Living in London has definitely been a good exercise in learning what we can live without. In such a large city of 7 million people, everyone is quite literally living on top of one another, and we have gotten a custom to our tiny living spaces, and sharing a wall with our upstairs and side neighbors.
We have a 3 bedroom/ 1 bath flat, which my husband would correctly label a 2 bedroom plus office; the bathroom is situated upstairs; tiny washer and dryer; no air conditioning; no dishwasher.
Questions that arise. Do I really need to dirty three pans in the kitchen or can I prepare my meal with only two? Do I really need to wash those jeans or can I wear them just one more day? Can I survive a summer without air conditioning? Can I live without a vehicle? Do I really need to spend money on fuel and do I want to spend time waiting in traffic?
It is not that no one has dishwashers, it’s that we’d probably have to pay double the rent to get it, while we’re already paying roughly twice the mortgage of our Chicago town home with about the same square footage, plus exorbitant utility bills, plus council taxes (like property taxes, but paid by the resident). Most people in our size flat do without dishwashers and tumble dryers…they wash their dishes by hand and hang their clothes out to dry. But go over a few streets and you’ll find double the space for twice the price, along with dishwasher and tumble dryer, automobile, and probably a nanny as well.
It’s a similar dynamic on the roads; while many of our neighbors have cars, they also walk a lot and take the trains. Trains from our neighborhood to Central London take half the time of trying to drive there.
I wondered when I moved here why everyone seemed so much more eco-friendly? Now, it is easy to see why Londoners are seen as more “green.” Like it or not, the economics and geography has made living here that way. After that, it becomes easier to jump on the green bandwagon with other things, such as carrying reusable bags and recycling everything possible. And then these behaviors spill over into your every day lives and you just find yourself operating that way automatically. (Of course I’m writing this as our airplane is burning a ridiculous amount of jet fuel flying across the Atlantic. But we had to get home somehow.)
So we do what we can in other areas. It’s not practical to walk or take the train everywhere in the U.S…in most cases, its just too geographically spread out. And I will welcome with open arms my air conditioning, dishwasher, full size laundry equipment, and my vehicle. But I suspect I will also think twice about using so many dishes to cook dinner, open windows more often, and walk to the grocery store with my reusable carrier bags in tow.