Slow Down in the UK: A Chicagoan in London

By Valerie Miller

Photo: Valerie Miller

I don’t own a clothes dryer. When I go shopping, I take a bag with me. I can rent a bike to get to work.

It may sound noble. I could say I wanted to take a stand for energy consumption but the truth is, I live in London and all of this is normal. No one has dryers (or very few). People look at me a little funny when I ask for a plastic bag at the checkout and since December 2010, people have rented a bike 8,811,527 times instead of driving to work.

I am a Chicagoan turned European. Moving to London in January of 2011, I knew adjustments would need to be made. Modern conveniences today dictate that whatever we can get done faster, better and without making a negative impact on our environment means it’s the way forward. I’m here to argue that sometimes slowing down, thinking and making a plan actually lead to a fuller, more eco-friendly life.


Partly because houses are smaller, most homes do not have a laundry room. Washing machines are viewed as a typical kitchen appliance. A single washing machine; some are a dual wash/dry but none are two individual units. I guiltily admit that I do not enjoy this. Washing my clothes and then having to either hang them outside on the line, or inside on a clothes rack (as you know, it rains a lot in London) make the process of laundry a little more time consuming. After all, 79% of American households have a tumble dryer, compared to 45% in the UK.

After the initial battle, I realized I was washing things that didn’t need to be washed so soon. Knowing the time it takes to wash, dry and put away made me re-evaluate how I wash my clothes. I consume less energy not only from having no dryer but from washing less clothes in general. Back in the US, one non-profit trying to bring back clothesline cool: The Laundry List.

Photo: Valerie Miller


Each time I go back to visit the US, I see more grocery stores promoting use of reusable bags, but ample access to plastic bags at every checkout. When I shop in London, I have to ask for a plastic bag at the register. Sometimes I even get a bit of a look from the checkout person when I ask for several bags. In October of this year, the country of Wales actually instilled a 5p tax on each plastic bag used.

After stats came out this fall that plastic bag use went up this year in the UK, a plastic bag ban was even under discussion. It’s now second nature for me to grab my cloth shopping bag. Deep down, I know some carry the reusable bag because it’s trendy but deep down, do we care why they do it? The need for people to “be seen” may be self-glorifying, but why not?

Photo: David James Killock

Bike Share

Barclays Bank sponsored a bike sharing program to test run in July of 2010. After huge popularity, the program opened for public use in December 2010. Since then the weekly membership is going up along with the number of bikes that are available to London commuters. For a small fee, you can unlock a bike in one location and park it in another. It’s typical to see someone pedaling by with a Barclays bike (great marketing for them, great service for us). Everybody wins.

I may not have a choice in some of these areas, but you do. Try one of these items and report back. Enjoy the simple pleasures.

Valerie Miller was born Iowan, is a Chicagoan emeritus and as of January 2011, now a Londoner. While longing for a live game at Wrigley Field, she’s traded it for the serenity of freelancing abroad. Her background is commercial real estate, social media and marketing. Follower her on twitter at @diverseyharbor.

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