresh for weeks. I had milk go bad way before the expiration date. But only $3 worth of milk which is a long way from $125, so....

I did not see a doctor in 2016. I felt like crap most of the time. I still can't be on my feet very long. Lots of migraines and abdominal pain. Hands hurt a lot. But I managed my tasks so I was able to be productive 12 or more hours a day.

I went to the coast for a week in July with my mother, brother, my three nieces, an aunt and some of her grandkids. If it weren't for my brother disputing the statement "People have been living in space for 15 years" I might have made it the whole year without raising my voice in an argument with a live person. Alas, this was not to be.

In 2016 I discovered that
inflatable full body suits
make great haircut capes
I also did not get a professional haircut in 2016. I figured out how to cut my hair myself from YouTube videos. I now shave the back and sides with clippers and then hold up the top part and cut it with scissors. Then the top part falls down over the shaved part and it looks kinda like a normal haircut. I let my 13 year old niece establish the setup while we were at the coast. Then I let her paint the hair on top with food coloring for cake icing. I wear a hat most to the time anyway.

I was a pretty good hermit in 2016. Not as good as 2015 because I spent that week around relatives, but pretty good. I didn't leave the country for Thanksgiving or Christmas so that's pretty solid hermit behavior.

I think 2016 is my new baseline minimum cost year. I also think I have hit minimum bookkeeping. I just used my online banking access to categorize every expenditure I made in the whole year and it took less than an hour. I am not going to bother doing real bookkeeping because I can tell just by looking at my checking account that I definitely had gross earnings less than $10,350. That's the 2016 threshold for single individuals to file a tax return. Which, I have to tell you, is an egregiously low number.


The majority of my cash flow was business expenses. People ask me to make things for them and I have to buy materials. Then they pay me back afterwards. I have an aunt that emails me lists of used books she wants and I find them and order them. I find it amusing that I'm the poorest person I know and people treat me like a bank. I'm pretty sure this is a vestige of privilege. In 2016 Cost of Goods Sold and other business expenses were 31% of my cashflow.

If I eliminate the business expenses and just look at what I lived on in 2016 it comes to less than $6500. That'd be my gross earnings. I spent 47% at the grocery store, 36% for utilities, 6% for gas in my car, 7% for Car Insurance, and 2% for ad valorem taxes on my car and my lab.

It's kind of funny that I paid more to insure my 20 year old car in 2016 than I paid for gas to go places in it.

Life is expensive. If any little thing had gone wrong it would have been unmanageable for me. If I had needed new clothes or shoes it would have been out of reach. The only piece of tech I had to buy this year was a $42 Thunderbolt cable because my monitor was acting up. The new cable fixed my problem. Fortunately my 2014 Mac mini is still the newest thing. My iPhone 5S is cracked but functional. My iPad Air is sluggish, but also functional. If I didn't already have that stuff, which I need to do my work, I wouldn't be able to support myself.

The other tools I relied on this year: my chop saw, air compressor, jig saw, power planer, sheet metal cutter, circular saw, finish nailer, angle grinder, two drills and an impact driver. Also a big pile of scrap lumber was critical to being able to complete jobs. Similarly a large stash of yarn and complete set of knitting needles is crucial. I got two old sewing machines this year too, and did a lot of sewing work to cover the expense. I also have a shed for the lumber and carpentry tools and a lab for the sewing and knitting. It is blatant privilege to have tools and materials readily available. I do not know how other people without my advantages can live below the poverty line. Only because I started out above it can I now live below it.

My experiment with indigence is never going to allow me to truly understand what it's like to be poor. Sure, I went all year without having my car worked on and it was nerve wracking to look at that check engine light for the last 6 months. But it never let me down! I'm graced with the good fortune of making a good decision 20 years ago to buy a $30,000 reliable car and having the means to keep it maintained for 20 years. What if I hadn't been able to buy that car back then? What if I had to drive to town more than once a week? It would be unmanageable. What if I was a lead foot and went over the speed limit in my car with a broken speedometer and got a speeding ticket? It would ruin me. What if I wasn't grandfathered into free checking for life with a handy online tool to analyze my spending to verify I made less than the threshold for filing a tax return? Privilege! Being able to deposit a check with my phone is crucial to my existence. I've heard there are people who pay their utility bill in person with cash. I can't wrap my head around that.

I've spent a lot of time in 2016 trying to examine my privilege and try to imagine what it must be like for the people who had such a terrible time in 2016 — black people, immigrants, people who identify as LGBT, women. I don't even have any first hand experience with the women's issues since birth control and abortions fall outside the hermit experience. So it was a mental exercise to imagine what those barriers must be like. I would not like to be them. It would be bad. My conclusion? White men need to check themselves. They do not deserve their advantages and all those other people do not deserve the hardships. I want it to stop. Stop it right now. Be nice to each other already. Damn.

My instinct with the current political situation is to keep my head down and get even smaller. I could let my car insurance lapse, cancel my tag, and try to beat last year's record. But I'm not going to. I'm going the other way. I'm going to put myself out there a little more, put more project photos on Ravelry, sell stuff on Etsy, be an entrepreneur. I should see if there is a community that will accept me so I can participate in the concept of strength in numbers. Even if it's just online. The world is going to hell and I'm not ok with that. I don't want to make the world a better place. I despise that meaningless line. But I do feel obligated to participate in damage control when the world has gone open loop. I would not hesitate to jump up on stage and grab a microphone away from somebody standing in front of a speaker puzzled by the loud squealing noise.

Next week I'm going to take my car to the shop. I'm going to let them work on it until the Check Engine light goes out. I probably still won't go anywhere. But I can if I need to.

1 comment:

  1. Nell you are a treasure. I enjoy reading your travails very much and wonder if there is a good way to get you in front of a wider audience. There's so much crap out there - it's like walking through a shit storm to get to a view you like...

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