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From No Car to One Car

Photography by Tammy Strobel

Today, I recorded a podcast that explains why we purchased a car. Click here to listen to the audio.

If you can’t listen to the podcast, below is a summary of my talk . . .

Logan and I weren’t planning on moving away from Chico so soon, but we are excited to be at the ranch again. I’ve missed my in-laws, the stunning views, and the quiet.

Since we sold our cars five years ago, we’ve been able to structure our lives around public transit. However, doing so in a rural area is difficult. While we lived in Siskiyou County — from September 2012 to May 2013, without a car — we learned a lot of lessons. Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Being twelve miles from town makes a daily bike commute difficult. I’m a strong cyclist, but my knees — and back — can’t handle a twenty-five mile round-trip bike ride everyday. Further, Little Shasta has some incredible winds that make bike riding exceptionally difficult in the winter.
  • There is public transportation in Siskiyou County, but it’s not easy to access. The closest bus-stop is five miles away from the ranch, in Montague. Also, there is no Greyhound bus depot or train station in Yreka which makes it challenging to visit friends outside the area. The closest train station is in Dunsmir and the bus depot is in Weed; both are 45 minutes to an hour (by car) south of our little house.
  • Without a car, at the ranch, it was difficult to volunteer regularly and meet friends in town.
  • There is only one place to rent cars in Yreka and it’s insanely expensive!

To mitigate these challenges, we purchased a used Ford Fiesta before we moved to Little Shasta. We still plan to cycle and use public transportation in Siskiyou County and we will use the car to augment our transit needs. And hopefully, our little Ford will improve the quality of our lives.

Be well,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cynthia September 11, 2013, 10:08 am

    My husband and I have never owned a car, and we’ve managed to live car-free quite comfortably. However, we’ve also always lived in areas that were very walkable and/or close to public transit; I can’t imagine living in a rural area such as the ranch without a car! The car will definitely improve the quality of your life on the ranch.

    There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to live simple or minimalist. It’s not about giving up everything, it’s about living only with what you need and with what brings you true happiness – thus owning a car that will allow you to go into town and visit friends is vital! Owning a car because everyone else has one, or for status reasons is not following simple living. At least, that’s how I see it.

    Take care and enjoy being home on the ranch!

    • Tammy Strobel September 11, 2013, 10:50 am

      Thanks Cynthia! Your words are so true. Sending you big hugs. 🙂

  • Betsy McCullen September 11, 2013, 10:17 am

    It’s so disappointing to be in a world where (most of the time) we really do need a vehicle. The prices of gas, maintenance, insurance and car payments (which lots of us still have) make it a HUGE expense. With the monthly costs I pay to keep my Honda Fit, I should be LIVING in it!! It’s almost what I pay in rent!! Thankfully it gets great gas mileage!! Thanks again for your honesty, but I know how tough these past few weeks have been for you both with all these realizations. The nice part is this: COUNTRY ❤❤❤ It will bring us much PEACE ❤❤❤

    • Tammy Strobel September 11, 2013, 10:48 am

      @Betsy – Yes, cars are very expensive! And, I have so many conflicted feelings about owning a vehicle. If we move back to a city, it will be easy to ditch the car again. For now, we will use it in moderation and enjoy country life. 🙂

  • Terri September 11, 2013, 11:47 am

    Hi Tammy, I was wondering what you were going to do about transportation when I read that you were moving back to the ranch. I remember how it was a bit isolating for you before. And you know what? I wouldn’t feel bad. You have to do what you have to do. In the past few years, you have saved up money, paid off all of your debt, and now you can afford a car without having it cut into other things as much. I was inspired by you and Logan to sell my car, and start commuting by bike, but I live in the city of Boston where there is great mass transit when needed. Not that my opinion matters, but I think you did the right thing under the circumstances, and support you completely!

    • Tammy Strobel September 11, 2013, 12:18 pm

      Thank you Terri! I appreciate the support. When we lived at the ranch last winter it was very isolating. The cycling conditions are tough during late fall and winter, especially with the high winds.

      Also, I was in Boston this summer and the mass transit is so amazing! It’s such a beautiful city too. 🙂

      Thanks for reading the blog!


  • Sarah Penner September 11, 2013, 12:35 pm

    I am so glad you won’t be doing that breaking trek to town on your bike, esp in winter, and you can be more social. Enjoy the wheels! 🙂

    I’m looking into doing more with my bike now that we’re in walking distance to the store, work, and school, I’ve even been structuring my habits within biking distance. I’m still afraid of using the bike because of how nasty motorists are towards cyclists here, but my husband has been walking to work this summer, and parking is $5 a day at school! Eeek! So we’ve been car sharing, even though we still own two. You’ve definitely inspired others! 🙂

    • Tammy Strobel September 11, 2013, 12:55 pm

      Thanks Sarah! Car-sharing is a great option. And so is walking! It’s awesome that your neighborhood is walkable.

