Did I mention that we used to own a car? yup, we did. In fact at one point in time we were the dreaded 2-car family (I know! I hardly recognize previous me).
2005 – 2006: single car owners
The first car we owned was a Smart Car back in 2005. One of us landed a (what at the time, seemed like a) dream job, up in Markham. Back then, we didn’t really flinch. We just figured it was time to do what everyone else our age was doing, buying a car. But being the practical urbinistas that we are (without knowing that was even a thing) we opted for the brand new to Canada car, the Smart Car. Back then hardly anyone had them, they were such a rare site that people would stop on the street, point and stare at us. I can’t recall exactly which aspect of it appealed to us the most… we were living in a condo downtown, I think we wanted something great on gas that was good for commuting. The small size definitely appealed to us for cutting through traffic. Later one of us was offered a job in Europe and we packed up our lives sold our condo and car and took off for a new life in the UK.
2006 – 2011: Car free bliss
In the UK, car ownership never even crossed our minds. We moved to London, central London too. So central that our postal code had a 1 in it. We were 2 blocks from Kings Cross station with 6 tube lines running through it, multiple buses, national rail and international Eurostar. We were in transportation heaven! Even with all that transit, I still opted to walk the 3.7km walk to work, it only took about 45 min. I actually found it never really rained nearly as much as people think it does. Later I started biking to work, my first taste of urban cycling.
But we never felt like we needed a car. I’ll admit the first few months involved a slight habit adjustment. We went to IKEA for the first time to stock up on things and had the initial moment of panic, and then realized that the stores there made it super easy. There was delivery service available right after you purchased your goods. There was also a designated pick up spot for taxis to pick you up and take you and your goods home. And there was easy transit, a bus and then the Victoria line tube. Later there was online ordering with delivery. And so, you figured it out.
We managed IKEA trips just fine. Later we bought a couch, a mattress all with delivery options. Our local grocery store was at the end of our street. Not the big box behemoth North American sized stores, but a Tesco Metro. An urban concept store that seemed to always have everything we needed. Our fridge was the small British style, but we grew accustomed to it did more frequent trips and started questioning whether our North American fridges *should* have capacity for so much food, fresher is better, right?
So car free was pretty easy. And we got really used to it. Everyone talks about how expensive the UK is. I never really felt that way. Not owning a car, paying insurance, parking etc sure did help though.
At the end of 2010 we took a 7 month secondment to Taiwan. Having lived 4 years car free, of course getting a car didn’t even come to mind. By now we already had one baby and still didn’t feel like our lives were lacking without a car (we of course owned a car seat for him because UK hospitals won’t let you leave the hospital without a car seat even though we walked home from the hospital, but that’s another story from another time). We lived easily and happily in Taipei without a car. Everything we needed was in walking distance or reachable by transit and taxis. By now car free life was easy and natural.
2011 – 2013: the 2 car family
In 2011 one of us accepted a transfer to move to Belgium, and off we went, 2 adults 1 baby, and 1 cat. The funny thing about Belgium is that taxes are incredibly high, one of the highest in the world. But the Belgians got really good at working around the high taxes. They added all sorts of things to make your cost of living workable with lower take home pay. We were given a variety of taxable benefits like lunch vouchers (which could actually be used on groceries) and car allowances. We found that most companies gave all employees company leased cars, your seniority in the company merely dictated the class of car you were qualified to choose from the catalogue. My company went further and issued everyone fuel cards as we all travelled a lot for work purposes. Sure I had a tax impact on my take home pay, but I was given a BMW wagon to drive around with insurance covered and free gas. Well alright, we were more ‘normal’ adults. Then my spouse landed a job in a suburb that required him to drive, so we purchased a car and suddenly we went from zero cars to 2!
And now, back to the point of this post. What was amazing to us is how quickly our cars got dirty. Crumbs from kid snacks, receipts, take away coffee cups, food wrappers, CDs… (probably for the best that drive through fast food wasn’t really a thing where we were living!). There was always some stray toys for our now toddler. We had water bottles, umbrellas … Most days I was driving around a storage closet worth of stuff!
And we weren’t the only ones living in a constant state of messy car. Any time we were in someone else’s car I would see the same thing…. just bits of stuff all over the car. If I car pooled, my friend who was driving would spend a few minutes sifting through debris to make space for me to sit. It’s no wonder there are so many articles online dedicated to cleaning your messy car. And so many products for organizing your stuff in your car. Organizing stuff on the back of a seat, in your trunk, in the cupholder area, in the glove box. A trash can for your car. and proving that no space should be left unoccupied with stuff, even the side of the front passenger seats.
It’s just that common.
Sadly I didn’t take an photos of the messy innards of our cars back than. So I had a quick look on twitter for people’s pics of their messy cars – yikes!
Eventually a relative would come into town to visit, or we would hit a breaking point and we would have to take the time to clean the car. And it’s tedious. Vacuuming out crumbs? ick. pulling garbage and recycling out? Going for car washes (because that’s how I want to spend my free time). The big car clean out was as big a chore as a full bathroom scrub. And again, not how I want to spend my free time!
2014 – now: car free!
Now that we’re back in Canada and living car-free our car usage is through taxis (not so clean), uber (very clean) and car-share (insanely clean!). Every car share I get I always sit down and notice, wow .. super clean in here. Because of the sharing, we, and everyone else who uses it, clean up after ourselves, and the piles of stuff never has a chance to accumulate. As far as vacuuming, detailing the car or going to the car wash… that’s all taken car of by the car sharing service. The unpleasant chore of car cleaning has been lifted off our shoulders! And all for a lower cost to us?! Ah-mazing!
So go on, stop owning a car. Stop driving around in a metal box of junk. And stop wasting hours cleaning your metal junk box! Free yourself already!