Quitters: Why We Gave Up Our Car

Ridiculously cute photo by Brian Fanelli.
Ridiculously cute photo by Brian Fanelli.

I met Morgen a few years ago at the gym. She’s a super strong, encouraging CrossFit coach with a fantastic smile, has one of those kids who makes being a parent seem delightful, and her husband Xan works at my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis. Morgen’s got it all going on.

In May of 2013, Morgen & Xan decided to give up their car. She explains why quitting four wheels never felt like a downgrade.

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Let’s get down to business: What did you quit & why?

We quit our car when we realized that it was unnecessary for us to own one.

What did your life feel like before you gave up your car?

I had anxiety about the car. It was my main mode of transportation, and it was beginning to need more and more maintenance. My family was going through some big changes; we had a new baby and I had left my full-time corporate job out in the suburbs. Money was tight. If I were describing my life at that point, I would not have used the word “freedom”.

What ultimate pushed you to give up your car?

There were many converging factors that I think would have led us to it eventually, but for me the tipping point was a specific consumerist urge that I couldn’t ignore. When my daughter was about 9 months old I saw a picture of a bike that made my heart race. It was a Dutch bakfiets, a two wheeler with a long base and a wooden box up front to carry cargo and small children. To someone who had been cooped up with a baby all winter, it looked like freedom. It was fantastic.

It was also expensive and seemed impossible to get. I did a little math and realized it would pay for itself in no time if we used it for its intended purpose: as a car replacement. That was the moment that I first seriously considered going back to being car-free.

Morgen's dream ride. 
Morgen’s dream ride.

The hardest part about quitting?

Saying goodbye to the car was pretty easy, but cleaning it up, listing it on Craigslist, and working with the eventual buyer was a major pain. He didn’t realize that the state was going to tax the sale of the car, so he was thoroughly surprised when we went to transfer the title at the DVS office. The cranky friend he’d brought along for moral support insisted that we pay it ourselves. Hilarious.

The Clark Giswold of 2015!
The Clark Giswold of 2015!

Was quitting scary for you? Why or why not?

It wasn’t for me, but my husband Xan (who didn’t ever really even drive the thing) was a bit reluctant (although he says he’d make the same choice again). We both have previous experience being car-free and getting around mainly by bike. We already had bikes that we liked to ride, a couple of trailers, and the tools and ability to do our own maintenance. After I proposed the idea of ditching the car, we decided to give it a trial run: we’d park the car for a couple of months and just see what happened. It took a little while to adapt but overall the transition was easier than either of us expected it to be. We live in South Minneapolis; there’s a grocery store and a liquor store close enough to walk to if need be. That’s reassuring.

The other thing that helped was knowing that there were other families here already getting by without cars. It takes some creativity to adapt to the challenges that arise when you don’t have that security all the time, and I am inspired by the parents I know here who have been doing it for years with very little fanfare.

How did you feel immediately after you quit?

Amazing. Free. We handed off the keys, left the DVS office in the basement of the Midtown Exchange building, bought some burritos, and then walked home, one of us carrying the baby and the other carrying her car seat. Of course we got rained on.

How do you feel now? Any regrets?

No regrets for either of us.

What do you do when you need to haul stuff or venture a far distance?

We have both borrowed and rented cars for multi-day trips. Carpooling is always a great option when it’s available. For hauling stuff, we use bikes as much as we can. We have hauled fruit trees, Christmas trees, wood chips, an 11-year-old with a broken arm, broken-down bikes, camping supplies, a canoe, and thousands of pounds of groceries with our bikes. When something is too big or too far to haul, we check with any car-having friends to see if we can work something out. U-Haul is half a mile away from us, as a last resort.

What rush hour looks like on Morgen's Minneapolis commute. 
What rush hour looks like on Morgen’s Minneapolis commute.

You live in Minneapolis. How do you deal with those below zero or blizzard days?

