Can I Lose My Car Without Losing My Home?

Sharon February 18th, 2009

I grew up without a car – or partly.  My parents had joint custody, and except for one brief foray into a scary police auction car that barely made it home and then sat in the driveway, my father never owned a car.  We lived in various small cities and suburbs of Boston, my father worked in inner-city Boston for a while, and then an outer suburb, and my father, being essentially an urban person, took us to the city (or anywhere anything interesting was going on) nearly every weekend for museums, puppet shows, cultural events.  The fact that we lived in the ‘burbs and had no car not only didn’t matter – it gave us a sense of confidence.

By the time I was 12, I was taking the trains and buses into Boston and Cambridge to meet my Dad.  By 14, while my peers were still begging their parents to go to the mall, I was spending much of my time roaming the city.  I never understood why most of my friends had such a parochial view of our town – of course, there was nothing to do here, but a couple of bucks and hop on a bus and you could be somewhere else.  But, of course, the buses and trains were mysterious to them.

At 16, I could technically have learned to drive, but my mother’s clearly expressed disinclination to share her car with any of her children and the fact that I could already get where I wanted to go meant that, well, I never did.  I could travel my whole world – even when my friends moved out to the suburbs, I could navigate just about anywhere on a combination of commuter rail, buses, subways and the occasional negotiated ride from a friend.  Why bother with a car?

And so, when, at nearly 29, I moved out to the countryside, I found myself laboriously, painfully learning to drive.  I hated it.  I still hate to drive.  I did not learn when I was young and secure in my own immunity to death, and so the idea of large metal boxes hurtling at each other at high speeds just seems like a bad idea to me.  Fortunately, my husband is a good and willing driver, and I don’t have to drive too often.  But I have always viewed the car as the price I have to pay to live in the country – and at times, I’ve wondered if it was too high a price.

We’ve done everything we can to minimize our use of the internal combustion engine.  First, there’s the Riot for Austerity, that limits our gas consumption inherently.  We have to weigh “is it worth it to take this trip, to do this activity” each time we do it.  We’ve also tried hard to resist two car status – for a while, when a neighbor was also an at-home, our two families shared three cars – we bartered for use of their car one day a week.  Our kids carpooled with theirs for many activities.  And for the last year or so, we’ve had one small car for the household – challenging with three kids in booster or car seats, but doable.  The sheer unpleasantness of being crammed into the middle bench seat, my knees against the radio, mean that we’re not much tempted to take the car on long extraneous journeys.  Given that I find travel in cars inherently unpleasant, slightly upping the ante is no great hardship.

It isn’t always easy – we barter for the use of a truck occasionally with a friend to haul hay. Stock ups at the grocery store are limited by what we can cram in around our feet as well as in the trunk, and when it was time to take the chickens to the butcher, unpapering the back seat was a less than totally pleasant task.  Everyone says “you need a truck.”  But we don’t want one.

And it has its pleasures – cuddling in together in winter, and we amuse ourselves with the site of the stunned gas station attendant who glanced into the car window and saw three vigorously waving little boys in car seats, my husband, pretending to be blase, and a goat curled up on the front seat and looking at him curiously.

Still, the holy grail lurks in front of us.  Could we ever give up the car entirely?  The thing about the party game of “how low can you go” is that you can’t stop wondering if there’s another step down.

So far the only plan I’ve come up with involves a whole lot of money that we don’t particularly have.  Because our oldest son is autistic and not bike-safe, and the others are not yet good enough to ride distances on our very steep and hilly roads, Eric and I would probably need bicycle rickshaws or bakefiets bikes as primary transport. Two of these, or one double rickshaw falls solidly into the category of “not cheap.” And given the realities of our geography (we’re not called “The Hilltowns” for nothing) we’d probably want some kind of electric assist if we’re really going to haul our four kids plus groceries and garden supplies up from the valley.  And Eric’s commute to SUNY would require a moped or e-bike or something to cover the 17 miles each way in ways that wouldn’t cut too badly into our family time.  He can and has biked it, but it is a bit long for him to do consistently – mostly for reasons of time.  He can carpool some of the time – but not all of it.  There’s actually a rural bus that runs through town daily – but it is extremely expensive and leaves our area many hours before he has to leave – both of us would regret the lost family time, which is so precious to us anyway.  But maybe we could manage it.

For longer trips, we’d take trains, but how to get to the train station?  We can get to family in NYC and Boston easily enough that way, but there are literally no taxis out here – it is almost impossible to get to and from transportation hubs.  I’ve imposed occasionally on my neighbors, but few have vehicles big enough to transport the six of us, plus a driver.  We can and do barter for things like this, but how much imposition are we willing to make?

And then there’s religious life.  We could probably make the trip to synagogue on our bikes much of the year – although it does involve some busy roads.  But what about religious school?  That would involve, even in good weather, long trips back in the evenings, in dark on busy high traffic roads with exhausted kids and probably quite tired parents.  Somehow we quail at the thought.  We could homeschool for afternoon religious school – but that would take our kids out of their peers’ lives in one more way.  Or perhaps we should put our backs behind the efforts to open a rural shul in a town not much closer, but with back routes that involve almost no traffic. 

