An Accidental Environmentalist

I always wished I was a hardcore, outdoorsy, athletic, environmental, hippie chick.  You, know: long, flowy dresses, community gardening, can my own food, maybe even live off the grid.  I never understood patchouli but that is neither here nor there. I could never pull off the rest of it, either.  It’s just not who I am.

I love to camp and have always been a bit of a personal and political radical, but goodness, when I lived in the States I loved my SUV with all my heart and thought organic food was too expensive.

There’ve been several unexpected consequences of becoming an American expat in Switzerland.  First, in the two years before I moved to Europe, I got rid of almost everything I owned. I no longer shop as sport.  In the States my Mom and I and then my ex and I went shopping to fill time (Mom at the Mall, husband at Costco on Saturdays).  This pastime filled our closets, homes and garage and emptied our wallets.  It was a pretty unconscious pattern.  It’s just what we did.  Having fewer personal belongings has changed my life.  Life is simpler now. The time and space and freedom are a gift.hangingoutclothes

There’s no dryer where I live, so I’ve started drying clothes on a line.  Everyone should try this!  Your clothes last so much longer and stay colorful and don’t shrink!  It saves money and energy all at the same time.  Score!

I sold my beloved, silver 2000 Nissan Pathfinder in the U.S. and got a tiny Mitsubishi 2-door hatchback I rarely drive (work at home or out of the country, trains are so wonderful here and Lugano is pretty walkable).

I can’t imagine I’d ever go back to American suburban living now.  In Colorado, I lived 18 miles out onto the plain… in the flat expanse of suburbs east of Boulder, where houses sprung up like weeds in the late 1990s and early 2000s and now you can’t give ’em away. We lived in one of those neighborhoods where the only trees were tiny staked saplings and all the houses looked the same, but came in four or five different shades of tan or grey with the bay window either on the front or back depending on the buyer or builders’ request. Ours was dark grey with the window in the back, extending the kitchen enough for a small, round breakfast table.  I wouldn’t want to live like that again, car-dependent with no public transportation in sight.

marketLocal, organic food I’m not allergic to is plentiful here. It’s easy to buy food at weekly open-air markets, from the cheese man and the butcher and the little old man down the road who grows five kinds of lettuce.

In these four years I’ve become an environmentalist. It was an accident.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ADDENDUM: And another thing.  Grocery bags.  Seattle’s voting on a tax or 10 cent charge on grocery bags. It’s all over the news.  The plastics lobby is apparently spending millions fighting it (Imagine what that money could do in our schools, people.  They’re spending it to try to keep you using plastic bags. That is wrong on so many levels.)

Bags are expensive in the grocery store here, so you bring your own. It was tricky at first to remember to do that.  Now I have a bunch of bags I keep in the car and a bunch in the garage by the car, because, you know there are always extras lying around. (I do not know how it happens that shopping bags seem to multiply.)  Every time I use my nice collection of fabric bags I am so proud of myself.  Really, I am.  For remembering to bring them, for saving the money, and for doing whatever little bit I can to reduce the amount of waste and plastic we consume, all of us.  Really, Seattle, switch to fabric.  Try it, you’ll like it.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. You’re so right about the public transport situation and excellent fruit and veg markets here. The thought of being stranded somewhere w/o access to public transport on a regular basis makes me anxious. We don’t have clothes dryers (almost no one in Paris does, as apartments are small and electricity expensive) and our dishwasher blows a fuse, so we wash dishes by hand. The French do frown on having a clothesline strung across the balcony, though. We hang them in the hot water closet to dry or put them on a small drying rack on the balcony (obscured by a screen, so as not to offend the French asthetic sensibilities.) And we don’t keep a car; we rent one when we travel to places not easily accessible by train 🙂

  2. One of my favorite things visiting you is hanging out the clothes to dry after using the 35+year old front load washing machine that is triggered by a slide in key punched card. It is all amazing—like time has stood still. But-IT WORKS!
    Other advantages: 1)No need to go to the gym…bending down to the basket, reaching up to hang to clothes is great exercise, 2)You also have less ironing if you skake the clothes really well, fluffing them somewhat, then let the sun go to work, 3) You sleep better on crisp, sun dried sheets.
    Two years ago, after returning home to Sarasota, I bought a folding clothes line thinking that if I only used it for heavy things like bath mats it would provide considerable savings. Initially I was concerned about neighborhood and county “codes” but threw them to the wind…if government can tell me how often I can water my lawn then I can tell them I will hang out my clothes on my discreet line under my frangi pani tree!


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