When people find out I’m car free, the conversation frequently devolves into one of the following knee-jerk reactions:

A) I could never sell my car because...
B) You poor thing, it's terrible to be carless because...

The great thing about knee-jerk reactions is they don’t require thought, allowing people to wallow comfortably in their pre-conceived notions instead of questioning conventional wisdom and learning to think about reality objectively.

The reality of the situation escapes people, mostly because it’s so simple: I ride my bicycle because I like riding my bicycle.

To answer point A, I never suggested they sell their car; just because other people have made life choices that make using a car seem obligatory doesn’t mean that no other choices are possible. I deliberately chose to move to a neighborhood where using a car isn’t necessary for daily life. As I write this, I’ve got a half-finished grocery list at my elbow, a cargo bicycle standing by that easily swallows the four paper bags of groceries that comprise a “large” (for me) weekly shopping trip (I’ve never had reason to see just how many I can carry; but I know it’s easily six bags and suspect it could be up to a dozen), a neighborhood grocery store less than a mile away and three chain grocery stores at the half-way point of my week-day commute. I typically commute by bicycle five days a week; it’s an easy 15 mile round trip that takes about half an hour each way in good weather. In poor weather I have the choice of two light rail stations within a mile of my house and another one three blocks from work, and I can even take my bicycle on the train. As an added bonus, I never have to worry about scheduling time to work out; it’s a built-in feature of my work week. Furthermore, it forced me to re-consider the value of my time: rather than of filling every waking moment with activities (and stress about scheduling all of them), I’ve learned to listen to my body and just say “no” when I need to rest. Doing less may cause casual friendships may wane, but watch the way significant ones then have time to grow!

To answer point B, not owning a car means freedom, not lack. Here in Minneapolis there are two words that strike fear and loathing into the heart of any car owner: Snow Emergency, the City’s three-day sequence for clearing excessive snow falls from the roads, and the simple temporary no-parking rules that go along with it, yet cause so many cars to get towed away to the impound lot because so many people don’t follow them. Even if you don’t park on the street, you still have the nuisance of clearing driveways and parking lots, and then trying to navigate snow-narrowed streets. Selling my car before winter was a huge stress relief for me, because I no longer had to worry about parking, especially in winter. Additionally, I no longer have to worry about my car getting broken into, damaged or worn out. Can you say freedom from paying insurance premiums, maintenance costs and car loans? The times when I actually need the use of a car, I turn to car-sharing. Here in Minneapolis I have the choice of two car-share clubs: the nation-wide Zip Car and the local Hour Car. I chose Hour Car because there is a car just over a mile from my house, and another one just two blocks from my office down town. Car sharing works great for me because it includes insurance, gasoline, and parking. In the last two months I haven’t even needed it, although in April I used it three times.

All-in-all, going car free was far easier than even I imagined. The hardest part of breaking my addiction to driving everywhere was re-thinking the status quo, and actually making those necessary changes. For more details on living car free, take a look at Tammy Strobel’s e-book, Simply Carfree.

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2 Responses to Carfree

  1. Abby X says:

    Oddly enough, my knee jerk reaction when people tell me they’re car-free is to wonder if I’ll. be perceived in the same light as I tend to perceive those who drive big dually pickups with roll bars and mud flaps with seductively posing women…
    As I’ve spent more time lately biking and learning how simple it can be to get to and from on bike, I’ve found my frustrations while driving to be more frequent, longing to be biking instead.

    • Sean says:

      Abby, getting stuck in traffic jams while driving was one of the things that motivated me to start commuting by bicycle. I’ve found annoyance at a situation (desire to change) + (realizing you have the) ability to change = action.

      Making the change in thinking from “I can’t because…” to “I could if…” enables some amazing things to happen.

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