      When I started cycling in the city, I made small trips because I was so scared of cars! Try taking a short route to the store or school and see how that feels. The more you bike in the city, the easier it gets. Remember to trust your instinct!

      Thanks for your support!


      • Ilene Sutter September 11, 2013, 7:05 pm

        I live in L.A. and have found routes that largely use back streets when the ride isn’t too long…that helps alleviate some of my fears and gets me grabbing groceries and such on my bike.
        Tammy, I think it was a great idea to get a car for the times when you need it since it greatly enhances your social and community needs while living where you want to be. Please keep writing, I love your blog!

  • Freth September 11, 2013, 1:35 pm

    In times like this … you might consider an electric assist motor for your bicycle. It really helps on hills and into strong winds. They also have small assist gasoline motors that get 130+ miles to a quart. I find them beneficial on my 20-24 mile roundtrips into the nearest towns to get things from the hardware store, and to shop for more than the limited selection of groceries in the nearby “town”.

  • Janet Jensen September 11, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Living in a rural setting I am amazed you lived without one for so long. When we lived out in the country the closest town was 5 miles away….up hill. So yes a car was necessary. Not even counting bad weather and snow.

    Our second car is an old (28 years old) Honda that was my mother’s. We got it after my Mom couldn’t drive anymore. The car has had amazing longevity and quite a story to tell. Both my boys learned to drive in that car and used it in High School. It has become the car everyone borrows if there car is broke, or in the shop. Had one neighbor use it off an on for over a year when he couldn’t afford to repair his car. He added gas each time he borrow it. We only bought gas a couple of times that year. It now sits most of the time since we moved into town and walk a lot. We have to remember to use it once every few weeks to keep the battery working. We have thought about selling it, but really it seems like family. Very minimal to just keep it….who knows someone have want to borrow it. 🙂

  • Anne-Marie September 11, 2013, 2:12 pm

    I hear you Tammy. I didn’t have a driver license when I came to the US (Stockholm in Sweden has wonderful public transportation and my family never had a car) and I still do not understand how I “survived” my first year outside of Mt Shasta. As I was going to be an international student at the college in Weed I had to know how to drive. Still remember the feeling of relief when I had passed the driving test and knew I could move around. My boyfriend had a car so I could use that one.
    You really need access to a car here as the buses only go a few times per day. I wonder if that is why the gas stations know that they can hike the prices at the pump as people do not have any alternatives. Fred Meyer in Medford right now sells gas for $3.29/gallon! And here it is $4.09 or more at most of the pumps. Ridiculous really.
    I actually live within walking distance now from the Greyhound station in Weed. It was very convenient when I had to go to Sweden recently and took the bus to Sacramento where I was catching a plane.
    Glad that you will be able to get around more easily now. 🙂

  • Lisa Black September 11, 2013, 3:47 pm

    The most constant thing in our lives is “change”. What works for one chapter in our life might have to be “re-worked” for another. Sharing your re-working helps us, your readers, re-work our plans. The car purchase is like an investment in your health/wellness and time. Time to care for and nurture ourselves is priceless. Strong people = strong communities. You are a strong person and we appreciate your honesty. Love your book, Lisa

  • Alicia September 11, 2013, 4:29 pm

    Wow, Tammy! Another move? I am just catching up on past posts. I can understand why you had to get a car. I live in a very rural area as well. I bike and walk around the small town and its green; however, I use my car for commuting to work and other needs.

  • Elizabeth September 12, 2013, 9:48 am

    Tammy, I had to smile at your apprehension in explaining your car action to your readers — as if we were going to sit in judgment of you! I, for one, admire you, love your blog, take inspiration from your simple life, and aspire to be half as generous and compassionate when I grow up.

    Re the car — I think getting a small, fuel efficient, used car, as you did, is an act of generosity and maturity. Now you are not dependent upon others helping you. You mentioned previously relying on your in-laws for transportation — now you are free to offer it to THEM periodically. It opens up your social life and your ability to give to others in meaningful ways.

    Finally, I’m trained to always imagine the worst — and in this case, being stranded 13 miles from the nearest medical assistance would freak me out. Having a car at your immediate disposal will allow you to drive someone to a doctor or hospital should the need arise — God forbid.

  • Molly September 12, 2013, 1:02 pm

    No place in the world has everything; there are always compromises. Variety is one of the things that keeps life interesting! The best you can do is determine what is most important to you at that moment, and then find out what you need to do to make it happen. From what you have written it sounds like living on the ranch again is what is best for you right now. If you need a car to make that happen, so be it. You can live tiny doing anything; it’s all about HOW you do it.