We could park the car *most* of the time.  The problem then is that we’re still paying upkeep and fees, money we couldn’t invest in bikes and equipment.  And then we’d still have it, and I know myself well enough to know that I’d be tempted to…just this once…

We could move, of course, to walkable areas, assuming we could sell the house.  But my husband’s job is here, and our community.  I’ve thought about it – almost all of my family is now located in one small area of coastal Massachusetts, and I could go back to navigating the trains with the boys in tow.  I’m sure there’d be Jewish life and we have tons of community and old friends there – I miss them a lot.  But even if we could sell the house, we’d lose the farm, and we’d struggle to buy anything other than a tiny suburban or urban lot on the North Shore of Massachusetts.  No goats, no farm…no thanks.  I’m not ready to give it up.  Moreover, I think the narrative that we should all live in walkable, dense communities ignores the fact that we need people who don’t to grow our food.

So the question emerges – how far can we go on the car front?  Is it better to simply try and whittle down, step by step, each dependency, but keep the car for the things we value most, or is it worth it to throw down the gauntlet, and try to really live a car free life in a rural place?  Would the hardships and inconveniences be unbearable or freeing?  The problem is that the investment is a major commitment, and we won’t know until the day when it is drizzly and cold, and I still get out the bike and pile the kids in for the 6 mile trip to the farmstand.

I don’t know if we’ll get there, but I do think about it. 


47 Responses to “Can I Lose My Car Without Losing My Home?”

  1. Raven says:

    Thank you for narrating the dillema (and frustration) that a lot of rural people feel when urban folks tell us that we should get rid of our cars and use public transportation. *snort* WHAT public transportation? The closest I can get to a bus stop is still five miles away, and trains out here don’t carry people, they carry logs. If I don’t have a car, I can’t get to a doctor, a place to buy food, or church and my husband can’t get to work. We’re barely in the area where the school buses run. We try to minimize our use of the car as well, but driving more because you live further from everything is just a fact of existence.

    All that said, the only solution I can come up with is “get a horse and wagon” but of course then you have to feed the horse. :) It also takes a lot longer to get places behind a horse, and you can’t exactly just park him all day at work. And I don’t know that you could use him to get to synagogue, either?? Don’t animals rest on shabbat too?

    This is one reason why rural people used to get so very lonely back in the preindustrial era, or so some of the old letters I read lead me to believe. You couldn’t get off the homestead except for every few months, so you really clung to church and the 4th of July social, etc. It’s a difficult problem.

  2. Sarah says:

    Only marginally related, but I saw this and thought of you.

  3. Julie in MI says:


    Like you, I often hear “you need a truck” because I haul stuff often. Compost from the municipal facility, chicken feed, lumber….. No, I don’t need a truck. I have a wonderful trailer. 15 years ago, I had it made to my specifications. A 4 x 8 sheet of plywood will lay flat. The tires are car-sized and relatively inexpensive. The sides are solid wood for one foot, and slats-with-gaps for a second foot. There are rings for tie-downs. The plywood floor panels can be replaced: they would last longer if I was diligent about unloading quickly and not leaving the trailer out in the rain, but have lasted this long in spite of me :-) I can haul all kinds of things, including more than a cubic yard of compost and small animals in appropriate containers. It cost about $400 when new, and license fees are $25/year. I have hauled it with a Ford Taurus, and a PT Cruiser. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!


  4. ChristyACB says:

    Great post on an increasingly common dilemna.

    Here is the kicker to think on though.

    Rural folks have always done without a lot of that required city stuff for the very reasons you state.

    Deciding to live in the country means giving up some things…bad ones like gunshots and grafitti and good ones like a local shul.

    To my view, it comes down to deciding what way of life you choose. One in which almost all the time is spent on the farm and you make do but gain peace of mind and the rural life and independence. OR, choose the convenience of having everything close at hand, and live in a densely populated area.

    There is one small alternative that can help and is cropping up in some communities. It is the community car and truck. It takes a leap of faith, but basically, it is a car owned by a group that is signed up and signed out for. The group takes care of the expenses pro-rated to the amount of use. So, if one month sees 1000 miles on it with your family having 100 of those, then you pay 10% of the costs that month. If another month sees only 50 miles and you have 25 of them, you pay 50%. In gas, the rule I have seen most commonly is that the car is always returned totally topped off by individuals, or in one case I’ve seen, they have an account at a local gas station so it gets filled as needed and the cost pro-rated. Mileage required for car related items, like filling the gas or getting serviced, is split evenly between all parties regardless of how much use they the vehicle that month.

    Like you said, imposing on others to meet your needs isn’t the solution for a long term, but others in your same spot in the community can, through some delicate negotiation and trust, wind up in a better position for everyone. I’m sure there are others in your area who would love to give up car payments on second and third cars/trucks that see relatively little use.

  5. Shirley says:

    Good thoughts, Sharon. Life post-car is something we’ll all need to consider eventually.

    I faced a similar quandary myself late last summer, when my son started kindergarten at a school that’s three miles away. My Blazer is on the verge of collapse (I literally have one rear-view mirror connected to the body by duct tape), and I really wanted to be able to pick up my son from school by bike. The problem was money: bikes are expensive, and so are bike trailers.

    I got lucky, though. Driving to school one afternoon, I saw a nice-looking, 18-speed women’s bike in front of someone’s home with a sign saying, “Free. Please take.” So I did. Halfway there, all I needed now was a trailer.

