4 Things I Learn from Being a One-Car Family

Today, for the first time in well over a week, I went to the grocery store. My husband’s car pool situation didn’t work so well this week, and he had to drive by himself each day. He elected to work from home today {Friday}.With access to our van, I could therefore drive to the store so I could restock the fridge and pantry.

In March, we celebrated–and I do mean celebrated–5 years of functioning as a one-car family of 4. Half a decade! For families in larger cities, where public transit is more available, this might not seem such a feat. For other families, managing a household with 2 drivers and 2 children but only one car sounds unreasonable. But we do, and (for the most part) we do it well.

boys catching wind
The boys catching a breeze in the backyard one day.

This all started in the fall of 2011, thanks in part to many of the books I’d been reading–from works by the well-known Christian author Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President:  Politics for Ordinary Radicals and The Irresistible Revolution, to a book called Radical Homemaking:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by author Shannon Hayes. [Side bar:  I cannot recommend Radical Homemaking highly enough! It’s NOT a feel-good book about decorating and entertaining as a happy wife. It IS a manifesto of sorts about the value of being a producer more than a consumer, and how “homemaking” frees us up to do that.]

I was yearning to simplify our lives in radical ways. By driving less, I knew we could accomplish that:  less money spent on car insurance, upkeep, gasoline, tolls; less pollution contributed to the environment. That fall, I began praying that my husband would come on board with the idea of being a one-car family. At that time, we had a small 4-door car and a mini-van. I stayed at home with the boys, and many days the van simply sat in the parking lot of our townhouse complex. I didn’t broach the topic with Mike so much as I mentioned, once in a while, what the benefits might be of ridding ourselves of a vehicle. And I kept praying.

Months later, as I again offered my thoughts of how we could probably get by with one car, Mike showed interest. He’d been considering it. We had a thorough conversation about it, and we agreed to give it a go. We sold the mini-van and kept our Hyundai Elantra. In case you don’t know, this model of car is small. But I loved driving it! It was peppy. It got totaled in a wreck in 2014 (no worries; the boys and I were fine, and Mike wasn’t with us at the time), and I still miss that little car that the boys had named Gray-ie. (Our silver van was named Sylvia; our current mini-van, purchased after the Elantra was totaled, is white. The boys named it Igloo. I never get a say in these things.)

air boat ride
Waiting for an air boat ride almost 5 years ago.

My plan (casual comments and lots of prayer) had worked! Incidentally, I tried the same tactic a couple of years ago regarding getting rid of our TV–to no avail. Let it be a reminder to me that prayer is not a magic formula, and that my husband is NOT EXACTLY like me.

In these past 5 years, I’ve been learning some lessons from this one-car lifestyle. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Living a simple life requires intention. Simple living isn’t synonymous with “easy” living. In our middle-class, North American culture, one must be deliberate about saying “no” to the never-ending influx of stuff. In terms of vehicle ownership, we’ve also had to be intentional with planning:  car pools, schedules, dentist appointments. Once Mike had to leave the boys’ soccer practice early to get to a Cub Scout leaders’ meeting. He took the car, while I stayed at the park and fished with the boys after practice concluded until he came back to pick us up. There are many instances where one of us drops off the other (with or without children, depending on the event) and comes back later to pick that spouse up. We have to be committed to figuring things out in order to make this work.

    wilson and calvin on floor in pallet
    The boys (AKA Woodrow and Garfield) enjoying their living room fort years ago.
  2. Being interdependent on one another is good. And it’s not the same as being dependent. Choosing to own only one vehicle means that there are times when we need to ask for help. Whether it’s Mike’s talking with co-workers about carpooling (which typically benefits both parties) to sometimes asking for a ride or even borrowing a friend’s extra car after Gray-ie got totaled but before we bought Igloo, we sometimes find ourselves needing to seek out others’ help. You know what? That’s how the life of Christ-followers is meant to be lived.

    We seem to value individualism and independence so greatly in our society that we often do almost anything to avoid putting ourselves in the position of needing. But the early church didn’t seem to live this way:  Acts 2:44-45:  “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

    Every person within the body of Christ both has something significant to offer as well as a need to receive what others can offer. Sometimes our family simply needs a friend who will drive my husband home from work or drop off Woodrow at Boy Scouts.

    And what can we offer? In late February, a homeless mom and her 2 daughters stayed with us for 3 days while they transitioned from a shelter to an extended-stay hotel. I did their laundry, gave the mom a pair of my underwear (she had only one), and drove her to and from work on a Saturday. On that Sunday, I babysat her 2 children–one of whom was sick–while she worked, and Mike drove her to and from work. I can offer my home, my time, my decent abilities at cooking to provide a meal… Philippians 2:4…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Friends and fellow Christ-followers do this for us, and we do it for others, too.

    boys rain boots

  3. Living according to my convictions and priorities is worth the work. I studied Environmental Biology in college, primarily because I loved God’s creation and believed this reflection of His beauty and creativity should be protected, that caring for the world He made also helped care for the people He created. So it matters to me how my family lives on God’s green earth. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it…” I believe He holds us accountable to that. How are we treating His earth? 
  4. We do what we can. I can’t do everything, so I do what I can. Do you know the story of Katie Davis, from her book Kisses for Katie? In her own words, this very young woman quit her comfortable life, moved to Uganda, and began serving there:  teaching school, adopting orphans, caring for the sick. I read her book in my late 30’s and felt the longing that it stirred in my own soul. But I can’t quit my life as it stands now. I can’t drop everything and move to a developing nation, unless God leads our family to do so. Instead of daydreaming about what I might do, I try to pay attention to what I CAN do. We CAN survive and even thrive with one car, saving money which frees us up to give more generously, causing a bit less pollution in our world. We do what we can.

    Fellow Christ-followers, how might God’s Spirit be tugging at your heart to take a step of faith in living simply–in doing what you can? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I love being inspired by others.
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