All posts by Katie

Hairy Matters: No Poo Break

Well I broke down and used shampoo last night.

katie hair

I made it about two months, but I’m not sure I can keep up with no poo for a few reasons:

  • My last couple of washes seemed like they didn’t get my hair completely clean. I’d look OK in the front, but greasy enough in the back that I’d have to immediately pull my hair up like I have to on dirty hair days.
  • My baking soda wasn’t lathering enough and to be honest, with hard water I don’t think I have enough patience to boil water for 10-20 minutes and wait for it to cool every time I want to shower. It’s just too much hassle for me. I also accidentally spilled the vinegar solution once and it went all over the bathroom floor. That doesn’t happen with shampoo. (Yeah, I know there are solutions for that, but I’m just saying.)
  • As a result of not washing with boiled water, the grey matter and flakes piling up in my comb and brushes were pretty gross. And I don’t really like brushing my hair with all this crap in it so I’ve been washing my brushes every few days. I thought the flakes were just me but….
  • I actually convinced Kay to try out no-poo for a couple weeks and on the weekend I noticed he also had little white flakes in his hair. He hadn’t washed it for about a week aside from water. He’s never had flakes before now or complained of dry scalp, so I am chalking this up to no-poo and our hard water. (Although Kay still disagrees that our water is hard!)

So with Kay’s flakes convincing me maybe no-poo isn’t the best for us, I washed my hair (twice!) with some sulfate free shampoo last night, conditioned it, and man it looks and feels great today!

I still want to keep shampooing to a minimum because I really value not having to shampoo every night and I think it is better for my scalp, but I am concerned if I leave the no-poo method what I will do about SLS free shampoo. The SLS-free shampoo I have now was a gift from Sweden and apparently it’s not even on the market anymore. Probably out of my budget anyway.

But no-poo was about to become an issue too. They do not sell boxes of baking soda in the grocery here and I was on my last box that my brother brought over for Christmas in 2010. Buying baking soda from the English bookstore is obscenely expensive and there’s no way I’m using little 1tsp sachets of baking soda from the grocery.

So we’ll see what happens. Kay and I decided not to buy anymore super cheap shampoo but we are not sure what to buy since we are mostly limited to brands like Loreal, Pantene, etc in the grocery store.

Any suggestions? I am heading to the US next month so I could stockpile for awhile.

Hairy Matters: No-poo Trial

Over the four years in Switzerland my hair has become increasingly unhappy. I started suffering from an itchy scalp, particularly in the back/neck area that became a stress release. I’d stress and unconsciously scratch, making my scalp all the more unhappy.

This was the start of the neck/scalp itch in 2008. Hard to believe it’s been four years I’ve been sort of dealing with this.

In the past two years I’ve been pretty good about getting my stress under control and Kay was great about yelling at me when I started scratching. Lots of lotion and the scalp is in a better spot, but overall my whole head was still itchy and dry.

If I would go one day without shampooing, my whole head would be itchy and oily again. Gross, right?

Dandruff shampoos didn’t help and sulfate free shampoos are hard to come by here. Even the natural medicine store only sells sulfate shampoo and their overpriced solutions didn’t do anything for me.

In the summer I decided to cut back and only shampoo once or twice a week. On the off days I would use 100% silica powder spheres from Coastal Scents to “powder” my hair in the front to make it look presentable at work. (They don’t sell dry shampoo in Switzerland.) The oils made my hair really, really itchy for the first few weeks I did this and I really had to try hard not to scratch.

After doing this method for several months, I think my hair got used to producing less oil, but it was still dry and fairly itchy so I wanted to kick the shampoo and go no-poo.

For around two weeks now I’ve been trying out the no-poo method. A few times a week I shower and use 1 tablespoon of baking soda (BS) diluted with shower water and one 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (ACV) diluted with shower water.

I’ve been testing out different proportions and variations to get a mix that works well for me. So far I’ve tried:

  • Using one mix of BS and ACV together
  • Mixing the BS into a paste and putting that on my head in the bad parts first and then rinsing with a diluted BS mixture.
  • Using a BS mixture sans ACV
  • Using a diluted mix of BS, rinse, followed by a mix of diluted ACV

On the other days, I usually shower and rinse with normal water, but I’m still trying to skip some days because I love the convenience of not washing my hair every day.

