habit shift: water.

July 18, 2016


This post is partially about shifting a habit so that I drink a reasonable amount of water in a day. And partially about shifting habits in an effort to conserve water.

The two ventures can seem at odds. I’m supposed to be saving fresh water at the same time I’m supposed to be recklessly guzzling it? But the truth is that many of us waste the water that we should be drinking.

Some of these shifts are terribly obvious and no doubt some of you have been implementing them—without even trying—for the whole of your lifetime. But I think a gentle reminder could do us all some good. And no doubt there will be things I haven’t thought of. Share! Here goes:habit_shift_water_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_1826

A few ideas to get yourself to drink more water:

Get an insulated water bottle. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again. Being able to drink cool water at any time of day has made me double my water intake on a daily basis. (Don’t be too impressed: I’m still not always close to the recommended 8 cups a day, but I am heading there.) Anything will do, but I’m very much partial to my 12-ounce wide-mouth Klean Kanteen, which feels like a manageable size for carrying around and can easily fit ice cubes if I want my water to be extra chilly.

Make it tasty: On days when I’m feeling ornery, I declare that pretty herbal waters are a thing invented by the internet to make people feel slovenly for drink plain old water. On days when I’m feeling optimistic, I declare that people have been making plain old water more palatable for eons by sticking crap in it, and bonus: it’s pretty. I’ve been using a glass pitcher similar to this one and keeping it filled with so-called pretty water since we returned from France. (Note: We’ve been using 1.5 liter mason jars to keep water cool and filtered in the fridge for years, but one recently broke and I’ve loved having a handle to grab onto.) On rotation this week: cucumber, lemon, and thyme. It makes every glass of water refreshing. (Faye’s delighted that I seem to enjoy “pickle” water so very much.)

Schedule it: Killjoy times twelve, I know. But I find that having even a loose idea of when to drink water makes me more likely to follow through with actually drinking it. I’ll never be a drink-a-tall-glass-of-water-first-thing-in-the-morning kind of hero. (If I’m being frank, water first thing in the morning makes me want to gag.) But I’ve made a loose schedule nonetheless: drink a glass before I leave the house in the morning, finish another before lunchtime, drink another with lunch, another in the afternoon, one at dinner, and a keep a tall glass next to my bed while I read in the evening. Like I said, I’m not breaking any records, but I am staying far more hydrated than I would otherwise.

A few ideas to save water:

Stop taking (so many) long showers: Well, duh. We let a lot of water pour down the drain and so we’d all do well to stick to a more rigid time limit when washing off. I’m a morning shower person, but if I’m feeling sweaty and gross at the end of the day—and who isn’t?—I wash up with a wash cloth and a quick feet wash in the sink and call myself fresh. Bonus: You can keep a bucket in the shower to catch water that would otherwise go down the drain and use it to flush your toilet.

Turn off the tap while you brush: It’s the first thing you learn in elementary school, but I feel like by adulthood a lot of people forget even the most basic measures. In a semi-related habit shift, I’m on a kick of making sure I brush my teeth for a full two-minutes every time, which means that I usually amble around the apartment to pass the time while I brush. (Two minutes is a long time!). I’d never think of leaving the faucet on when I leave the bathroom. A quirky trick, perhaps, but maybe a little teeth brushing amble would do us all good, in more ways than one!

Fill ‘er up: Whether you hand wash your dishes or load them in the dishwasher, repeat the mantra fill ‘er up. Fill up the sink with sudsy water instead of letting the faucet run when you hand wash and make sure you fill the dishwasher all the way up before you run it.

Let it mellow: I hate that expression, but I actually thought a bit about this as we were potty training Faye: Do we really need to teach our kid to flush the toilet after she puts a few teaspoons of pee into it? Eh…I don’t think so. I have a pretty ingrained muscle memory to flush the toilet immediately, but we’re making an effort to flush less frequently during the  day (a huge water savings, especially when you’re so busy drinking so much water…see above.) (PS. We’ve also recently sunk a bottle full of water into our ancient toilet tank…water displaced by the bottle means water that doesn’t go down the drain. More details on how to do it, right here!)

Call your super: Or flex your muscles and do it yourself, but if you have a leaky faucet or a drippy toilet, or anything else in your home that’s wasting water, take the few minutes to call someone to get it fixed. A dripping sink faucet can seem like small potatoes in the face of drought, but every drop of water saved makes a difference.

