Saturday Links! September 5, 2015

Welcome to the next great month! It might be fall for you, but it is still very hot here in South Florida. It’s great how technology can span the distances so well, and allow me to provide you with this great reading material.

Your job vs. your work: Retirement police, listen up! by Steve, thinksaveretire.com. A great piece about why people want to retire early, and it often involves much less golfing than you would imagine. If it were me, my hobby-turned-profession would be working on classic cars, or writing, or surfing, or any number of other cubicle-less activities.

5 Ways to Make Minimalism Work for Your Budget by Sam Lustgarten, nosidebar.com. A gentle reminder that minimalism and living inexpensively don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can let anything get out of control. Be aware of everything you do, even if you’re doing less of it.

Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom by Brett and Kate McKay, artofmanliness.com. I’ve certainly noticed this in my daily life, I just never realized there was a name for it. One thing I have noticed, however, is that when conveniences are added to our lives, we rarely use them as opportunities to slow down. Rather, we use them as opportunities to cram more into our lives.

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

The latest from my favorite West Palm Beach band, Raggy Monster.

Photo: Spring 2010, surfing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I took a week long surf trip on the road with my truck and one of my friends from high school, covering every surf break from Virginia Beach to Jacksonville. 

My Other Minimal Vehicle

A while ago I extolled the virtues of driving a classic car instead of a newer one. Fewer features means fewer things to break, not to mention that classic car registration and insurance are often much cheaper than those of a more modern car. However, if tinkering in the garage every weekend maintaining your 25+ year old vehicle isn’t up your alley, there’s another option that I think is often overlooked: motorcycles.

Motorcycles cover all the bases that I look for in transportation. It just has to get me where I’m going at a minimum of cost. There are some tradeoffs that I’ll get to in a minute, but in general a motorcycle is a great way to do this. They’re orders of magnitude cheaper than a car. Additionally, and like a classic car, motorcycle registration and insurance is often much cheaper than a modern car. They’re also (generally) simpler vehicles to maintain, and are much more user-serviceable than a comparably aged car.

My daily driver is a small-ish but comfortable cruiser, and I’ve been driving it to work and back for about a year and a half now. You can pick one up for much cheaper than any comparable used car. My motorcycle is great on long trips, great at carrying a passenger, and has been extremely reliable for me. I’ve put quite a few miles on it and have only had to change the oil, air filter, and tires. And there’s two fewer of those than on any car, too.

Motorcycles also get amazing mileage. My first motorcycle, a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, got over 70 mpg. My first employer let me ride it for business and reimbursed at $0.59/mile, which works out to over $30/gallon that I was getting in mileage. It’s great! Even my current heavier cruiser-style motorcycle gets 50 mpg which is amazing because my commute is over 50 miles per day. When compared against my truck, this is a yearly savings of around $1,500 in fuel alone.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room, though. I know motorcycles are dangerous. I was in a pretty bad accident on my first motorcycle when an SUV pulled out in front of me and I collided with a 4000 pound hunk of metal at about 40 mph. I woke up in the hospital a few hours later with no memory of the entire day, and various slings and tubes attached to my body. However, I believe the risk can be mitigated in some circumstances. I can’t recommend riding a motorcycle as a daily driver in a climate where it rains a lot. I also wouldn’t recommend it if you’d be driving a lot at night, or if you live and commute in a crowded city. Or if you live in a college down that is dominated by drivers with little driving experience. My commute, though, is 25 miles into deserted university-free swampland in central Florida on a divided highway, so except for the occasional afternoon shower I believe my risk is pretty well mitigated. If I took another job that wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, I’d probably get a little car to commute for safety reasons.

Additionally, most motorcycle accidents happen because a rider has overestimated their abilities. Ever see a sport bike rocket in between traffic on the interstate, and the rider is only wearing a t-shirt and shorts? Statistically, those people skew the statistics. And a large percentage of motorcycle accidents happen to riders who have been riding less than six months. I always recommend new riders get a 250cc motorcycle as their first bike because they are much more forgiving, and we all make mistakes. But in general: stay within your limits, ride safely, always wear your helmet (and jacket, boots, gloves, and pants), and don’t go out unless it’s a beautiful day.

