Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not shopping with kids

One huge advantage of our carfree lifestyle is that we don't shop very much. I believe being without a car means fewer shopping trips, but I don't have any research to back me up. If you've seen any, please leave a comment! I did find a study today that shows shopping trips are the most underestimated category of car trips -- a household's number of actual shopping trips in a car exceeded the number planned by 200%. So people do drive to stores to shop even when they weren't planning on it. I think this happens less for carfree households. Fewer stores are accessible to me, and I'm unlikely to go to a shopping center as a form of recreation. My daily commute takes me by fewer stores, so I'm less likely to stop and shop on impulse.

This filters down to our kids. We very rarely shop with our 3 year old, H. The baby is more likely to shop with one of us, since we are more likely to run errands on a day when one of us is at home with him, but H almost never sees the inside of a store. We grocery shop by bike every two weeks, and the bike is heavy enough on it's own -- I'd never bike H to the store as well. She's probably in a grocery store once every couple of months. We don't shop for entertainment, which keeps us out of toy stores and gazingus pin stores for the most part (though not completely). H's most frequent shopping excursion is to the liquor store (or "the wine store" as she calls it) because her daycare is right next to the liquor store and she and I stop on Fridays for a bottle of shabbat wine for grown-ups. Plus, the men working at that store are absolute sweethearts who love to talk to H and ogle the baby.

The other day I had some urgent errands to run, so I went into the natural health store and the grocery store with H. She wanted pretty much everything in both stores. She asked several times if she could buy something, and each time I said a clear "no." But I realized that if we were stores together more often, she'd be asking more often, and then one time I'd decide to say "yes." That in turn would mean that she'd ask me more often, and we'd be in a vicious cycle that leads to the gimmies.

And just so you know, I really do think this is only an accidental result of our carfree/mostly-TV-free lifestyle that we've avoided the gimmies thus far. We rarely go out to eat as a family, but when we do, H gets a chocolate milk. Why? Because she asks for it and we want our restaurant outing to go smoothly. Before baby R was born, H and I used to take occasional trips to Whole Foods during which we'd get her a drink and a cup of soup. Guess what she now demands on our rare trips to Whole Foods? Guess what I often get for her?

Most parents cannot stand up without fail to a young child's demands for stuff. And saying "yes" to demands for stuff is like trying to hack off a hydra-head. Each time you say "Yes" you are causing ten more future asks, each of which increases your chance of another "yes" which in turn will lead to more asks. I am grateful that because we rarely find ourselves in stores and don't have a TV, the most annoying "stuff" requests my daughter makes are for chocolate milk at restaurants and checking a DVD out of the library. I hope this trend continues, but I know that as our kids get older, they will be exposed to more stuff and that means they'll want more stuff. We've probably only put off the battles of consumerism in our children for a little while. In the years ahead we'll be teaching our kids about money, including spending, saving, and giving, as well as how advertisers and businesses try to separate us from our money. Some would say we should already be starting that process. For now, however, a big piece of our educational strategy is simply not learning to shop.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Praise of Car-Light Families

Occasionally, we worry that people get the wrong idea about us. I know that some readers out there probably think that we are environmental extremists, going to absurd lengths for our carfree cause. But to be honest, we're fairly lazy people. Well, lazy might be taking things too far, but as parents of a three-and-a-half-year-old and an eight-month-old, we don't tend to take on a lot of extra tasks. It's all we can really do to keep our laundry moving along, keep the dishes washed, and keep food in the pantry. We don't do stuff that's hard. But for us at this point in our lives, being carfree is actually much easier than having a car. We never worry about parking, we don't have to dig the car out of the snow, and we don't have extra bills to pay each month. We don't spend time stuck in traffic or driving from home to daycare to work and back to daycare and home again. We see our lives as easy and the lives of car-owners as impossibly difficult.

However, we have set up our lives so that being carfree is the easiest choice and not everyone has the ability or the desire to live in the kind of compact, public-transportation-rich city that allows even families with young children to get by without a car. If we lived even slightly farther out of town, say in Arlington, or Newton, I know we would have at least one car because our lives as parents would be too difficult to manage without one. So for the moment, I'd really like to sing the praises of all of you car-light families out there.

There are many families living in suburbia and small towns that make do with just one car. For instance, Four on a Quarter has a set a goal of using just 4,000 car miles per year in Orlando, Florida, which is a much harder challenge than living carfree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Still, they find that their efforts at biking add substantially to their lives. Lex and Lena of Totally Smitten Mama live car-light in western Massachusetts and decided to give up on their dream of farm-life in favor of being less dependent on a car. Suburban Bike Mama rediscovered her love of biking in Newton, MA.

What we have in common with many of these car-light families is a drive to take things just one step further. In our neighborhood, every family we can think of has just one car. Parking is at a premium and public transportation and biking are both good options, so it is easy and cost-efficient for families to live with just one car. We've taken that one step further.

But if you live in an area where you look around, and nearly every family has two cars, or possibly even more, ditching the car completely might be a real stretch unless you are willing to do more drastic things like moving, finding a job closer to home, or committing to hard core all-weather biking. But reducing to one car might well be quite do-able with some minor restructuring, and still permit you to reap many of the benefits that we extol here at Car Free With Kids: money in your pocket, better health, less time wasted behind the wheel, and a stronger sense of community.

So, if what we do here seems a little bit crazy or impossible, it might be where you live. But that doesn't mean you can't get some of the very same benefits in your own community. Look around you, see what "normal" is where you live, and try to drive less than that. You'll see the most benefits once you can reduce car use enough to truly offload a car. That's what gets you the most payoff both financially and in terms of life simplicity, but if that seems like too much, start with parking the second car all weekend, commuting by bus one day a week, or running errands by bike. Even these smaller steps will make your life nicer, and possibly even motivate you to take bigger steps.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Carfree Roundup

Here are some recent posts and stories that caught our eye:

Totcycle >> Is Family Cycling Safe? One dad's take on the safety (or not) of biking with kids. We couldn't agree more.

Most Civilized Conveyance >> Homecoming InkandPen and Dave joined the ranks of the car free with kids when they welcomed Jasper to their family in late November. Check out some great pics of their pedicab ride home from the birth center and send them some good wishes. Stay tuned for what promises to be a great baby bike set-up on their Yuba cargo bike.

Vermont Public Radio >> Winter Bike Commuting Check out this radio program on commuting by bike in the winter in Vermont.

Four on a Quarter >> Does it wear off? Angie writes about how a shift to traveling primarily by bike has improved her quality of life (and that driving less doesn't feel like deprivation). Also, take note, this family is going super car-light in ORLANDO, one of those places that everyone says that driving less, let alone primarily biking, is "impossible." We're cheering them on!