There are lots of other ideas for saving water—installing gray water systems! planting drought-friendly gardens instead of lawns!—but these are some simple things but I’ve been able to incorporate fairly seamlessly into city living. What about you? How do you guys approach water drinking/conserving?

More habit shifts right here.

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  • Reply Kathleen July 18, 2016 at 10:14 am

    I find I drink more water if it’s really cold and if I’m drinking out of a straw. I mostly use a stainless steel insulated cup with a lid and a stainless steel straw. It keeps my water nice and cold for a long time. I like your idea of a teeth brushing amble too!

  • Reply MA July 18, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Great ideas! I am a big fan of putting stuff in water to enhance my drinking pleasure if you will. My favorite for years is to make sun tea with lemon zinger tea bags, which i think is just red hibiscus and lemon. I use 4 bags per pitcher of water. Stick it in the sun for a few hours or until you remember it again. I like it unsweetened as does my 10 year old son, but my 7 y.o. daughter likes it (and all things) with a bit of honey.
    Re: water conservation, we recently installed rain barrels to water the veggie garden and they are working great. Also, my hairdresser told me recently that with naturally curly hair, I should wash it way less frequently. So I’ve used that as an excuse to shower less. Don’t get me wrong – I still bathe every day, but I just don’t shower as often. If that makes sense…

  • Reply Rita July 18, 2016 at 10:46 am

    One habit that I think really saves water is cutting the problem at the source: trying not to wash clothes so frequently, using less plates, etc. Obviously is not being unhigienic but there is no need to use a towel and trow it into the floor and make it unusable again.

    I’m a person who loves to drink water but I know some people who don’t and what I realize is that they try to drink more water by drinking full glasses of water, they already don’t like water and then they like that big event even less. I think to trick may be a sip here, a sip there.

    Good luck with your habit shifting! Water is the best, really :))

  • Reply Mefi July 18, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Thank you!

  • Reply Ris July 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Whenever I’m emptying a glass of water that, for whatever reason, I’m not going to drink (it’s dusty, it’s been sitting out for days, it has a bug floating in it, etc.) instead of tipping it down the sink I pour it into whatever plant is nearby. I also handwash more items, and handwash them together (a few bras together in the sink, a few white shirts soaking in a bucket in the bathtub, etc), which is better for the clothes as well!

  • Reply Christie July 18, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Give yourself a break! The 8 glasses of water per day is a total myth: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/upshot/no-you-do-not-have-to-drink-8-glasses-of-water-a-day.html?_r=0

    Drink what feels right. If your head hurts, drink some more. 🙂

    • Reply Alix July 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Yes! We’re all forcing ourselves to drink more than we really have to. Thanks for the link!

  • Reply Jessie July 18, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Here in CA we’re living and breathing water conservation in this drought. I work in sustainable construction, this is the stuff I nerd out over. You can buy dual flush retrofit kits for toilets (usually about $20, http://www.allianceforwaterefficiency.org/Toilet_Retrofit_Devices.aspx). My city actually gives out free low flow shower heads, but you can also buy at any home supply and they’re easy to switch out.
    My favorite “flavored” water is a squeeze of lime, or sun tea! I made some with moroccan mint tea plus fresh mint this weekend and it is so refreshing!
    A newer technology that we’re using at my work, is an atmospheric water generator – literally takes moisture from the air and runs it through filters to make drinking water! http://www.gaiawatersolutions.com/#!atmospheric-water-generation/fcgol
    There’s some amazing work going on in the building world for sustainability (check out Living Building Challenge, I’m working on a project pursuing it right now!)

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks so much for chiming in!

    • Reply kelly July 19, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Thank you for all this great info!

    • Reply kelly July 19, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      I love a huge glass of Luke warm /room temperature water FIRST thing in the morning. I even keep a glass or my glass water bottle, preferably, on my bedroom window sill. I simply cannot stand ice cold water!! And it’s not great for my belly. Keep up the good efforts.

  • Reply Monique July 18, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Great post! We use those crazy electronic toothbrushes that are timed so I try to make good use of those 2 mins and stretch or do some sort of wall sit/calf raise etc.

