I realize this title is dramatic and only partially accurate. To be more accurate, I'd have to remove the word "great".
I hope this reads more like an explanation rather than a rant!
I’ve had money on my mind a lot over the past several months and I’m finally ready to talk about it.
There are several points I want to hit on.
The cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and most of California.
Money as it pertains to living minimally/minimalism.
I’m a born and raised Californian but I’m being “pushed out” of California. Now, I know I could stay. No question. I could stay on the 24/7 work hamster wheel and keep earning enough to barely make ends meet. Working this schedule I earned (prior to Covid), low six figures. That seems like a LOT of money but it barely covered my overhead. And the more I made, the more I spent, mostly on taxes. Thanks exclusively to the last administration, my taxes were raised significantly and I was thrown into the 50% tax bracket. So for every dollar I netted, fifty cents went to the IRS. If my net was $100,000, I paid $50,000 to the IRS per year. Compound this with the high cost of health insurance, over $1,000 a month for the lowest coverage and the high cost of living in the bay area and well… it’s a recipe for disaster.
Just to give people an idea; I like to compare several financial expenses that change depending on where you live. I have pet insurance for my dog. I’ve been paying it for about five years and so far it hasn’t covered anything. The insurance costs $150 a month. But if I had a Texas address the exact same coverage would be $70 a month. When I called the company to ask why I thought they would tell me it was because veterinarians charge more in the bay area. But no, it’s because more people in my area have bought the pet insurance which raises the costs so that their claims can be covered. So I’m paying twice the amount as someone in Texas so I can pay for other people’s claims. I do also think the vets here are more expensive but I haven’t lived anywhere else yet so I’ve nothing to compare it to. My pup had to go to the vet twice this month so far. One was a standard check up that cost me $300. And last week he had an infection on his leg from a tiny wart he chewed off. This cost me $200. So this month alone my dog’s health coverage (and he’s worth every penny and more) was $650. (Vet + insurance that didn’t cover a dime of my out of pocket expenses).
Eating out. I happen to live in the most expensive county in Northern California. I originally moved here in 2004 from San Francisco where I lived for twenty years, because I was working here and didn’t have a car. The cost of my favorite Vietnamese dish here in Marin County, for lunch, is $20. The exact same dish in San Francisco is $10. Breakfast here in Marin, in my small town, is $60 for two people (without alcohol). Dinner for one person in my area is $50 (without alcohol). I will say that I am a bit of a food snob (AKA foodie) and I won’t eat fast food (unless it’s Amy’s organic LOL) but still! Come on! I was a food snob when I lived in SF proper too and I spent 1/3 to 1/2 per meal there. Here’s another great example, I met a friend for lunch yesterday and we each got a small take out caesar salad and a cup of tea. Mine alone was $25 for a tiny salad and a cup of peppermint tea.
Grocery Stores. Again, food snob, which plays in to this but my local health food grocery store is $150 for one and a half bags of groceries. $250 for 2 bags. These are regular sized paper grocery bags. When I shopped there regularly and bought food for just me or for me and a part time partner, I spent $200 to $250 per WEEK. When I went to other markets in my area, the costs were slightly lower, but not significantly.
Gas: I filled up my tank yesterday. Gas is currently $3.80 a gallon, which is “cheap” for California, it’s gone past $5.00 a gallon on several occasions. California has the highest taxes for gas in the entire country! It’s cheaper in Hawaii! It usually costs me $50 to fill up my tank but often times it’s even higher than that. According to a recent article: Currently, California state’s average cost for gas is $4.14 per gallon while the national average is $2.65 per gallon.
Rent: Monthly costs are $2,000 to $3,000 for a studio apartment. $1,500+ a month for a room rental in a house with other roommates. Enough said.
Gas and Electric: I have a unique circumstance. There is a hot water leak under my apartment but our Gas/Electric company won’t fix it. When it flooded my house once, they patched it. Prior to the leak my Gas/Electric was about $100 a month. Now it’s $300 a month and has been for 3 years. I have friends and neighbors with the same square footage and the same heating system and they pay $50 - $100 a month.
Our Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is completely corrupt. They are the reason we've had dozens of huge, devastating fires that have killed people and destroyed homes and forests. So instead of taking responsibility and fixing the issues they turn off our power whenever it's windy. In 2019 they turned off my power for a WEEK. In 2020 they turned off my power for 3 days. This is during the cold season and I have no heat plus I lost all my food in the freezer and fridge. I was unable to work when the power was out since I had no heat in my office and I'm a healthcare worker. I just got news that they're turning our power off again this week - IN JANUARY - when it's 40 degrees! And the power company is not responsible for this and they don't give a F!
