A Mom Can’t Mom Without a Car

A mom can’t go grocery shopping, pick up kids from soccer practice & take family dog to the vet on a bicycle. Not anti-bike; just saying…😉

— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) August 5, 2017

Seven years ago we mulled over getting rid of our car and at the time it was an audacious and unconventional move. At the time we just had the one kid and we lived in a highly walkable area of Vancouver. People told us we’d regret it, we’d  have emergencies and be stuck, but that never happened. Instead, we paid off a bunch of debt, felt free-er (as free-er as you can feel with a toddler) and saved more money to pay off our consumer debts and student loans. We had a lot of life changes for the next few years, moving overseas, growing our family and moving house a few times and finally moving back to Canada.

With each transition we evaluated if we really needed a car. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. Our last transition was almost a year ago when we no longer needed a vehicle to get our son to school. Our car was used once in a month and then we paid over $400 for it to be serviced. That’s one expensive trip. It was time to reevaluate if we needed a car and our conclusion was we didn’t. So we’ve spent the last year getting our three young kids around mostly by walking, sometimes by using transit, by cargo bike and infrequently by car with a car-share or a car rental.

Vancouver is a fantastic city for transportation options. In July I spent two weeks on a course that was on the west side of Vancouver. The location was an 1 hour walk/12 minute drive/35 minute bike/35 minute bus ride away. And I used all of those transport options over the week. Some days I walked there, enjoying the beautiful weather and the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains as I walked over the Burrard Street bridge. It was really the best way to start my day. The downside to it was that I had to leave before my kids woke up so I missed seeing them (yeah I will try to avoid ever getting a job I need to leave the house at 6:50am for). Many days I took a Mobi bikeshare bike to the course. The bike lanes and routes lined up well for the trip and it was safe and convenient. It was a refreshing start to the day and I loved that I had the option to not bike home (also didn’t have to worry about a bike being stolen – bike theft is very high in Vancouver). The bus was also pretty convenient: there’s a stop kitty corner to my apartment building and if I wanted to get out early to stretch my legs and walk some of the way there it was easy to do. A few days when I needed to get home quickly or there was an emergency (kids were sick) I used Car2Go. It was faster and cheaper than a taxi. The con to it was driving in stop and go traffic – my tolerance for sitting in a car in traffic is low. Much rather sit in a bus if the streets are busy or get out and walk or bike.

Now, I know you’re thinking, that’s all well and good but she didn’t have any kids along. True. But it’s still pretty easy to get around with my crew of three along without a car. They really enjoy skytrain (our subway system) and the bus. We’ve been visiting a relative that’s ill and taking a long skytrain ride out multiple times a week to visit her. The kids are not bothered by the long train ride at all. In comparison, five minutes into a drive they are asking if we are there yet. And there are so many other ways to get around with kids. Follow that tweet link above for a swift and expansive rebuttal from many parents that don’t own a car and get out there with their kids and do stuff. Like us, many of them use cargo bikes. And they make choices like living in a higher density area or building their family schedule with extra time to bike or walk. They order groceries for delivery, they take kids on transit to soccer and they do everything else many families do just without using a car.

walking home from Costco - yes you can go to Costco without a car!
walking home from Costco – yes you can go to Costco without a car!

The other exciting change to our transportation option is that my oldest son is now riding his bike longer distances.I should clarify: he has learned to ride a bike. For many reasons we waited to teach him how to ride a bike  until he was 7.5 years old and you guys, it has been a parenting highlight for me. From his first time on the bike it took him about six weeks to build up his skills and enough endurance to do a long-ish ride from our home to Granville Island and back. His pride at this accomplishment, his joy at riding his bike – it has literally brought tears to my eyes (he’s not a kid that things come easy to). And our four year old has really upped his endurance with walking so even more of the city is opening up to us. I can see the future and the future is bigger kids that walk and bike where they need to go. Love our stroller but I can’t wait to be free of it after eight years of using them.

