- Switch from shower gel to soap; it’s usually cheaper (or you can treat yourself to a fancier bar of soap), there’s usually less chemicals and WAY less packaging and it lasts AGES!
- Buy your groceries at the market using produce/tote bags (thus reducing plastic usage). I was pretty shocked at the amounts of single fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic in the Netherlands. (Shrink wrapping a single courgette??Madness!). Also it is more likely that your veggies have been sourced locally if they are not wrapped in plastic.
- Switch your single-use razors to reusable ones- or better yet don’t shave! Don’t worry I am not going to get all “free the bush” on you, but if you can get away with not shaving do it (I can’t but personally I refuse to shave in the winter as I am a Northern European mammal and need to keep warm), and if not make sure you invest in a non-disposable razor! I just purchased a bamboo handled razor, I will update you with the progress.
- Switch your normal toothbrush to a bamboo toothbrush. I got a pack of these for Christmas (but FYI they are pretty cheap on Amazon). Over 4 billion plastic toothbrushes are produced worldwide every year. The handle on my toothbrush is completely biodegradable and the bristles are plant-based BUT not biodegradable. At the moment the only biodegradable option is pig hair which was used prior to nylon, but for obvious reasons this is pretty controversial. You could even make your own toothpaste. I tried it, and I have to say that specific recipe wasn’t for me (made of coconut oil, peppermint oil and soda bicarb), but I would be very inclined to try another recipe.
- Throw out the kitchen paper towel! I know it is easy and convenient, but globally it totals 254 million tons of trash each year (source)
- Use a homemade anti-bacterial spray. I nicked the idea from my local yoga studio, and her place smells incredible. If it works on sweaty yoga mats it will work on my kitchen table. I use 1 shot of vodka + 7 drops of lavender oil + 7 drops of tea tree oil in a reused spray bottle with the rest filled up with water.
- Turn your old clothes into rags and use them as dusters. This is an old one that I hope everyone already does, but if your clothes are not worthy of the charity shop don’t let them end up on landfill!
- Turn old jars into containers/ glasses/ candle holders. They look beautiful with a tea light in, especially in summer outside!
I have now been living in Amsterdam for almost three months and I think I have scoped out a good proportion of vintage shops. Just incase any of you are in the area, I thought I would devise a list of my favourite places to pick up some secondhand to help you quench your sartorial thirst…
1. Kilo Shop, Eerste van der Helststraat 11C, 1073 AA. I stumbled on this place recently whilst for hunting for some good coffee (FYI Scandinavian Embassy round the corner does a pretty banging espresso). It is the first “weigh your own” shop vintage I have come across in Amsterdam, and I think it is definitely worth a visit. Strangely, prices can vary- the lowest price is €25 for a kilo and and the kilo price goes up from there. Each item has a coloured tag on attached that indicates which price category it belongs to so it is not quite so cheap as other shops I have come across, but they have some pretty great pieces.
2. Marbles Vintage Haarlemmerdijk 64, 1013 JE Amsterdam. This is a small shop with a good collection of secondhand garments in good condition. Prices are reasonable and Haarlemmedrijk is a a beautiful little street. Pop into Little Collins or Bakers and Roasters for brunch if you’re in the area!
3. Bis! Sint Antoniesbreestraat 25-A, 1011 HB. A super cute little shop situated in the Old Town of Amsterdam. This area is very close to The Rembrandt Museum, The Jewish History Museum and another Kilo Shop that I have not visited so you can combine a visit to this shop with a cultural afternoon.
4. Emporium of Wonders ,Tweede Helmersstraat 19-21, 1054 CB Amsterdam. A HUGE vintage emporium- 350 square metres to be precise. This place is adorned with all kind of vintage beauties from furniture to baubles. You can also get a coffee here and even take a yoga lesson. There are frequent events happening so be sure to check out their Facebook page. If in the area take a trip to the wonderful FoodHallen for a beer (try Mannenliefde, it’s delicious AND local) and some pretty tasty Banh Mi.