You get used to being outside in the winter by simply doing it. You can get used to anything. The cold is not hard to ward off once you figure out how to dress for it. It takes a little while to get that down. Some people like really techy gear and some people wear wool sweaters and Sorels all winter. There are lots of resources out there to guide you, but ultimately it’s personal. People never believe me when I say I’m not cold, but you do become quite warm when you’re pedaling through a blizzard! Sometimes riding through the snow is really fun; sometimes it’s February and you’ve had it and you opt to take the bus or ride to the grocery store in your friend’s car. I would like to point out how much it sucked to dig or push an entire automobile out of a foot of snow or scrape an inch of ice off the windshield.

How do you deal with carting your daughter around without a car?

At first we pulled her around in a Burley trailer, which was fine but didn’t really have a lot of room for hauling other stuff. After we sold the car, we bought the bike I mentioned above, a Workcycles Cargo Long. She sits on the bench right in front and everything else is placed in the box. We can have a conversation. She loves it. There is a rain cover that keeps wind and precipitation off of the passenger and cargo. When it’s cold, we bundle her up, make sure no skin is exposed, and tuck a wool blanket around her. We’ve had very few complaints from her so far.

Zinnia's all,
Zinnia’s all, “Psssht, I don’t have to ride in the back seat of the car AND I get a cookie!”

How has quitting changed your life?

I’m a happier person since I stopped driving everywhere. I learned that fresh air and exposure to the elements, year-round, is something that I need. It’s hard to connect with nature at all when you live in the city and spend six months of the year inside buildings, cars, and your head. Riding a bike is really grounding for me.

Advice to someone who’s thinking of giving up their car?

Spring is the perfect time to transition. You can ride all summer and fall, and by then you’ll be comfortable with your routine and ready to face winter weather.

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For more info on Morgen, check out SolcanaCrossfit.com.

Check out other Quitters here.

If you want to share your quitting story, email me at heyeleanorproject@gmail.com. Things I’d love to hear about: quitting a significant romantic relationship, giving up being an elite athlete, dropping out of med school/law school/doctorate program, puttin down the cigs for good and whatever else you’re quitting!

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Comments (6)

  • Lee Davenport 6 years ago Reply

    This comes perfectly times for me. I just got a new job with only negative being a 22 mile commute. It may not seem like a lot to some but I also work on my feet all day and biking will mean I am getting up before 5 AM. My husband and I have talked about trying to go car free when our current car dies and I know that doing this commute will prepare me for that eventuality. I’m also probably going to add electric assist to one of my bikes. 🙂

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    22 miles DOES seem like a lot! I am super impressed that you are even considering it. Electric assist would be very helpful.

  • erinsuzanne 6 years ago Reply

    I am lucky enough to live in an incredibly bike-friendly city (Madison, Wisconsin) and when my car died ten years ago (this month!), I never imagined I’d still be car-free today…but I am. I was scared going into the first winter, but the author is right- it’s actually harder for me to stay cool enough biking in the winter than staying warm, once you start pedaling, you heat up quickly. I rent a car or borrow a car a couple of times a year for hauling or transporting really big things or when I want to travel further out of town than I can on my bike. I started bike-camping last summer because our city trails link up to many other bike trails that lead out of the city and to several state parks.
    My typical commute is only a couple of miles, and I’ve definitely planned my life around being car-free (close to work, the grocery store, the library, and to downtown), but I rarely think "oh, I can’t do that because I don’t have a car".

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    YAY to Madison! It’s so easy to go without a car there, even in the winter. I swear the only reason I never gained the freshman 15 was because I logged crazy miles walking/wheeling places.

    The temperature thing is definitely an issue… first you’re too cold, then too hot and sweaty.

    Tell me more about bike camping!

  • Saniel Underwood 6 years ago Reply

    I understand but if your child has an emergency and you need to get to them fast a bike will not do or to the hospital. I ‘ve been without a car for almost 2 years and it sucks, public transportation is lousy can’t get to work on time and its not available everywhere and all day like it should be. Commuting to work via bike would be cool when it’s not raining, cold as shit and extremely windy. I’d love a car something small good on gas so I don’t have to schlep groceries from bus to bus rotting my 5yr old with me.

    molly mogren katt 6 years ago Reply

    I think being without a car if you don’t want to be without a car would be very challenging. And the kid thing is a good point, though if you live in a city, calling a cab or booking an Uber isn’t a bad alternative. Just would get $$$.

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