Car-Lite Family Beginnings

An introduction of our progress in lightening the burden of our Honda Odyssey, or the story of going car-lite.

***Since this page is now linked elsewhere (thank you Lane Change!) I wanted to give a simple update. We donated our car and kept the van, but we still keep it parked as much as possible.***

In April 2011 we made the decision to use our van and car less, to bike and walk more. The conversation with Brent went a little bit like this:

Stacy: Hey Brent, I have this really really crazy idea. Are you ready?

Brent: Sure, what’s your new crazy idea?

Stacy: We should sell the van.

Brent: What do you want now? An RV?

Stacy: No. Just sell the van.

–long pause–

Brent: Sure, sell the van.

Wait just a moment, he never ever likes any of my crazy ideas. Every time I have a new one he likes to bring up the one time ten years ago that I wanted a fireplace in my bedroom. Since we couldn’t do major renovations in the rented apartment, we moved the bedroom to the living room. Why not? It was just us and we never had company.

I knew Brent was saying “yes” to this new idea far too quickly. While his ideologies line up with this sort of movement, his actions always say otherwise. Years ago I had to work on him to recycle, then years later I had to talk him into composting. It’s always months of sending him emails with web-links and articles. I have to introduce him to people who do these things. Then there is the interjection of the idea into conversations, or just warnings of “we are going to start composting soon.” Eventually the family conversion happens and we learn together, Brent, the children and I.

After my announcement of a desire to sell the van he was actually encouraging me to figure out how to live without our car. Immediately I charted all the places I could think of that we would need to go and alternate ways we could get there. Anything out of town was going to be more expensive. Everything else seemed to be manageable. The most taxing transportation would be getting the children to and from school. It was not that it’s all that far, it’s that it’s all up hill (and on some dangerous roads) and we are not the best of morning people and enjoy a mad dash from bed to breakfast to car, just in the nick of time. We may not really enjoy it, yet it has become our habit.

Creating new habits, manifesting new routines, using new service providers, and shopping at different stores must be a part of the process. This family of six was going to have to change our ways.

There was one strong motivating factor behind this particular idea and it was money. We have a car loan payment of $325/m, $110 for auto insurance (for both the van and the car) and we were spending, on average, $200/m for gasoline. The drain of $630/m going toward a vehicle we didn’t really need. Brent works less than two miles from home and I don’t have to go anywhere. I gave further thought to what we could be doing with that $630 each month. I thought about how we might loosen the wallet a little on grocery trips and purchase new clothes and get patio furniture. Then I dug deeper into the desires I have for our family and for my life. I don’t really want any of those things. Some of them I need, but it can wait. I want more experiences, greater health, wholeness and well-being. These were my desires for my family. Selling our van was one effort I could make in this process.

After creating the travel chart (below), I desired to find more people who were using the methods I laid out as options for our family. This simple search for kindred lives brought me to a wide and plentiful blogging universe. These were some of the inspirations I found to leverage my case for going car-lite.

  • Car Free with Kids – A working Boston couple with two children living car free
  • Carfree Family – A New Mexico couple with two children who have been car free for more than seven years
  • The Minimalist Mom – Another Canadian couple with one child who recently left Vancouver for Isle of Man England
  • Zen Habits -California couple with six children living car free
  • Pedal Powered Family – Canadian couple with two children traveling North America by bicycle

I loaded my argument with car free families to give the extreme possibilities. I didn’t have a desire at the time to sell our 2000 Cavalier that would serve as some method of to and fro-ing. Brent agreed to this adventure, but I still felt he was going to need convincing. Several days later he started to air his doubts.

Brent: What about winter? How are we going to get to the Dr? Groceries? How are you going to get around with four children when I am at work?

Stacy: Well, I don’t know yet. We will work it out as those problems arise. I supposed we just won’t go somewhere if we can’t get there and the hospital is a five minute walk, even in the snow. We have the best friends and neighbors who would be happy to let us ride along for groceries if we need to. As for getting around by myself with four children, eh, yeah, that I am not sure about.

My case for getting rid of the Honda Odyssey was taking some shape, but it wasn’t a solid one yet. I had not even been on a bike in ten years. I had never ridden the public buses or called a cab in this town. I love the cold and snow but loath, even dread, heat and humidity. This idea needed to be fulfilled in phases. Charting was complete. Now how were we going to use this chart? Let’s take a look here.

