Productivity Creepin': 7 Water-Wise Tips to Survive the Drought

We in California are facing a severe state-wide drought. It is such an enormous problem that sometimes I feel powerless against it. But there are things everyone can do-small things that will result in big savings–to get through this drought together. The drought is such an important issue that every Californian, if not passionate about saving water, should at least be aware. We talk about saving water at home so that even Isobel, at five years old, knows the importance of saving water. She’ll turn off the water while brushing her teeth and say, “save water for the farmers.” Here are some small, everyday tips that can help make a big impact in water conservation.

1. Reuse plates, glasses, and napkins – Since I stay at home with the kids all day we eat most of our meals here, plus snacks. I really get a sense of how many dishes we go through in a single day, because I’m the one who has to wash them. I make a habit of reusing things when I can to run my dishwasher, an appliance that uses a lot of water, less often. For example, I’ll chose one cup and use that throughout the day, rinsing it out as needed to refill with whatever I want to drink. Or a plate that has only had a piece of toast on it during breakfast can be brushed off and used again for a sandwich at lunchtime. We use cloth napkins at home which are great for conserving paper towels, napkins, and money, but can become a strain on the environment due to washing. Most days we’ll each get a napkin at the start of the day and use it throughout. If it gets overly soiled we’ll switch to a new one, of course, just as some dishes aren’t worth reusing without considerable washing anyway, but choosing to reuse when I can saves more than if I hadn’t.

2. Save & bathe – There is more than one way to save while bathing. One way to save is… don’t. I don’t perspire all that much, nor am I well enough to work out every day. I don’t need to shower every day, so I usually skip and do it every other day. This isn’t a tip for everyone, of course. Even if he doesn’t work out my husband needs to shower every day to maintain his basic hygiene. I’m not suggesting we all stop bathing or lower our standards of cleanliness. Just that if it isn’t necessary for you to bathe daily, skip a day. I used to bathe Isobel every day but she developed chronic eczema. Her pediatrician suggested no more than 3 or 4 baths a week and it cleared right up. Then there’s the matter of shorter showers, or turning the water off while soaping up, and turning it on again to rinse. When I do shower I only wash my hair every three days as I have nearly waist-length hair and washing it takes a long time. Another way to save water is to bathe with a friend. When Elias is old enough I’ll bathe the kids together, and there’s always bathing with your partner.

3. Reuse grey water – this is my favorite tip because I am so surprised with the results. I can water half my potted plants with just one dishpan full of water! If I use a bucket to collect the water I leave running to warm up for the shower, I can water all my roses! A pot of pasta satisfies my jade plants! This is the first time I’ve made a dedicated effort to reuse all my grey water and it’s fun to see how much water I can actually save. Since I’m reusing it myself I can directly see the effects of the water I’m saving. It’s become almost like a game. If you reuse any water from the stove, however, make sure it cools to room temperature before using to prevent shock and damage to your plants.

4. Go with the low-flow – I know this one can be kind of a pain. Low-flow shower heads have a bad rap for being, well, kind of crappy.  But there are good ones out there that do the job without leaving the bather feeling the pinch, or the sting, of high-pressure jets of water. There are also options for a low-flow toilets, which we were lucky enough to have already installed in the house we live in. There are also ways of creating your own low-flow toilet by adding water bottles to the toilet tank. And there’s always the sacred California motto: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

5. Large loads – This is a great tip because it doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. All that’s involved is making sure your loads of laundry and dishes are as large as possible before starting. This way we get the most bang for our water buck. This isn’t just a helpful metaphor, either. Many of us in California are already on water meters and are charged for every drop, regardless of whether we use it well or not. Running large loads in the dishwasher and washing machine makes good conservation and money sense.

6. Water plants efficiently – Using grey water is fantastic, but there’s more you can do in your yard to save water. California recently passed a law to fine all water wasters in the state, but despite this many rental agreements and homeowner’s associations impose fines if renters and owners don’t water. It’s an infuriating catch-22. Watering efficiently can help with both goals. Drip irrigation is very efficient and inexpensive, and up-front costs are paid back many times over in savings on your water bill.  The time of day you water your plants makes a huge difference in savings, too. Water before 10 am and after 6 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day is extremely wasteful as much of the water evaporates into the hot, dry air before it can be absorbed by plants or the ground. For potted plants, and plants where drip irrigation isn’t possible, you can fill two liter bottles with water and prick them all over with tiny holes for a simple and cheap form of drip irrigation. My mom has been doing this for ages and sometimes uses frozen water bottles so the plants are watered even more slowly as the water melts.

7. Fix leaks & be mindful –  This tip all boils down to cutting out waste. Leaking faucets and pipes can waste a staggering amount of water and sometimes all that’s required is a little tightening. Another way to cut waste is to just be mindful of your water use. Is rinsing out the sink really required, or can you wipe it up with a rag and use a quick spray of water instead? How full do you really need your bath? Are there smarter plant choices you can make for your flowerbed this year? Small things really add up and better choices can ensure we get through this drought together.