These are just a few of the reasons why California is unaffordable. Sadly another issue is that people who purchased their homes here 40 years ago for $25K in San Jose are now selling those homes for 5.5 million (I am not making this up) and moving to other states where they spend 1.5 million on the most expensive homes they can find and it’s currently driving the housing costs up significantly in Washington, Idaho and Colorado (to name a few). People who owned expensive homes are also selling them to buy vans and retire. And while this is awesome for them, it’s driving the costs up for people who can’t afford to do this, like me. When I started looking at used vans, they were already going for more money than they were a year ago. And as soon as I called, they were sold. They all sold in under 24 hours for more than the asking price, including the one I ended up buying. I only got it because the deal fell through at the last minute and I raced over to buy it, paying $10K more than it’s actually worth.
Road Rage: I’m mentioning this here because it’s another symptom of the ongoing problem - the entitled rich taking over. I have nothing against the wealthy, I myself came from an upper middle class family, back when that class existed. What I can’t handle is anger, mean, entitled people! And sadly this often corresponds with how much money they make. I grew up around plenty of those people too. People here in Marin County California, try to run you off the road if you drive too slowly or if you try to merge or for no reason at all. I wish I was kidding but I’m not. Every day there are a myriad of complaints on NextDoor with people reporting aggressive/angry and dangerous drivers.
When I went out the other day I tried to merge, legally as my lane was ending, and a car sped up so that I couldn’t. When I merged behind them, they slammed on their brakes and sat blocking the intersection for about 15 seconds. I am so unfazed at this point that I didn’t even react. So they tried again as we entered the freeway, slamming on their brakes and blocking the entrance. I laughed because this is a regular occurrence in Marin. Several people reported last week that an aggressive female driver tried to run them off the road. Same lady, wearing the same sunglasses in the same car. The people she tried to run off the road all had kids in their cars :( She even drove into oncoming traffic to harass someone! There isn’t a single day that I don’t experience someone else’s road rage here. My theory is that all the money in the world and the biggest, most expensive house with all the servants you can afford and a brand new Tesla, Mercedes or Porsche can’t make you happy. These people are still miserable and angry.
So what’s the answer? Living minimally is one and obviously it’s the one I’m going for. As well as leaving California. I could keep working 60-80 hour weeks so I can afford my exorbitant overhead and life would go on the same way it’s been going for a decade+. But I’m tired. Tired of working 2 full time jobs. Tired of the rat race. Tired of making six figures and giving 1/2 of it to the IRS. You aren’t rewarded for working this much. It’s the 1% who get the tax cuts and rewards and it’s the 1% who keep making more money than they could ever possibly spend. I guess they’ll have to learn how to make their own coffee soon and live entitled lives with one another as neighbors. As for me… greener pastures and less expenses please!
While the idea of minimalism is something that’s fascinated me for years, I also find it terrifying.
First a little backstory. I have, in reality, started over with almost nothing three times in my life. When I moved from my parent’s house to a college dorm to an apartment but at that age I didn’t own much and was less “set in my ways.”
My biggest re-start was at age thirty-six. I was with my ex-husband for seventeen years and had amassed a one-bedroom apartment full of belongings. I also had most of the items I coveted from my parent’s home by that time. Old journals, photos, sentimental clothing that belonged to my mother when she was young, all my writing from elementary school through high school and college.
But I was in a severely abusive marriage, and leaving was difficult on many levels. My ex-husband was violent, an addict and volatile. When I told him I was leaving, he threatened to kill me. There’s a lot of drama and another story in all of this that I don’t need or want to unpack here, so the bottom line is that when I left, all I could take was a blow up mattress and a small suitcase. When I returned to the apartment, a couple of months later (supervised) he’d put a lock on the bedroom door, given most of my belongings to his mistress and thrown away everything else that was important to me. I “lost” almost everything that held sentimental value, including all my writing from childhood as well as photos and the clothes that had belonged to my mother. On top of that, he took my car (yes, I’d paid $10,000 for it), my pets and all the furniture… everything. But I was fine with it because I realized I’d escaped with my life, which is the one thing that was irreplaceable (other than my pets, which of course were the hardest to lose).
And so I began again. With virtually nothing. I didn’t have a bed, a dresser, pots or pans, dishes, TV, gaming systems (we had 5), etc. I did eventually get my computer back (an ancient desktop, this was a long time ago LOL) because he had his own, but he had still stuffed mine full of porn LMAO.