In general, my head is not very itchy. It still seems dry, but it’s not anywhere as itchy as it used to be, especially if I skip a day washing, but I’m running into some problems:

On the non-hair wash days, my hair looks pretty oily and I can’t wear it down. Also, even after months of shampooing it seldom
I have flakes. I don’t think it’s dandruff, but I think it is dry scalp still.
There’s also a grey waxy/lint buildup is in my combs/brushes immediately after I use them.

I think I’m still getting used to the no-poo thing, but after two weeks it now seems like my hair is getting dirtier and dirtier than when I first started it. After washing it doesn’t seem as clean as the first few times I did it, so much that I can’t even wear my hair down right after I washed it.

The flakes/dandruff thing annoys the crap out of me. I might make an appointment with a dermatologist at some point, but that would be a big PIA in Zürich and I’m sure they would just give me a dandruff shampoo to start off with.

Lastly, the waxy lint stuff coming off in my combs and brushes is really disturbing me. It got me searching for other people dealing with dandruff and if it had to do something with my water.

I remembered that we have pretty hard water in Zürich. In Winterthur we used to have to de-chalk our coffee machine and hot pot fairly regularly. The water is softer in Zürich, but still pretty hard I think. Maybe that’s part of my problem?

I’ve got some solutions I could try:

  • Use distilled water to wash hair – Buying water in Zürich costs $$$, but if no other options work I may try this.
  • Get a water filter – This is maybe more feasible, but I’d have to investigate the possibilities. I think Kay already looked into this a few years ago…
  • Shower with colder water. This is supposed to help the dry flakes. But ugh, my hot showers!! 🙁
  • Boil water and mix BS with that before applying. This should give the “slippery” feeling that I haven’t been experiencing with my hard water.
  • Add some salt to soften the water
  • Condition with lime or lemon juice instead of ACV

I think for now I’m going to try mixing my BS with the boiling water + a little salt and rinsing with some lemon juice. I really don’t want to have to resort to buying bottled water to rinse my hair when we have tap. That seems so counterintuitive to me. Then I might as well go back to using normal shampoo. Urgh!

Do you have any no-poo successes or failures to share with me?

How to rent a flat in Switzerland

I mentioned how 70% of the population in Switzerland rents, but did you know that it is estimated that only .06% of the flats in Zürich are vacant? That’s not a typo. 99.94% of the flats here are taken.

TMLSS: It’s hard to secure a flat, especially for a good price.

zurich attic flat

This is a short (long?) guide about how to rent here based on our experience.

Step 1: Prepare your application documents (BEFORE looking for a flat)

A. Go to the local registry office and request a “Betreibungsauszug” if you have been in the country 6 months or longer. This is basically a piece of paper that says you don’t owe anyone any debts and without it, you are often very unlikely to get a flat. For newcomers who do not yet have a debt free history within the country, this can be especially crippling because without this paper… you may appear untrustworthy to a landlord.

B. Have a copy of your residence permit/work permit and passport or your ID if you are Swiss. Please note, residents with temporary permits (L) are also very unlikely to be accepted for a flat, but for some people this is their only option.

C. Copies of the last 3 months pay slips from work or a letter from HR stating your salary. In general, you are not allowed to rent a flat that is more than 33% of your salary.

D. If you have a letter from your HR or previous landlord, make sure you have copies ready. Also prepare contact details (phone numbers) for any references you wish to include on your application.

E. Start preparing a cover letter for your applications which you can modify for different flats. Write about yourself, why you want the flat and why you will be an excellent tenant choice.

F. It is not required, but I recommend including a photo of yourself as well.

Step 2: Look for a flat

Make a budget around 1/4 to 1/3 of your monthly salary, but not more. Landlords often will not rent to you if you earn “too much” or “too little”. Start looking for flats on sites like,, and the local newspaper. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a flat and ask if they know anyone that knows anyone that knows anyone. Friend connections are still the best way to get the early scoop on a cheap flat up for grabs, but most of us have to do the legwork on sites like homegate and hope it works out.