    Query: does that Klean Kanteen waterbottle sweat? i.e. does the insulation mean that it doesn’t bead up with moisture even with the coldest of water inside? If not it might have to go on the wishlist! (I have one of their bottles that is not insulated but I love coooooold water and so I put it inside a plastic bag until the plastic is no longer re-usable, which is a problem in and of itself!).

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Doesn’t sweat!!

  • Reply Erin July 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I didn’t enjoy drinking water first thing in the morning at. all. until I started adding a squeeze of lime or lemon and a big pinch of sea salt. The citrus/salt combo make a big difference in how it goes down, and the sea salt actually makes it more hydrating. I’ve noticed a big difference in my summer heat tolerance since I started adding salt to my water- I no longer totally wilt in heat and humidity (not that I love it, though…).

    Also, I don’t think everyone really needs 8 glasses/day, esp. if you’re eating high water content foods like fruit and veggies or even yogurt.

    • Reply Ling July 21, 2016 at 10:09 am

      I once learned from a nurse friend that our bodies need salt & sugar to hydrate properly (how osmosis works) but I’ve never thought of adding those things to my water: I’ll need to try that out, thanks for the idea!

  • Reply Sadie July 18, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for this post! I have also been trying to drink more water and have been finding an app called Waterlogged (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/waterlogged-drink-more-water/id352199775?mt=8) to be helpful. I am not someone who utilizes many apps but I do find this encourages me drink more water. You can add a custom container too. 🙂

  • Reply chelsea jacobs July 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    It sounds so silly, but if I don’t write it on my list, it doesn’t happen! I literally write each glass on my list!

  • Reply MissEm July 18, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve been thinking about getting one of those water dispensers to keep in the fridge so my little girls and I will drink more water (and so they can access it more easily). We do keep Klean kanteens always filled in the fridge too, one for each of us. Easy to grab when we’re on our way out. As for water conservation…we need to get on that train. My kids love playing in water, which is good, but I think I need to save it afterwards for our plants.

  • Reply Pat S July 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    So true about not running water while you brush your teeth. Colgate ran an ad about that particular wasteful habit and if you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a view.

    As to drinking more water, I drink more when it’s cold so I use a small thermos as well as keeping a pitcher in the fridge for refills. It’s also nice to know I’m not adding plastic bottles to the landfill.

  • Reply Stacy July 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I resolved to drink more water last year. I discovered a few things, fell off the wagon a for a bit, and have since discovered a few more things that help. First, I promise to drink a full glass of water before I have my morning tea. I find I need much less caffeine when I’m fully hydrated, too. I drink far more when I drink from a straw (I have a 20 oz Contigo cup with straw that I love). And most recently, I started using the app Waterlogged. It is so satisfying to watch the water bottle fill up throughout the day, and surprisingly motivates me to drink more water. Also, I’m a big fan of a squeeze of lemon or lime in my water, but with a thriving mint plant outside my window, I may start to add that as well!

    Going to try some of your water saving tips soon! I’m intrigued by the toilet one…

  • Reply Kari.M July 18, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    So glad I’m not the only one who can’t stand water first thing in the morning.

    • Reply Genevieve July 18, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Same, I so related to this: “If I’m being frank, water first thing in the morning makes me want to gag.”

  • Reply Helene July 18, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Speaking of gray water systems, I used to think they were expensive and difficult to install. But when the drain tube of our washing machine broke, we just went to the hardware store and bought some flexible plastic tubing that we ran from the washer, out a nearby window, and into our garden.

    We do need a plastic bin below one of the connections between two tubes since they leak a bit. The window does stay slightly open all the time, but we have a locked gate on the perimeter of our property and live in a very safe neighborhood. We also disconnect the tubes and lock the window if we’re going away for more than a couple hours.We use biodegradable detergent from Costco that smells lovely.

    While this might not work for many people (apartment dwellers, people in less safe areas or those without a garden), it works very well for us!

    Also, we discovered (when the drain broke and we were draining into a large plastic bin) that the “express wash” setting gets the clothes just as clean, in half the time and with half the water!

    • Reply Ling July 21, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Hmmm, that is really clever! I’ll need to see how to do that for my washer/garden: thanks for the idea!

    • Reply Ling July 21, 2016 at 10:29 am

      I haven’t been to your blog in a while but I’m really excited to see that you have picked up the zero-waste mentality! I’ve always tried to avoid various wasteful things but am really trying to go all out lately with new inspiration from a friend 🙂 I am also really happy you’ve brought more light to water conservation. I studied environmental science & have worked in communities with contaminated water sources so I’ve come to *really* value our access to clean, fresh water. It’s truly a luxury & so so precious!