    I spent the next several weeks checking Craigslist and, one late afternoon right before leaving to go out, I spotted a bike trailer for sale in my town … $50 obo. I called right away, and arranged to pick it up the next day. I was so happy to finally find a trailer, I didn’t even bother haggling.

    Since then, I regularly bike to school to pick up my son in the afternoons, and I feel great doing so. It’s not only cheaper, eco-friendly and great exercise, but it puts me in connection with the outdoors and my neighborhood in ways that driving a car won’t let me. (Try saying hi to someone checking their mailbox while driving 30 mph.)

    Moral of the story: keep looking and be patient. You might not find the bikes and trailers you need right away, but you may eventually. And, once you do, you’ll have another sustainable transportation option for some of your errand needs.

    Hope it works out for you!

  6. Wendy says:

    I was in my twenties before I had my driver’s license, but until I went to college, I didn’t need to drive, as I always had a way to get where I needed to go, and once I got to college, I lived on campus, which was within walking distance of every where I needed to be. I was carless, again, when I was in the military, but, then, I lived on base or in Europe, where there is a great public transit system :) .

    Now, I live in what is really a “rural” suburb (as most of Maine is “rural”). The closest bus stop is two miles away (the train station is at the same place, but only stops from May to October in my town), but the bus doesn’t go to the places I need to go to. That is, the one trip I *need* the car for is to take my girls to their classes, which are twelve miles from my house (one way), and there’s no bus that runs from my town to that town.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to make excuses for keeping my car, but just to say that I’ve looked into the options, and the only option is to discontinue my girls’ classes, which we’re not ready to do, yet.

    We could probably get away with having just one car, but that would put the burden of change almost wholly on my husband’s shoulders (meaning, he’d be the one who’d end up carless most of the time ;) , and he’s not, yet, interested in giving up his quick ride to work.

  7. This is exactly the problem I’m facing as well.

  8. WNC Observer says:


    I’d suggest that you approach this by studying the lifestyles of other car-less rural people. They have had to deal with these problems and come up with solutions long before you were even born.

    One group that immediately comes to mind is the Amish. How do they live without cars?

    1) They are a pretty self-reliant bunch. They don’t buy a lot of stuff, much of what they need they make themselves. They tend to buy and store in bulk, thus minimizing their need for shopping trips.

    2) They live amongst a community of Amish people, and as a community they are even more self-reliant. There is some specialization amongst them, and a lot of pitching in for big projects that are beyond the abilities of any one family. This community self-reliance further reduces the need for trips into town to consult with tradespeople and other specialists.

    3) Many of these Amish households live close to each other, maybe no more than a 10-20 minute walk to a neighbors. And yes, even out in the country, the Amish DO walk A LOT. The children would think nothing of having to walk a mile or more to school each day. Bicycles might also be allowed under the ordnung of some Amish communities.

    4) They do have to make trips in to town, though, and do occasionally have to haul things. So yes, they do rely on horses and buggies and wagons. Note, though, that there is some community sharing even with this. Not every Amish family lives on a large farm; those that only have small holdings might arrange for a fellow Amish with a team of draft horses to come in to plow their garden or haul something heavy, for example.

    5) Occasionally, some of the Amish have to make long trips. What they do is that they will hire people in their area (non-Amish) who do have automobiles to transport them to their destination, or to the nearest public transport node. So, even the Amish can’t manage to live totally without cars, but they can manage to live without owning them.

  9. Christyk says:

    So I do not live in the country for the very reasons you give-and I yearn for more land, to farm more as you do. I have too many oak trees, my partner thinks, for the birds and acorns some year, but we do manage to grow some food. I have never owned a car and our family of four does without, while the local transit system is being whittled to cover highway construction…We have a great “bike truck” and it was not cheap, $650 frame at least twenty years ago, but unlike cars, bikes can last forever, virtually. We do rent cars on occasion. The car companies are over and so ultimately will be the cars. On the “truck” we had a childs seat on the back and a pipe clamp with seat between the rider and the handlebars. The child in front puts her or his feet on the platform which is low over a small wheel, so the weight is low…The platform is connected to the mainframe so this is far superior to trailers for manuverability, conversation, and safety in general. Good luck with your decisions. I did tranpost 5 children on this one time…and have had huge non-living loads on it…I’d wondered why my freind who set it up for me gave me 21 gears… None of our friends have abandoned their cars either…I lived in England in 1970 when gas was already $4 a gallon and I was 16 and a new driver…Kentucky was my home until the year in England and until I was early twenties, with a brief Minnesota experience… and I had a harder time there but did manage..As a leader who chooses to write for the masses, I urge you to dig deeper into this issue…I started young and have good health, so I have been lucky. My daughter now in college in Maine chose mass transit over the bikes most trips while my son is a skateboarder and ride bum…Both want cars and are very tired of Peak Oil and compost t oilet talk…Reality is pretty hard to face as the planet crashes and burns in a less visible way than the economies based on cheap oil and consumption…I love your blog, keep it up!

  10. Cool – I was just about to ask you about something related to this theme.

    I am as committed to my walkable urban environment as you are to your self-sustaining rural one. At forty-four, I still don’t have a driver’s license for the same reasons you didn’t.