5. Episode, Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 37H/ Berenstraat 1, 1016 GG / Berenstraat 1, 1016 GG . I don’t think it would be fair to talk about vintage shopping in Amsterdam without mentioning Episode. There are three branches in Amsterdam and more dotted around Europe. Everything is very well organised, and whilst a little more on the commercial side, it is hard to walk out of this shop empty handed. I think the prices are reasonable and the things I have bought have been of great quality.
- If you are staying for longer than a month get a bike. The City is small, but big enough to get tired easily if you start walking everywhere. The whole place is bike-friendly and cycling in Amsterdam is the best and usually faster than public transport. You don’t need to go fast and you do get used to the pedal-brake.
- The bureaucracy sucks. It took me three interviews to get a BSN number (Dutch equivalent of a social security number which you need to anything including getting paid for work/ registering with a doctors). It’s not impossible though and every immigrant goes through a similar process (I hear it’s even harder if you’re not from the EU). Just be prepared for a lot of “it’s just our policy” responses to your questions. And bring your birth certificate with you to Holland. I am not joking.
- Coffee shops are not the best thing about Amsterdam. This city has so much more to offer; from quirky cafes, and restaurants, excellent beers and incredible exhibitions and festivals.
- The Dutch are not that rude. Seriously, I am the most overly sensitive person and I was warned that the Dutch can be pretty brash in comparison to our overly polite and fawning manner, but so far (fingers crossed) no one has told me I am an idiot and everyone has been pretty supportive – my new landlord even invited me to his leaving party!
- Charity shops are not a thing here. If you are a slow fashion advocate like me there are vintage shops (which are pretty pricey considering the clothes are secondhand) and great flea markets which are super cheap!
- Invest in a great raincoat – if you are cycling a lot the winter months can be pretty wet. Or you can have four seasons in one day. Rain-chic is a thing here. At the time of writing this the must-have raincoat is from the Danish company called Rains which favours the rubber-feel material as opposed to that awful nylon, and of course cut beautifully for the practical hipster cyclist. They are lightweight, overpriced and I am itching to get my hands on one.
- Find a flat as soon as possible, and don’t be put off by living outside the city. There is a huge demand for housing , so be very aware of scams and try to find somewhere as soon as you can and don’t be disheartened if it takes a little while. I found my flat on Facebook and it is beautiful – definitely worth living in an AirBnb room for a month with no proper kitchen or living room.
- Buy local! Holland has a thriving agricultural industry and is second to the US for its exports per value, despite being 277 times smaller. I have found that buying my fruits and veg in local markets and corner shops is a lot cheaper than buying in the supermarkets, plus you get to support a little guys. Also make sure you check out the flea markets, but leave enough time to do some serious perusing.
- Bring mosquito spray. It is October and I have been eaten alive by mosquitos and apparently it is a common problem which I assume is because of the water, but I have never known mosquitos to thrive in these cold temperatures.
- Go Dutch! Despite the whole of Amsterdam speaking incredible English, it will be greatly appreciated if you can order your beer in Dutch like a local.
I apologise that I have been exceptionally quiet online lately, but I have a huge life update to share with you. I have just moved to Amsterdam! That’s right, not just gone on a jolly for a few days but moved. Indefinitely. Packed up everything (well 44kgs) and jetted off to start a new life in the land of tulips. Why? Well, I was ready for something new, for an adventure. My Anthropological instincts kicked in and I wanted to see a new country and a different way of life and it felt like a good time to leave the UK for a little bit. I wanted to choose somewhere cool that wouldn’t completely isolate me with a language barrier. So here I am, practising my Dutch and enjoying what is left of Autumn in this beautiful country.
If I am totally honest the whole move has not been a walk in the Vondelpark. Before leaving I had a completely idyllic view of my new life. I pictured myself working part time in a cute vegan cafe for a little bit, making loads of new Dutch friends who happened to be artists in their spare time, maybe I would babysit for a great Dutch family who would welcome me with open arms and we would all drink Dutch beers in pretty glasses in my cheap utilitarian apartment with a cat I had rescued called Hans. In reality, it didn’t quite turn out like this. I have probably never looked so haggard. I have huge dark circles under my eyes from working crazy hours on what is quite frankly an illegal minimum wage in an overpriced Japanese restaurant run by some of the most unfriendly members of staff I have ever met. The other day the assistant manager told me I was walking too fast and then just told me to stand still next to the people who were eating. Seriously. On the plus side there is often a lot of free Sushi leftover which really helps when your weekly disposable income can afford you roughly two flat whites. I am still persisting with my applications for other jobs though, and crossing my fingers that something a little more enjoyable will turn up.
