This year our family has been focused on contentment over consumerism. It all started with realizing that our children believed the lie that stuff was going to make them happy. Where on earth would they learn that behavior? It was probably from that school they went to. No, as we looked further they learned it from us, because we were living that way as well.
When we started focusing on contentment, we realized it was a part of our whole lives. This wasn’t about just saving money on groceries and not eating out. Everything we did was a topic of conversation. And thus, the topic of travel went up, and we went through a bit of a transformation on how we see it. As I did in an earlier post, I’ll walk you through what I did and hope you get some ideas about how you can find more contentment in your travel choices.
The system we had gone with was similar to what most people in suburban middle-class America do:
- We drove wherever we wanted. If we needed to go to the store, we drove. If we needed to go to Maryland, we drove. There was never a question if we should be using a car. We drove.
- Travel was a fixed expense. Travel expenses (gas, repairs, insurance) to us were almost the same as our mortgage payment. We just accepted the amount and moved on.
- Fuel Economy was a medium priority. When we shopped for cars, we took fuel economy into consideration, but we didn’t make it a priority. We had two cars that would fit our entire family in them, but of course we didn’t need that.
We did have parts of our system that were a bit different than the norm:
- We live and work locally. We are less than a ten minute drive from my work, our church, the kid’s schools, and grocery shopping. This was a huge priority to us when we moved a couple of years ago.
- We drive used, paid off cars. We’re OK with the car not being a status symbol.
These last two elements are critical components for the new system outlined below.
Problems with the System
When we started looking at our lives and budget holistically, we saw a few problems with the system we had been living by:
- We had a sedentary lifestyle that was setting us up for health problems. I had a desk job. Anytime we wanted to go anywhere we went and sat on a metal-encased couch that launched us down a paved road. I was gaining a few pounds every few years. I went to the gym sometimes, but it was hard to fit it into my busy schedule.
- We had a consumptive mindset. I’m convinced that a key to contentment must be to think of yourself as a producer instead of a consumer. If you feel entitled to consume, then nothing is ever good enough. When I produce as much as possible, the times when I do consume are wonderful, gracious experiences. Our system made us 100% consumers of our transportation, via the car.
Our new system makes us producers as much as possible and leads us to a healthy lifestyle:
- We walk or bike within five miles of our home. We don’t allow ourselves to get in a car if we need to go down to the grocery store; we bike. And, a magical thing happens: we get exercise! It’s such a transformation when fitness becomes a part of your life rather than a scheduled activity. What about the kids? They bike too! We have to focus on safety the whole time, but we do and they make it.
- We consciously use the car. When we are going to use the car to go somewhere more than five miles away, we ask ourselves, “do I need anything else?” We try to consolidate trips because getting in the car is a special activity. If I’m going to launch a couch down a paved road, I better have some good reasons for doing so.
- I periodically work from home. A day or two a week, I work from home. We’re creating an office for me, but for now I work at the kitchen table, or if the kids are there, I ride my bike down to the library. This helps me get focus to think about things, but it also keeps everything local and manageable.
- I bike to work. I have been biking to work 80% of the days I work there.
- We have one car. I’m selling my Camry and we’ll only have a Sienna minivan. We really only need to take the family around in one car, so why do we need two? We don’t!
I absolutely love this new system. It has to be wrapped up in a mindset that convenience and comfort aren’t the most important things in life. This is definitely a more inconvenient and uncomfortable system. But those weren’t our goals; contentment and production were our goals. Living and working locally and minimizing our use of the automobile has left us more contented and productive than ever!