When I tell people I’ve gone car-free, there are a few common questions that come up. After “How do you get to work?” often comes “How do you buy groceries/furniture from IKEA/other stuff?” It’s understandable but also interesting, I think, that the ability to shop is such an immediate consideration for most in thinking of a car-free life. It’s true, though; cars and consumerism are inextricably linked in our culture. We’re used to hopping in the car and filling it up with everything from groceries to office supplies when the mood strikes us.
I was never a big shopper — at least not recreationally. I don’t consider it therapeutic to go from store to store, looking for things to buy. Still, before my car-free days, I’d hop in the car to get new shoes, look for a a new lampshade, or grab one or two things from the grocery store. When we have cars, it’s easy to do these things without thinking.
Although shopping by bike is often faster than driving (no traffic or parking hassles), it has made me consider each purchase before hopping on my bike. I find myself buying less. I get new clothes when what I have wears out or when I happen to be in the neighborhood, rather than when I see a catalog with something fancy on sale. I get groceries when I’ve planned to get them, and I avoid a lot of senseless trips to coffee shops and Subway shops (sorry, Subway).
If shopping by bike is so much easier, why the retail lapse? Well, when I’m carrying what I buy, I think I become more aware of what I’m consuming. When you walk or bike even a quarter of a mile with a gallon of milk, it’s hard not to be aware of what a gallon is. That goes for every consumable I’ve bought on my bike. It’s just easier to buy in moderation when you’re carrying it the whole way home.
Full Disclosure and Car-Free Shopping Tip: My other half does own a car, and he often gets some of our groceries that way, but for my own shopping trips — whether it’s for milk, ice cream, or cat food — I take my bike. I’ve also ordered things to be delivered. In certain parts of Los Angeles, you can order everything from groceries (www.yummy.com) to yarn online. Even IKEA will deliver.