My main motivations for downsizing were to gain more control over my time, my finances, and my happiness. A surprising side effect has been reconnecting with my community. While searching for an alternative to the work, sleep, shop, repeat treadmill I discovered that connecting with people brought joy into my life. In order to find the time to spend with my local community I needed to transition away from the habits that demanded most of my time and money. One of those habits included driving my car everywhere.
Living a small lifestyle promotes community involvement and offers a variety of solutions to the land of dissatisfied American consumers to reclaim their time, money and happiness.
Consider the suggestions below to reconnect with your community.
1. Share and borrow stuff.
Rather than running out and buying the latest gadget, power tool, lawnmower, or hammer, consider borrowing the item to share the cost and interact with your neighbors. A variety of sharing cooperatives have popped up around the county. There are tool sharing programs, computer co-ops, bike sharing and cool car sharing programs like, Zipcar.
You don't have to be part of cooperative to share stuff. Consider helping your friends and family with childcare, petsitting or taking care of their garden. The examples are endless.
Sharing is stuff is an awesome way to connect with others. First, you don't have to buy something new or used. Second, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with another human.
The next time you "need" something, ask a friend, family member or colleague if you can borrow the item before you buy another copy. Don't forget to share your stuff too!
2. Participate in your community.
In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, points out that "nearly three-quarters of all American's don't know their neighbors." That is a startling and sad statistic.
Filmmaker Judith Helfand is currently making a film about the 1995 heat wave that struck Chicago. Over 600 people were killed as a result. Helfand explains that many of the victims were poor and socially isolated.
Helfand argues that we should engage in community-building activities all year long. These types of activities could have avoided the tragic deaths that occurred in Chicago. Participating in your community will make you happier and healthier.
You can find community in many places. The internet is a good starting point. You can create a blog, join a social network and find out what projects local organizations are focusing on.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Drop by with a plate of cookies or invite them over for dinner. Connect with a local community organization and ask your neighbors if they would like to tag along with you.
3. Go car-free.
Traveling in a big, smelly, steel box doesn't foster community. Sure, you might get to know the people you're traveling with a little better. But most American's drive by themselves. That activity is lonely and no fun. Consider going car-free to to plug into your community. Ever since I went car-free, I'm more connected to my community and my social life is rockin'.
Lifestyle shift: Selling my car forced me to make a huge lifestyle shift. Now I get around by bike or by foot. I've met some incredible people on the streets and made new friends. You can't do this in a car.
Time: I've taken back my time. Rather than spending 2 or more hours a day commuting to a job, I work at home and use my extra time to volunteer for a non-profit.
Hanging out with friends: Initially, I thought selling my car would hinder my social life. But the opposite has occurred. I'm going out more and have made some amazing new friends. Traveling by bike, walking, and car-pooling are a few transit options I use if I have to go across town for a party.
Saving cash: By selling both my cars, I save on average $14,000 per year. Saving extra money gave me freedom to leave my day job and pursue a writing career. More importantly, I'm able to donate money to organizations I believe in and contribute to my nieces and nephews educational fund. If I still owned a car, I would be saddled with debt and stress.
The Big Picture: Resources are finite. If you are healthy and live in a city, sell your car. It is possible to get around by bike, mass transit or by foot. Living without a car can be difficult but so is owning a car. I'd rather worry about getting my clothes wet in the winter, instead of forking out a $500 car payment. Plus, we all have a responsibility to look at the big picture. One less car on the road results in less city traffic, pollution community members breathe, and a decreased dependance on foreign products.
4. Flex your "citizen muscle".
A few nights ago, I attended a presentation by Annie Leonard, who wrote The Story of Stuff. She brought a powerful message to the audience.
Reinvigorating that citizen muscle will rebuild public participation in politics and generate real collective solutions to the considerable problems we're facing on this planet. ~Annie Leonard
Most of us have the skills to purchase any kind of consumer product and have it shipped to us within 48 hours. On the flip side, most people don't know where their city council members meet where public meeting take place.
Flexing your citizen muscle will foster community connections on many levels. For instance, Richard Layard is an economist and has researched what makes us happy for years. He said "the greatest happiness comes from absorbing yourself in some goal outside yourself."
Turn the TV off and invite friends and family over for a scrumptious dinner. Talk about your passions, listen to alternative philosophies and immerse yourself in helping other people.
5. Do what you love.
We all trade a portion of our life energy for money, so why not do what you love? Living a simpler lifestyle facilitates this strategy. If you think that's impossible, look to people like Everett Bogue from Far Beyond the Stars, Karol Gajda of Ridiculously Extraordinary, Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living and Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. These folks are doing what they love and are part of a broader movement for social change.
It is possible to opt out of the relentless sleep, eat, shop, repeat treadmill. Orient your life around community, not stuff.
6. Live small and think big.
Changing individual behavior is extremely important. I'm a huge believer in living an intentional and authentic life. However, by solely focusing on changing individual behavior we ignore systemic problems. Fixing broader social ills like like consumerism, cycles of debt, climate change and poor community services requires action. It's essential that we flex our citizen muscles and get involved. Your community needs you as much as you need them.
Tammy Strobel is the author of Simply Car-free. She blogs at RowdyKittens and unconventional photography.