You don’t have to be car-free to use and enjoy alternative modes of transportation. Even when we have owned cars we’ve always tried to use them as a last option. Walking is always our first choice, then bikes and public transit depending on the weather. I wish this message was out there more: keep your car but try to use it less. There are lots of families with cars that still bike places, commute by bus or train to avoid expensive parking and having to sit in traffic or make more time in their day so they can walk places. 

Ways to reduce your car dependancy as a family:

  • Try a new way to get there. Maybe it’s just once a week that you leave the car at home, walk with the kids to school and catch the bus from there. I know if it adds even 20 minutes to your day it feels hard but you might be surprised how much you look forward to that once a week break from the car.
  • Choose activities that you don’t need a car to get to or participate in. Set a limit on how much and how far you are willing to drive regularly for an activity.
  • Have a car free day regularly. Make a game of it, plan for it and have everyone pick activities that you can do at home or without driving. It’s like having a no spend day: it makes you much more aware of how you much you drive.
  • Look for opportunities with change and growth. Hunting for a new job? Cost out how much you could save if you found a job that didn’t require a car. Kids getting older? Maybe it’s time they biked or walked to school instead of getting a ride from mom or dad. Moving? Set a wish list for what you would like to be within easy distance of your new home to reduce your car dependency.

The Month I Paid $30/mile to Drive


It’s feeling like 2011 here all over again. We just returned our cable box – a ‘yeah! North American sports coverage’ purchase for my husband when we moved back to Canada. And, yikes, we just sold the minivan we bought at the same time. No, we’re not in a big old mountain of debt like we were back then. This isn’t a simplify our life and save money plan like it was back then. It’s mostly rooted in common sense.

Cable: my husband is away most of the next year. We won’t get much use from our cable box. Confession: I have on occasion watched some HGTV when up with a sick kid. But that’s certainly not worth $80/month. So we’re back to just the Apple TV which is plenty of at home entertainment.

The car: we paid around $30/mile in the last month to drive. Insurance is $150/month, our parking stall is technically worth $100/month and we had a $453 maintenance bill. I’m not even going to calculate the money we have tied up in our car and what it could be earning us either as an investment or as saved interest if we put it on our mortgage. Our one trip in the last four weeks by car was out to an Air Park for a birthday party. Fun time but $703 for the 40 minute roundtrip drive seems rather steep.

We primarily bought and used the car for the school run last year. And then we got our Yuba Mundo cargo bike in the late spring and the car only did the school run on rainy days. My oldest son moved schools this fall and is now able to walk. So the car wasn’t getting much use. I’m solo parenting most of the time these days and prefer taking the kids places on the bus or skytrain, by bike or just on foot with the older two on scooters and my youngest in a stroller. We don’t need a car for 95% of our life. So it just made sense to sell our car.

Using common sense still feels a bit scary. There is a bias here in North America that families need cars. Even if your day to day needs are met by other transportation modes. What if there’s an emergency? That’s what many people ask. Well, if it’s a true emergency I’m calling an ambulance. Otherwise I call a taxi. A $3o taxi ride or an $80 day rate for a car or $2.75 for the bus – all options that are cheaper than owning a car that you’re not using regularly.

We have LOTS of car share options in Vancouver. There are four car sharing options in my neighborhood: ZipCar, Modo Car Coop, Car2Go and Evo Car Share. Yes, it’s a pain to drag two car seats and a booster to a car and install them before driving. But when you only drive once or twice a month as a family, it’s not so bad. Plus I’ve got my cargo bike, bus, skytrain, scooters and Mobi bike share. So many options for getting around with or without the kids along.

And the money side is compelling. We’ll rent our parking space out for $100 and that plus not paying $150/month in insurance should be a fine transportation budget. So no gas costs, no maintenance or repair and the proceeds from selling the car (substantial – it was a 2012 Honda Odyssey) are now working for us instead of sitting in the car and depreciating.

I’ll admit it’s daunting to go car-free this time around. We have three kids and two of them are still in car seats. Our middle child has a very slim build and I don’t think he will be ready for a booster for quite some time. So I’m coming up with some less painful plans for dragging car seats a few blocks (I like this and this plus the first would be great for Costco runs on foot). The nice thing is that I know others with 3 or more children are also car-free and loving it.




