For me getting rid of my car was a huge step towards a more sustainable and much more independent lifestyle.
Of course, my situation was a bit different from yours, because I am single and have been for the past 15 years or so, so I was free to move around, change my living arrangements etc. without taking anyone else into consideration. Also I live in Germany where distances are smaller and there still is a relatively stable safety net with health insurance and public welfare in place. This makes decisions like giving up on a well paid job for something less secure a little easier. But here are a few of the things that I have done to scale down and simplify my life during the last ten years or so:
- Getting rid of my television. Actually, I did not have one when I left home to go to university, because I used to be a real tv addict when I was still in school and I did not want that habit to keep me away from studying. But later, when I was working my first full time job and also recovering from a messy break up, I did get a tv. That's what a tv is good for ... like a drug, it numbs your pain. It also keeps you in a passive, motionless state, glued to the screen, unable to do anything useful with your time. Once I had figured that out, I threw the thing out again. And even though there does not seem to be a connection between watching or not-watching television and a more sustainable lifestyle, there really is. Not being fed with commercials and mainstream "news" all the time really does help to get a different perspective on things. Suddenly other things do become important.
- Switching from a full time to a part time job. That was probably the most important step I took. It was made possible by not driving a car any longer (driving is really really expensive in Germany, much more so than in the US, mostly due to high taxes on both the vehicle itself and the fuel). Working part time did mean I would not move up in the company hierarchy any further, but that was okay with me. Stepping down from a five day work week to a three day one gave me so much more quality of life, it was almost unbelievable.
- Moving into a house sharing community. That was great fun. I had always lived on my own or with a partner, even as a student. Moving into a house with six other adults, all of them strangers in the beginning, was an adventure. We shared two kitchens and two bathrooms. It did feel like staying in a backpacker hostel in the beginning, but I soon learned to really love it. Sharing the house, an old converted factory building, made rent and appliances bills really really cheap. I paid less than half for rent, heating, electricity, phone, internet access etc. than I had before, while having almost as much personal space plus use of a huge backyard/garden. I have moved on to another place by now, but I wouldn't want to miss one day I spent in that community.
As I said, it was easy for me to do, because I was on my own. I also went on a six month long trip to Canada as a WWOOFER and a six month sailing cruise through the Mediterranian to learn new skills and maybe look for a place to stay. People kept asking me: "How did you afford this?" and the answer is easy: it did not cost me much money. In both cases I subletted my rooms in the house sharing community, so I did not have any running costs there. Also I was able to switch from the obligatory and expensive regular German health insurance to an international one, which cost me 30 € a month. Actually, after the Canada trip I had more money in the bank than before, due to an income tax refund. The sailing trip was a bit more expensive, but only because we did eat in restaurants a lot when we were to lazy to cook on board.
I guess where I am heading with this is: Dare to think and act out of the box. It may feel like you are stuck with an inner city apartment and a crappy job forever, but it does not have to be that way. The best way to move forward is to find like-minded people. This can be people from your neighborhood who are interested in a community garden project, some small scale farmers close by willing to exchange living and growing space on their farm for an extra pair of hands etc. You are not alone in your wish to live differently. I am certain there are others (nieghbors, co-workers, people who shop in the same supermarket, whatever), maybe people you would never suspect, who would love to change their lives into something more sustainable and more satisfying as well.