Here I am, 31 December 2020, and all I feel is that something must be wrong with my calendar.
I mean, it’s still just March, right? It sure feels like it is.
I can’t deny that 2020 has been a difficult year for me, though I’ve been quite fortunate it wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been for most others. While I’ve been a remote employee for 8 years now I normally break up the monotony with travel. In 2019, for example, I was on the road the equivalent of about 4 months throughout the year. This year I haven’t spent a night away from home since early March and it’s definitely getting to me. I can’t find a time in my life where I’ve gone so long without travel, even as a child.
If I’m honest though it isn’t the travel that is getting to me but it is the inability to socialize with friends. We went from eating out or going to our favorite bar most nights of the week to not at all and I really miss the people. The holidays have been exceptionally hard with both this and travel as it is the first time neither Joy nor I have seen our families over any major holiday.
For me, this has been what has made the year so long. Instead of going somewhere every two to three weeks I have been at the desk in my home office week after week. Add in the fact that we haven’t spent any of that time, even at home, with friends and it has been a depressing year. I’m not someone who handles routine well normally. In fact I crave the chaos that comes with travel and other activities as it means things are constantly changing. Without that even the most basic of activities feels somewhat empty over time.
How I spent 2020
So how did I cope with 2020? For the most part I didn’t. After the first few weeks at home I found myself without any energy to do much of anything after work. On a good day I could grab a book and read for a bit but most of the time I just mindlessly wound up doom-scrolling Twitter on my phone. What could have been blog posts, side projects or just fun hobbies became a life of shit-posts on Twitter and extra naps.
It could be worse. I am grateful that both Joy and I have been working remote for a number of years, even before the pandemic started. This meant that much of the daily stress of forcing work into a space that isn’t meant for it wasn’t something we had to deal with. As a result a “normal” day for us in June 2020 didn’t look much different than a normal day for us in June 2019 or June 2018. Yes, from the inside the view was different, but the bulk of living simply went on for us like it would any other year.
What did change, as I mentioned above, was my energy level. By May I was down to wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt daily, something I never would’ve done in the past where, even working from home, I would always try to care somewhat about what I wore. Even my sleep patterns changed. While I’ve always needed, and usually achieved, 7.5 hours or more of sleep a night, I used to do it with about 8 hours in bed. This year, largely out of boredom and lack of energy, the amount of sleep (according to Fitbit) didn’t change much but most nights I was in bed at least 10 hours. There just wasn’t much point in doing anything else.
A simpler, more private me
While my mental state has been down this year I can’t say it’s all been negative either. In fact, except for trying to adjust to routines and a level of quiet I’m not used to, this year really has been pretty good for us.
First, we paid off a massive chunk of our two remaining debts. We started 2020 with about $210,000 left on our mortgage and about $29,000 left on my student loans. We’re ending it with no student loans and about $195k left on a different mortgage which lowered our interest rate by 1.1% and minimum payment by just over $500 per month. As our jobs have been good to us we’re taking all the money saved per month and putting it into the mortgage which we will have paid off in just under 10 years if nothing changes and, should our circumstances take a turn for the worse, we can reduce ourselves to just a base mortgage payment which will give us some of the lowest monthly bills we’ve ever had.
Next, while I haven’t spent much time on personal projects this year, I have been able to move forward quite a bit on two personal endeavors that have always been very important to me, simplicity and, in tech, privacy.
In terms of simplicity, from re-arranging my office to getting rid of numerous car loads of “stuff” I feel like I’m personally in a much better place. I’ve always been what my mother called an “anti-pack rat,” even as a child. That said, the accumulation of stuff from multiple careers, moves across state lines and from life in general was to a point that it was giving me anxiety. I would clear out a car or two worth of stuff a year and yet every year we seemed to gain 2-3 carloads of more stuff as relatives unloaded on us after moves, swag piled up from conferences and all the failed ideas that required that “one thing” to make work.
To combat all that I’ve gotten rid of quite a bit, most on purpose and some on accident, and I don’t miss any of it. For example, I did a massive clean-out of my closet. If we were to move again I could fit all clothes into a single packing box. In addition, I donated enough books, furniture and other junk that I was able to turn my office around and configure it so I can actually focus in it. Finally, I lost my 2nd laptop, a 13″ Asus Zenbook I bought last fall. While this wasn’t planned (it broke and the cost of repair wasn’t worth it) it has done wonders for my ability to focus with just my remaining laptop. I’m no longer chasing down merge conflicts or missing files or configurations anymore and I can just pick up my laptop and actually do work. It might sound like a small change but it’s been wonderful.