    Do you have any links to thoughtful urban doomers? Being new to the area I’m not caught up on the lingo and don’t know how to search. (“Urban Doomer” just brings me to information on how to choose weapons for survival when the stores have been raided and tanks are rumbling down the streets. Neither my vision of what doom will look like or how I am interested in responding to it.) Is it just voluntary simplicity?

  11. Greenpa says:

    We live in the middle of a large and very hard-core conservative Amish community, so we see the coping aspects daily.

    They use their buggies for religious life; the whole family drives on Sunday, and spends the day at whatever home is hosting the meeting that week.

    But they still use cars; primarily for medical emergencies; but also for selling whatever things they’re producing.

    They usually pay their “English” neighbors for this, and some of us English wind up making a business out of it.

    So do some regular businesses, eventually; there’s a van shuttle that runs a regular route for the Amish to get them to the Walmart 30 miles away, and the city 50 miles in the other direction. They also use commercial bus services for long distance travel to relatives, or for chronic medical care.

    If they didn’t use cars this way; more would die, more would wind up permanently crippled, and their income would be cut somewhat.

    Anyway- even they haven’t found a reasonable way to do completely without.

    I love the idea of sharing a vehicle with neighbors; but the tangles and pitfalls there are awful. Rob Hopkins is doing without- it’s worth following his experiences, though he’s not really “rural”.

  12. robin says:

    Alison, are you familiar with ?

    I live out in the boonies at the end of a long, hilly, curvy road. My husband works in town ten miles away five days a week. The thing that keeps up pouring about half of what he earns into the dang truck is safety. He has been hit on his bike several times, never seriously. The last time it happened I asked him to just use the truck all the time. We can’t risk his safety.

  13. KF says:

    When we lived in San Diego, I got fed up with the traffic and lack of public transit that went anywhere. I got one of these and loved it:

    It’s an electric scooter based mostly on readily-available bike parts (so replacing a tube or tire is cheap). It tops out at around 25 mph, and will go 15 miles on a charge, or 25 if you get the extended battery pack. It cost about $0.08 to fully charge it (3-5 hours) even with San Diego’s expensive electric rates, and uses a standard 3-prong electric plug so can be charged anywhere. It takes hills just fine. It has front and back lights and is safer than a bike to ride at night. And in CA is legal to drive in bike lanes and didn’t require registration or car insurance, as it’s treated like a bike in the vehicle code. Mine had front and rear baskets for hauling groceries or my work bag. There are options to hook up a small bike trailer to it and be able to haul more stuff, though the weight capacity is more limited than a car. It was great fun to drive, even in colder weather, but I didn’t like to drive it in the rain. It made an awesome commuter vehicle. It doesn’t solve the whole problem of trying to live without a car, but it could help on the commuting and grocery front.

    Another idea to consider is a tandem bicycle or two. It takes some trust (and communication and practice) for two people to ride together, but I’ve found that it’s great to talk to your partner while riding, and it can make riding distances easier and faster than two people on single bikes. A tandem bike also can make it easier for two people of different physical stamina (like an adult and a child, or a man and pregnant wife…. :) ) to ride together and not totally fatigue the weaker rider. They come in all sizes, including in recumbent models, and you can usually get them used at a good price if you keep an eye out for classified postings or on ebay. My husband and I have ridden well over 100 miles at a time on one and don’t think twice about riding 50 miles together, even pulling our kid trailer, so you can get more range out of a tandem I think. Attach a bike trailer or kid’s trailer bike or cargo trailer and you can haul a number of children or a load.

  14. Abbie says:

    Like you, we lack sufficient public transportation. We also live on a dead end off of a very busy road with no sidewalks. AND thanks to the economy the little grocery just down the street and the closest bank branch have closed.

    I was thinking horse and wagon, too. Too bad there’s nowhere to “park” them.

  15. Heather says:

    Looks like a lot of good ideas posted. We do walk some places and we have bikes too. I used to think I needed to apologise for having a car when we started trying to do the Riot, but not anymore. If you live in the country, you need long-distance transportation of some kind. You may not need it all the time, but the need is there. This is especially true in places with extremes of heat or cold.

    If the need is rare enough, then arranging to rent/borrow a vehicle or wagon might be possible.

    I think what we use and do needs to be balanced. Maybe we have to drive more than other folks, but we grow more of our food, saving miles of transport on our food. Unless you live in a walkable area that magically has everything you need for school, work, religious and medical needs, AND has space for you to grow most of your food (or places you can buy your food locally), something has to give.

    If a day comes when there aren’t any cars for sale or gas runs out or whatever, then I suppose we’ll have to look into getting mules or something.

  16. Susan says:

    I face the same dilemma. When we purchased our house, it was because we were required to live in the fire district. Now, 10 years later, neither of us works for the fire district and we both work a minimum of 60 miles from work. The trade off for both of us is that we get to spend more time at home when we’re not working as we only work 3-4 days a week. We have a small grocery/hardware/movie store about a mile from us, and a liquor store about a mile also, and restaurants 3 miles at the truck stop, and a barber shop a mile away.

    But — the hardware store doesn’t carry everything we need. The grocery store is very minimally stocked. The restaurants are fast food. So, we still go to town once a week or 10 days, for the stuff we can’t get close by. Town is 35 miles away, and some of the places I need to go (like the doctor) are 45-50 miles away in the town further over. Even one of the electric assist bikes wouldn’t get us there and back without camping on the side of the road overnight.

