Real Life Vintage Lifestyle: The One Car Family

This is not The Fish. The Fish is not that cute. Of course, most cars look cuter with The Alps behind them.
This is not The Fish. The Fish is not that cute. Of course, most cars look cuter with The Alps behind them.

The mister and I both brought cars into this relationship. His, a bought new vehicle that is reliable, fuel-efficient, and pretty, but not fancy. Mine, a 1998 Chevy Prism with an ichtyus permanently attached to it by previous owners, affectionately known as “The Fish.” The Fish has finally bit the dust, or at least gotten to the point where spending any money to fix it seems like folly. Poor fishy. May you rest in peace, or more likely, pieces, as you go on to another life as an NPR donation.

The loss of The Fish has lead to an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is about frugality and sustainability. I live in a city with good (though certainly imperfect) public transportation. I am a fifteen minute walk to the train, multiple bus lines are steps away from my door.  My grocery store is a block away. I work at home. My partner has a car. I don’t need one. Nope. I look at the details of my life, and I am not a person who needs a car.

The mister is not convinced. You have to remember we’re from Michigan, the birthplace of the auto industry. Also a place that is almost impossible to traverse without a car. So I’m approaching it as an experiment. An attempt to lighten my load of possessions and pollution, to find out how that works in my life.

Here are the pros:
Not spending money on insurance, parking, gasoline, car payments, or yearly fees.
More socially responsible.
I will get more exercise.
I don’t actually like driving all that much.

Here are the cons:
Occasionally both members of our household need to be in different places that would both be easier to get to by car.
If I ever get a gig out in the suburbs, this will get considerably more complicated.

Of course, what feels like a revolution to me is really how lots and lots of people do things. Many people in Chicago don’t drive at all, many people in the world share one motorbike amongst an entire family. Hardly a great sacrifice or world-altering event, really. Just a little adjustment. We shall see how it goes.


Shopping Local is an Old-Fashioned Activity

There’s something terribly romantic about little mom-and-pop shops.

Don’t get me wrong: online shopping is great. It gives us access to all kinds of products, and is very convenient, but every once in awhile, I like to actually leave the house.

I wouldn’t knock the convenience of one-stop shopping, either. When you need to buy paper towel, toothpaste, a drill, a can of paint and a pair of socks, a department or big box store can really come to the rescue. Still there’s something appealing about going to the specialists, and I try to when I can.

Chain stores are not that new an addition to American life.  We’ve had department stores since the 19th century, supermarkets developed in the early 20th. Still, there was a greater division of expertise and the chains were not the omnipresent giants they are now. One of the things I love about living in Chicago is the number of small family-owned specialty businesses. There are still green grocers, and bakeries, and tiny garages.  So I try to patronize them when I can.

Last week, I had some romantic after-work shopping, on Grand Avenue in West Town. It started with wanting flowers to combat the drear of November and the terrible, terrible affliction that is Daylight Savings Time. Using my ultra retro Internet, I learned about Steve’s Flower Market. Their website claimed they were a “European style” flower market, and offered “wholesale prices.” I was skeptical. Flower markets in Europe are something else.

I was not disappointed. The little shop is charming, friendly, and full of glorious flowers for sale by the stem. Everyone working there was knowledgeable and helpful, and I picked up some greenery and a few blooms to brighten things up. They’ve held up remarkably.

I followed my trip to Steve’s with a stop at Bari Deli, an Italian deli that also has grocery items. I bought some olive oil, basil, fennel, and gnocchi.  They had a lot of olive oil to choose from, and their small selection of produce looked fresh and lovely. Then I went next door to D’Amato’s Bakery, which is a true trip back in time, complete with wooden and glass cases filled with Italian cookies and loaves of bread. I picked up a focaccia, and headed home.

Absolutely, I could have obtained all of these items faster at Trader Joe’s. But I want these little places to stay around, so I’ll take 40 minutes instead of 15 to shop at a couple of places. I want to keep having the option.

Enjoy pretty flowers, against romantic alley back drop.
Enjoy pretty flowers, against romantic alley back drop.

Domesticity Has No Gender

When we talk about “domesticity” there is a general cultural assumption that we’re talking about women. Obviously, the home has been the female domain for much of history. However, I think home is for everybody.

It is never my assumption that cooking, crafting, vintage fashion, or entertaining are just for women. There is room for everyone at my house.

With women now an accepted part of the workforce, men doing housework isn’t the unheard of idea it used to be. But, I would argue, ours is still a culture that is highly invested in policing masculinity and femininity, and that is mostly unprepared to address those who travel between those borders. Just take a look at the commercials on television, and you’ll start to notice just how much comedy hinges on the assumption that husbands are domestic idiots. Home, and the things that happen in it, is still very gendered in the popular imagination.

Studies have suggested that women still do the majority of housework, though men are certainly doing more than they used to. Of course, these studies still divide the human population into a very strict gender binary, which certainly doesn’t include everybody.

Domesticity is what you make of it. My (male) partner is a much better homemaker than I am. If we were the only people living in a society, sociologists would conclude that the male role is to keep the home in order, and the female role is to make things and proposition the male. He keeps on top of laundry, is an organizational whirlwind, and actively thinks of new ways to clean things. He notices clutter, which my eyes tend to bounce over. On the other hand, I freak out a little if the pantry couldn’t keep us through a Laura Ingalls Wilder-style winter. I suffer from the deluded belief that given enough time and semi-appropriate tools, I could figure out how to make anything.None of this has to do with gender. All of this has to do with the people we are, our strengths and what we enjoy.

I think it helps if we think of homemaking as a field that was pioneered by women. Just like other professions and fields were lead by men in the beginning, because they were the only people who were allowed to, the activities of daily life in a home didn’t used to hire men.  And now that we’ve opened up gender roles a little, I can be a physicist and my boyfriend can be a top-notch ironer, or whatever floats our individual and collective boats.

So Retrofitting Vintage isn’t for women or men. It’s for people of all genders or lack of gender, who value home.

Retrofitting Vintage

There’s a lot of good stuff from the past. And a lot of garbage.

Retrofitting Vintage is about taking the good from historical skills based in the home and private world, while ditching the rest. It’s not about romanticizing the past, or getting off the grid, or “old-fashioned values.” It’s about being a radical feminist who knits. A guy who makes cakes. A two mom family that appreciates a trip to the apple orchard. At Retrofitting Vintage we believe that home is for everybody, and that we can bring our own worldviews to traditional tasks. We retrofit them with our own values, taking the good and leaving the rest.