People are often amazed that my husband and I have cars that are 20 years old and still going strong. Yes we’ve been lucky to have reliable vehicles, and we’ve also stayed on top of basic maintenance. But the real key is that we don’t drive much. We bought my car from its original owner in 2003. In the last seven years, I’ve driven it 38,000 miles, with most of those miles in the first three years I owned the car (before we had our business set up to be completely from home). These days, I put about 3000 miles on my car each year – so of course it’s lasting longer than it would if I were driving it 10,000 miles a year. Our cars are old, so the registration fee is very low, as is our liability-only insurance. And of course we don’t have car payments.
When we chose to move last year, we knew that there were some things we were giving up by moving to a small town. The most notable of these (and the only one we even notice) is the lack of public transportation and the distance we have to travel to get to a good grocery store. We don’t really care about other shopping – we don’t do much of it anyway. But groceries are a must, and the small-town grocery store near our house just doesn’t carry most of the food we want to buy. I support them whenever I can, and buy small packets of organic frozen veggies there, along with a few other things. But they don’t have a single organic item in the fresh produce department, which is where I spend most of my grocery dollars. Our garden is starting to produce stuff now, so my grocery needs are steadily declining, but I do still need to buy a lot of our food.
So about once a week, I load up my reusable grocery bags and head into the big town ten miles down the road to shop at the co-op or the health food store. Lately I’ve been taking advantage of the trip to also drop off stuff at one of the big thrift stores in town. If there are any other errands that I need to run, I make sure that I coordinate them so that I do them all in the same trip.
Other than my weekly trip to town, I’m able to do everything I need right here in our little town. And my rule is that I never drive my car unless I’m leaving our town. Nothing is more than about three miles away, and I can easily get to everything in town either walking (pulling our son in his wagon) or by bike. The library, post office, credit union, hardware store, liquor store, even a grocery store that will do in a pinch… all are within easy walking or biking distance. I told myself when we moved here that I wouldn’t drive if I needed to go somewhere within our town, so getting around by bike or on foot has just become second nature.
Working from home also makes a huge difference, as neither of us has to go anywhere for work. We’re working hard to create a life that we love, and to be honest, we’re both happiest when we’re at home, working, working in our garden, hanging out with our son… just doing the things we do on a daily basis. And that means that most of the time, our cars are just hanging out in the garage.
Tammy Strobel has written an e-book called Simply Car-Free for people who are looking to minimize their dependence on cars. Check it out if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. We aren’t car-free (yet… maybe once our town grows a bit we could be someday), but I suppose you could call us car-minimal. The disaster in the Gulf should be a big motivator for all of us to look for ways we can consume less oil, and driving less is a good start. Do you have a self-imposed rule about not driving your car to go short distances, or on certain days? Do you make an effort to combine trips to limit your total driving? Do you prefer public transportation, bikes, or walking?
If you haven’t given much thought to the idea of being car-minimal or car-free, maybe today’s a good day to start. A good first step is to tell yourself that you won’t drive if you’re going less than two miles (or whatever distance works for you) and then gradually increase that distance as you get more comfortable walking, running, or biking. And enjoy the added benefit that comes with getting a workout while you do your errands!