    There are so many benefits to rural living; it affects you spiritually, physically, and emotionally. There really is no comparison. To me, having a car seems totally worth it to be able to experience that. (That’s why I have a car)

  • Darris September 12, 2013, 10:44 pm

    Nice to hear you’re happy and ‘home’ . . . Shasta is such a beautiful place to ‘stay put’ . . .

    I’ve lived rurally since 1989, more than 10 miles from town for 21 years and the last 4 years, about 20 miles, one way. I’ve had the same 1994 Volvo station wagon for 14 years, intentionally. Now that my son lives in town with his dad, I only drive about 7 days out of the month. We choose to live a very simple life.

    I agree with you about staying flexible and not judging yourself too harshly. Making mistakes, learning and growing is real life. I appreciate that you and Logan are willing to risk and try new things and then share about what hasn’t worked so that we can learn along with you.

    Thanks Tammy . . . welcome home : )

  • Julia September 13, 2013, 8:36 am

    My husband and I (plus our three littles) have been in the process of moving toward a minimalist lifestyle. I purchased your book in December and have been reading your blog since then…though this is my first time commenting.

    I can see how going back to owning a vehicle would be disappointing…but, if you are biking as much as possible the cost shouldn’t be too terrible and you will have a little more freedom. In our situation we have to own a vehicle, which is saddening for me since we are trying to radically alter our lifestyle but, our jobs require driving. Once our youngest turns 1 in March we will begin biking absolutely everywhere (pending weather and excluding work) at that time we will be living a truly car-light lifestyle. I am not trying to make this comment all about me, I just wanted to let you know that reading your book and this blog has been a really really big inspiration for us and has given us more of a drive to ditch the car as much as possible. I don’t believe your owning a “tiny” car is going to make your story and life any less inspiring.

  • Naz Laila September 14, 2013, 2:21 am

    Tammy I am so happy to see that you have finally got a car. I am sure it wasn’t a easy decision to get a car while you are committed to a minimalist life style but certainly a wise decision to prioritise ‘your life’ and the changing nature of it. If anything this will inspire many of us to practice more courage when we are facing difficult decision.

  • Sunny September 16, 2013, 2:20 pm

    I am going through a divorce and gave my ex the car we had (paid off 2004 Toyota Matrix). In the mean time, since he moved 40 minutes away and we have two kids, I needed transportation until I could figure out what to do (the divorce is taking a long time and I don’t know what the finances will be). My Dad uses old Ford Festivas as work vehicles because they are so economical; and, he had an extra one. So, the boys and I are tooling around in a ’93 Ford Festiva and loving it!. Cheap on gas and insurance.

  • Pavel - Desirable World September 16, 2013, 3:31 pm

    You know what, Tammy, good for you both. You’ve tried and tried and you have decided that a car will make your life better. If everybody chose to drive with such deliberation there would be fewer on the roads and the environment wouldn’t be in the state.

    I may have found my “perfect” block of land. It is 2.5mi from the nearest town. That town has everything I will need from week to week (supermarket, cafes, pub, post office, bank, hardware store, hospital, etc) and has a good link to a regional city (a return bus every weekday). I’ve never driven. I’ve never gotten my permit. And I am okay with that. I am confident that I will be able to do this with my trusty two-wheels as my primary mode of transport. I am use to riding 15-20mi a day – I ran my cleaning business by bike for 1.5 years. But you know what, I am not afraid to ask for help if necessary. As I said in a recent blog post, “From my experience with the Australian character, a note on the bulletin board outside the village store or pub, with an offer of a crisp-fifty and perhaps a dozen farm fresh eggs, is unlikely to go ignored. And, will be a lot cheaper than running a car in the long term. Or why not ask the chap at the store if he’ll deliver for a fee? We drive cars as a matter of independence as though we’re afraid to ask for assistance. I’m happy to ask for help. But for the most part I wish to be independent – of a petrol engine especially.”** I don’t want to bludge. I never have. I have always lived my life within my means, even if that means more regular trips to the grocery store or coughing up for the odd taxi (still cheaper than the upkeep of a car). I’m just not afraid of putting it out there. Sacrificing some independent for the good of building new relationships.

    **Rural Living Without a Drivers Licence: http://desirableworld.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/rural-living-without-a-drivers-licence/

    • Pavel - Desirable World September 16, 2013, 3:33 pm

      p.s. All in all, if it doesn’t work out I will need to adapt like you guys. Perhaps I will throw it all away? Perhaps I will succumb and get a licence? Perhaps something else…? I think it’s important that we never dismiss possibilities that may come to save us. As you and Logan have said before, you are not closed to the idea of giving up on the tiny house dream someday.