      Yay for less waste 😀

  • Reply Annabelle July 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    For those who can…consider a hot water recirculating pump. It attaches to your hot water tank and can be set with a timer to help keep hot water near appropriate pipes (say, bathroom for showers) so you don’t watch water rush down the drain while you wait for it to warm up. There is a small electricity offset for using it, but the timer is key to keeping the pump from running 24/7. We have had great luck with this!
    Alternatively, we catch the “waiting-to-warm-up” shower water in a bucket and water plants.

  • Reply Victoria July 18, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I drink water pretty much all day long at work, but glad to know someone else finds water first thing in the morning totally gagging. Not sure why, but I just can’t get it down. A water saving trick I try to implement is taking any leftover water ( from my gym water bottle, half empty glass,…) and pour it into my dog’s water bowl. She slurps throughout the day, so it’s a good way to keep her bowl filled and not constantly running the faucet .

  • Reply Angela July 19, 2016 at 3:49 am

    You can purchase water aerators at home improvement stores for super cheap. They are an easy install on kitchen and bathroom sinks and, quite frankly, I imagine apartment dwellers could leave them and no one would ever know. It’s a super easy way to conserve water and cut down on utilities costs.

    If you own a home, replacing toilets with either the 2-flush option or one with only a low-flush option is a great way to conserve. My folks bought a low flush only toilet and, though it was more expensive, their water bill savings caused them to break even within 5 months.

    And lastly, we have also committed to not flushing the toilet during the night (provided things stay urine-only, of course).

  • Reply Joanna July 19, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Lots of good ideas but here are a few health cautions: citrus in your water acidifies it and over time eats away at the enamel on your teeth according to my dentist, salt in your water (I’d totally go for that) can cause water retention which is a problem for folks with hypertension, and drinking too much water can cause fluid overload which is bad for your heart. Another thought on flavorings using salt as an example – you can pee or sweat out most of the water but the salt stays with you and accumulates with each hit of the salted water. As an aside, did you know that Navy coffee has a pinch of salt added to the pot? I don’t know why but it tastes wonderful.

  • Reply Jessica July 19, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Chiming in with an obvious reminder:

    A good measure of how well-hydrated you are is how “clear” your pee is. If you’re seeing amber or marigold, drink more water!

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 19, 2016 at 11:22 am

      So true!

  • Reply Camila July 19, 2016 at 11:27 am

    YES! It’s always the small changes that have the biggest impact. Conserving water is a mind shift as well as a habit shift. Hard but not impossible. Love this post!

  • Reply Julie McMann July 19, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I live in Southern California, the land of water rationing. I’d like to add one more strategy to those you mentioned. In addition to low-flow showerheads, aerators should be installed in every household faucet. This an easy DIY project that will result in significant water savings and a lower monthly bill.

  • Reply Mun July 19, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    An awesome reminder to not take water for granted. We had no water for 6 hours the other day and boy was that painful!

  • Reply Lori July 19, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Confession: I don’t shower every day. Crazy, I know. It’s situational; if I have just been sitting around my office all day, and haven’t broken a sweat, I just don’t think it’s necessary. Since I cut back, my skin is much less dry. Of course, if I have been exercising, or on a plane (they always make me feel gross), I am thrilled to jump into a nice hot shower. On non-shower days, a washcloth and some natural soap, strategically placed, can keep you in good condition.
    I have also really cut back washing my hair. It’s really long and thick, so every 4 days is plenty. Again, it’s in way better condition since I stopped subjecting it to washing and drying frequently.
    Wow, feels good to get that off my chest 🙂

  • Reply Wassya July 20, 2016 at 12:33 am

    I always wash dishes as if I live on a boat with limited water supply, which means sudsing everything up first with the wet, soapy dish cloth and then rinsing it all in one swift go. No need to even fill up the sink!

  • Reply Gitana Deneff July 20, 2016 at 2:45 am

    Great post! I just recently bought an insulated water bottle. I’ve been using it RELIGIOUSLY! I’ve been trying to drink 60 oz a day (the equivalent of three fill ups of my water bottle).

    Good luck with your habit change! I’ve noticed that my skin is so much more smooth and supple and glowing lately!