Safety, economics, and practicality aside, though, motorcycles are fun. Almost everyone asked me how I could get back on one after my wreck, and this simple answer is the best one I have. The first time I rode one over 10 mph I thought I was flying. It feels kind of like a bicycle, but there’s no way it should be going that fast! It’s crazy! And that feeling hasn’t gone away for me, either. I always get a thrill out of riding one, even if it’s just to the store for a loaf of bread. If I didn’t need my Shadow for my commute, I’d consider selling it but I’d keep my old Yamaha just so I can scratch that itch every now and then. If I sell them both, I know I’ll end up with another one in the future anyway because I’ll miss the excitement too much. Life is too short to sit around eating ramen and driving a 10-year-old beater car, and motorcycles are cheap enough that they’re a much more enjoyable alternative for some minimalist lifestyles.

But, since we recently had a bit of a storm scare in South Florida, I’m obligated to remind you that neither a motorcycle nor a classic Volkswagen is particularly suited to any hurricane weather or post-hurricane disaster relief. Or evacuation. So you should probably take my recommendation with a grain of salt!

Ride safe, my friends!

Photo: My daily driver, an ’06 Honda Shadow. A great bike for making it look like you ride a Harley, except this one is reliable. If you want to see my unreliable vintage bike head over here and scroll down. 

Hurricane Erika – Update

After maybe briefly making hurricane status (and causing a lot of panic in Florida) Hurricane Erika disappeared after tracking a little too far west and hitting mountains in Hispaniola and Cuba. We did get a bunch of rain and wind (and I got to surf on my new Meyerhoffer board!) but luckily I didn’t have to test out my new storm shutters on my old house.

I did get a chance to participate in the hurricane panic, though. I went to the grocery store to get 10 gallon jugs of water about six days before the projected landfall. (Recommendations say each person needs about 1-2 gallons of water a day. Don’t forget you have to flush the toilet too!) The grocery store was cleaned out, as everyone stocked up on bread and milk. It reminded me a little bit of growing up in the Carolinas when a snow storm was forecasted. We’d maybe get an inch of snow and everyone would panic and storm the grocery store (pun intended). The hurricane threat in Florida is a little more real than the snow threat in the Carolinas, though.

I also went to Home Depot to help a friend of mine buy plywood about four days before the projected landfall. He’s been renovating a house from scratch, and getting hurricane shutters (justifiably) wasn’t on the top of his to-do list until recently. I think we bought 22 sheets of plywood, but we had to wait in line to get them.

Probably the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was sitting on the side of the road for 45 minutes because my surfing friend locked his key in the car after we got out of the ocean. Oh well! At least we only live a mile or so from the beach. No harm done!

Hurricane season isn’t quite over yet, thought, so we’re not quite out of the woods for the year. Due to the El Nino we’re having, however, we’re not forecast to get very many storms this year. Good for my house, bad for my surfing! But each time we get a scare, it’s a good reminder that we could lose anything at any time. Even if we’re not in Florida during hurricane season.

Photo: Tropical Storm Erika’s actual track, showing a path over some substantial mountains, then turning into a tropical depression, then a tropical wave, then a brief rainstorm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday Links! August 29, 2015

As Tropical Storm Erika lazily approaches my house, I have cleverly used the “publish later” feature of WordPress to bring you these interesting tidbits on-schedule even if my power goes out this weekend. Isn’t technology great?!

What Kurt Cobain Teaches Us about Freethinking and Minimalism by Brian Gardner, nosidebar.com. Minimalism through the eyes of the legendary frontman of Nirvana. From his music to his lifestyle, the advantages of living a simple life made Cobain the force he was.

Where the US Gets its Oil From by Randy Olson, randalolson.com. A huge symbol of our overconsuming lifestyles (at least in the United States) is our dependence on fossil fuels. But really, this is just an interesting graph that shows the difference between what people think they know and what is actually true.

