Less Stuff, More Time: How I Chose Happiness

In a life full of questionable choices, 17 years ago I made a really good one. I decided to start “job sharing” with my wife, Johanna. We were then both physical therapists at a rehab clinic in Tucson, AZ, and our first son, Carter, was just born. I wanted to be there to help raise him, so Johanna began working the mornings and I worked the afternoons. In between, we chased Carter around.

Going part-time and earning part-time pay as well as part-time benefits wasn’t an easy decision. We were living a comfortable life as a two-paycheck family. Eating out. Driving two cars. Taking trips. Owning fancy clothes. We wondered, by working just 20 hours a week apiece, would we run out of money? Would we be eating beans and crackers every night? Would it affect our careers? Would we be happy?

Little did I know all the positive changes that choice would trigger. Today, living in Traverse City, we continue to job share, now chasing two boys (Jameson arrived in 2006) and we are indeed happy. By choosing to live more simply — no TV, no shiny gadgets — and buying less stuff, we haven’t run out of money. No beans and crackers every night, either. I even gave up my driver’s license to ensure I would ride my bike more. I love riding. It calms me and allows me to think. It’s my Prozac, my church, my happy place.

How do we make this lifestyle work? For starters, I get up embarrassingly early to get everyone out the door on time. We have a fleet of bike trailers of different sizes that I use for groceries, hauling and errands. Love Traverse City’s flatness! (Full disclosure: We do own a vehicle and I occasionally catch rides with Johanna in the minivan).

Not having a driver’s license in Northern Michigan is odd. Add in the whole vegetarian, environmentalist, liberal, bike-nerd thing and it gets even more odd. But I just do my thing. I don’t miss TV, which is weird as I used to watch a ton as a kid.

Through all this, I’ve learned that job sharing makes me happier at home and a better physical therapist. I have the time to help out around the house — I’m not the best dishwasher or laundry folder or gardener, but I try. And I’m productive at work because I’m happy to be there. It’s the perfect balance.

My wife and I just knew we couldn’t have it both ways. It’s either work more to earn more to spend more, or consume less to work less to have more time. We chose the latter. While job sharing with a spouse doesn’t make you a lot of money, it does give you the gift of time. The luxury of time.

In 2002, I realized just how important time was when I lost my dad to cancer, melanoma. He was only 48. They thought they got it all but it came back a year later and he died six months after that on Christmas Day. It was an agonizingly slow and painful death, hard to watch. I was only 28 at the time. He was an elementary physical education teacher and a phenomenal athlete. I think about him every day. I’m sad he wasn’t able to meet my boys.

My dad’s death was a wake-up call. Life is short. Time is precious. I wanted to make my life matter. I wanted to make my dad proud by making a difference. I already felt like I was making a difference through my work. As a P.T., I help others hurt less to move more and I love doing it. It has been very fulfilling. My “job” rarely feels like “work.” Still, I wondered: Could there be more?

With the breathing room that this flexible lifestyle allowed, I was able to think about what I wanted to do with some of my downtime and how I could make a difference beyond my office. Naturally, I did a lot of thinking on my bike (in the winter I ride 20–40 miles a week and in the summer it’s more like 200–300 miles). One thing I realized while riding was that I wanted to be engaged more in my community, in this amazing town. So I got to know my neighbors. I volunteered with local groups. The boys and I spent our mornings exploring Traverse City’s wonderful places — the library, the children’s museum, the beaches, the parks. I began to make friends with several of Traverse City’s many awesome people.

It was with the support of these awesome people that Johanna and I launched Carter’s Compost, a bike-powered community composting operation. 10 years later, Carter, and now Jamo too, along with five other neighborhood kids are still slinging buckets and raising awareness about the awesomeness of small scale composting.

Empowering my boys and other youth to be confident, active and independent while using their bikes to do good made me feel like I was making a difference in my neighborhood. Still, I wanted to do more.

When both boys started school, I began to notice things: there were fewer bikes and longer car lines; like-minded moms and dads who wanted to bike to school, but simply didn’t have the time; and unsafe riding by kids as they pedaled on sidewalks or didn’t know how to signal or negotiate a 4-way stop.

Because my wife and I had the time, we decided to try to make a difference. We started inviting neighborhood families to drop their kids off at our house so we could bike with them to school. I would lead the “bike train” in the morning and Johanna would pedal home with the group in the afternoon.

And that’s how Norte, a bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization was born. Thanks to many wonderful people, Norte continues to do amazing work.

Even better: Kids in the area are learning the confidence that comes with safe bike riding; the area has a little less traffic and car pollution; and the community has a greater sense of, well, “community.”

Because of that one career decision 17 years ago to prioritize my time, I’m now happy at home, fulfilled at work and engaged in my community. I think my dad would be proud.




Manitoba made now proud Michigander living in Traverse City. Dad, husband, community organizer and founder of Carter's Compost, Norte, and Good Works Lab.

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Ty Schmidt

Ty Schmidt

Manitoba made now proud Michigander living in Traverse City. Dad, husband, community organizer and founder of Carter's Compost, Norte, and Good Works Lab.

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