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Simple Manifesto #44 – Try living without a car

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This is part of our series on The Simple Living Manifesto. We invite you to join us on the journey.

The 44th idea in the manifesto is:

Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.

my new bike tires rock!

My new bike tires rock! | Photo by Tammy Strobel

Like Leo, this is something I haven’t done personally and thus know very little about — other than I really loved living less than a mile from my office in Belton and taking my bike to work from time to time.

My Life and I own two vehicles. One for me — and one for her.

If we really put our minds (and hearts) to it, I think we could easily get rid of one of our vehicles.

We both commute to work (roughly 20 miles away) but we also work within 5 miles of each other and we’ve carpooled together in the past.

However, because of our current location (and lack of public transportation in the area), I think we’d be hard pressed to get rid of both vehicles.

So while I’ve personally never gone car-free I do know of two experts in the field and thought I’d talk with them to hear their experience first hand.

I contacted minimalist guru Everett Bogue of Far Beyond the Stars and car-free-living guru Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens, who also wrote an entire e-book on the topic, to get their thoughts.

Unfortunately, Tammy’s schedule was pretty slammed this week so she didn’t have time for an interview, but she did send me a copy of her e-book which is greatness (so I’m proud to now be an affiliate for her book — so you’ll now see an ad for the book on our site).

I’ll write a more extensive review of her book in the next day or so, but here are a few highlights I pulled from it…

I think our consumer culture creates an illusion that we need a lot of stuff (including cars) to be happy. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I saw this illusion for what it was and changed my life direction.

For most of my adult life, I thought more stuff would make me happy. If I owned a few cars or a home then everything would be perfect. Buying happiness seemed possible. But, I was wrong. Stuff and extra cars never brought me happiness, only stress.

Now that my focus has shifted away from wanting more stuff (like cars), I’m able to focus on creating
art, building relationships and making a positive change in the world.

Success is not defined by whether or not you own a car. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. The intended
function of cars is comfort and convenience. However, cars represent an enormous amount of time and money. Because of the work stress I endured to maintain this depreciating investment, I felt inconvenienced by my cars. By selling the cars, I have more time and money. A surprising side effect of selling our cars was
becoming debt-free.

In the end, I think it comes down to evaluating necessities, questioning your fears and being mindful of what you truly need to be happy. Cars are not a necessity, they create dependence, especially since there are so
many transportation alternatives. You can bike, walk, scoot or rent a car for long trips.

  • Americans spend 1/5 of their income on cars.
  • According to a 2004 American Automobile Association study, the average American spends $8,410 per year to own a vehicle, or $700 per month.
  • The figure includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil, car washes, registration fees and taxes, parking, tools and repairs.

Olly on her bike | Photo by Headphonaught

And here’s what Everett had to say:

1. What led you to give up your car in the first place?

I lived in Chicago for most of my childhood, and everyone there has a car. It’s just impractical to get around without one. So, I had access to a car that I didn’t own throughout high school. That being said, I’ve always been hugely aware of my impact on the environment, and the health + mental benefits of walking and biking, so I biked and walked as much as can be possible in the city sprawl that is Chicago.

I left Chicago for New York when I was 18, and this cemented my car-free lifestyle. It’s incredibly troublesome to own a car here.

2. What benefits have you seen from your decision (financial, physical, social, etc.)?

There are incredible benefits to not having a car that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly.

  • Less overhead. A car is incredibly expensive to maintain and own. I honestly don’t think I could have started my business if I was also a car owner, I needed the $8000 average cost per year that americans spend on cars to eat food.
  • Health. I walk and bike everywhere. Walking a couple of miles a day is both calming and keeps me healthy.
  • Less stress. Worrying about insurance, repair costs, and the upfront costs of owning a car would probably drive me insane. I really enjoy living with less, and all of the costs and dangers of owning a car would probably drive me insane.

3. Have you regretted the decision at all along the way?

Nope. There’s been one surprising development in most major cities in America that has changed everything: Zip Car. In the rare occasions that I need to move a large object, or take a trip to the country, I just open my iPhone and reserve a car. In 5 minutes I can be driving anywhere for a very limited cost. I’ve used Zip Car once this year, and last year I rented one for a few days to drive from Portland to Seattle — it was literally $135 with gas and insurance included.

For infrequent users, this really levels the playing field and makes the idea of owning a car obsolete if you’re a city dweller.

4. You’ve moved from city to city since giving up your vehicle. Does living car free impact the next city you plan to live in?

Yes. I dislike urban sprawl cities. I won’t live in LA, Detroit or Chicago. I can’t live in rural areas. Instead I stick to Brooklyn, Oakland and Portland. That’s okay! I’ve based my life around living with cities which have walkable communities, and honestly I think they’re much better to live in than the alternatives.

