Of course, anyone who has lived or is living in a well-designed large city, small town, or neighborhood knows that getting daily necessities is not difficult when everything you need is just a 5- or 10-minute walk away. Especially for singles and couples, a weekly grocery trip using an IKEA bag or granny cart will usually suffice. ZipCar or a good set of pannier bags for your bike might be enough for bigger trips further afield.
But shopping for groceries, household items, and clothing does get more complicated as a family grows, especially when you're not living in an ideal walkable neighborhood (this is true whether you own a car or not, of course). Here are some of the hacks I've been using to make car-free shopping manageable and enjoyable for our family of 6 (oh my).
1) Don't take everyone to the store.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, many families with more than one child begin to divide up errands so that no one parent has to go to the grocery store with all the kids, for example. Going by yourself or with just one child will probably take considerably less time than taking everyone, so it's possible to squeeze in a large grocery run on the weekend or after work. If shopping outside of working hours won't work, consider swapping childcare with a trusted friend so each of you gets some time to do errands alone.
Since our third child was born (and now with four kids under 7), I no longer take all the kids with me to the store at once. I will usually take one, maybe two, during a time when my husband can watch the others. This makes it possible for me to fill our double stroller to the brim with groceries with an older child (age 4 or 6) who can walk the 15 minutes from the store.
2) Share a warehouse store membership with a friend or family member.
Remember how you and your college roommates shared a Costco membership and took one car every other weekend? You can still do that as a grown-up! You not only save money by splitting a membership, you can also get some friend time to chat.
Just make sure to ask for a subtotal between your two orders at the checkout so you can split the total. And if your friend has to go out of her way to pick you up, consider buying her a coffee or hot dog once in a while so things feel even.
3) Take advantage of online shopping memberships and subscriptions.
Obviously, shopping online is the way to go for dry goods, clothes, shoes, or really just about anything you might need that can wait a couple days for shipping. I much prefer buying things online to shopping in any big box store.
Amazon Prime memberships and the Target REDcard are both boons for car-free families. Both offer free shipping and subscriptions on household items you might run out of often. These are especially good if you don't have a warehouse store in your area or can't or don't want to go that route.
4) For children's clothes and shoes, just keep buying the same things in the next size up.
For a while with just one child, I would take the bus to a local mall for my toddler to try on shoes when he needed them. Yikes! Talk about a waste of a perfectly good Saturday. He was bored, I was frantic to find what we needed TODAY, and I knew I probably wasn't even getting the best deals on good-quality shoes (a necessity for a walking family!).
A kid or two later, I had a breakthrough: once I found a style of shoe that was well-made and comfortable for a certain child, I could just buy the exact same style online in the next size up once the child outgrew them. I can keep an eye out for deals on these styles throughout the year, and even buy two pairs at once (one in the current size, one in the next size) if it's a BOGO deal.
Buying children's clothing and shoes online also helps to keep their wardrobes simple. Each child has one or two pairs of shoes per season that match everything in their closets. For clothes, we get a lot of hand-me-downs from friends and relatives, but I know where to get basics in some neutral colors that match everything (obviously taking the child's opinion and style into account).
Even parents with cars could probably benefit from the reduced stress of doing children's shopping online. Some of my favorite brands for kids' shoes and clothes are Crocs, StrideRite, Pediped, and Primary.com (a new love).
5) Embrace less.
As almost-sorta-kinda-minimalists, we don't want to fill our home with stuff we don't need that clutters our living space and requires time to maintain and clean.
Living without owning a car means that in most cases, if we buy it, we have to schlep it. If I find an impulse item at a garage sale, hardware store, or on Craiglist and I can't get it home in the double stroller or bus, then I just don't buy it. This is a beautiful, wonderful thing.
How often have many of us bought something we thought we needed, then gotten it home and realized it's not going to change our lives in the way that we thought? Or how often have we gone into the mall or a Target (ahem) for one thing and ended up with a dozen new things to live in our homes?
The supposed convenience of owning a car can (though not for all families or individuals, of course) lead to a lack of intentionality when it comes to shopping. If you're considering living car-free or reducing your dependence on cars, you can look forward to many benefits, just one of which is the motivation to say "no" to the excess stuff that can make its way into your home.