A few weeks ago I got rid of a poorly designed shower caddy. It took me five years to toss it. I bet you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with living without a car? Well, I’ve got some life efficiency gurus on deck today to help me explain.
First, about that caddy. I purchased a shower caddy in June 2011 to make my life better. The shower caddy was purchased to solve a problem: our bathtub had no shelves. But the problem-solving caddy turned out to be a real negative in my life. A negative I ignored for five years and four months. The purported problem-solving shower caddy has, for more than five years, frequently and annoyingly slipped down the shaft of the shower head spilling my razor, soap, and overpriced curly hair products to the tub floor. In my estimate this slipping caddy action has occurred in more than 50% of my showers. (keeping in mind that the average person is not a reliable reporter of events in his or her own life because of something called social desirability bias.)
At least half of my showers in the past five years have been disrupted by a loud crashing noise that required me to bend over and pick up stuff. Ugh. So aggravating.
On February 10, 2017, I got rid of the horribly designed bathroom accessory. Since then, 100% of my showers have been pure, crash-free bliss. To be clear, it is the absence of that shitty shower caddy that has changed my bathing life for the better, not the addition of the far superior, clamped-on, secure caddy. Getting rid of the negative thing is what made my showers happier.
I read a lot about frugal living, minimalism, and early retirement. The one thing these lifestyles have in common is a basic assumption that adding things to your life (even positive things) does not necessarily make your life better. For example, I owned a pretty nice car. It was a 2012 VWJetta. It was fun to drive. It had a five-speed manual transmission. It had leather-ish seats. It had Sirius XM. We had a crazy-low interest rate on the loan. When we bought it, I was certain it would be a net positive in my life. We sold it a year later. In retrospect, I did not realize how many negatives it was adding. I have always owned a car, just like everyone else, and I could not consider for one second that it could be making my life less satisfying or efficient. It’s remarkable what we humans will do out of pure habit.
Two gurus and a lady in her bathroom.
Last Sunday, I was on my hands and knees painting the baseboard in the bathroom, listening to a podcast on my laptop which was balanced on a yoga block in the sink. I don’t generally listen to podcasts or put my computer in sinks, but Mr. Money Mustache was being interviewed by the 4-Hour Workweek guy here: The Tim Ferriss Show. Zero Car Mom was interested to listen (and not just because we all have cool blogging handles.) I felt like I was in the Church of Born Again Walkers and these guru-type guys were my spiritual leaders. Even the 4-Hour Workweek guy walks everywhere he can. The proselytizer with the mustache preached: “Walking is so powerful and so underrated. Your brain just goes into overdrive. All of your problems sort of start to solve themselves in the background. For people who don’t do it regularly, for like an hour a day, or walking to genuinely go somewhere, they just discount it, because they haven’t even experienced this incredible power.” They were talking about what I have been experiencing since last April when I nominated myself to be the Zero Car guru for middle-aged parents.
I didn’t anticipate that not owning a car would feel this good. I figured it would be great exercise, occasionally inconvenient and a great conversation starter at parties. But, I can honestly say I feel liberated. Not having a car forced me, in the words of Mr. Money Mustache, to “optimize away my car dependence.”
My optimization took the form of moving my local office six-miles closer to home (from Beacon to Cold Spring) and eliminating one of my train commute days, thus reducing my trips to Brooklyn to two days a week. With less commuting and no car, this winter has been positively joyful. Seasonal Affective Disorder you have met your foe!
Making the argument to “walk instead.” Going places in winter is a snap! I put on my 3-year old Le Canadienne waterproof boots, I bundle up in my 5-year-old Patagonia coat and I walk out the door. That’s it. I just walk out the door. No digging out tires. No navigating snow piles to park. No standing in the cold pumping gas. No scraping of windows. No pre-warming the car interior. No barking at my kid to strap in. In one fell swoop, with the sale of just one car, I got rid of at least six winter negatives. I can honestly say I am happier. I am also healthier. Admittedly, I was getting a lot more exercise riding my bike (more and farther) last summer. Winter roads aren’t ideal for bicycles, and unfortunately winter walks aren’t quite strenuous enough to keep the belly fat away. But my legs are strong, my heart seems pleased, and spring is right around the corner.
The old man said to Jack, these are magic seeds. Which brings me to my second point of this post. I am planting a seed deep in the winter snow. A seed of promise and possibility. A seed that will taunt you and tease you if you ignore it. A seed that will wither and die if you drive your four-wheel drive over it.
I am inviting you to enter what psychologists call the contemplation stage of behavior change. Get ready, mentally ready, for Zero Car Mom’s Walk Instead Challenge. The challenge starts on April 1 (your friends will think it’s an April Fool’s joke, but the positive life change joke will be on them).
I pinky promise you that at least two of these seven things will happen:
You will lose a few pounds.
You will feel proud of yourself.
You will be less stressed out (I’ve got some science to back this one up.)
People will think you are nutty.
You will save money.
You will have a new perspective on what makes you genuinely happy.
You will save the earth just a tiny bit
“Voluntary hardship is a fantastic way to short-circuit hedonistic tendencies,” says Tim Ferriss, the 4-Hour Workweek guru.
Mr. Money Mustache agrees, we need to make choices that “recalibrate ourselves to experience happiness in a different way.”
Zero Car Mom says, “try it, you just might like it.”