How Much Is Your Time Worth by Stefanie, thebrokeandbeautifullife.com. Your free time isn’t necessarily worth the same amount, all the time. (I might argue that it’s definitionally “free”.) But it depends on context, and your opportunity cost. A very interesting read and a unique take on what you could bill your “free” time out for.

BONUS: What I’m listening to this week:

Honest, chill music. I might categorize it as shoegaze, but I’m no expert. Just a fan.

Photo: I helped my friends work on this old buggy a while back. Hard to believe, but it’s based on an old Volkswagen Bus. Volkswagens are very versatile and very minimal vehicles!

Hurricane Erika

Earlier today, Hurricane Erika (now downgraded to a tropical storm) was forecast to make landfall within about 40 miles of where I live. Since my house is about a mile from the coastline, any hurricane approaching Florida’s Atlantic coast is generally a concern for me. (Although some that make landfall on the Gulf coast can impact the entire peninsula quite substantially.) My house was built in 1949 and doesn’t quite comply with the latest wind loading portions of the building codes, so things could get dicey.

Anyway, Erika is now supposed to head north of me (hopefully driving a little surf my way) but this could easily change. It also drives home a point-of-view I’ve had about living minimally, possibly a view I wouldn’t have without living in a place like South Florida: It’s a lot easier to pack up and get out-of-town if you don’t have much to take with you.

This particular storm is probably only going to make landfall as a category 1 storm, which means evacuation won’t be necessary. But we could easily have a more severe storm later in the season that would require evacuation. I can easily say I don’t have much I’d take with me. Probably this laptop, a few books to read, maybe I could take a surfboard with me. I’d also grab my safe which just has a copy of my mortgage and a hard drive with backups of all of my files. (It’s only safe from fire and water, and only for maybe an hour.) But that’s about it. Minimalism has allowed me to live a life without a huge amount of valuables, which is a very convenient way to live in a disaster-prone area like Florida. I won’t be worried about all of my “stuff” while I’m heading out of harm’s way, and I have insurance on the house so I don’t really need to worry about that either.

I haven’t been through a hurricane before, since I’ve only lived here on the coast for about four years. It’s been a pretty mild few years as far as hurricanes go, too. My first summer we had two misses that just dumped a ton of rain here: Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. Despite doing considerable damage up north, Sandy didn’t do much here besides cause epic surf. I also lived through Tropical Storm Barry when I was living in Charleston, which as far as I know only overturned a john boat in the harbor. Hopefully Erika won’t do much more than give me a small taste of what a real hurricane is like, and a new appreciation of my lifestyle. And maybe toss up some waves, too!

I’ll keep everyone updated if I can; if there’s damage anywhere in Florida my day job requires me to go out and fix it. I could be gone for a while depending on the situation, but if the predictions come true the damage probably won’t be very severe.

Photo: Current track of Erika, forecast to make landfall pretty close to where I live. “05L 2015 5day” by National Hurricane Center – http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at5+shtml/024057.shtml?5day#contents. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:05L_2015_5day.gif#/media/File:05L_2015_5day.gif

Also, for your viewing pleasure:

Best of Craigslist

One of the best tools of most minimalists is craigslist, a free online classifieds page where you can sell anything. Quite literally, anything. I’ve used it to sell countless things in order to declutter my life, and it continues to be a powerful tool for me personally. I occasionally even buy things from it! But usually it’s just surfboards, and only when I find a really great deal.

But to some people, craigslist can be daunting. It’s all up to the two parties to agree on a price and a meeting location, and sometimes it can get… weird. But I’m here to alleviate some of that anxiety by sharing my best (and worst) craigslist stories! I firmly believe that most people are pretty normal, and the odds of you entering into a dangerous situation via craigslist are less likely than meeting some crazy on the street.

