Friday, December 18, 2015

Water Conservation MacGyver Style!

Thirty years ago I participated in a semester long field study program in the desert southwest.  That was the first time I had ever been to a desert or even this part of the country.  Coming from the lush, green, moist mid-west I thought I would hate the desert, but I fell in love with it instead.  That experience changed my life in so many positive ways.  One big way was sparking a deeper passion for the environment and a career as an Environmental Educator.

One of the topics we studied during that semester was water issues.  Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, this was such an alien concept for me.  I basically thought, 'If you don't have water someplace then don't live there!'.  Simple.  But I was stunned by how many people lived in the desert and even more so by the amount of water that was wasted - huge fountains and lush, green lawns to name a few ways.  Today, I feel that even as a nomadic full-timer, I have to be conscientious of my water consumption.  I may think that since I have limited water storage that alone makes me a good water steward, and to some extent that is true, but I can still be wasteful if I'm not careful.

So, in the spirit of my first desert experience 30 years ago, I bring you my simple, cheap, and "MacGyvered" approach to water conservation.

Water Storage:  I don't have tanks on my trailer and have limited storage space in general.  I use & refill five, 1 gallon jugs for my drinking water.  I also have a big blue 5 gallon jug & two 1 gallon jugs for "other use" water, like dish-washing or hand-washing.  I have those two jugs marked so I don't mix them up with my drinking water jugs.  I also refill these two jugs with the ice water from my cooler.  That alone keeps these jugs full most of the time, so score one for the annoying cooler!

My 2 "Other-use" Water Jugs

Hand-washing:  I have gone through a couple of trial tests with this one while living on my friends' farm.  First I bought wet-wipes, but they are too wasteful, too expensive and the chemicals are really bad for your skin (though I do use baby wipes for my hands if I use the pee jug at night).  Then I had an idea - use an empty soap pump dispenser filled with water as a "faucet".  It worked, but took a long time to rinse all the soap off my hands with the little squirts of water that came out.  The concept was good, but I needed something that would squirt out a little more water.  I found it at an antique shop.  This little drink dispenser works great.  It is glass, but that weights it down and helps warm up the water in the sun.  It puts out enough water to rinse easily and fits perfectly on my wheel fender with a foaming dispenser of very diluted Dr. Bronner's soap.  Those plus a towel hung to my trailer MacGyver-style and I have a great little hand-washing station.  

My Hand-washing Station

Hair Washing:  This one took me a little longer to come up with a simple set-up that didn't waste so much water.  I had made a garden sprayer shower to use, but it was too big for my hair washing needs and took too much time setting up, drying out, and storage space, so I returned everything.  I only wash my hair 2x a week (weather permitting!) and didn't want to be bothered with the contraption.  Since my budget it so tight, I felt that the money could be better utilized right now.  I may change my mind down the road and make another one, but for now, what I have works great and only cost me $1.00 - my kind of set-up!  It consists of a reused a 2 liter plastic bottle, colored black with a permanent marker, set out in the sun to warm up the water; along with another reused plastic water bottle with a squirt top to wet and rinse my hair that I refill with warm water from the bigger bottle.  I basically hang upside-down over the blue dish pan and wash away.  Since I don't use shampoo or conditioner, it doesn't take much water to rinse my hair (I use a baking soda / soap solution and apple cider vinegar - which is an amazing long hair detangler by the way!).  I use about 1 liter of water to wash and condition my long hair.  Of course, sun & wind dry when done!  The hardest part is the bending over the dishpan - OUCH on the lower back!

Hair Washing Station

Dish Washing:  Since I haven't been able to do much cooking, I haven't had many dishes to wash.  Typically I try to use only about 2 cups of water or less to wash, unless I have a lot of dishes.  I use a small amount of environmentally safe dish soap for washing and a spray bottle of water with a little vinegar to rinse with.  I also strain out any food particles from cooking or the dirty dishwater with a coffee filter in a funnel before the water goes into my gray water jug.

Bathroom:  My family and friends are quite familiar with my "morning constitutional" routine and beautiful sunrise pictures when I lived on the farm; but for the rest of you, I will share.  (Com'on, you were dying to know! Fidgeting on the edge of your seats aren't you?).  I have re-purposed wide mouth jugs for my "pee jug" which I keep inside the trailer.  I wanted to build a urine diverting composting toilet, but the urine diverters were too expensive and came with a bunch of stuff I didn't want; plus adding one to my bucket made it too big to move in and out of the trailer daily.  So, after 2 years of designs and redesigns, I finally came up with a "composting" toilet that works for me and cost less than $20.00.  Using my pee jug, I keep at least 95% of my urine out of the bucket, and it has been working well so far with no smell from the bucket.  As for the bucket, I double line it with tall kitchen garbage bags and at the moment, use peat moss for the covering medium - I know, GASP!!  So horrible for the environment!, but all I could get at the time.  I want to try coconut coir since it is environmentally sustainable and comes in small, light weight, dried bricks.  When the inner bag is mostly full, I take it out, tie it up tight so nothing can fall out and put it in a plastic shopping bag which I tie up tightly and toss into the garbage.  I hate using the plastic bags, but I don't have anywhere to compost it.  Digging catholes in the desert is NOT easy with the hard, rocky ground and dumping that much waste in a couple of catholes is too much and not a good idea for established dispersed camping sites.  Packing it out has the least impact.  

My "Composting" Bucket Toilet
(Kitty litter bucket holds the medium to put on top of the waste)

Gray Water:  I collect all the gray water that I can't reuse in an old kitty litter jug (1 1/2 - 2 gallons), then find a place where I can dump it safely.  Everything I use (with the exception of toothpaste) is not harmful to the environment, especially with how diluted it gets, so I don't feel too bad about the waste water I produce.  I have only just filled my gray water bottle once in a month.  I could have used some of what I put in there for another purpose, but wasn't able to utilize it at the time.  I may re-purpose another bottle to hold that water for a time when I can reuse it.

