I know it may seem that we talk of nothing else here in the Western Cape, but that truth is that it’s hard to think about anything else, in the wake of the impending disaster that will be Day Zero. There have been many excellent pieces providing wider solutions + ideas, including this one and this one – and everywhere you look there will be opinion pieces on why it’s happening and who is to blame. This is not a blog post about that.
This is a blog post on little habits we are changing PARTICULARLY RELATED TO RAISING KIDS that can save us water. After all, this is a parenting blog (of sorts) so it makes sense to focus on this aspect of things. I’ve learned so much reading other people’s water saving tips online, so I figure that the more we talk about what we’re doing ourselves (without fear mongering too much), the more chances we have of improving our situation. Here are some water saving tips for parents that I’ve gathered from my own home, and from readers:
We have to educate our kids on just why conserving water is so important. This isn’t a temporary thing, it’s time for us to change the way we use this precious resource, as well as our attitudes towards it. Liezel Brooks Pienaar says this about her five-year-old: “She is very aware of the water crisis and is even coming up with plans to “fix” it”. If you haven’t already, sit down with them and run through your water saving household “rules”, so everyone can play their part.
2. Eating & drinking
The thing is that young children (I’m not talking babies here) use A LOT of plates, dishes and cups. They’re always having snacks and drinking water and mine had a habit of using a new plate or cup each time they do this! This means more washing of dishes = more water used. To stop this we’ve kept their cups (one each, with their names on them) in a single place in the house and they then get placed back there each time. Or, they should simply use their own water bottles, like Julia Webber is doing – and the bottles get washed when necessary.
We also bought paper plates today – I know that using disposable is not necessarily kinder to the environment, but in current circumstances low water usage trumps that. I’ve written their initials on each plate and they must now use that for any meals or snacks, wipe it clean with roller towel afterwards (if possible – I’m not talking spag bol here!) and then reuse it until it becomes unusable. I’m also pouring them less water each time, and as Cassey Toi says, any water they don’t drink should go to watering inside pot plants or should be collected for something else.
Elizabeth Bishop asks her kids to eat their meals naked! Obviously only if the situation allows for it and the weather is warm – this will cut down on washing of clothes too.
3. Washing of clothes + linen
Kids are grubby little things. But they are also a bit lazy and prone to throwing things in the wash basket when they actually should be folded and put back in their cupboards. Now I ask them to check an item when they take it off: does it smell bad? Does it have a noticeable stain? Then put it in the wash basket. But if not, fold it and put it back in your cupboard (I also check all washing before it gets done). Julie Mentor says she uses scoop bibs for meal times and encourages them to do any messy play outside in their undies. We’re also leaving their linen on longer than before – plus having a top sheet means you don’t really need to wash the duvet cover much at all, just the sheets.
Another tip from Cassey is to put pillow cases inside each other so you can fit more in the washing machine. Jonelle du Pont also suggests using smaller towels, as they require less water to wash – such a good tip, we don’t need to be using those huge fluffy bath sheets.
4. Showering, washing hands + toilets
They’re not showering every day – we’ve got good at the top and tail bath (fill a basin and scrub them with a face cloth from top to toe), or if they’ve been in the sea or swimming pool, they don’t get washed that day. I also used to wash their hair a few times a week but I actually find that their hair doesn’t get dirty nearly as much as adults, so now I only wash it when it starts to look dirty. For smaller babies, as Sinazo Kunene reminded me: aqueous cream does a great job for cleaning faces and little bodies, and wet wipes are handy things too.
In terms of bigger kids, we are now showering together – usually 3 of us, with a bucket in the shower to catch the run off water, which we then use to flush the loo. Buckets are generally too heavy for them to pick up safely, so I’ve told me that they can’t flush the loo AT ALL, and must call us to do so. I then use the grey water to do this, if it’s necessary (we let the yellow mellow). Or, as Nikki Lincoln says: “We’ve turned off the tap for the toilet so flushing with municipal water isn’t an option. We’re also not throwing toilet paper in the loo if you’ve made a wee: we’ve got a sealed, lined bin in the bathroom. It’s gross I know but we are running out of time.”
I’ve got hand sanitisers scattered around the house to use after they’ve been petting the dogs etc. My kids were ALWAYS washing their hands, so I’ve had to educate them about this. Felicity MacTavish Snygans says she fills a small basin of water that her toddler splashes his hands in repeatedly – this is a good idea instead of letting water run down the drain freely each time.
Another idea for cleaning dirty nails is from Ncumisa Ngcaweni who uses a soft nail brush, instead of waiting until they bath to clean their nails.
Are the schools your kids are at doing their part? My eldest’s has changed their uniform policy to try and limit washing, and they’re collecting hand washing water to reuse, as well as encouraging use of sanitisers. If you haven’t been communicated to about this, send them an email or phone up their office. It’s also important to know what their plan is for when Day Zero comes, so you know how things will unfold regarding your children’s education.
The reality is that this isn’t only a Cape Town issue and that this will start to affect many other metros soon, so we all need to change the way we use this very finite resource.
These are just a few water saving tips for parents – I’m sure you have loads more, so please drop me a comment!