5. Is car free living for everyone?

It could be. Suburban communities really need to start thinking about their walkability factor. There’s no reason that small communities can’t be designed so that people have walkable access to food and public transit. Yes, this means that you need to compromise on where houses are placed. The point is to start thinking about these things.

The other option for people is to move. Believe it or not, there are places in the United States where you can walk to your grocery store. My favorite example of this is Portland, which has an incredibly rural suburban feel, and yet is designed so food is walkable in most neighborhoods. The light rail to downtown is also free in most places!

6. Would you recommend folks break the car habit cold-turkey or slowly work themselves off of it?

It depends on where you live. If you’re in Montana, you really can’t just stop, you’d starve. The good thing is there are options, and moving isn’t that difficult in this day in age.

7. Any final advice for folks interested in living car free?

The biggest element to consider is financial for me. Not having a car frees up my finances so that I don’t need a day job, so I can use these resources to build my business so I can live and work from anywhere.

The freedom this grants me is the worthiest pursuit.

So what do you think? Could you go with only one car? Could you go with none? What’s holding you back?

BONUS: Tammy has a great guest post over on Becoming Minimalist today :: How to Go Car-Lite

Join us!

Write a blog post about the point above and then share the link in the comments below…

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8 to “Simple Manifesto #44 – Try living without a car”


  1. Michi says:

    I gave up my car two years ago and loved it up until recently when I knew I’d need a car to 1.) survive the record-breaking temps predicted this summer and 2.) visit my elderly grandma in a nursing home 100 miles away each month. So, in one more week I will have purchased a car. With all the deals going on now, like cash back, 0% APR and lifetime service offers I feel like I am making the right decision for me. Yes, I am giving up some financial freedom, but in return I get other freedom, like mobility and climate control :)
    If I ever move to Portland, OR I will for sure sell my car and live it up car-free again, but until then I will just have to drive around with the music blaring and the windows down to help make up for the high monthly payments.

    • Michi, sounds like you’ve thought it through. Everyone’s gotta find that balance for them. As I mentioned up above, we’re not at a place to go carless — and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But it definitely works for others. Thanks for the comment and the insight!

  2. stewart says:

    We had two cars until a couple of years ago when we gave up one of them.

    I have a company car for work as I sometimes have to travel with lots of equipment but I also work from home so some days I don’t go any further than the fridge.

    My wife often takes the car to work so we need to plan a bit more than when we had two cars but we have saved a fortune.

    I also try to take the train and am planning to get some road tyres for my mountain bike and start cycling more.

    But we couldn’t manage without at least one car.

  3. staying-calm says:

    After having a car for about six years I’ve now been car free for over two years. I’m car free because I’m currently traveling. I teach ESL and have so far traveled to South Korea, China and Thailand. While I’m in a rather different situation I’d certainly like to continue living car-free where ever I end up next.

    • Staying-calm – excellent! Where are you teaching ESL now?
      I have a friend teaching ESL in South Korea currently. I’m pretty sure he does it without a car as well (although I could be wrong).
      Seems funny that it’s so easy to get around in other countries (as compared to the US) without cars.
      We’ve become so dependent upon cars for our “freedom” that we don’t know what to do otherwise.

  4. rfield says:

    While we have two cars, we are what we call car-lite. We have a 12 year old Toyota Tacoma and a 2007 Chevy Aveo. Combined we have less than $10000 invested in the cars and we keep them because they are paid for.

    The Tacoma is quite useful for hauling items, and we only use it when needed. The Aveo gets my wife to work on days that riding her bike isn’t feasible. She rides her bike to work 3 out of 5 days a week, and I go months at a time without driving a car.

    If you need a car, which many people do, I’d suggest staying away from a new vehicle. You can save yourself literally thousands of dollars just by buying a newer used vehicle. Buy a cheap car that will do what you need it to do, say $2000. Then make a car payment to yourself that you would make to the bank. The average car payment in America is $400/month. In a year you could sell the $2000 car for about the same as you bought it for and then use your savings for the car payment and buy a $6800 car.

    We paid $2000 for the Tacoma, and made a payment to ourselves for a year and have a newer car that has a lot of life left on it for $5000. And we don’t have to make a payment to a bank, ever. It feels great!

    • Excellent ideas rfield! I grimace every time I think about making another car payment — remembering those days I didn’t have one.

      There’s a bit of peace of mind/security that comes with a “newer” car. Hopefully it’s spending less time in the shop getting fixed — but that’s not always the case.

      I had a Chevy Silverado that was paid for and it drove like a champ — except for the three transmissions I had to put in it (one only a week after the other). So because of the cost associated with fixing it we decided it was best to move on to something newer.

      As I mentioned at the bottom of the post, Tammy had a great post on Car-Lite as well in case you missed it. http://www.becomingminimalist.com/2010/05/12/how-to-go-car-lite/



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