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My Car Free Experiment [Episode 20]

In this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show, I share the details of our car-free experiment. Join me as I discuss the decision-making process, and share our experiences so far.

In This Episode:

  • why we decided to sell our car (it wasn’t an easy decision)
  • two questions that helped me overcome my initial hesitations
  • how we’re managing so far + an exciting partnership

Featured In This Episode:

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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.

My Car Experiment

Hello, everybody, it’s Jennifer here and this is the Simply and Fiercely Show. 

In today’s episode, I want to chat with you about a big life decision that my husband and I made a few months ago. Or maybe it’s not really that big of a life decision but it was a big change for us. 

And that was, we decided to sell our car and not buy another one. We started talking about it around the beginning of June and then around the 18th of June, we sold the car.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is not because I think that you are interested in car-free living or because I think that you should try it personally. 

Obviously, if you want to, that’s great, but I am well aware that in places like the United States or Australia, just two places that I’ve lived in personally, the cities and the towns are not really made for car-free living. It just isn’t that kind of infrastructure. 

But we are giving it a try and I’m sharing this with you because I thought that you might be interested in hearing what went on behind the scenes, and what the decision making process was like.

Because even though deciding to get rid of a car was obviously something pretty big, and not the same necessarily as decluttering your closet, for example, there are some parallels. Hearing how we went through the process might be helpful for you if you’re thinking about something smaller like decluttering your home or about making a big change or a big decision in your life.

The behind the scenes on why Jennifer decided to sell their car and go on car-free living

So let us start from the beginning, about two or three months ago we had no intention of selling our car and going car-free. It really didn’t feel realistic and wasn’t something that had ever crossed our minds. 

But then a few things happened at once that got me questioning, would this be possible? 

We currently rent and we just got quite an extreme rent increase. It seems like everywhere in the world right now is experiencing these cost of living crises, inflation, etc. So things have gotten more expensive for us now. 

We also had a big bill come through, which was a reminder that our car insurance was going to be renewed in a month. So it was all of these things happening at once that just got me thinking, how are we paying for something that we don’t need? 

And just to be clear, I won’t share all the details of my finances, but we could afford the car. However, if we were going to continue down the path that we were on with nothing changing, we probably would have had to make some subtle cutbacks in other areas. 

And just for reference, I’ll just share a little bit about my past experience. I’m not someone who has really good willpower. I know that surprises a lot of people because they hear a minimalist and they think you must be someone who has so much self control. But that is not me. 

Part of why I have always embraced minimalism and living small is that when you cut back on certain things, you don’t have to cut back on others. 

When I first embraced minimalism, I was coming out of that season of life when I was a shopaholic and I was going through a period in my life where I still had quite a lot of debt.

So instead of following the traditional advice of ‘buy less, don’t go out to eat, etc, etc’, which I knew would have been very hard for me, what I did instead was massively downsize my house. 

For about three years we live in this tiny little studio of 140 square feet, which was so inexpensive. We didn’t even have our own kitchen or bathroom, we shared it with someone else. 

I know that probably sounds shocking to some people, but because we made that decision, we were able to pay off tons of debt and save a lot of money to the point that we were able to go on a seven month honeymoon without doing the normal things that people do when they’re on a budget. 

We still went out to eat, we still traveled, and we still did all the fun things in our life, but by downsizing our house into something much smaller, we were still able to save without having to miss out on the fun things. 

I’m sharing that story just for perspective. When I was reaching this period where I had to start thinking about my money, and I want to be a little bit more careful with it, I want to save a little bit more. What was I going to do?

Do we need a car?

With that background, I started to think that maybe we don’t need our car. Our car was paid off but it was getting a bit older. We’ve had some maintenance issues in the past few years and it was getting to the point where I was expecting that we’re going to have to start spending a lot of money to either repair the car or upgrade the car. 

I should also mention that because we live in the city, and we live in a high rise building that has a parking garage we could rent out our parking spot if we didn’t have a car. 

When I added everything up, petrol, insurance, registration, etc. and also the missed income opportunity of not renting out our car park, I calculated that having a car was costing us anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 a year, depending on how much we have to spend to fix it. 

So that’s when the seed was planted in my mind. 

What if we didn’t have a car? 

And I’ve got to be honest, when I first had that thought, all of my initial reactions were, ‘No, there’s no way we couldn’t have a car’. 

I even brought it up with my husband and of course, he was like, ‘Are you nuts?’ There’s no way we should get rid of a car. We have two kids. It sounds ridiculous. 

Of course, at that stage, my brain was agreeing with him.

Challenging our initial assumptions and listing down the conveniences of our location

One thing I always try to teach when it comes to simplifying, in general, is to always be challenging your initial assumptions. 

My initial assumption was, ‘No it’s not going to work, it’s going to be too hard’. 