Getting There is Half – or All – the Fun


You don’t get a lot of opportunities to try new things as you get older. You have to go out of your way to take salsa dancing lessons, try a Stand Up Paddleboard or learn a new language. And if you have young kids you probably don’t have a lot of free time to seek out and engage in learning new things. Yes, I’m talking about myself here but I am sure some of you can relate. In the grind, and joy, of parenting young children and the somewhat predictable days of mid-life, I haven’t found a lot of time and energy for learning something new.

Learning something new actually helps slow the aging of your brain. And learning something new actually brings you happiness. If you tack on being outside and exercise to this new thing – boom – you’ve added something pretty incredible to your life. Who knew I would find all of this in a cargo bike.

I feel like Superwoman on this bike. I feel accomplished and while I am still intimidated – can I get us up that hill? – that small voice saying ‘maybe you can’t do this’ is one that I revel in trying to silence. Again, when are you challenged to do something that scares you in your life? For most of us there are fewer and fewer opportunities to learn something new, something we didn’t know we could do, as we get older. So when I got my first ride in with all three kids on the bike – two months and a few dozen short rides in the making – I felt on top of the world.


I can now haul all three children – combined weight of 110 lbs – and gear for a day at the beach on my Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike. I feel safe on the bike but I’m still intimidated at times. I’m still learning new skills, improving my fitness and learning new routes to get around my city. Still learning that I need to balance the load on the bike – put the water bottles in the front bread basket instead of in our single pannier – and still learning the routes and when to gear down. Learning and loving the fun and freedom a cargo bike has given our family.

The kids love the cargo bike. Our middle child actually refused to get on the bike at first. Kicking and screaming would not get on the bike. Now he loves it and is disappointed if we aren’t going somewhere by bike. The other thing they love about the cargo bike but probably can’t verbalize: it makes our day a lot easier and even cheaper.

The other weekend we had a beautiful Vancouver day with a visit to Second Beach in Stanley Park followed by a late afternoon dip in an urban splash park in the heart of the city. By car the itinerary would have been onerous: expensive and hard to find parking in Stanley Park with stop-and-go traffic. We probably would have skipped the splash pad because there is very little street parking near it and most of it has a short time limit.


By cargo bike we are nimble adventurers. Load up the Go Getter panniers with lunch and our beach gear and we can go anywhere on a whim. No parking to find and pay for. We roll our bike into the park or to the beach, put the solid double kickstand on, and all of our gear is right there with us. Baby needs a nap? No problem.


Right now the cargo bike is really cutting down on our driving which I love. School’s been out for three weeks and the only time we’ve been in the car was to drive up to the Okanagan for a family vacation. The car hadn’t moved in two weeks and I actually had the thought, should I go turn the engine over?

Some families may be able to splurge on a cargo bike solely for recreation purposes and if that’s you, go get one – they are so fun! I recently met a family that was visiting Vancouver from Seattle and had brought their cargo bike up to explore with. The dad told me he ‘tested’ himself before buying a cargo bike. He kept track of how often they got out with their bike and bike trailer set up for a summer. It was enough usage that he felt comfortable investing in a cargo bike because they biked a lot for pleasure and adventure.

But for most families the price tag of a cargo bike takes it out of being a leisure or recreation purchase; the cargo bike has to reduce or replace other transit costs. I’ll have another post about commuting with kids by cargo bike and using it to go car-free or car-lite. There are so many families sharing how they use their cargo bike as family transportation from the car-free, cycle in all weather families to those that cargo bike to reduce, but not eliminate how much they drive. Plus: how those three kids, and beach gear, fit on the bike!

Our New Two Wheeled Minivan: The Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike

We did it. We’re a cargo biking family as of a month ago!