First, let me quantify “anything”. You can put anything up for sale on craigslist. Provided the price is right, it’s almost guaranteed to sell. For example, when I bought my first house there was some leftover junk that the previous owners left behind. Namely some cheap plastic planters on the front porch and a bunch of cheap wire shelving in the garage. But rather than cart it to the curb, I listed both things on craigslist. The shelving sold for $10 and the pots sold for another $10, and I didn’t even have to take the time and energy to carry this junk to the curb. I also sold a bird bath from the front yard, which I promised the previous owner that I’d keep. However, bird baths are little more than mosquito breeding grounds here in South Florida, so I sold it for $15 to some middle-aged folks who were looking for an Easter present for their grandparents, rather than keep it and shell out money for bug spray.

Not everything is as simple as selling junk from your house, though. When I started my senior year of college I didn’t have a bed (long story) but 6’3″ me decided on a whim to see if there was a such thing as an “extra long” mattress. Turns out, there is! I was in a little bit of a time crunch, but the seller of this “extra long” full-sized mattress agreed to meet me that night… at 10:30. In Easley, South Carolina. (If you’re not familiar with that area then I would describe it as a place where Southern stereotypes are born.) Anyway, a buddy of mine and I piled into his truck and headed out, only to pick up this mattress and box spring out of some farmer’s shed in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. But it didn’t have bedbugs (luckily) or smell weird or have any weird stains, and I used it incident-free (sort of, but that’s not related to craigslist) until I sold it four years later for exactly the same price I bought it for. All made possible by craigslist!

I’ve bought two motorcycles, a truck, and my classic Volkswagen Beetle on craigslist too, so it’s not limited to used junk or low-priced items either. I’ve sold just as many vehicles on the site as well. But I recently had a small debacle over a very nice American Fender guitar, which was resolved once I realized the guy was just jerking me around. Just remember: the ball is in your court if you’re buying or selling. You are under no obligations, and you can back out anytime if you feel that something’s amiss.

And sadly, the one downside of craigslist is that most people tend to be flaky. I’m helping a buddy sell an old Kia right now, and maybe one out of ten people who ask about it actually show up.

I’ve had some weirdos buy things from me and then ask me for their money back, but never for a legitimate reason. I’m always very honest with the things I sell, so I’m extremely hesitant to meet anyone once I’ve made a sale. After all, I’m not running a business, I’m just clearing out clutter. Anyway, one guy bought a stereo amplifier from me, and even tested it in my house before buying it, only to text me about an hour later in a rage because it didn’t have a radio antenna. I told him he could buy one for $2 from RadioShack, but when he got more belligerent I just blocked his number.

Probably the worst craigslist interaction, however, had to do with a small motorized bicycle I built as a fun side project in my garage a few years ago. It was basically a beach cruiser with a weed wacker motor on it, and that’s also exactly what it sounded like when it drove past. Unfortunately in Florida these vehicles are not street legal without a moped tag, so I was restricted to off-highway use only. But I’m an engineer and I like to tinker. (That’s my excuse for a lot of things!) Anyway, I got tired of it and put it on craigslist just to see if there was any interest, and someone wanted to buy it within a week of me posting it. Unfortunately, despite asking me multiple times for a manual, they refused to read the manual, especially the part that detailed the oil to fuel ratio for the two-stroke engine. After one day, the engine seized on them and they demanded their money back. Since it was their fault they turned a great motorized bike into a piece of scrap metal, I did not oblige. I did make $40 though, after buying the bike, repainting it, and fitting the motor to it, so it wasn’t a total loss. At least, not for me! Read the manual, kids.

Oh, and I should mention that I use pseudonyms, a fake email address, and a Google Voice number on craigslist to protect myself, and I generally try to meet at a location that isn’t my place of residence unless it’s inconvenient (selling furniture, vehicles, or other large house-bound items). Just remember, ALWAYS meet in person, ALWAYS deal in cash only (no matter what), and TRY to take a friend with you, or at least tell someone where you’re going (but that rule is true of pretty much all parts of life). That last one I definitely made sure to follow when, a few weeks ago, I sold a motorcycle windshield to a bus driver… IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS ROUTE. But anyway, If you follow these rules, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a pleasant, safe experience on craigslist, all while being well on your way to a more minimal lifestyle!