Step 3: Visit

Almost no landlords here rent flats without meeting tenants first or knowing they have viewed the apartment in person. Either make an appointment with the current tenant, landlord, or show up for pre-scheduled flat viewings listed online.

During the visit it is important to ask all your questions about the flat. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Why are you moving out?
  • Is it a quiet neighborhood?
  • What are the neighbors like?
  • Is this a smoking building? Do you smoke?
  • Is there a cellar in the basement and may I see it? (Cellars or attics are pretty standard with flats in Switzerland)
  • What are the utilities like?

Now this step is crucial, so pay attention.

If you show up to a flat viewing, there may be 200 other people there. That’s truly happened to me before. 200. People.

It is important to show up to viewings exactly when they start and to post your application or turn it in immediately. This is why it is so important to prepare your paperwork ahead of time. If you like the flat and they have applications available there, fill it out and turn everything in together as soon as possible. Same day if possible. Your renting livelihood depends on it.

Renting applications generally ask for all applicants’ citizenship, age, gender, personal address, work address, phone number, reference numbers, how much you earn, if you have children or not, if you have pets, and even if you play an instrument.

If you hide the fact that you have a dog and you play the piano, the landlord will not be very happy later on and they may ask you to move out because you are violating their terms of agreement. Also, be prepared to have all your references checked up on. They are very keen to have a nice tenant with such a large pool to choose from.

Step 5: Wait for news

Most landlords have already made up in their mind what kind of tenant they want. They may be looking for a single male, single female, a couple without children, or a family, but you can be sure they will not tell you what kind of person they are looking for. That would be too easy!

Applying before anyone else gives you a small leg up because they often give flats on a first-come-first-serve basis if you meet their qualifications.

Points may be taken off if you are an unmarried couple because the landlord is wary about a possible breakup, families with small (noisy) children, roommate situations because again the landlord is wary of people moving out, and anyone with a pet or loud musical instrument is going to have difficulty finding a landlord that accepts them.

Step 6: Rejection

Kay looked for flats for six months after he finished university before he found one he liked that agreed to rent to him. When we moved in together, we searched together for 7 months before finding a flat that would accept us.

We went through a lot of rejections. We weren’t sure if people were unhappy that we weren’t married or didn’t have kids or that we earned too much or too little. There’s never any feedback on why you are not accepted.

Repeat Steps 1-5 until you can make it past Step 6.

Step 7: Acceptance

Hallelujah! You thought this day would never come.

Usually when a landlord agrees to rent, you will meet with them or their agency to sign a contract after you agree on a move in date and give your deposit into a 3rd party bank account that neither of you have access to.

Deposits are usually 1-3X your monthly rent. If you are renting a modest 2500CHF one bedroom flat in Seefeld, your deposit just might be 7500CHF. (That’s over $8000 USD at this time.)

Rent is also due upfront, not at the end of the month… so when you move in you will usually be required to give either 3 or 4X your monthly rent unless you can negotiate a 1 month deposit. For a 2500CHF flat, this would be a whopping 10,000CHF!

But don’t worry… employers are often friendly and will loan you money to pay for your deposit if you are just moving here for the first time. And fret not, even people with dogs and pianos or unemployed fellows can find a flat. You just need to persevere. 🙂

I’ll get into taking over and leaving a flat in another post. 😉

How complicated is the rental process in your area?

*All photos are personal unless noted*

Want to catch up?


2013 Travel Destinations

I feel like a really lazy expat in Europe.

When I first came to Switzerland for a study abroad experience, all my other friends were traveling all over Europe for around one month before their terms started in Germany. I was the only one in my class heading to Switzerland so I chose not to join my friends traveling.

I had a paid internship in Ohio and while my parents were generously paying my school tuition, I had to foot the study abroad bill myself. I refused to go into credit card debt or take out a loan for study abroad, so I limited my travel to what I could afford and headed to Switzerland after a long summer working.