    And we don’t work anywhere close to the same shifts; Jeff works for a company that flies him all over the country (he’s in NJ right now) and for an ambulance company. I work as a nurse, and work noon to midnight, so carpooling is pretty well out — I like my shift but there are only 4 of them and the other nurses don’t live anywhere close to me. So, we have two cars. In fact we have two cars and a van, but the van’s transmission just blew up last week so the trailer we have is now pretty well useless :( We do have a Prius and an older Camry that get decent gas mileage.

    We’ve talked about moving somewhere else, but I am against it for the main reason that we simply won’t be able to sell our house for even what we still owe, and everywhere else that land/climate wise would be good to move to is in even worse shape financially that ours. So, here we are.

  17. Thanks, Robin. I’ll check them out. The thing is, where I live is not really conducive to urban homesteading, so I haven’t been concentrating much on that: more on how to prepare for when energy costs are ten times what they are today, the infrastructure has become unreliable, and it’s -40 out there. Also, as a landlord I am interested in what I can do to promote the interests of all my tenants.

    The good side of urban living is that it’s extremely energy-efficient. I live on the ground floor of a row of triplexes. Each apartment is long and skinny and has minimal exposure to heat loss. (In our case, that’s $700 per year to heat 2600 square feet.) The downside is that we are dependent on electricity to heat our homes (firewood is illegal in our city and I am interested in using less, not more, fossil fuel; our electricity is hydro, not coal) and are at risk when power lines come down.

    But as Sharon points out, if I’m spending my money on food I don’t have it for energy when prices go up. I do have a place for a fruit tree where the old diseased plum tree was that I had to cut down, but there really is not much sun otherwise. Roof gardening might be a possibility, but tenants live on the top floor and access is difficult. While investing in tiny urban gardens makes lots of sense in California when they can produce year-round, the ROI in cold climates like mine is lower. (Not zero, just lower.)

    Because of zoning laws where I live, urban sprawl in the medium-sized city where I live is limited and agricultural land is relatively protected. I can still assume that farmers will live close enough to the city to feed it even when it becomes too expensive to truck food in from far away. So while food security is important, is urban homesteading what other people in my situation are focussing on? Am I just rationalising? Or are there other things I could be working on that I don’t know about?

  18. Ani says:

    This IS a big issue out here in rural areas. I have pondered this subject quite a bit, but the most headway I’ve been able to make on it has to have about halved my car miles. I still use it though as without it- well I’m perched up on a mountain on a hill farm- there is NO public transit, the nearest towns/stores are a ways away and so are my markets for my produce. I sell some to neighbors but can’t make a living at that. Any other work I do is only reachable via car realistically- can’t imagaine trying to show up at 7:30 in the morning 13-15 miles away on a snowy, icy day by bike…

    In “The Long Emergency” Kunstler said that come the oil decline, rural people will have to start living a rural life- reading that years ago was sort of like a dagger in my heart as I realized the ramifications of what he was saying.

    Even you Sharon, or me- trying as we are to “live rurally” and thoughtfully, aren’t living as they did here a hundred years ago. People just didn’t go very far back then- it was a major undertaking for them to do so. But they did have a support system if that is what it could be called, that no longer exists today- local stores, neighbors who also lived as they did, and ways of making a living on a very local basis.

    I guess I realized that I had to not be too hard on myself- that if I tried to do without a car out here at this point I would totally marginalize myself and my existence- for what point?? So I decided that cutting back on miles driven and driving thoughtfully was the best I could do at present. I don’t think we can go far otherwise in rural areas(no pun intended) until an infrastructure that will support a different way of life arises.

  19. Deb says:

    We live 15 miles from the nearest town and manage with one Jeep and one car–both over 12 years old. The Jeep sits most of the time unless we are hauling something like wood from the back lot, hay, etc. I go to town once a week and do errands–groceries, pharmacy, bank, library, and the co-op. Otherwise I dont use the car unless it’s an emergency. My husband works outside the home and uses it daily but that’s a price we acknowledge for living where we do. When the kids were small, we chose not to put them in preschool, not to get them in “activities,” not to go out to eat or to movies. We still only take non required trips maybe once every six months. A movie in a theater is a HUGE treat and we bargain with each other over which one we will go to.

    Our annual fees on the vehicles are low, so far. That may change when the state figures out it cant keep up spending like it has been. My husband does all the maintenance and repairs so we only pay for parts and then sometimes he gets them from a junkyard, on his way home from work.

    A horse and wagon really arent a viable option. We have horses and the upkeep on them is much higher than on a rattle trap old car. Nine months of the year here they need hay and grain plus supplements in the winter to keep the weight on them. If one goes lame, it may be out of commission for months, literally. You can do most of your own vet care if you know how but somehow you have to get the supplies. They drink 5 gal of water a day in the winter and maybe double that in summer. In the winter it has to be heated or refreshed fairly often. The tack is expensive. The farrier has to come every six weeks unless you can do it yourself–a bad shoeing will lame the horse for months. Healthy as a horse is a completely false statement–they are much more delicate than a cow, goats, sheep or even dogs.

    It’s a romantic thought, the horsedrawn wagon, but I’d rather use my car much, much less and live at home more.