For many years I have watched and read wistfully about families using cargo bikes for most of their transportation. It looked like so much fun and the health, environmental and financial benefits were compelling. Stacy over at A Simple Six was the first person I stumbled upon who was moving her large family around by bike. They went ‘car lite’ five years ago and go by bike as much as possible. I was impressed and inspired. Cargo biking with my children seemed like an ideal way to get around because a) I don’t like driving, b) Vancouver has a growing network of bike paths and bike lanes and c) cycling would allow us to go places that are too far for us to walk. Also, d) it looks really fun!

But I also had some hesitations about cargo biking. Could I really do this? I’m a former athlete but I’m not naturally athletic. I don’t pick up new sports or movements easily. Also could I find a cargo bike that all three kids could fit on that would also fit in my condominium bike room. The bike parking stalls are small and you have to exit bikes through two doors and up a fairly steep ramp. I wasn’t sure a cargo bike could fit through the doors, in a bike parking stall or easily go up the exit ramp.

Am I strong enough to pedal my three kids around on a bike? Okay, I was once an athlete but in this current stage of life I’m far, far away from my past career as a rower. Actually right when I was in the process of getting my cargo bike I tore a muscle in my calf and had to stop running. When the bike arrived I had lost a lot of my cardiovascular fitness. Here’s another concern: I’m a big person. Cycling is all about power vs. weight. My fitness wasn’t great and I was going to haul myself, the bike and my kids up a hill? I was intimidated. Intimidated and my husband thought I was a bit crazy.

Can I navigate the streets with my kids on board a cargo bike? I did have some experience road cycling pre-children but it felt like a lifetime ago. I sold my road bike when I was very pregnant with my oldest son seven years ago. Since then I’ve been on a bike exactly once when we rented bikes and I hauled our younger two in a trailer. I went through the archives of Stacy’s blog and took a lot of comfort in her candid posts about her first rides with her cargo bike: yes, it took some getting used to but she was quickly able to ride with several children on board. Also comforting to read: Stacy hatched her plan family biking and going car lite and she hadn’t been on a bike in ten years! This is exactly the kind of blind faith success story I was looking for.

It’s been a month since we got the bike and I’m happy to say yes I am strong enough (and getting stronger!) and yes I can navigate city streets with kids on board. I slowly built up to riding with more weight on the bike and if my three year old will finally get on the bike for more than a photo (he’s our stubborn one!) I’ll be riding with all three on board this summer. I’ll be sharing more about getting started and using our bike but for now, here’s more about our awesome orange family hauler:

Our new minivan bike is a Yuba Mundo 21 LUX.

It can carry up to four small children and has a hauling capacity of 440 lbs. We’ve kitted it out with a Yepp Maxi Easy Fit seat for the baby, soft spot and monkey bars for our older two, a bread basket on the front that can carry up to 50 lbs and one Go Getter pannier bag with an 85 liter capacity. This thing truly is a minivan on two wheels.

Awesome things about our Yuba Mundo cargo bike:

  • it fits in our bike parking! A cargo bike with a box on it would be too wide and long for our bike parking but this long tail fits in nicely.
  • it rides like a regular bike. It has a mechanism called a ‘deflopilator’ that makes the steering heavier to compensate for the weight on the back of the bike. The deflopilator is a must in my opinion – I have ridden the bike with and without this small piece added and it was night and day. It takes some miles to get used to riding a bike with that much weight but after a few rides I was up to riding with two kids (50 + 30lbs) and another 30lbs of gear.
  • it is incredibly fun. Here’s a little video below of two of my boys on the back enjoying themselves. What you can’t see is the grin on my face.
  • this bike could help us become car free again. In the next 1-2 years some things will change for our family – school location, smaller car seats – and with the Yuba Mundo cargo bike, walking, transit and car-sharing we could once again be car free!
  • the Yuba Mundo is an affordable cargo bike. Bigger box style cargo bikes can be in the $6000+ range. A long tail Yuba cargo bike starts as low was $1000.

More to come on cargo biking! If you have any specific questions or photos/videos you would like to see of the bike in action please let me know.


Leaving Minimalism

The title Minimalist Mom isn’t that accurate for me. If you’ve read a few posts here you’ll know that I aim for less and what we can live comfortably with rather than a rigid goal of a handful of possessions.