Photo: My motorized bike, on its first official test drive. By “official” I mean that it was the first test drive after I remembered to put the lock nuts on the engine mount (the first test drive the motor almost fell off) and also after the other test drive where the carburetor fell off while I was going down a hill. It takes a few tests to work out the kinks, but the rewards are worthwhile!

A Minimalist’s Social Networking

I’ve had an off-and-on relationship with Facebook since it was just for college students from select schools. The first time I got it, I was a wide-eyed high school graduate about to start life in a new state. I didn’t want to lose touch with all of my friends from high school, so when one of my friends showed me this new thing called “the facebook”, I signed up.

When I was a junior in college I stopped seeing the appeal. I wasn’t really friends with any of my “friends” on Facebook (they dropped the “the” in front of their name by then) except for about three people, who I talked to and saw in real life. All of my friends from college I talked to and saw in real life as well, and I decided to cut my ties with Facebook at the time because it felt a little redundant.

I signed up for it again after graduating college. I moved to Tennessee, another place where I knew absolutely no people. Since I didn’t want to lose touch with my college friends, the same cycle repeated. I only keep in touch with about five people from college, and (like before) I see and talk to them in real life, making Facebook redundant again. I cut Facebook out of my life for the second (possibly final?) time about a year ago and haven’t felt the loss.

That’s the feeling I get from a lot of my minimalistic endeavors though: I realize once I get rid of something that I feel lighter, and I find out that I didn’t really “need” that thing in the first place. Not only that, but getting rid of Facebook freed up some time for me as well since I don’t compulsively check it to see if anyone’s posted a funny article or something for me to waste time on.

Losing touch with Facebook also makes my social life feel a little more natural. There’s a theory that humans can only maintain relationships with about 200 people. If true, that means that a friends list of anything over that amount is mental clutter that is impossible to maintain. For me, that clutter is just as bad as an overflowing closet of things I’ll never use. The people who add value to my lives add value with or without Facebook, which is a good indicator that Facebook isn’t really relevant to me anymore. If we value a relationship with someone, we shouldn’t need Facebook to maintain that relationship.

Facebook can be used for good, but in my experience the “good” is harder and harder to find. For me, it was mostly a vehicle for drama between my friends and between my family. (Relevant XKCD.) I think that social networking of a general nature should happen face-to-face. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the internet and what it does for making connections between people with specific interests (like minimalism!). But “friendships” of the vague and nonspecific kind that I’ve always had and seen on Facebook seem to be counterproductive.

What I am curious about, though, is whether or not Facebook can still be a useful tool for minimalists to connect with each other. It seems like most people use Twitter or something else, but Facebook does still have a place for the time being. While it probably won’t see any light in my personal life anytime soon, there could be hope for its use in my professional, online life!

Wallets and Desks

When I moved into my house I found a really cool purple desk in the back room. I only need one desk, so I decided to sell my old desk and keep this quirky purple desk. A big part of the reason I favored the purple desk is because I can sit at the center of it. My previous desk had drawers on one side, so you had to sit to the left of center. This was sometimes frustrating when using large monitors or test equpiment, since I could only put things on one side of whatever thing I was working on. At lest I’m not left-handed!

Anyway, I finally sold the old desk yesterday. The picture above is all of the junk that came out of the desk’s four drawers. Granted, some of that mess consists of tools that I use all the time, tax documents, and writing implements, but a lot of it is just needless junk. For some reason there was a VHS tape in there! This definitely reinforces my view that the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is not a very good maxim to live by. Just because we put something in a place where it isn’t seen doesn’t help us live any simpler. In fact, it exacerbates the problem because the mess and junk is lurking, ready to strike and frustrate us at any moment!

Putting the desk situation aside for a minute, the other thing that I’ve been considering lately is whether or not it’s possible to live without carrying a wallet. I recently stopped carrying keys (special wiring on my motorcycle and a keypad deadbolt on the front door) which was great because I don’t get a hole worn in my pants from a keychain anymore. The wallet problem seems to be a little tougher to tackle, but I had to throw out a pair of pants the other day because my wallet wore a hole through them. I also hate having to carry a wallet when I go surfing or out for a bike ride. This madness must stop! I’m just at a loss for ways to accomplish this, but I’ll keep brainstorming!