I moved in with a close friend and she had an apartment full of stuff. She had couches, a TV, kitchen items and basically all I “needed”. I had the blow up mattress, which I slept on for over a year, until I could afford a futon. I rode the bus 2 hours each way to work until I scraped up $250 to buy a very used car. I was thirty-six years old, and starting over at that age was not as easy as it had been at eighteen. But I managed. I learned a lot, and I was fine. At my core, I’m a survivor.
Unfortunately, I did not learn my lesson and picked another abuser. This one was even worse. He did attempt and almost killed me. It involved the police. It was an ugly mess of domestic violence with bruises and blood.
He “wouldn’t let me leave” so I had to plan in secret for months and eventually moved out while he was at work. I found a great, fully furnished, sublet and left everything except my cat. Eventually he calmed down enough for me to get a few more items than my ex-husband had allowed, but I still had little.
I had some clothes and a newer computer that I built myself. No furniture and no kitchen items. Those were all his. I was forty years old. That was when I made the firm decision to live alone. No more roommates who I’d be beholden to and no more live-in lovers.
A few months later, I moved again, from the sublet to my own one-bedroom apartment. I had nothing. No furniture, not even a single kitchen plate. I lived in that apartment for seven years and during that time I completely filled it. From a couch to a bed to kitchen items to a dresser and more…
When I moved to the apartment, I live in now; I had to hire movers and a truck. But I look around and everything I have here now is different. I ended up replacing every piece of furniture, including my couch. My last couch died a sad and scary death of horror. I changed my esthetics from dark wood to light wood. From heavy, black everything to bright, colorful and mostly blue. I bought used items on Craigslist. I painted things. I bought artwork and plants. I made a really beautiful and very comfortable home.
But about five years ago, I began obsessing on the idea of a tiny home. I knew then that I’d never be able to afford a house. Where I live in Northern California near San Francisco, the cost of living has increased exponentially and continues to do so. When I moved into my neighborhood ten years ago, two-bedroom houses were selling for $300,000. They now sell for over a million. Ten years ago, $300,000 was not in my budget. My last apartment was amazing (rats in the walls and black mold notwithstanding) but when my landlord died, they gave me sixty days to vacate. There is no rent control in my county and prices just keep going up.
At the time of this blog post, a one bedroom in my town rents for $3,200 a month. When I moved here, a one bedroom rented for $1,200 a month, which is currently less than the price of renting a single bedroom in a shared rental. Those go for $1500 and up per month.
In another 10 years, with the rate of inflation here, a one bedroom will probably rent for over $6,000 a month and a share will be $3,000 for a single bedroom. Not only is that absolutely ridiculous, it’s unsustainable. Especially since income has not increased to match the rate of inflation. In a decade this will be the land for the rich only. :(
I’ve talked previously about my options and how I decided on tiny living in a van. What I haven’t touched on in depth is the fear that goes with giving up all my “stuff” again. I know I can do it. I want to do it. But society tells me that unless I have a four-bedroom house and a Mercedes, Tesla or BMW, and designer clothes, I’m a nobody. If I don’t have a husband and 2.5 children, I’m a nobody. I’m less than worthless. It’s a weird societal norm, and it’s an ugly and untrue bias.
When you’re twenty something, you’re allowed to explore and try new things. Your family and friends can label you as “experimenting” and say “they’ll grow out of it”. You can be a nomad or a minimalist, it’s more acceptable. But when you get older, it’s much less so.
I’ve always been one to buck the system, always. I went my own way and forged my path. I constantly and supremely disappointed my father to the point of being “disowned”. People in my life may look at me and think that it was easy, it’s who I am, to go against the grain. But when they don’t know is that I tried to go with it for most of my life, in my own way. I tried to fit in. I tried to do what they expected of me. I tried to be happy with other people’s constraints or the ideals they placed on me. But when I did that, I was miserable, and I didn’t like who I was. When I kept my mouth shut at restaurants as my father abused the waitstaff, I hated myself. When I strived to earn more money than I needed to survive, to the point of working seven days a week and not taking any time for myself, I was miserable. When I bent over backwards to please him and failed repeatedly, I had to give up.
So, does moving into a van scare the shit out of me? YES, it does! Am I doing it anyway? YES, I am. Does it also excite me? HELL YES! I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do. But I can try this. If I hate it, I can start over yet again. I’m resilient. I’m adaptable. And I’m willing to take risks.
I’d like to take you along on my process because when I watch YouTube videos about minimalists and vanlifers or read books written by them—they’re already there, doing it. And that’s amazing and inspirational, but I didn’t get to see the struggle. And we all know the struggle is real! I want to document that. The REAL struggle. In its ugliness, vulnerability and bravery. I hope you’ll join me in that, and I hope you’ll reach out and tell me your stories and share your own struggles.
Hi, I'm Kimberly Anne! (aka K.A.)
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