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  21. Vegan says:

    Hi Sharon,

    The rural life with a much needed car or city life without a car is our dilemma as well. We struggle with this issue all the time, especially when contemplating our move to Vermont. Should we buy in Montpelier (which my husband and I love), with its proximity to food co-ops and cultural events, or should we move 15 miles away to be able to afford the land and enjoy a greater degree of self-sufficiency. After living amidst nature, it would be hard for us to move back to the city. I love the privacy, the trees, the smells …

    Thirty plus years ago, before the birth of our sons, my husband and I rented for eight years a little studio in downtown Coral Gables, Florida. We loved living without a car, walking distances to everything — even to the Coral Gables bus terminal, where we were able to take a bus to work or anywhere else, including the beach. We have great memories from those days.

    I really wish the US infrastructure could accommodate country folk who do not wish to have a car. Sadly, with the evolving economic collapse and the coming climate change and peak everything crises, I suspect no funds will ever be available for mass transit, rail systems, etc. I guess if we choose to live in rural areas, we will have to accept a certain degree of isolation. For me the beauty of nature, and the bond with nature that I’ve developed after living in rural So. FL for the last 15 years, make up for the isolation. Right now I only go to town on Saturdays, in a car with my husband. Yes, we’re kinda hermits … Our sons are kinda happy hermits, too.

  22. kate says:

    I’ve seen two sides to the car issues — and I’m sure there are more than two sides after reading all the thoughtful comments here.

    My principal residence is in a city and I walk everywhere I can. In January, I filled the tank of my 8 year old Honda only once. That Honda costs me $445 annually to insure and about $200 annually for oil changes and state inspection. I consider it a great bargain for operating expenses. I love to walk around this city and the places I need to go.

    I also own property in rural SW Vermont, one hundred miles away. There is no public transportation service to get there. I have been studiously thoughtful about my use of the car, making sure to stop on the way or way back to run errands or pick up things I need. My first year owning my little cabin in Vermont, I drove into town regularly, about a ten mile drive, to use the library, post office or go shopping. By last fall, I had done all my shopping on the route there, brought books from the city, and made sure I had taken care of mail.

    I’m self employed and can do my work anywhere I take my laptop. I would struggle with the dilemma of being out in the country if my work was somewhere else.

  23. Teartaye says:

    “the idea of large metal boxes hurtling at each other at high speeds just seems like a bad idea to me.”

    I’m not the only one! And I developed that train of thought when I was 13, when I should have been more confident about my immortality. (My parents made the mistake of putting me behind the wheel and I almost ran into my grandma’s barn…)

    Everything else I would have added has already been said…

  24. Vegan says:

    I also dislike cars. They are weapons of mass destruction, killing about 50,000 Americans every year and injuring many more.

  25. Ani says:


    Go for Montpelier- if you’re not planning on really farming, it makes more sense to be in Montpelier. It’s walkable, cozy, vibrant and you can even have chickens there. I love it out where I am, and I do farm- but if I weren’t, I’d seriously consider Montpelier.

  26. villabolo says:

    A four wheel bike with a motor, electric or gas, might be right for your needs. Check out and for the do it yourself variety or http://www.rhoadescar for a ready built one capable of handling 4 people.

  27. david says:

    I just trashed my car a couple of weeks back. Nobody was hurt and it wasn’t my fault but it has provided a wonderful opportunity. Since I live in the city and public transit is available, I’m looking at taking the money and going with a car-sharing company, zipcar for short trips and using my bike as much as possible. Just have to convince my wife that it’s an experiment for a couple of months…and then who knows maybe I will have given up the car!

  28. bryan says:

    While this society has the vast majority of it’s consumers driving 3 blocks to Mall-Wart I’m not going to get too worked up about owning a car that sits in the driveway 25 days of the month. The infrastructure is devoted to automobiles. I’ve cycled “everywhere” for 30 years but there are lots of times I ‘could’ ride and don’t so I don’t arrive sweaty, dirty, after dark on wet snowy roads etc.. I’ve also cycled in all those situations, and don’t mind it, but when everyone else just drives it seems a pointless exercise.

    I suspect cars will become a little more rare soon which will certainly help the “too many cars to ride” issue. We will see more citizens on bikes, it will become more normal to arrive with mud on your clothes.

    Trailers are definitely an underutilized thing in America – “You need a pick up”. I remember seeing a city work crew in New Zealand – 5 guys in a Subaru wagon with a big utility trailer. In the US that would have to be a club cab monster truck.

    All these reasons are why we just spent too much on 30 hectares 4 km from town. No, this isn’t an option for everyone, but after 12 years of looking it should be ours tomorrow! At least it got rid of the money we are about to lose when the banks go under.

  29. Rosa says:

    Allison Cummins, where are you?

    I only ask, because you mentioned -40 weather and I’m in Minneapolis. I’d be interested to see what you find for urban doomers.

  30. Vegan says:


    We probably would go for Montpelier if my husband and I were alone, but we plan to live as an extended family with our sons who plan to farm organically. Additionally, Montpelier’s single family home prices are still very high (deflation has not hit the area yet) and houses tend to be too large and in need of expensive updating for energy efficiency. Property taxes are extremely high as well.

  31. Susan says:

    Well this is interesting. My situation is different, I live in town right on a bus route. When I changed jobs one intended outcome was to catch the bus to work in the CBD 5 miles away instead of taking the car.