Money in Boxes

Even before I had heard of minimalism I noticed that I had a tendency to hoard certain things. Let’s call it “collecting” to make it sound a little less terrible. The particular things I “collected” accumulated throughout the years, and when I got new ones I’d put the old ones in boxes. By the time I decided that I had enough of moving things around that I never even used, I had collected 16 of them.

Sixteen video game systems, and all of their associated games, controllers, and addons. And the mental clutter that went along with keeping up with all of these things.

Towards the end of high school and into college I got this idea in my head that it’d be a good idea to start collecting video games. I had money, so why not? Most of them I never played (Sega CD anyone?) so I don’t even know why I thought this was a good idea. I think I sold a game that I really liked to a store once, and regretted it almost immediately. The regret haunted me enough to decide that I’d never sell or trade a video game ever again. Hence the obsession.

Seriously though. I had sixteen systems! That’s crazy! Even if I still thought it’d be cool to have a video game room in my house with all of these systems wired up and on display, it’d be logistically impossible to hook them all up. If you don’t believe me, just try and hook up an Atari from the 70s to the same TV as a Playstation 3. Almost impossible.

So I started selling them off last winter. I’ve saved my favorite systems for last (mostly my Super Nintendo; I sometimes joke that I was put on this earth to pwn at Super Mario Kart). There’s no reason to have them around, and even the ones I like I can just emulate on a computer if I really really want to waste my time on a video game. Not to sound too much like an old man, but I’ve wasted a lot of time and money on video games that would have been better spent elsewhere.

There is a silver lining here, though. It turns out that some of the systems and games I’ve been holding were worth quite a bit more than I paid for them, and so far I’ve had over $1,500 boxed up in my closet for the past ten years.

As a disclaimer, I don’t advocate for video games as an investment. There’s too much storage space required, and they have to be held for a long time before they’re worth anything. For example, I came across a Virtual Boy about ten years ago and bought it for $20 from a friend who was selling a bunch of her stuff to help pay for college (at MIT, no less). I probably wouldn’t have bought it but it helped her out a little bit. Anyway, the Virtual Boy was a commercial failure, and Nintendo stopped making them about a year after they started, sometime around 1996. In 2005 when we were all about to go to college, the Virtual Boy hadn’t yet achieved the status of weird nostalgic collector’s item yet, and was still pretty much worthless. Now, in 2015, finding a working Virtual Boy is a lot harder and for this reason the costs have skyrocketed. But gameplay is still horrible, not to mention the fact that the system is downright unusable, so I put it up on eBay.

I wasn’t expecting what I saw though. I thought maybe, just maybe, someone would pick it up for $40 and use it for parts or just find it a curiosity of the 90s and want to see what it was like. But no. When I saw that they were going for $150-$200 I was just shocked. But I ended up selling it for $150, making 750% on my initial $20 investment. But I did have to haul a box around through 16-ish moves, which isn’t exactly suited to my current minimal lifestyle.

The Virtual Boy was a diamond in the rough, though, and not all of my systems had such great success stories. My first-generation Playstation only sold for $12, and I only bought it to play Final Fantasy 7. That’s a very popular game which can be played on a PC or an emulator very easily. I probably paid over $30 for the system alone, all for a game that I already owned on PC.

There were some other gems in my pile though. I sold six games for the Virtual Boy at an average of $20 each. Those are collector’s items too I suppose, and when you count those I made over 200% on my original $20. Not bad! I made some money on a Sega Dreamcast too, but I think that all-in-all I’ll probably lose money.

The worst of it is the brand new Playstation 3 I bought because I thought it would be cool to have a Blu-Ray player. I never used it, it was just part of my quest to get more stuff in a time when I thought that “more stuff” meant “more successful” or “more happy”. It doesn’t, it just means more stuff, more things to take care of. And ultimately, that’s why I’m selling all of these things. They’re just things, and they were taking up space in boxes. Maybe someone else will get value out of them, but I won’t.