I chose the name while in a burst of zeal for the idea of what Minimalism could give me. I was excited, hopeful and had grand dreams of sparsely furnished rooms and a wardrobe that could fit in a small carry-on suitcase. After many rounds of decluttering I’ve found that the things my family want in our home, the things we use, is often in flux. I’ve found that I’m not interested in counting our possessions or living a nomadic lifestyle. I am interested in the space, time and money having less can give me and my family.

I’m not really a minimalist. We have a television, my son has a push bike he has yet to master and I recently bought a blender and a crock pot.

While I’m not a true minimalist I’m still fascinated by the idea of fewer possessions and the many returns from living with less. That’s why I keep writing here. That’s why I deliberate a lot longer on purchases than I used to. That’s why I have just two pairs of jeans, why we don’t have a car and why I keep a pretty sparse pantry. I like what having less gives me.

Friends Saying Goodbye to Minimalism.

Recently two of my blogging friends have discussed why minimalism is no longer right for them.

Rayna, a contributing writer to Frugal Mama, wrote about shutting down her blog The Suburban Minimalist almost a year ago. Embracing the movement had been positive at first and then lead her to a place she wasn’t comfortable or happy with.

 I’d learned the hard way that although there’s much to be said for living with (much) less than the average American, there are also quite a few things to be said for creature comforts and man-made beauty. Fluffy towels and familiar mugs sweeten our daily rituals. A closet with enough flattering choices makes me feel feminine and confident on the days I’m just not. – Rayna St. Pierre

Her new blog, Bright Copper Kettles, explores simplicity, design and the small things that make her life wonderful. It’s a nice read and I recommend popping in particularly for her links round up. Rayna has a great eye for articles and design that will inspire you to find more beauty in your life without making you feel bad about your living room that is covered in children’s toys or that you have yet to replace the glass on a picture frame that broke three months ago (guilty).

Faith started writing at MinimalistMoms around the same time I started this blog. Later she moved to MinimalistatHome and has written several e-books on minimalism and families. Recently she decided to move her writing away from minimalism.

… it became harder and harder to write a “minimalist” blog after two years. I’ve grown tired of wondering if what I have to say is minimalist enough or even if I am minimalist enough.. – Faith Janes

Faith’s new home online for living with less is a digital magazine called Simplify that launches October 1st. You can sign up to receive the first edition here.

Still Sticking With The M Word

I’ll still be here writing about my own brand of minimalism, the challenges of living counter-culturally and if I really needed that crock pot or blender.

While the term minimalism sounds extreme I think there is a lot to glean from the movement for even non-radical folk like myself. I like the discussion here about how to live with less, the benefits of it and how to go about it happily in a world that doesn’t support slow and simple living.

Real Simple magazine always told me that it was ‘life made easier, every day’ but I found that when I read it, I hated my home and felt the pressure to buy a lot of baskets and label makers and organize instead of truly simplify. I used to flip through those glossy pages and tell myself that I’d have a show worthy home if I just tried harder and made bread from scratch and a jar of lemon curd for an Amalfi Coast inspired luncheon replete with Limoncello ordered direct from Sorrento, Italy.

Life wasn’t made easier. Life was harder and the expectations bigger in ways that just made me tired. I had zero of the 20 must-have classic wardrobe staples for a woman in her 30’s. My vintage mason jar collection was nonexistent.

I wasn’t inspired by the supposed ease of this everyday beautiful simplicity. I was overwhelmed.

There is room in my life for beauty and minimalism. I keep fresh flowers on our kitchen window sill, not the dining room table, because that is where I enjoy them most. When I’m washing dishes I see my vase, sometimes it’s just a water glass, filled with the cheap and cheerful white carnations I buy myself or roses, a gift from a friend, and it’s enough for me.

Because I have less I appreciate what I do have more.

I’ll still be here writing about minimalism and how we’re making it work for us. With our roses on the window sill, our blender and even my expensive ballet flats that fell apart.

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