Car-Free and loving it!


I have had cars for a long, long time and I’ve enjoyed the mobility and freedom they’ve given me. I had always felt that having a car was a good thing. But upon moving (back) to Chicago in the fall of 2007, I realized for the first time in my life that owning a car could actually be considered a curse.

Here I was, living in Edgewater (far north side of Chicago), close to just about everything I need, be it by walking, taking the train or bus, or the occasional cab if all else failed (not likely), all the while making payments on a car I was not using. Why was I not using my car? Parking is a hassle in the city, and it seems that the city is always looking for ways to get a few dollars off everybody via parking tickets and booting cars. It almost seems like a city hobby. The amount of parking tickets I got when I moved here from Florida, probably due to my ignorance of local parking laws, was ridiculous. I started resenting my car and for the first time I flirted with the idea of letting it go. But it was just an abstract concept in my mind and I did not take action. To be honest, it was a little frightening. It seemed too extreme. I did start reading blogs and books about people who had taken the plunge, including couples and even families with small children. It was very eye-opening to see so many people enjoying life to the fullest without having to pay a fortune for the luxury of owning a metal box with four wheels. And mind you, these were people who could afford to own cars, and very nice cars, too. But they *chose* not to. I was intrigued. But I was still not ready.

After paying off my car last year, I once again thought of getting rid of it, but I was still not comfortable wih the idea. I have some relatives who live in the suburbs, about 1.5 hours from the city; how would I be able to visit them? One of the wonders of the city of Chicago is that so much of it can be enjoyed wihtin walking distance of an “El” station, or just about any of our bus lines. And since some of those trains and buses run 24/7, it’s a no-brainer to let someone else drive when you’re out partying and enjoying a few drinks with friends. When I finally decided to sit down, calculator in hand, and add up all my car-related expenses (gas, maintenance, city sticker, plates, registration, parking at my building, parking fees at meters/pay boxes), it because painfully clear that I was just throwing my money out the window on something I did not really need or, at this point, even want, any longer. As a single man, my transportation needs are very few, and this city is so accessible, that it become something I could no longer ignore, lest I wanted to continue wasting all this money (and time) I could be using in other, much more productive, ways.

So I called Carmax and inquired about the process of selling my car to them, and though I wil not go into the details, the process was so painless it was ridiculous. I can’t believe it took me so long to so this. I was still somewhat nervous, and remembered how I felt when I got rid of my telephone landline several years ago. But it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The money I got from the sale of the car, plus the money I saved from not *owning* the car allowed me to pay off 5 credit cards in one fell swoop, and I am now completely debt-free, with the exception of my student loans, which are currently in deferment and will be dealt with at a later time. I feel so free and happy. It’s amazing how much more I can accomplish now without the burden of that car. No more car expenses and no more car stress. I don’t regret doing this one bit.

So how do i visit my relatives in the suburbs? Our suburban train system (Metra) reaches their area and my cousin picks me up at the station, and he offered to do this and actually encouraged me on my quest for car freedom because he used to live in the city and agreed with me in that I didn’t need the car. So I’m lucky in that I have a good support system and friends who understand my reasons for doing this.

Of course, none of this would’ve been possible had I not discovered minimalism. Minimalism is about letting go of things that may not be as important to us as we once thought they were. The spark of light and awareness that was ignited in my head forces me to constantly question my need for everything I own. The big items are the most obvious, hence, the car was front and center in my mind as something that most likely needed to go. I don’t own a house, and I feel incredibly fortunate for that, even though it may sound crazy to admit. Now I’m working on the little things, the details that may not seem important, but are the ones that add up. I am well on my minimalism journey, and things are looking great. The freedom I’ve discovered is one thing I will not let go of.

Oh, one more thing. I refuse to tell people I am “car-less”. I tell everybody I am “car-free“, which is NOT the same thing. Rather than focus on the “inconvenience” of not having my own set of wheels, I choose to focus on the many advantages of not being a slave to what I call a metal box with four wheels. I love my car-free life!

How about you? Have you let go of your vehicle in order to have more time for yourself or your family, to get more exercise, to save money? Would you like to do it? Tell me all about it in the comments section and let’s discuss! 🙂

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10 thoughts on “Car-Free and loving it!

