Studying abroad taught me a lot of things: the importance of taking myself out of my comfort zone, how to find the best vegan restaurants in a foreign country, basic greetings in Xhosa (the language of Nelson Mandela—fun fact!). One study abroad lesson I’ll never forget? How to take a short shower.
I studied in Cape Town, South Africa at the height of the water drought. When I arrived in January 2018, Day Zero—the day when the city would run out of water and taps would run dry—was projected for April 12th. Residents of Cape Town were—and still are —literally rationing water, and what seemed like an innocuous use of water (like showering a few minutes longer than normal) suddenly meant a heavy fine.
The city of Cape Town responded to the drought by imposing strict water restrictions: each individual could only use fifty liters of visible water each day. If that sounds like a lot at first, consider all the ways you use water each day—showering, brushing your teeth, flushing the toilet, doing laundry, washing the dishes, the list goes on. All of these, of course, are somewhat necessary for a high quality of life; non-essential uses of water like watering the lawn or using a swimming pool were completely out of the question.
I had always thought that I took pretty short showers until I actually had to time myself in the shower. Even a five-minute shower —considered short by American standards—was over twice as long as the recommended shower length. The average American shower is eight minutes long and uses sixty-two gallons of water—twelve more gallons than Cape Tonians were allowed per day for all activities, not just showering. I had to learn how to keep myself clean with 120 seconds or less per day and ration fifty gallons between everything I did that day.
I picked up some handy shower tricks that carried me through my time in Cape Town, and helped me greatly shorten my shower time when I came back to the United States. Family and friends can vouch that I take extremely short showers (which can become an important selling point when you’re arguing over who gets the first shower!). I look back at a time where I took ten-minute showers and wonder what I could have possibly been doing in there to take so long, haha.
Even if you don’t live in an area stricken by drought, taking short showers is really important. Humans are rapidly overexploiting our water, which are not a renewable resource: every drop of water we have right now, is all we will ever have. Luckily, showering is a super easy adjustment, and you would be surprised by how much water can be saved if you cut that ten-minute shower down to two!
The stop and start method.
One thing I learned how to do in Cape Town is identify exactly when water was necessary (for example, when washing shampoo out of my hair) and when it was not (for example, when putting said shampoo into my hair). A lot of the water we use in the shower is not necessary—we just run it over our bodies while we’re doing other stuff like working shampoo and conditioner in, shaving, soaping up, etc. Water in Cape Town was far too critical to just pour on my back while I put shaving cream on my legs, so I learned to only use water in the shower when I actually needed it, and turn the water off at all other times. This meant that I was constantly stopping and starting the shower, which yes, could be kind of a pain, but was a more than acceptable alternative to literally using up the city’s entire water supply. In your next shower, try turning the water off as you shampoo and condition!
Keep the water cold.
A big part of the reason most Americans take long showers is the accessibility of complete temperature comfort. If you find yourself standing in the shower for a minute or two after wrapping up, your showers are lengthened by the temperature. Taking a cold shower is not fun, but it will definitely get you in and out super quickly. Plus, taking cold showers boasts serious health benefits including weight loss, higher metabolism, shinier hair, and poreless, blemish-free skin. All my showers were cold in Cape Town, and it definitely helped me keep them well under two minutes. I would be lying if I said that I only take cold showers here in the U.S., but I would highly recommend them to help you get in the habit of taking a shorter shower.
Play a song while you’re in the shower.
Jam out and keep track of your shower at the same time! Notice that I said play a song. If you have a shower playlist, your showers are too long. Give yourself one song: when it’s done, so are you.
Don’t wash your hair every day.
Spacing out washes is not only good for your hair, it’s good for the environment too. Washing and conditioning tend to take up the majority of time in my showers, so I try to go as long as possible between washes. Without worrying about your hair care in the shower, you really just need to wash up, which shouldn’t take long at all!
Catch any excess water with a bucket.
All the showers in my Cape Town apartment complex were provided with buckets to catch excess water from the shower. Any extra water was extremely precious, and we could use this water to flush the toilet, water plants, mop, etc.
Taking shorter showers may seem like an adjustment at first, but it’s worth it to save water! You’ll get in the habit, I promise:) After a while of working in these tips, you’ll wonder how the heck you even took so long in the shower to begin with!
What tips do you have for taking shorter showers?
Photo: Maille O’Donnell