Productivity Creepin': Tips for Working at Home with Children

Life with two is more work and is more demanding with two, but I feel like we’ve adapted to it well. My friend Jenn actually said, “You are being way more Zen about this than I thought you’d be.” Me too, actually. I thought I’d share some of my tips on how I survive working at home while facing the demands of a newborn and a very spirited five-year-old. It can feel like that quote from Alice in Wonderland about running as fast as you can just to stay in one place, and if you want to go anywhere you need to run twice as fast as that.  Since I stay home I manage the lion’s share of the household maintenance, keep up on the needs of the family, cook most of the meals, spend quality time with the kids, grow a garden, and write this blog, and occasionally work on one of my side businesses. It’s a lot to manage but I have clear priorities which helps me decided what gets done. I also have an active social life and make time for my husband and my family. I hope I’m not making it sound like it’s too good to be true. There are times when I slack off of my routines and get overwhelmed.  I am very far from perfect and so offer these tips from a survivor’s point of view, rather than an expert’s.


When Isobel was born I was forever trying to get her on a schedule.  All the parenting books I had read demanded that I have my newborn on a schedule otherwise my life would erupt into a ball of flames and nothing would ever be okay. Why, if your infant wasn’t on a schedule, how on earth could life go on? Answer: easy. I could never get Isobel on a schedule, no matter how hard I tried. And I tried so hard. Every day. She was too busy being a baby to notice, and my failure to control her wake-sleep patterns made me feel like a failure. Schedules and routines are very important when you have an infant, but this time I did things in reverse. Isobel and I have our routines and schedules instead of the baby. They are modular and flexible. We get all the same things done, just maybe not in the same order and the same times everyday. We are all happier for it.


Building a schedule around your priorities is probably the biggest gift you can give yourself right now, after an unlimited giftcard of kindness. The basic needs we focus on are hygiene, dishes, tidying up, fixing meals, gardening and laundry. I also have daily blog stuff that I work on, and Isobel and I play together and with the baby. We manage to work in errands, cleaning, and family time as needed. I don’t do it all everyday, but we manage to get it all done every couple of days. This was the most valuable thing I learned about being a WAHM – doing it all every couple of days instead of doing it all daily. Some people refer to life as a great balancing act, but I dislike that metaphor because a perfect balance is unattainable. It sets us up for failure. Life is about cycles and moving through the schedules and routines that make up the pattern of living.


My house isn’t always clean. Not by a long shot. And that is by design. My time is limited and right now clutter and dirt, in a certain amount, are tolerable. Anthony and I have talked about what we feel it’s important to get done and what can wait a few days. He has his chores that he thinks are really important to do and I have mine. After I get those done, I stop and move on to something else. I feel that this point is so important I’m going to say it again: there is a point at which I stop. I am done. Is there still more dirt lurking in the corners of my house? Yes. Are my closets perfectly organized? No. But in this case perfect is the enemy of good. I don’t waste my energy obsessing over the house. I get done what we need to get done. When something starts to get out of hand (usually Isobel’s room), I add to it my to do list and clean it on a day when I have time, or I wait for Anthony to get home and we do it together. The point is, you and your partner decide together what needs to get done and what you have time for. This way you are not, again, setting yourself up for failure.


This is not an option for everyone, but it has been a wonderful option for me. I get a lot done while Elias relaxes in the sling or naps snuggled into the curve of my body. I often wear him while I sit and type or or eat or do other seated activities. It’s not just for walking around! I probably wear him about 30% of every day.

Miscellaneous Tips

Use a meal plan –  If you are really desperate, use a set meal meal plan. It will save you time, it will save you money, and your family will be healthier for it.

Encourage independence – Brainstorm solutions to help your older children do some things independently. For example, I noticed that I was constantly having to get stop what I was doing, or get up while nursing, to get Isobel a glass of water. Our kitchen isn’t set up in a way that allows her to get it all on our own. Now  I keep Isobel’s Hello Kitty water bottle filled with fresh water on the lowest shelf in the fridge so it’s ready to go at all times.  This solution has saved not only time, but frustration.

Automate things – Automate bill pay, email replies, reoccurring household or business supply orders, post scheduling–automate whatever you can. Save your precious energy for more important things.

Simplify and streamline tasks – Setting up drip irrigation in the garden took an enjoyable afternoon hanging out in the garden with my friend Jake, and has paid off by making watering my garden a simple task of turning on the hose and letting it run. Find ways to make as many things as easy on yourself as possible.

Above all, go easy on yourself if things aren’t working out as well as you’d like. There’s only so much any of us can do in a given day and being hard on yourself ultimately won’t help you get anything done. Reevaluate your tasks or how you are spending your time if need be, but don’t waste time feeling guilty. Remember, you decide what success looks like, and it’s different for everyone.

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