    The buses run from 5 mins early to 20 mins late. The buses run every hour so the next earliest bus is an hour earlier. A late work start means a late work finish which can mean missing the last bus and having to get a cab anyway.

    I have just gone back to taking the car. I really don’t criticise anyone who has a car and uses it. This is the tropics and no way will I be out on a bike in the sun. No way will I take a bike on the roads with cattle trucks (B doubles) using the roads here. I consider a car an investment in personal safety as well as time mgt.

    I also remember your post about how hard it is having a foot in both camps. If everyone was without a car we would all make the adaptations and the whole society would function differently. More bus commuters means more buses, more frequent service and more understanding from our boss. But for now, a car is my way to go.

    I did ride a bike until my late 20s but wouldn’t go back now with traffic the way it is. I got my licence in late 20s also and had some changes to make but still find I don’t drive a lot. I certainly don’t live in the car.

  32. Crazy Gardener says:

    This is my single biggest issue. I’m a country girl – grew up rural, with a single car family. I have lived in town without a car for several years. I loved not owning a vehicle, but I get claustrophobia in town and just had to move back out to the country. Where I live right now, it’s simply too dangerous to bike anywhere. As long as I have to commute to work, I have to own a car. I’ve been able to reduce my work to part-time, but I’m still brainstorming for a way to eventuallybecome car-free.

    The very best experience that I’ve had with rural transportation was when I lived on a commune in New Zealand for a few months over 20 years ago. About 100 people shared a large parcel of agricultural land, grew much of their food and produced most of their income on their land. They co-owned and shared the use of only about 7 vehicles, and paid for the mileage they each used. They reserved vehicles ahead of time, and one large van made a weekly trip into town that anyone could hop on to. Very efficient and affordable. It wouldn’t be practical for any community with a lot of commuters, though.

  33. knutty knitter says:

    Maybe the real answer is to revitalize the smaller hamlets in the rural areas. I lived rural when growing up and there were about six small hamlets in the area – each about 10 miles apart. They all had primary schools, a hall, churches and a local shop/post office/bank The farms radiated out from the hamlets with the farm house being as close as possible to the nearest hamlet. The schools all had buses and all fed into the senior school in the main town when old enough. There was boarding school for those wanting more education as well and this was subsidised for rural children. We all rode bikes although cars were used lots for picnics etc.

    If we put communities first perhaps living rural would become good again. Rural design should not revolve around cars!

    viv in nz

  34. Rosa,

    Montreal, Quebec!

    My great-grandparents met in Minneapolis. He was from a landless Quebec farming family and she left Sweden at sixteen. They ended up homesteading in Saskatoon.

  35. Margie says:

    1. Don’t worry about it now. Try to wait until your children are older and stronger.
    2. Here’s another website for bikes & trikes; they are made in Montana:
    They are very expensive but a wide variety is available.
    3. The point of peak oil is that at some point we will be inconvenienced by not using gasoline-powered cars. Before that happens perhaps you will have obtained one or more draft horses, mules, donkeys, etc., to use on the farm, for hauling stuff, and occasional transportation. (See Small Farmers Journal.)

    I’ve been without a car for almost a year, but it’s easy for me. I live in a small town, half a block from the bus stop, have a large side garden, and am retired.

    We also need to prepare for the time, probably soon after personal cars are no longer useful, that truck deliveries will decline and then stop. So local production of necessities will be needed.

    good luck!

  36. Dan says:

    As with what others are saying, give it time and do what you can.

    Other countries have been dealing with this for years…which is why you see Songthaews in Thailand and the like in other countries…4 cyl pickup trucks turned into standing room taxi’s.

    But like your zoning monster, it’s going to take the collapse for that to be legal or accepted here.

    Until then, best to find a way to share with friends and families and make each trip count.

    Also might be worth finding a way to build a network of gravel paths you can cycle or walk on…or dirt or whatever…to get to town, to neighbors, and the like…to avoid dangerous car traffic. I’m talking on a community level, not just you with a shovel.

    The upside of high gas prices is maybe there’ll be less cars on the road…making them safer for cyclists.

    So keep scanning those ads and pick up a mid-80′s MTB to turn into a sport-utility-bike on the cheap and you’ll be set.

    Here’s a link for making cheap “panniers”

  37. kate says:


    When I was looking at property in Vermont, I found myself looking at seasonal cabins, which are much smaller and often built by hunters. I found a great place, 650 square feet, in excellent shape, with three acres and the potential to add more. All the decisions about winterizing it will be mine, but it has good “bones”. By the way, I am not a hunter. I’m a hiker and mountain climber, and I’m starting up a backyard orchard.

    I had not expected to go this route. I just found over and over that the single family year round houses were too big and I would pay for more than I need. If you look at the seasonal places, you will find some much smaller and affordable houses. Vermont is full of properties like that. You can find many of them online. With a smaller building, you also pay much less in taxes.

    Good luck!


  38. Joanna says:

    I look forward to the day that less cars on the road makes our windy, twisty roads safer for bikes. Right now it is just too scary, especially in winter.

    If you are looking at seasonal homes in VT, you’d be best off trying to buy by word of mouth. I wouldn’t suggest the web or a realtor. From experience, I know that they have NO interest in selling anyone one of those cabins as a primary home – and there are much, much better deals to be had than ever show up online. Learn from our mistake! ;)

  39. Rosa says:

    Ooh, Montreal! I hear Montreal has *everything*.