It’s been a relief to get rid of them, too. Not only was the money nice, but they had been taking up an entire closet. As of this writing I only have my Super Nintendo and my Atari left (which are going to my sister and parents, respectively) and it feels like a weight has been lifted off of me. Which, I suppose, it has.

Photo: A man plays a Virtual Boy at a kiosk in a store. These things were ridiculous. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

The Most Minimalist Car?

Not that it’s a competition, but…

I spent last week writing about how much money I’ve lost over the years by buying vehicles I don’t need. (I still haven’t sold my truck yet!) So over the past year and a half I’ve been really looking into what we really need in our vehicles. At a bare minimum: Four wheels, a steering wheel, brakes, an engine big enough to move the car at a reasonable speed, no unnecessary seats or cargo space… and that’s pretty much it.

It’s hard to get that in any new-ish car. Most cars come standard with power windows, air conditioning, a stereo, and a bunch of other features that are secondary to getting you where you need to go. These types of cars are great; don’t get me wrong. But can we do a little better? Can we get a little more minimal?

To me, all of these little features are things that will eventually break and are hard to work on yourself. I like working on cars, so if I’m given the option I’ll drive a car without air conditioning versus paying hundreds of dollars later on to fix something that doesn’t directly contribute to me getting to my destination and that, in some cases, is impossible for me to fix myself.

My solution to this problem hasn’t been to get a new car, or a slightly used car, but a VERY used car. Old enough to not have air conditioning, power steering, or even fuel injectors. It gets about 30 mpg which is reasonable, and it’s very easy to work on. It’s an old Volkswagen Beetle.

I know, I know, this approach probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone wants to cover themselves in grease every weekend with the almost constant tinkering a classic car requires. But bear with me for a minute! Buying a classic car financially makes at least some sense. In most states, registration is a fraction of what a regular car costs. Classic car insurance (in some situations) is less as well. Depreciation on your asset has already happened, so you can generally sell a classic car for at least how much you paid for it, regardless of how long you own it. And “classic” generally only means “old”, so a 80s Toyota is just as much of a classic, legally, as a 69 Camaro. If you only need it to get around town and aren’t taking crazy long road trips, it might be viable!

For me, at least, I’ve found the Beetle to be a great vehicle. It’s easy to work on, it doesn’t have power steering or power windows or locks or air conditioning. It doesn’t have any luxury or frills of any sort. I’ve found that these are all things that can break, and the fewer options a car has, the less likely it’ll be in the shop. The car doesn’t have fuel injection either (it’s easier to work on carburetors) and therefore doesn’t need an ECU (computers are found in 100% of modern cars in the US, and are prone to failure… something that is not user serviceable). This car doesn’t even have a radiator! It’s so simple!

Also, the Beetle turns heads. It’s great fun to drive.

My classic Beetle aside, researching modern “minimalist” cars was actually pretty difficult. There was this great take on how to make your current car minimalist, but in general it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of clamoring for small, simple, and cheap cars. I’d probably point my finger at our consumer culture which demands more features, more buttons, and more space… all at the expense of mileage. An article at autoblog.com had this great quote in it:

 “People say, ‘I only want basic transportation, I want the price to be low, and I want good gas mileage.'” said Brunner, who did market research for the smart car, “But then you ask them what they are going to buy, and it’s not that kind of car.”

Our culture proves my point. Sit in a 90s Honda Civic and you’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with your passenger. Sit in a brand new Civic and 90s you will think you’re in a Cadillac. Sit in a brand new Cadillac and… well, you get my point.

While the autoblog.com article mentions the Volkswagen as a minimilist vehicle, and another great article called The 10 Greatest Minimalist Cars of All Time features the Volkswagen Thing (mechanically identical to the Beetle) as one of the best, what we truly need now is a return to this style of car. Four wheels, brakes, and a steering wheel. Although today’s emissions and safety probably won’t allow for something quite as spartan as an old Beetle, it’d be great to use it as inspiration.

Photo: One of the 60s ads for the Volkswagen Beetle. Along with the famous “lemon” ad, these changed the automotive and advertising landscape for quite some time.