    1. Hey Jonathan, thanks for stopping by, buddy! Glad you liked the post. Yeah, we all have different needs, and it’s not always cut and dry. Have you looked into ZipCar? They have trucks, if you just need one periodically. Good luck!

  1. I love the idea! My husband and I are car-lite. He needs the car for field work. but we have car that is fully paid for and we take public transportation whenever possible. I know so many people that are car free it’s quite liberating I hear. Have you heard of ‘i-go car and zipcar? It’s a service where you rent the car by the hour. The fee includes gas and insurance. Very helpful in the event you need a car last minute

    1. Hey Jenny! Yes, for many people, “car-lite” is the only option at a given time, and some work their way to being car-free but for some it works and they keep it that way. It’s all good, as long as we’re being mindful and trying out best. Yes, being car-free is intensely liberating. I truly didn’t think I would enjoy it so much. I study peoples’ reactions when I tell them I’m car-free (not car-less, LOL) and sometimes they look at me with what looks like pity, and I almost expect them to say “awwwww, poor you”. That’s when I tell them I absolutely LOVE being car-free, and for me, right now, it just works.

      Yes, I am a member of ZipCar and I love it! I researched both when I got rid of my wheels and decided ZipCar was a better fit for me. Thanks for stopping by again, Jenny!

  2. Rick! It is a great feeling to live car free, I always think if people just new! Living in Seattle currently car free is easy! I have been wihout a car for an entire year now and I wouldn’t go back. My next journey may take me to Austin, Tx and I plan to do the same (somehow).

    Keeping myself free of excess stuff has been the key to me ..all for living with less stuff you know. : ) thanks for sharing rick!

    1. Hi Andrea! Thanks for stopping by, it’s a pleasure and honor to have you here. Yes, living car-free is so awesome I’m still kicking myself for not doing it sooner. But I’m loving it now, and that’s all that matters. I had no idea Seattle was so car-free friendly, and that’s great. And if you do move to Austin, I wish you the best and may you remain blissfully car-free! Cheers!!!

  3. Rick,

    I am currently not in the place to be car-free, but I admire your situation and your willingness to depart from your vehicle. Although I am unable to get rid of my car, I am looking for other areas in my life to cut back, and part with unnecessary possessions. Thanks for the encouragement.

    1. Hi Matt!

      Believe me, I struggled with this decision for so long because, frankly, I was scared. I kept thinking “What if this turns out to be a big mistake?” I wouldn’t want to have to go through the hassle of getting another car, with all that that entails. But I was so wrong. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a relief letting go of my car has been. The extra money and the lack of car-related stress has allowed me to do so many things. I can honestly say I should’ve done this years ago. We’re all in different places in life, but if you can’t go car-free, you may be able to go car-lite as much as you can, and test the waters. My car had become more trouble than it was worth, and I just had to let it go. You can cut back in other areas, and slowly work your way towards your ideal situation. Let me know if I can help further, and thanks for stopping by. Good luck!

      Rick

  4. I just wrote a post about almost turning into a one car household. In the end, I was relieved when it did not happen. I was recently in a car accident and it looked like the ins. company was going to total my car. I live in what I consider a rural community, having moved from a large city to a small, sleepy southern town and although I am able to walk to work, having that second car costs me next to nothing and it’s a really good car that I own outright. Like you mention above, I think that at the end of the day the fear of giving up my car is that it won’t be the right decision and I will not find another car as good as the one I already own. The ins. company is going to pay for the repairs and now I’m sort-of cringing in anticipation of my premium rising, but given that I paid $33 a month pre-accident, I’m not thinking it’s going to break the budget.

  5. Wonderful post. I could practically feel the liberation in your sentences. I live in South Florida, and I just made my final car payment! Woohoo! I am strongly considering giving up my car. Like you, if I were to sell my vehicle, I would be able to use that money to pay off money I owe on some back taxes and to pay off the balance on the one credit card I own. If I do this, I will be debt free, save for my student loans, which is roughly $206/month, and that is only because I double-up on payments. I am a part of our growing and active bicycling culture down here and our transportation system encourages bicycling by having every single Miami-Dade Transit bus rigged with a bus rack. This means, I could ride my bicycle to the bus stop and put the bike on the bus! I love it!

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m inspired now. Lots to think about.

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