Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Selling our car

Rocketstar packed with all of our earthly possessions before we started the drive from Missouri to Oregon (Fall 2008)
Earlier this month we marked the five year anniversary of life without car ownership. We still use a car on occasion, usually when we are on vacation or if we need to haul something too large for a bike trailer or cargo bike. In our everyday life, we often go months at a time without any of us setting foot in one. 

My conversion to car-free living started years before we sold our car. After my original epiphany of the benefits of car-free transportation, the balance in my life slowly shifted toward non-motorized transportation until it reached the point that having a car felt unnecessary.

From 2004-2008, Neil and I enjoyed biking and walking places, but were both still reliant on cars for every day transportation. For Neil, the balance tipped toward car-free living in the summer of 2008 when he moved to Little Rock without a car. We shared mine, but since I took the car to work, his bike became his primary mode of transit. For me, it wasn't until we moved to Oregon for graduate school a few months later that I left the car parked for most of my trips.

In the fall of 2008, we moved to Corvallis, Oregon--a car-free paradise. The city itself is tiny; a mere fifteen minutes on a bike and you are out in the country. I normally walked everywhere, both because I found it annoying to haul my bike up and down the stairs to our second-floor apartment and because I almost always prefer to walk when given the option. Neil usually rode his bike to get to his destination more quickly. Public transit was available (and free for students!), but the town was so small it was almost always faster and more convenient to bike or walk.

Corvallis spoiled us. If our destination was five miles away we thought it was so far. Downtown was less than a mile to the east, we lived on the on the edge of campus, and the local food co-op was just over a mile from our apartment. We started having to make special trips just to get the car out every once in awhile so it wouldn't sit idle for months on end.

In the fall of 2009 I was preparing to spend six months living and working in Senegal and The Gambia. Before I left we took Rocketstar (our 1992 Honda Accord) in to get her oil change and regular maintenance. We learned that while she was running fine now, there were several repairs in our near future--repairs that were going to cost nearly as much as she was worth.

We had talked in passing about selling the car, but after that visit to the mechanic we began to seriously discuss reasons to make the leap.
  1. Practical. I had used the car the previous semester when I was recovering from a knee surgery. Neil never used the car. Ever. When I returned from West Africa, I would be biking and walking easily again. It just didn't make sense to continue holding onto a car that we so rarely used.
  2. Financial. Paying for car insurance, gas, and upkeep, was not worth the handful of times we felt that we needed a car. And after selling, it turns out that need is relative. There are always alternatives when you are forced to look for them.
  3. Environmental. There are many ways to reduce ones carbon footprint, and driving less is one of them. Selling the car was one way we could align our life with our values.  
  4. Lifestyle simplification. Not having a car gave us one less thing to take care of. Yes, it was an adjustment, but since we had been slowly moving in that direction for years, it felt like the natural next step rather than a drastic measure.
If there was ever a good time to try life without car, it was while we were in graduate school living in a small, progressive, bike-friendly town. Well-meaning friends and family worried that we would regret the decision or that our next town we moved to would not be as hospitable to the car-free lifestyle. I took comfort in the fact that if it didn't work out, we could always buy another car; the decision was not irreversible.

Less than a week before I boarded a plane bound for Dakar, we listed Rocketstar on Craigslist and sold her the following day. And we haven't looked back since.

Not having a car has changed the way we live for the better. It has saved us money, made us healthier, connected us to our community, and--most importantly--it's fun. We truly prefer life this way and are happy to have made the switch.

So here's to half a decade of life without a car! May there be many more in our future.

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