    You have a huge anarchist resource there – the DIRA infoshop and the dissenter bookstore, which wikipedia tells me are in 2035 boulevard St-Laurent, near Sherbrooke. There you may find guerilla gardeners, backyard greywater system constructors, and other (non-peak-oil) self-sufficiency types. Just don’t be discouraged if the staff aren’t super friendly. Anarchists are a surly bunch, if you don’t look like them.

    The other thing to look into is local alternative energy groups and community gardens – those are both centers for people who are friendlier than anarchists and likely to be into self-sufficiency (again, without necessarily being doomers – but interesting and useful folk, just the same)

    Also, I know there’s a Peace House in Montreal somewhere. I tried to find the address but I think I’m missing it because I don’t read French. Those are great resources, likely to also have simple living or local food security groups, some of whom are quiet doomers. A lot of activist religious types (esp. the antiwar Catholics) think a worm composter and a vegetarian potluck are essential parts of living against war.

  40. Vegan says:


    Thank you.

    I’ll look for seasonal places online. The realtor we’re working with keeps sending us info on enormous homes and not listening to our interest regarding purchasing a few acres with or without a small cabin. Are you on a class 4 road, not maintained by the county? If so, how do you manage in the winter?

  41. kate says:


    I find that the roads in Vermont are the best maintained compared to where I have been in New England. I also think eastern NY, Washington County, is just as good. Vermont tends to use more sand, while other states use virtually all road salt.

    Only one road near me is not maintained in the winter, but it’s the one I use least anyway. (I suspect the decision not to maintain is due to lack of use.)

    I find the mud to be more difficult than snow or ice, which seems always to be well treated. Many roads have mud ruts between snow falls, due to heavy farm machinery traveling them. I drive in first gear so I don’t have to brake as often, and you can always find a “high spot” to drive, avoiding some of the ruts. This is just the back roads.

    The main roads don’t have this problem, and most of your distance travel will be on those main roads.

    If you find a property that interests you, make sure to go to the town clerk’s office and get the current assessment figure. Even with my small place and lower cost, the sale price was well above the assessed value. In this down market, that info could help you.

    I had a good experience with a realtor named Denise Byers, who is based out of Rutland. I really didn’t like any other realtor. She got my price range straight in her head.

    The best way to find a place in Vermont is to go to a large realtor database and plug in a low figure. Eliminate any land that fails a “perc test”. If there’s a building, it’s likely a small seasonal cabin.

    Good luck!

  42. Thanks, Rosa!

    Yep, I know the Anarchist Bookstore: it hasn’t changed much in the twenty-five years I’ve known it. I hadn’t clicked that surliness was an anarchist trait – I just thought it was resentment of people who looked as though they were well-fed, well-rested, had dry feet and didn’t know what it was like to be harassed by the police – but that could be one reason their restaurant was not a rousing success. It had good food though.

    Yes, I’ll be following up on alternative energy. In these parts that typically means geo-thermal, which requires a significant up-front investment and is difficult to retrofit, so that usually means well-heeled people building new homes in the suburbs. There is some geothermal retrofitting going on in old city buildings, but that’s not where the action is.

    Anyway, I’ll keep plugging away. Thanks for the resources! The peace house doesn’t seem to be very active; I googled “maison de la paix” with no more success than you.

  43. Vegan says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions. We plan to visit Vermont in May and hopefully will purchase our land then.

  44. Rosa says:

    That’s too bad about the peace house. Ours, here in Minneapolis, is maybe the best source for low-impact living I’ve ever run into – nuns are generally pretty low-impact, and so are homeless people (the main customers at ours).

    And it’s too bad you’re not from closer – we could start our own group! There are a couple green blogger types from Minnesota but I don’t really leave the 4-mile circle around our house, so my followup on online contacts is pretty limited.

  45. Rosa,
    Well, we really need to keep track of eachother! Let me know about cold urban green bloggers you find, and I’ll let you know about the ones I find. I’ll probably put them on my blogroll.

  46. Jan Steinman says:

    Others have said this, so I’ll keep it short:

    1) Consciously choose a rural life-style. I got driven nowhere when I was a kid! Kids are car-magnets, but only because of the guilt of their parents. “If I don’t drive my kid to soccer practice, I’m a bad mom!” I ran the six miles to school for sports activities, and still have the healthy lungs to prove it! I know, a six-year-old can’t run to soccer practice — when I was that age, I was building “forts” in the woods, and sports programs didn’t start until at least junior high school.

    Your kids don’t need you to have a car. They would probably prefer you spend more time with them, time you now spend “supporting” your car.

    2) Car sharing. It works. The hardest part is finding others willing to take part, especially in this temporary time of cheap gas. The second hardest part is having to book time with a vehicle, so they’ll be busy enough to keep the fixed costs from being overwhelming. It can be done, and it isn’t all that hard, when you put you mind to it. Our co-op shares five vehicles of various kinds, for various tasks. Yea, it’s a bit harder in a rural community, but you can do it if you try. Another nice thing about car-sharing, is that once you move from a few big bills a year to pay-as-you-drive, your driving will decrease.

    Communal sharing of expensive artifacts will happen eventually. As “social pioneers,” our job is to push that envelope and be models to others.

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