  • Reply Marisa July 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    I should really start catching water in the shower for my plants — I meant to keep a watering can out on the porch to catch rain for use late, but we still don’t have a devoted watering can, so I haven’t tried it. But I’m all on board with showering less, and washing clothes less often. And the two-minute apartment ramble while toothbrushing (faucet OFF).

    One habit I’ve tried, but then relapsed on, is turning off the shower while shaving and shampooing, and leaving it on only for rinsing. It’s not that bad, but when out of practice, I really don’t want to bother switching the faucet on and off and risk feeling cold! I think it helps to pretend it’s a like a sauna — the shock of going back and forth from hot to less-hot (or cold, if the bathroom is cold) could help wake you up. Or at least make you feel virtuous about your water-saving.

  • Reply E von Boxofpages July 20, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I love your article, as always! Having a rain barrel to save the rain water is a good idea to water your plants.
    I also close the tap while not only brushing my teeth but also while soaping my hands.
    Another thing I do to save water is washing my clothes in big batch. My washing machine has a 5 kg capacity and I always try to reach at least 4 kg each time I wash.
    It’s such a funny coincidence that I happened to write about this a month ago https://boxofpages.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/saving-the-world-for-beginners/

    – E.

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 21, 2016 at 7:34 am

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Gigi July 21, 2016 at 12:58 am

    I think the approach I take to conserving water is to eat as many vegetarian and/or solely plant-based meals as I can, because the process of raising animals for meat demands much more water than typically required for most vegetables. Beef in particular uses soo much water compared to alternative foods that contain comparable essential amino acids content. Here is a nifty LA Times article with visuals to illustrate the water footprint of various foods!

    • Reply Erin Boyle July 21, 2016 at 7:33 am

      We do this too!

  • Reply rachael July 25, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    One thing we do for showering is turn off the water when your soaping up. So you turn it on, get wet, turn it off while you shampoo, then rinse. Turn it off for body scrubbing, then turn it back on for rinsing. I feel so much cleaner because the water isn’t actually washing away any of my soap until I’m ready for it!

  • Reply sarah July 29, 2016 at 8:17 am

    I love love love thinking about habits! I’m a huge Gretchen Rubin fan 🙂 I haven’t read all the other comments but I want to point out that it’s best not to drink water *while* you eat. (It dilutes your digestive enzymes.) I like to drink several glasses when I first wake up (with lemon/lime/ACV if possible) and then drink a lot between meals too. I also take pretty short shows, and only shower if I’ve exercised–it’s not a necessary part of my day. Yay for talking about habits!

  • Reply sarah July 29, 2016 at 8:19 am

    (and yeah, be careful of drinking a lot of water with citrus, to protect your tooth enamel. I think lemon water is key for waking up, but I down my lemon water pretty quickly and then am sure to swish with plain water after)

  • Reply Emily August 1, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    The cold and hot water pipes in my apartment run next to each other, and so the hot pipe heats the water in the cold pipe meaning I have to let the water run for quite a while to get cold water. I fill a few carafes with water and put them in the fridge, which makes a huge difference. Beautifully cold drinking water without wastage.

  • Reply Victoria Cuellar August 18, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I have a suggestion for cutting water in the shower – turn the water off while you wash your hair and when you lather your body up. My parents came up with this because having three teenage girls in the house was leaving them with out hot water and a crazy water bill! It’s a little rough in the winter, but that way you can take your time massaging your scalp, scrubbing your elbows, etc. and not waste water!

  • Reply Maria August 23, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Hi! I was wondering if you guys all drink tap water or does anyone use water filtration systems? I’m renting and can’t install a reverse osmosis system so thinking about some kind of advanced countertop filter. There are so many options though…Any suggestions?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 1, 2017 at 11:30 am

      Hi there: We got our tap water tested for lead (a free NYC service). Lead free, thank goodness, so we just use charcoal sticks to further purify our water! Haven’t invested in anything more rigorous yet!

  • Reply BRI October 10, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Hi Erin,

    This is an effort I want to make too. I do drink a glass of room temperature water in the morning. Summer is coming in Australia soon and I love your glass pitcher – I think a good water pitcher with chilled water is very appealing when it’s hot. I’m not home enough to make up different elixirs. I think perhaps an appealing pitcher/s for both inside and outside of the fridge could be enough to motivate me. Thank you.

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