For three months on my visitors visa, I spent almost every weekend within Switzerland traveling to different towns, large and small, so I could feel like I really got to know Switzerland itself. After my stay was up and I needed to exit the country, I planned a train trip through Germany to visit all of my friends in their respective German locations. During my entire stay, I never needed to pay for a hostel or hotel!

It worked out well. My budget was happy and I felt like I got to see a fair amount of Switzerland and Germany during my stay, but I missed out on a lot of European biggies. France, Italy, England… I didn’t see any of them and when I returned to the States I really felt like I would have to come do a big European backpacking trip to make up for it.

Now I’ve been living here for four years and shamefully, I haven’t gotten around to doing a lot. In fact, it took me FOUR years to take a 4 hour train ride down to Italy. Blasphemy.

It seems that “There’s always next month…” has derailed my travel excitement. Between Kay’s flighty schedule and my laziness, I just haven’t gotten around to traveling around Europe that much. Since those university days I’ve been to Paris, Stockholm, Dublin, Madrid, Vienna (thanks to Kay this summer!), a few more German cities and finally Milan after I told Kay that I refused to travel to Germany again before we went to Italy.

Here are the top European cities I would really like to visit on a long weekend in 2013:

1. London

(Image Source)

Oh my God… I haven’t been to England yet. This is also blasphemous. I cured my Italy-visit status, but if I am to be a real member of European society, I must, must visit London this year and soak up all the English breakfast and tea I can get.

2. Venice

(Image Source)

Although I’ve been to Italy once now, it wasn’t nearly enough and I know there is still much more to explore. I’m really meaning to visit Venice before it sinks so that I can enjoy a coffee on the waterside.

3. Rome

(Image Source)

Yes, another biggie. I’ve been planning to go to Rome for a few years now, but it’s always a question of when and how as it can be very hot in the summer and uncomfortably cold in the winter. Autumn seems to fly by with Kay’s military time and spring is expensive with Easter. There’s never a good time!

I have a bunch of other cities and countries around Europe that I would like to visit, but I’m keeping this list short so that it remains somewhat realistic. We haven’t started planning our 2013 holidays yet, so there’s no telling where we’ll wind up.

Where would you travel in Europe?

Nobody buys a home in Switzerland

Allow me to explain why I spent the first four years of my time in Switzerland under the belief that I would never buy a home here.

First, let’s take a look at a few of the buying prospects:

1) 4 Bedroom flat, 138m2 / 1500 sq ft, CHF 2,490,000

Urbanes Leben im Hürlimann Areal via

2) 2 Bedroom flat,  85m2 / 914 sq ft, CHF 1,050,000

Neuwertige Stadtwohnung mit hervorragender Infrastruktur via

3) 1 Bedroom loft flat,  81m2 / 870 sq ft, CHF 970,000

‘Architekten Loft / Wohnatelier’ in Zürich-West via

4) 3 bedroom house, 145m2 / 1560 sq ft,  CHF 2,250,000


5) 5.5 bedroom house,  200m2 / 2150 sq ft,  CHF 5,600,000

Liebhaberobjekt via

Now maybe the pretty pictures above were distracting, or maybe you think we’ve got crazy inflation with CHF*, but I’m hoping you noticed that these digs are all crazy expensive.

*At the time of writing this, $1 = .93 CHF, so all those prices are even more expensive in dollars.

A one bedroom flat can easily cost one million dollars and you can forget about buying a normal house. As I write this, there are only 10 single family houses listed for sale in the city of Zürich. Half of them are 2.5-5 million francs.

If you are lucky enough to find a house or flat available, chances are that you cannot afford it. Why not?

One scary word: Deposit.

The general rule in Switzerland is that you need a 20% deposit on a house in order to get a mortgage. How does that work on on that 1 bedroom flat above?

Holy shite. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 200k in my pocket, let alone 500k for flat #1 up there or 1.12 million for house #5.

When I figured out HOW much buying in Zürich would cost a couple years ago, I simply wrote it off in “the impossible” list and didn’t think anymore about buying for a long time. I had forgotten then that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Although over 70% of the population here rents, someone has to be buying houses somehow and it cannot be the billionaires alone, can it?