In the same way, a lot of people decluttering or trying to simplify think, ‘Oh, I could never do that’ or ‘No, I can’t get rid of that, I’m definitely going to need it someday’.

Or even if you’re trying to simplify your schedule, you might think, ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing I could cut out’. Everything I do is important. 

We always have these kinds of initial responses when we are questioning whether there’s any possibility to downsize or simplify. 

So I tried to experiment with this on myself. I got out a pen and paper and thought really practically about our lifestyle. 

Now, for some background, we are in a situation that’s probably different from a lot of people listening to this. We live in an inner city suburb, so I would say that 90% of the things that we need in our life are within a 10, 15-minute walk. 

My doctor, the dentist, the hospital, and a metro supermarket are within 10 minutes. Even my physio, the kids’ school, my husband’s gym, a movie theater, etc. So there’s a lot that’s within a 10, 15-minute walk. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people so I just want to point that out. 

Also, both my husband and I are self-employed so we have a lot of flexibility that other people don’t have in terms of time. 

And thirdly, we live in an area where there’s very good public transport. I live in Brisbane, Australia, and I am not saying the whole city has fantastic public transport, but we live very close to multiple train stations, bus routes, etc. 

So on paper, I was starting to see that maybe this would work.

Would it be worth it to make the minor inconveniences go away and spend $10 to $15,000?

But the next challenge that came up in my mind is, we have two kids. 

If we didn’t have the kids I would probably have moved along a lot quicker and been like yep, this is possible, we can give it a try. If we need to go anywhere, we can always just hop into an Uber. But with the kids, it gets more complicated. 

We’ve got two big car seats that are not exactly easy to put into another car if we wanted to hire a car or hop into an Uber. 

So that’s where I was in my mind, I was trying to go back to ‘Nope, there’s no way we could do this’. But as my husband and I were sitting there thinking about it, something else came up that I mentioned before. 

There’s a good chance that we’re going to have to spend a significant amount of money soon, either doing repairs on our car or buying a new car. Our car was a 2011 model, it had really low kilometers and it was in pretty good shape but when a car is coming up on 12 years old you know there are probably going to be repairs soon. 

What was really interesting and is what made me want to share this on the podcast, was this line of thinking, which was not even natural for me, is something that I think a lot of people should try when they’re decluttering.

I said to my husband, okay, right now it feels like a huge pain. And I get it because right now, there are still times when it’s inconvenient or annoying not to have a car. 

Some of these things are picking up the kids from school when it’s raining. We’ve got to have umbrellas and raincoats and things that are annoying. Or having to get things home from the grocery store.

If we are imagining the future, where we don’t have a car, and we have these inconveniences come up, would they be so inconvenient that you would spend, $10 to $15,000, to make them go away?

When we thought about it that way it really shifted the perspective. Saying that if we didn’t have a car, would we pay that much to improve our lives? The answer is no, it wouldn’t have been worth it to spend that much for us to avoid those minor inconveniences.

Loss aversion, feeling the loss more rather than the gains

I think it has a lot to do with loss aversion. I am not a psychologist but I’ve read up on that and it’s apparently like this natural instinct or natural state of mind with humans, where we feel loss more than we feel gains. 

So the idea of losing our car, and not having it, having to deal with the pain of not having it feels so hard. 

Whereas if we didn’t have a car, and we’re like, Okay, well, let’s buy one and it’s going to fix these problems that we’re having with these inconveniences that we’re facing. The prospect of that is not as impactful as the pain feels.

I don’t know if that makes sense. I’ll quickly tell you about this study I read where some college students were told that if they completed this survey, they were going to be given a mug or a pen, or something like that. They were asked to say what they valued more or what they thought was better.

And then they had another subject group come in who were asked the same thing but they were asked after they’d already been given either the mug or the pen. The second group always voted that whatever item they’d already been given was more favorable. 

To sum up the concept, everything we already have feels more valuable and feels like it’s going to be so hard to let go. But if you didn’t have it, and somebody offered it to you, the impact or the excitement about getting it is never as significant as the feeling of letting go. 

That’s how we felt about having a car and thinking about it that way is what tipped us over the line. We had that aha moment that said, ‘Hey if we didn’t already have this car, would we spend all this money to get one’? No. So it didn’t make sense that we’d spend that money to maintain one.

That is the thought process that we went through and how it went from a point where we thought ‘no way we could do this’ to arriving at a point where we felt that okay, yep, we’re gonna give this a shot.

Deciding finally to go car-free

Once we made the decision, everything happened very quickly. We went from making the decision to getting rid of the car in less than 10 days. 

So far, it has been really easy, although there’s been a few times when it’s felt inconvenient. 

Again, keep in mind all the things I mentioned earlier about our circumstances. Everything’s within a 10, 15-minute walk. Someone asked me on Instagram, what do we do when we buy groceries? So because the shops aren’t that far away, I have one of those trolleys that hold about two bags of groceries that you pull behind you for your shopping. When I go to the shops, I can just fill that up and cart it home pretty easily. 

