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Life in the slower lane: Gliding into a more sustainable life

by Rhoann Ponseti

“What kind of new car are you getting?” our friends frequently ask. “We’re not getting a new car,” we answer. We are greeted with incredulity – only one car?

The experience of consciously downsizing while being aware of habitual thinking and actions has been an interesting journey for us. We’re your prototypical Baby Boomers, children of the sixties with values aligned with peace and love, growing and eating healthy food for a healthy planet, and fostering a positive and grateful attitude for all we have and enjoy. But the sixties were a long time ago and in the meantime, we joined the ranks of the working people for the past 50 years. Time for a change.

No Kids. As a couple, we’ve been together for over 32 years, living in and loving Sonoma County. One of our first conscious acts as a couple was agreeing to not have children. And yes, there are a myriad of familial and societal pressures to have children; and children are generally wonderful. Without children, however we feel we have enjoyed more freedom, flexibility and resources than many of our friends with children. Ours was a very personal choice and we have not regretted it ever. With billions of kids on the planet, who needs ours?

Getting real about real estate. A couple years ago we took a deep breath and truly looked at our lives at 60+ years old. We realized that with a mortgage, acreage and two full-time day jobs, we were on a treadmill with the “on” button stuck in place. How to get off? First thing to go was the house on 2.5 acres. The beauty of that place between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol was an experience and privilege we’ll never forget. It was a sustainably-built beauty of a home, not ostentatiously large (1900 sq. ft.), incorporating solar and geothermal energy. Even at that, the PG&E bills often exceeded $400 per month in order to heat the concrete floors in winter and to run all the well water, filtering and pumping equipment in the all-electric home.

All the while, ongoing costs and upkeep were forcing us to commute to jobs each day without the luxury of time and energy to enjoy that beautiful home and land. The mortgage and taxes, county fees for septic and inspections and fire protection, etc., and costs of mowing 2.5 acres, planting trees, building fences, landscaping, adding outdoor lighting and a deck left us drowning in our own dream. We lived that dream for nearly five years, and we loved a lot about it . . .

Let’s just walk. Sonoma County real estate historically appreciates in the long run. We had been oriented toward getting rid of our home mortgage all along, allowing us even more flexibility with our income. Once the decision was made to sell the house, we imagined an ideal situation: living in a cool downtown space where walking to almost everything is an option. Where to find this in Sonoma County? Petaluma has some downtown living but not as affordable as we would have liked due to the Marin spillover raising prices. Rohnert Park has no downtown. Santa Rosa had been our town for many years, but housing of the type we were looking for is scarce there. Healdsburg was out of our price range.

Hey, what about Windsor? The sometimes-maligned town has been the butt of some jokes since its creation out of the dirt nearly 15 years ago. “It’s like Disneyland,” people say. Truly, today Windsor has grown into itself. We found a spacious, light-filled condo facing the Town Green, mature trees outside our windows. We live in a maintained building where we know our neighbors and all keep an eye out for one another. The Square is filled with summer music, movie nights, holiday parades, the Sunday farm market. We walk downstairs for good coffee, good food, a glass of wine, and now (oh joy of joys) – Oliver’s Market two blocks away. There’s a yoga studio around the corner, an integrative pharmacy, acupuncture studio, chiropractor, Pilates studio, book store and public library. Everyone seems to know everyone. That’s really nice.

Back to the cars. We had kept our two vehicles forever, taking good care of them and feeling like they were old friends. At some point, with all the new technology being put into cars, it makes more sense to get a newer car and enjoy the benefits. We have a sweet little Prius C hybrid, good on gas, comfortable and just enough technology to befuddle us regularly. Many days it never leaves the garage. (Oh, and by the way, there’s hardly anything in the garage now so we have room for our workout studio.) Our ultimate goal is to have NO CAR! We’re near a SMART station, we walk to most everything and Uber is always an option. If we really needed a car, we could rent one. No insurance payments, no maintenance, no worries. Beep, beep.

Baby steps. The condo in Windsor was a find. Part of the goal was to reduce our possessions by half or more. We got a little carried away, but it sure feels good once you get going. Goodwill definitely was glad to see us coming! We got rid of clothes and shoes, gardening and yard equipment (not needed in a condo), old CDs and books; literally tons of stuff we have no use for. Why do we collect so many things anyway?

Once moved in we replaced all the light bulbs with low-energy LEDs and hired an electrician to put dimmers on all the switches and fans. Result? Our PG&E bill is about $45-$50 per month! This is partly attributable to living in a row building where there is insulation on both sides rather than windows, resulting in less temperature variation and thus need for heating or cooling. We live by drought rules for water use and take showers without running the water the entire time; wet, turn off water, soap and rinse. Water bills average less than $120 for two months.

More tricks. We don’t have television, just streaming via internet. We use local provider Sonic.net, and have since their inception. Their broadband service is affordable and efficient and includes our high-speed internet and email accounts. We save a lot of money by not having cable. Using local businesses whenever possible is part of our mission as well.

Health is true wealth. Above all we enjoy in our new life (oh, did I mention we quit our day jobs and work from home?) we have more time for anything we want to do and more time for healthy activities. Stefan is a music composer and I enjoy writing and providing marketing and PR services for a select group of nonprofits and companies. We shop locally at Oliver’s and at farm markets and stands nearby. We don’t eat packaged foods and we enjoy eating simply but deliciously, with vegetables as the dominant presence on our plates. We walk often at one of our many wonderful Sonoma County Parks; Foothill, Shiloh or Riverfront (our new favorite – we call it “church”).

Life is good and getting better as we make more conscious choices.

What we did to downsize our lifestyle:

  • Agreed not to have children 32 years ago
  • Downsized our house and possessions
  • Moved to walkable Windsor condo
  • Sold our old cars and bought one hybrid
  • No television or cable costs – just high-speed internet
  • Replaced all lightbulbs with LEDs
  • Focus on healthy lifestyle and local food, drink, services