Monday, January 24, 2011

Car Free

Today I am car-free.

My husband and I have been working on being car-free for a long time. Ever since I started biking around L.A., the idea has been floating around in my head. Once I started exploring all of the alternative transit options available, naturally, my driving decreased. With biking, buses, trains, and the subway in L.A., along with the car-share we belong to, the only times we've taken the car out lately have been to make sure its battery doesn't die.

Getting rid of the car means no paying for gas, no paying for insurance, no paying for maintenance, no looking for a parking space, no paying for parking, no sitting in a line of cars in traffic. It means a less stressful commute. It means structuring my life so it has a lighter footprint on the planet.

True, there are some cases where a car comes in handy. But that outing to the desert or the ski resort a few hours away can be made with a rented car. Trips to the grocery store are easily made by bike (or by walking from our new place.) The doctor's is walking distance, or taxi distance if I'm not feeling up to it. If it's truly an emergency, an ambulance would be called.

While the decision makes perfect sense to me now, I didn't always see being car-free as possible. I used to commute an hour to work each way. That's 10 hours per week stuck in traffic. When my husband and I were dating, we lived an hour away from each other. He sold his car and would ride his bike 45 minutes each way to visit me. I was shocked that he could make it faster on bike than in the car. Since then, we've had my one car between us. But since we got married last year and I left my far-away job, we haven't needed it.

I'll be honest, I've had mixed feelings in the past month about whether to sell it or store it. All the hype about how "nobody walks in L.A." got to my head. But after another month of it sitting under a tarp in the car-port, I decided it was time.

I'm very excited about having one less thing to worry about and pay for.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Moving On Down

Most newlywed couples plan ahead to when they can afford a bigger apartment, condo, or even a home. Our society views these items as status symbols and indicators of stability and prosperity. Gary (my husband) and I made the same sort of plans together, even before we were engaged. We dreamed about our ideal two bedroom apartment or condo with the balcony garden. Now, we're moving into a tiny 400 square foot 1 bedroom apartment with no parking.

When we got engaged, we moved out of my studio and his one bedroom and into the first affordable two bedroom we could find. It's in a great location, has two tiny balconies just big enough for our worm bin and some potted plants, off-street parking, and it houses all of our stuff really comfortably.

Many people seem confused about why we made the decision to downsize. Often when I tell people we're getting a smaller apartment, they ask me with concern if we're doing alright financially. The answer is yes. We're doing fine. But why not do better? Why not put more into savings or travel? Since I will be in school for a few years, paying a lower rent will allow us to add to our nest egg even with only one substantial income between us.

Besides the financial incentive to downsize, there is the ecological impact. A smaller space requires less lighting. Our climate in Southern California allows us to forgo heating and cooling costs. The tiny jr-sized fridge will be much more efficient. The lack of a parking space and the high walk-score of the neighborhood inspired me to finally let go of the car. The location two blocks from the food Co-Op will (hopefully) inspire us to shop more frequently and eat fresh foods instead of stocking the pantry with convenience food. The large window garden will let us grow our own salad greens and herbs. (as long as I don't kill them)

The thing I'm looking most forward to, and dreading at the same time, is the physical downsizing. While we don't have a huge amount of stuff, we managed to accumulate an entire closet full of art supplies and tools. We have 8 bicycles plus a bicycle built for two. A suitcase plus a shelf full of camping gear, and all manner of other odds and ends. A lot of this stuff will not fit into our tiny new place. We're in the process of making some very tough decisions about what will move with us and what will be donated to friends, Goodwill, and freecycle.

I have always enjoyed de-cluttering, but this will force me to step up my game. It will require us to really think about what is important to us and keep only objects that help us to shape our lives to meet those priorities. As we go through boxes, we have to think about the meaning we attach to objects and determine if it is the object, or the idea it represents that is what we cherish. I'm hoping our more streamlined lifestyle at the new apartment will help to reduce stress and encourage us to value each other even more than we already do.

Overall I'm very excited about the move. I'm making a game plan on how to get everything packed and moved and cleaned and donated. I'm trying to figure out how best to move the worm bin and where to put it once it is moved, and trying to pull together Craigslist posts for the bicycles we're selling. In 1 month, we'll be totally tucked into our new tiny home.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


My husband and I have both been vegan for years, but we're also environmentalists. The "but" is significant. We have found things that are friendly to animals are not always so friendly to the earth. This has posed an ethical dilemma.

For example, a pair of synthetic boots does not contribute to animal suffering. It eliminates the need for the abusive factory farming techniques that hurt the cows, workers at processing plants, and local water sources which are polluted by the concentrated animal waste. At first glance, this seems like an ideal solution for animals and the earth. However, when I think of how the boots were made and how they'll be disposed of when they are beyond repair, I have to reconsider. Synthetic leather is basically plastic, a petroleum product. It doesn't take a genius to know that plastic is bad for the earth. It never biodegrades and can create other chemical problems during the manufacturing process.

So which do we choose? The leather that kills a cow but biodegrades? The synthetic that stops the suffering but never breaks down?

This dilemma also extends to other products: down vs synthetic sleeping bags, wool or polypropylene base layers, even local unprocessed honey vs vegan sweeteners that come from across the country and are processed.

The compromise I have come up with so far for the leather dilemma is to purchase secondhand leather boots at thrift stores. I don't know if that is fully vegan or not. My rationale is that I'm not contributing to the demand for new leather, I'm recycling, and the boots will eventually break down. However, I am contributing to the secondary market for leather, making it perhaps more valuable new since it has a resale value. I'm also contributing to demand if someone sees my boots, thinks I'm totally stylish, and heads to Nordstrom to buy them new. Hey, it could happen!

I've also purchased SmartWool products, which are made from the wool of more ethically farmed sheep. This stuff works better and lasts longer than synthetic alternatives, but still gnaws at my conscience.

I don't think there is a solution that will solve both problems. There will there always be shades of gray. Trying our best seems to be all we can do.

Please comment respectfully and intelligently.