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Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Did It

I did something a little nutty at the beginning of this month: I sold my car.

While this might not seem terribly outrageous, I should add one more thing: I'm not getting another one.

When people find this out, their first question of course is "WHY?" The short answer: I could not find a way to justify, as a single person, owning both a car and scooter. It seemed excessive, materialistic, wasteful and indulgent, especially if I continue to talk about living a life of simplicity. But in making the choice between the two, I liked my scooter way more! It's so inexpensive, easy and fun.

If you have time or interest though... here's the longer answer:

This was not a whimsical, spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment decision. My roommate reminded me this week that I first started talking about it in the fall of 2006.

I experimented all summer with not owning my car, loaning it out to friends who needed transportation, or simply letting it sit in its parking spot as I took the bus, rode my bike, traveled by train, drove my scooter, walked or... here's a crazy thought -- stayed home.

I don't know where the seeds of this idea started, but most likely back in 2003, when I decided to ride my bike once a day in place of driving. The steps forward continue from there in a jumble: more bike riding, less driving, buying a scooter, job changes, gas crises, Gulf oil spill...

But it's more than that for me. It's also a spiritual decision.
On no subject is Jesus more clear than on materialism: a life focused on possessions is a poor and misguided life. Over and again, he urges us to seek a spiritual path and life of loving one another.... Real treasures do not rust, run low on power, become obsolete, clutter up closets and garages, or rack up credit card debt. One need never worry about a real treasure being stolen. Real treasures are never hoarded. They are shared. Simplifying means having less, wanting less, being satisfied with what you have or less than what you have. It does not mean boredom. People with too many things are the most easily bored. Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet
As I got serious about using my bike not just for exercise but for transportation, I noticed some things -- for example, that it took longer to get places. Brilliant, I know. But listen to me. As I slowed down, I started realizing how much I was driven by efficiency. By driving everywhere I was able to get as much done as possible in the shortest amount of time. But one day I asked myself a dangerous question, So what?

It certainly wasn't because this speediness gave me more time to lay on the couch or read a book or pray. My efficiency just gave me the ability to work MORE. Humph.

Don't get me wrong. Working is a noble endeavor and another part of my spiritual disciplines. But at the end of my life -- heck, at the end of each day -- I don't want it written on my tombstone, "She worked a lot." Anyone who knows me knows that I work hard. I just work differently now. I don't drive my days according to how MUCH I can accomplish each day. Instead, I am trying to be driven more by how WELL I do what I set out to accomplish. I'm trying to proceed more purposefully, with more planning and balance and faith.

I will also say that between the way I'm choosing to eat (organically, seasonally, with very little processed food) and the way I'm getting places that I'm spending more of each day in making those two things happen. In the 21st century this might sound a little crazy. But it's working for me. I'm opting for slow and steady over fast and furious.

How's it been these past 4 weeks without a car? So far, so good. I want to be the first to admit that it may not work out. I may discover it's too inconvenient, I suppose. But for now, I'm living as if I'll never own a car again.

People tend to have many questions, so here are Life With No Car FAQ's:
  • What do you do when it rains? There is a bus stop that is a 10-minute walk from my house. Yes, in the pouring rain I get wet walking there. I guess that's ok. I have to leave the house a bit earlier to make the right bus. That requires planning ahead.
  • What if you need to go out of town? I have been taking the train to So Cal for several months now, and enjoying it a TON. Two weeks ago I needed to get somewhere that Amtrak didn't go to, and the connection with MetroLink wouldn't work, so I rented a car in LA. It worked great. It's definitely cheaper to rent a car occasionally or take a taxi than to own a car.
  • What if you need to buy something that you can't carry on your scooter? I have patient, supportive friends (especially my roommate), but I also ask myself two questions: 1) Do I really "need" this? 2) Will it bring me closer to God? (thank you Matthew Sleeth, p 84). Riding my scooter or taking my bike or the bus forces me to evaluate whether the thing I want to purchase is necessary. Let's be brutally honest -- we lived for a long time without Costco. It's possible. I like this chance to force myself to ask those questions.
  • I am stoked it works for you -- but I've got 3 kids, soccer practice and piano lessons! (Not exactly a question...) No judgment from me. Absolutely it's easier for me to do this. But I would ask every family to consider whether they really need two cars. It will take more planning at times, but that doesn't make it impossible.
  • Aren't you afraid of getting hit? Sure. I ride carefully, and defensively. I have had one or two close calls. But I would guess that the risk of getting hurt is far higher when I'm in a car.
Final tidbits:

Do you know you can't maintain car insurance unless you own a car? Insurance rates are based in part on your age and driving record, but they hinge on what car you own. So now I have to purchase insurance when I rent a car, or make sure the person whose car I'm driving has supplemental insurance.

Scooters park for free in public parking lots. Massively convenient. There's always a spot available too.

It costs me $4 to fill up my scooter. (And it costs me nothing to fill up my bike!)

When I ride my bike I can hear birds singing, talk to people at stoplights, and feel the sun on my face. On my scooter I cannot listen to music or use my phone. This has been really good for thinking, watching, listening. Try it sometime.

This won't work for everyone. Please feel no pressure from me to do this. As Matthew Sleeth says, If you appear smug or holier than thou, you will be a positive witness to a party of none. But I share it as encouragement, and if you want it to be, a challenge. I continue to seek after ways to be a better steward of my resources and God's creation. I yearn for a simpler, slower-paced existence. And I value all of these as ways to manage anxiety and frustration. As my life becomes less about convenience and efficiency and more about charity, generosity, hospitality and spiritual discipline, I know God far better. And my neighbor too.


  1. well said and done. I am learning so much about time and transportation in the city. We can survive without cars! Woah!

  2. Love this post and this challenge. You articulated this so well Kelly and regardless of our life-cirumstances, we can all heed the encouragement to slow down, turn-down, breath deeply and listen. Thank you.

    PS When can we pick you up in Vta at the Amtrack station for your dinner at the Stones?

  3. Ironic you should say that... I just booked a round trip to Ventura on Amtrak for Thanksgiving. How fun another trip would be! Let me check my calendar. Thanks for your support.

  4. Kel, I remember about 2 years ago I asked you what is one thing you would of changed about life when you were younger and you told me "I wish I wouldn't have worked so much." I have never forgotten that. Your wisdom and honest self-reflection here is a gift. I think this is the first season of my life where I can honestly say that I am not defining my days by "working a lot." I miss you!

  5. This makes me happy. On so many levels. Thanks Michelle. You are missed.