Also accommodation? Not that easy to find! Whilst the rent is not as expensive as London, there is definitely more people than houses and trying to get a place is probably harder than job hunting if you are on a budget. I think I applied for over 100 different places and heard back from about ten and actually got a viewing for two, but fortunately I have a place (for 6 months) starting from November. So until then, I am living in an AirBnB with no living room, dinning room or oven, so the next month is going to be interesting. I will keep you posted.
On the plus side, Amsterdam is such a cool place. There are so many independent shops and cafes and quirky things going on. Everyone cycles and Amsterdam is small enough to get around but big enough to keep discovering new things. I am also loving exploring and learning about the country, Amsterdam is amazing and it is no wonder that so many people want to build their lives in this exciting city. To anyone out there who is finding themselves in the same situation, perhaps somewhere else in the world; remember that sometimes we need a good slap in the face from reality. We need to be pushed outside our comfort zone. Yes it’s difficult, but what an experience!
Housemates. I could write a book on how many different characters I’ve lived with over the years, but perhaps a blog post will suffice. I am currently sitting in my local coffee shop, nursing a long black and hiding from my current housemate after he thought it was a great idea to lock his dog into my room to keep her out the way whilst he moved an entire tree through the house. She is very young, excitable and has a weak bladder (the dog not the housemate) and decided then and there to demonstrate her elation by urinating on my clean sheets. Despite this, I still prefer the dog to the housemate, who is probably the messiest person I have ever lived with, which I could forgive if it wasn’t for his quite frankly outdated views on the world, refusal to recycle and excessive consumption of meat and constant criticism on everything I cook, read and have an opinion on. We don’t really get along if I’m being honest.
London is home to people from all over the world, and due to a serious lack of affordable housing you will usually find yourself renting with complete strangers. It’s something I love about the city, you meet people you might never have otherwise met, and you end up doing things you might have never done before. I have lived with obsessive cleaners, obsessive disorderly’s, eccentric vegans, non-stop party animals ( I lived above a pub for a few years on minimal sleep) and complete couch potatoes. I once lived with a couple who would frequently have screaming rows and throw plates at each other whilst, but otherwise seemed to be completely and madly in love. My pal lived with a girl who used to collect roadkill and keep it in the freezer. He would find anything from squirrel to badger stuffed next to his frozen peas, stored in plastic bags until she was ready to make her next lasagna.
Some people I have been fond of, others not so much but I honestly don’t regret living with any of them. Admittedly, in my current situation I try not to be in the house most of the time (thank goodness I am only subletting for two months), but it’s meant I have managed to explore the local area, find places I might not have otherwise found on my wanderings and even make friends with local baristas. In a world that feels like it is becoming increasingly antisocial, it’s refreshing to meet people from all walks of life that I might otherwise not have hung out with. I think it’s healthy to step outside your friendship bubble, to meet people who challenge your views. I have learnt a lot from the people I have lived with (particularly patience) and the distant relationship means you don’t have to explain that sometimes just want some time to yourself. You learn to converse with all kinds of people and find things out from all different industries. I lived with a mid-wife who brought home a birthing pool one hot, summer evening and we filled it up and used it to have a dip/ a balcony beer cooler. I probably would have never considered a vegan diet until living with one guy who was by no means going to compensate on flavour in his diet and made the most wonderful and interesting things.
This kind of friendship is inimitable, it’s something that comes with hours of trawling through SpareRoom ads, through weird “interviews” in people’s houses and sometimes through a friend of a friend having a spare room. If you’re having doubts or finding it tricky remember it’s not forever. There is a load of us out there all going through the same questionable experiences, and you’ll never be stuck for a story at a party. As a generation of housesharer’s I hope renting with strangers will catalyse us becoming more accepting, more socially intermingled and find friendships in unexpected ex-council flats in Angel.