Where We Go

Approx. Distance

RT in Miles

Alternate Transportation

School 3.5

Carpool, walk, bike

Grocery/farmer’s markets/egg pick up 1.5-7 Delivery, bus, go with a friend, bicycle
Recycling 10.5 Curbside pick up, friends
Swim practice/meets 4-? Carpool, bike, cancel lessons
Baseball practice/games 1.5-8 Bike, walk, carpool
Soccer practice/games 2-13 Carpool, borrow neighbor’s car—walk, bike
Target 20 Order online, go with a friend, bus
Play dates 1-? Don’t go, host more at our house, walk
Ohio 400 Bus, train?, rent a car
Charleston 100 Bus, ride with friends, don’t go
Restaurants .75-? Walk, bus, don’t go, order delivery
Library 3-7 Walk, bus, bike, ask neighbor to bring ordered books home
Doctor/dentist .5-2 Switch dr/dentist to more local, bike, walk
Post Office 2.5 Online, bike
Bank 4.25 Bike, bus
Work 4 Bike, walk, bus, car

Walking is an easy one. We have a great back pack carrier for Oliver, our 19m old. We have been using this Kelty pack for 8 years now. It has allowed for many baby naps and sweaty backs but we can get where we need to safely. In a town with side walk concerns, this back pack is essential. Avery, 4.5yo, can walk up to four miles leisurely. He actually insists on walking to school to pick up the children most often, and it’s up hill for two miles. The other two children have shown to be able to walk up to six miles, but not on a regular basis.

Oliver, Avery, Brent and I walked to school to pick up the children, spring 2011.

The benefits of walking often speak for themselves. It’s free and great exercise. The disadvantages for us included a much slower pace and the issue of stubborn children who just refuse to move another step. I certainly can’t carry them all. Two, yes, four is not an option. Walking was going to have to be reserved for closer destinations and good attitudes.

The Tristate Transit Authority has greatly improved since we moved here five years ago. They have a free shuttle bus from the university to downtown, buses between the major regional cities and regular routes in and around the county. The fare is typically $1 each way for riders over 7. A monthly unlimited ride pass was $35/each. This seemed like a good option for some things, but being overly stingy, I wanted to spend even less. When I looked at going to tennis practice for one hour two days a week it would cost $12 to travel 12 miles in all. Then I thought about going to get groceries with four children on the bus. How would we carry it all? We would either need to make more trips with less or get some of those roller carts that I would end up dragging with the children on top. The bus has some potential.

Friends, carpooling, renting cars, delivery, and all the rest were also decent solutions to some of our errands. I immediately signed up for curbside recycling pick up. This service was limited to paper, no cardboard, tin, steel and aluminum, and plastics 1 and 2 only. The stream bin we used across the river offered us a wider selection of waste depositing. On a trip downtown I discovered two such bins that I could now bring my card boards and glass.

A happy recycling option downtown, about 2miles away.

The last logical mode of transportation was the bicycle. Biking, like walking, has a myriad of benefits. It is great exercise and it’s quicker than busing locally or walking. It would provide autonomy to schedules of public transit and some hauling capacity. Biking offered Brent a quicker way to get to work than any of the other modes. We had one adult bike and bikes for the three oldest children. We inherited a small bike trailer and had a rear toddler seat I picked up at a rummage sale for $5 several years ago. With this set up, one adult could take two to three children anywhere they could bike.


Starting out, Brent would carry one of the little boys and ride along side with London, Spring 2011.

It was becoming more clear that biking was our best option for traveling around Huntington. We had ridden to school, up hill (both ways), in the rain, to the community grocer, to swim practice, to the library, to work, and to birthday parties. Brent or I rode with London all over. The dilemma of biking with four children and one adult remained. Elliot was not a confident enough rider this spring to take off his training wheels.We didn’t have a large enough trailer that was comfortable for the little boys to ride together and bring things like diaper bags and groceries along with us.

This summer we increased our efforts to get Elliot riding independently. He was diligent with his practice and within a week we were ready to work on our road skills.

Elliot sans training wheels at Ritter Park, July 2011.

Now we were getting somewhere. We could get all four children on the road with one adult given the equipment we had. It wasn’t perfect, but it was practical.

Enter the game changer. Brent was taking a three week work trip to Elkins, WV. He didn’t trust the Cavalier to get him there and back and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving us with out the van. See how he slides back in his decision of “sell the van?” His solution, and it was a good one, was to have his brother drive him out and leave him with his bike. Great! Now he was going to be car-free for three weeks. I was excited. This was the opportunity I needed to live the challenges of caring for four children with out a vehicle. Oh no, he was taking the bike.

This is where I sing the praises of the extremely generous friends we have nurtured relationships with in Huntington. We were beginning to talk about selling the Honda and discussing aloud the realities of being car-lite. Our friends stepped up and offered us old bicycles forgotten about in garages and under porches. Someone even blessed us with a Yakima bike trailer. This was a gift of great magnitude. This was going to be our grocery carting, child hauling machine. We now have a new family caravan.

London, me, Avery, Oliver and Elliot after the July Critical Mass ride. 8 miles of joy.

This is the beginning of our journey. The tale will be told with each mile logged and each dollar saved. We are A Simple Six in Huntington, WV and we are ready to ride.




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