When we need a bigger shop, we can walk to a bigger supermarket and do a massive shop for everything that we need and then it costs us about $10 for an Uber to get home.

So far, we haven’t arrived at anything massive where it’s been a huge hurdle. There have been a few times when there are things that we would have normally done, like going to a friend’s birthday party, but it was a bit too inconvenient, so we didn’t go. 

I’m not saying that it’s all roses. There are occasions when we have to make some hard choices. But if I go back to what I always say about decluttering and minimalism, it’s always about thinking about the trade offs and not just about what’s in the moment.

At the moment, it’s annoying that we can’t go to this birthday party. But when I look at the big picture and I look at all the trade offs, I think about what is more aligned with our values and priorities. And right now, at this moment, not having the car is the better decision for us.

What helped us on our car-free journey?

I will add that we recently got something that really helps us with our car-free journey. 

Before I share what it is, I will say that we made the decision to go car free without this addition, we were going to do it anyway. And we would continue to go on with our experiment without this.

But when we told a friend that we were going to do this, his partner worked for a shop that has electric bikes. Long story short, I’ve actually become an ambassador for this program, and they have given us one of their bikes in exchange for me sharing on social media and being an ambassador for the brand. 

If you’ve been following me for a long time, you will know I’ve never actually done this before. I don’t do sponsored content or anything. But because this is something that I genuinely would buy with my own money, and it’s something that I believe in, I feel comfortable sharing it with you. 

In Australia, the company is called Lug and Carrie and I had no idea that anything like this even existed. I saw someone else post on Instagram and I was like, ‘Oh my god, it looks amazing’. 

It’s not just an electric bike, it is what they call an electric minibus because the bike has room for one adult and two children. So both my kids fit on these little cute seats in the back and it has trolley bags on the side. 

It is really helpful in terms of when I start to think about summer and how we’re going to get around when it’s really hot. This bike fixes that part of the equation because riding around in the heat on a regular bike would not be that great, but these are electric so it’s so much easier. You don’t have to put in nearly as much energy to pedal and obviously with two kids in the back, that makes a big difference. 

So I’ll be sharing more about that on social media. If you follow me on Instagram @simplyfiercely.

I should mention that I am not a super confident bike rider. Until recently, I hadn’t ridden a bike since around 2016. I’m going to go out this weekend and do some practicing on the bike. I’ll try and get some photos, it will probably be really embarrassing. 

So that is the story of us going car free. If it’s something that you want to try, maybe you live in an urban area where there are good bike paths, definitely give it a shot. 

I will say that the second I sold my car and I walked off the lot, I felt this really deep sense of freedom and there was one less massive expense I no longer had to worry about. I found it so refreshing. 

I will be honest and say that my husband had the opposite response. He felt kind of trapped when we sold the car. But now that almost two months have gone by and we’ve sort of settled into the routine, he has agreed that we’re both not really missing it so far.

But anyway, as I said, the point is not to suggest that you run out and sell your car. But maybe just think about the way that you make decisions to challenge your assumptions about what is or isn’t possible. 

As I said, if you had asked me three months ago if I wanted to live without a car, I would have looked at you like you have three heads and thought, ‘Absolutely not, there’s no way that we can do it. That is just ridiculous’. 

But when I took some time to question those assumptions, I actually realized it wasn’t as ridiculous as I initially thought. And as I said, the other thing is to kind of flip the situation on its head.

Relating the decision to go car-free to experimenting and challenging assumptions when decluttering

If you can’t even think about decluttering something. And you’re thinking, ‘Oh, there’s no way I can get rid of this. I’m definitely going to need it.’ But then you think about not having it and going through your life happy. Would you spend the money or would you go out of your way to get it just to avoid some small inconveniences? 

It’s kind of like the example you may have heard some people talk about, you may like something you own and you want to keep it, but if you had to pack it up and move it across town, would you still want to keep it that much?

I’ve experienced that myself when I’m moving and suddenly the things that I think I really need or really love become less desirable when I’ve got to pack them up and carry them across town myself.

This kind of goes along with an episode that I recorded a few weeks ago, which is about how to create decluttering breakthroughs. It’s about creating different perspectives and experimenting with them. 

Sometimes you’ll see things in a whole new light and you realize that those things you’ve been doing or things you’ve been holding on to that you thought were so essential maybe aren’t so much after all.  

I’m not saying that everybody can let go but it’s about experimenting and challenging yourself to look at things from different angles. 

So that is the current status of our car-free journey. I will be posting more about it on Instagram, @simplyfiercely and maybe I’ll do another podcast episode in a few months once it gets hot here. 

Oh my goodness, it gets so hot in the summer, so I’m not looking forward to that. I may be completely eating my words in six months. So stay tuned. 

But if you have any questions yet, hop on social and say hello and let me know. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week.

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