As for privacy, this goes hand in hand with my goal of simplicity as I’ve cut out software, services and hardware I don’t need and replaced others such as Google and Apple. This gives us a tech stack at home that is more private and built by companies and organizations I don’t mind paying for their service. In the end not only is our tech stack better for us but it’s also simpler and cheaper. We managed to knock almost $400/month off our monthly bills simply by cutting tech, services and other subscriptions from our lives.
A healthier me
Simplifying and staying home more had a few extra benefits for my health that I am pretty proud of. First, I’ve been able to consistently walk more often. This combined with no longer going out means that I’ve lost about 15lbs since March (and hope to lose at least as many again next year).
Walking and not eating out were the biggest factors in my weight loss but they weren’t the only factors. I’ve also pretty much completely quit drinking. Before March I would average between 1-2 drinks per day, every day and I had been on that pace for about a decade. While I’ve recognized it’s too much many times in the past, mostly because I averaged that only drinking 1-2 days per week, I was never able to cut it out of my life. Our local bar was too easy of an escape after work and I would never say no to a beer when out with people in pretty much any situation. Being home has changed that. We tried a few beers at home over the summer, mostly during holidays, but it turns out I really don’t drink because I like to drink but because I want to be social and, unfortunately, we had built a habit where being social was mostly defined as spending time in pubs and bars.
One might ask if I’ll go back to the bad habits of drinking and eating out too much after it’s safe to go outside but I don’t think we will, at least not to the level we did. First, we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with what we eat at home. I’m eating more salads and we’re making food generally more to my liking across all meals. Second, our favorite bar closed its doors for good in July so even when it’s safe to go back out our “living room” is no more. Add to that the fact that nearly all bars in our neighborhood (we don’t drive to drink) allow smoking and it’s safe to say none of them will become the gathering place for us that Mr. Beery’s was. That’s a promising sign on my journey to stay healthy.
Looking back on 2020, there really was a lot to be thankful for. While I’ve outlined the biggest wins already they weren’t all of it for us. Here’s a few other things I’m proud of in 2020:
- I finished 94 books (according to Goodreads), 13 higher than my previous record in 2019
- We finished replacing all the windows on our house with hurricane windows (a project we spread out over 3 years)
- I somehow completed 1,329 activities on GitHub. This is well below the 3,000 or more I had last year but still pretty awesome with everything going on
- I moved this site back to WordPress and wrote my first WordPress theme from scratch, which is easily the most minimalist theme I’ve yet seen
- Finally beat the main quest in Skyrim
All in all, I’ll call this year a win for us in so many ways. We’ve not only been lucky enough to come out at the end with our health and our jobs but we managed to really make some dents in all kinds of things that will benefit us for years to come.
Looking ahead to 2021
So what does 2021 bring? Honestly it looks like 2021 won’t be much different than 2020 was. I don’t foresee us being able to get a vaccine until at least the summer and, considering how many are saying they’ll skip it or only get one dose, I’m not sure it will be effective enough to let us get back out into the world yet, especially from here in Florida. All is not lost though. As this is our new normal there are a few things I want to accomplish in 2021:
- Get away from Twitter. I’m not going to close my account but I do need to be more intentional in how I use it
- Spend more time blogging and reading. I know I say this every year but… THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT, lol
- Lose 15lbs more. This will take me back to where I was around 2010. Combine this with a physical (I missed this year thanks to COVID) and my goal will be to avoid the annual lecture on my bad habits by my doctor
- Replace our kitchen cabinets. They’re old and starting to fall apart. It’s time
- Walk even more
- Cut soda out of my life. This is one of my biggest remaining health vices. It’s time to do something about it
- Most of all, be more positive and find joy in all I can
For the record, these aren’t resolutions. Instead they’re promises and goals to help my make my life, and that of those around me, better.
So, here’s to closing the door on 2020, the bad and the good and looking forward to a better, happier, 2021. If life is what we make of it each day then I’ve got 365 chances to make for a good life.