Weird and wonderful ways my family saves water

Water. It’s one of those resources you don’t even notice until you are suddenly without it. Then you can probably think of little else. At least that’s how I imagine it was for my friend Sarah, who lives in South Africa, during a recent drought.

A reminder message. Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: S Rade

Current water restrictions in Cape Town began early this year with an initial limit of 87 litres, which later dropped to 50, per person per day. Citizens were warned that municipal (tap) water would be cut in April, forcing everyone to queue for an increasingly meagre 25 litres. Fortunately, people took the message seriously, pushing “Day Zero” back by 10 days, then 6 weeks, and — with any luck — the rest of the year.

Sarah and her family took several steps to cut their water consumption too: from using buckets to collect washing up water and washing machine water to use in the garden, to using hand sanitizer instead of soap. And she swears by dry shampoo.

“Our pools were left to run dry! No washing cars or watering gardens, other than with water already used for other things! People started digging boreholes [deep, narrow holes to locate water] in their gardens, and hooking them to their mains, which meant treating the water. We also have huge tanks, hooked to our gutters, to collect rainwater.”

I can hardly imagine a Canadian summer without the sound of garden sprinklers. My own family’s relationship to water — when I stopped to consider it — is a little weird. It wasn’t until I read about the hardships my friend faced over shortages that I contemplated our habits. I realized we were conserving water in small but significant ways without being overly conscious about it.

Queued in Cape Town. Photo: S Rade

We don’t buy bottled or filtered water. Never have. Not only is the waste colossal, but — let’s face it — plastic affects the taste. When it comes to drinking water, I say the colder, the better. So I keep a glass jug in the fridge, and there’s never any need to run the tap until the water is glacial.

My son is always forgetting to flush the toilet. But we encourage this kind of forgetfulness, provided it’s a number one!

My husband loves his baths. It could be a European thing, I’m not entirely sure. In the twenty years we’ve been together, it’s something I’ve never fully understood. And, if I’m honest, his need for a deep soak always drove me a little crazy. I appreciate a bubble bath but regard it as a special treat. Something to indulge in now and then, akin to having a massage or a pedicure. Not a daily ritual.

Most days I’m perfectly happy with a quick perfunctory shower. And I turn off the tap during the lather phase. Unlike my college roommate, showers last 10 minutes, tops. (To this day, I have no idea what she did in there except belt out Depeche Mode at the top of her lungs.)

As for my family, the saving grace is that we share baths. Not at the same time, though — we don’t bathe together! My son has inherited his father’s obsession for the evening soak; he gets first dibs on the tub. Then hubby, and occasionally, me. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule. If one of us had worked out or rolled in the mud, maybe not. But the fact is, in our day to day we rarely get too grimy.

In a matter of months, Cape Town managed to dramatically cut water consumption and Sarah’s family has a newfound appreciation for the precious resource. Her kids get SO excited when it rains, are incredibly aware of waste, and tell people when they’re washing their hands incorrectly (“Soap first, rub it in, then wash it off”). Lessons she hopes will stick with them in the future.

Are we weird? Probably. Do I care? Not much. A little weirdness is worth not feeling so guilty about the water we do use. Hearing about Sarah’s experience has taught me that we’re all connected and every drop of water counts. Canada may not be affected by a shortage anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we should take our water for granted.

Julie Green is a freelance writer, artist, and autism advocate. She lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and bulldog. Learn more at


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