My Gray Water Jug

"Wait, you forgot bathing!  Don't you bathe?"  Hey, I have to live with me, so heck yea I bathe!  Though I wish I could say it consisted of soaking in a hot spring this time of year, but sadly it doesn't.

Bathing:  I use 2 cups of water for bathing which lasts me about a month!  Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I do bathe daily.  I make homemade "bath wipes".  I prefer to make my own so I know what is going into them.  The store bought wipes have so many chemicals in them and I don't want to use them all over my body, plus they are much more expensive than mine.  I make mine with paper towels and only use 1/2 - 3/4 of a paper towel to bathe with.  They work great and are good for my skin as well.  The only downside is the storage area in my trailer gets really cold, so I try to warm them in the sun a little first before using them - otherwise they are better than a whole pot of espresso for getting one WIDE awake!

So there you have it, my water usage and conservation methods.  I still have areas where I can make some improvements, but for the most part, I am pleased with what I have in place.  It may seem rather primitive to most of you (maybe even horrific), but that's what I like about it.  Conservation doesn't stop at water but is about all resources.  I have so much fun trying to come up with "MacGyvered" solutions to the challenges that leap out at me.  Simple, inexpensive and re-purposed are my parameters and that combination is what makes it fun for me.  Living deliberately does take extra time and creates more "chores", but living that way also makes a difference.  For me, that is important.  Less impact on the earth lets me enjoy its beauty more.

Shores of Lake Erie


  1. Love your blog! I'm still working, but dream of doing what you are doing. Just FYI, you can keep milk, eggs and butter at room temp. Fresh eggs last 2 weeks at room temp and 3 weeks refrigerated. It's when they go from hot to cold and back that makes them sweat, and then they can spoil. The pores open and shut, pulling in any surface bacteria. You could always ask the locals if they know anyone who sells fresh eggs and they'll verify this for you. Might save you some ice.

    Take care!


    1. Hi Angel,
      Thanks for the info about the eggs, milk and butter. I did know about the eggs and butter, but not milk! Problem is, my "room temp" is NO WHERE NEAR constant! I can go from near freezing overnight to upper 60's or higher during the day in the hot car. After my mutant egg experience, I have decided to not deal with them again for a while. I do keep butter in the cooler, but don't worry as much about it spoiling. I don't use much milk, but thought if I wanted some I would buy the Horizon organic milk in the little "juice boxes" that don't need to be refrigerated unless opened. That way I wouldn't have most of it going bad before I could use it all. Hate the excess packaging, but also hate throwing out a bunch of milk too.

      I wish you all the best on making your dream of full-time vagabonding a reality. It is worth it! I don't know your situation, but I would highly recommend starting to downsize now! I think that is the hardest part for most people embarking on this life. I'm STILL working on it! And don't listen to the naysayers either. If this is what you want to do, then DO IT! Live YOUR life!

      Take care yourself and I'm glad you are enjoying the ride with me!

      Peace and Magic,

  2. Wow! Jordan that was a great water lesson. I am amazed at all your innovations. Are you keeping a paper journal as well? Maybe a "Beginner's Guide", to the simple life book, is in your future. :)

    1. Thanks jdl1968! I'm glad you liked the "lesson" and innovations. Keeping things simple helps. I wish I was better with keeping a paper journal, but I don't have time for that too. Maybe someday. I don't know about a simple life book - I think my simple may be TOO simple for most people! But hey, you never know until you put it out there! :0)

  3. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Jordan!!! It means a lot.

    I *am* downsizing. I have lived the longest in this home than anywhere else and have literally inherited furniture and "stuff" from 4 different relatives over the last 15 years. I have gotten rid of over 14 pieces of furniture this year alone and have made >15 trips to the thrift store donation place. Know what? There's STILL so much stuff in here that's left! *faint thump*

    My work situation is not good and harassment is alive and well in the "good ole boy" networks. Nothing changes. Last year, I had enough and almost just left everything, but reason prevailed (barely). I am methodically and rationally getting rid of everything!! It's hard to do on days when I just want to crawl into bed and hide, but I'm getting there.

    Of course, loved your water solutions! I forgot to tell you in the earlier post.

    Keep taking the road less traveled!

    1. Angel,

      I totally understand the wanting to crawl back into bed (more so when you have a crappy work place too). Been there, done that many days! It gets overwhelming sometimes and you just have to give yourself permission to recharge. You are doing great! You are WAY ahead of most people out there who are too afraid to take charge of their lives. Keep it up!

      It is amazing how "stuff" from relatives seems to multiply when it gets inside your home. Check closets, drawers and high up cabinets! That stuff LOVES to hide and make nests in those places! :0) When I had to leave Chattanooga I thought I was doing so well getting rid of stuff, but in the last few days my brother and I made I think 6 trips with my car and his truck FULL of stuff for the homeless shelter! And I STILL had too much stuff left! Had to put a few things in the neighbor's garbage can cuz mine was overflowing! Downsizing is one of the hardest things to do I think - which is why we never do it and end up leaving it to our children or relatives to deal with after we die. Great way to say "I love you!". I decided I would pick the person I dislike the most in my life to be the executor of my will! Why would I want to put that upon my loved ones to deal with?

      Keep working on it and you will get there! It takes baby steps and broom to beat back the stuff jumping out at you! You will be amazed at how much lighter your life will feel when you get rid of more and more things. And don't waver from what you know in your heart is your true path for your life. It is too precious to give up on.

      Wishing you Peace (and a good book by your bed!) :0)


  4. I have heard about the baking soda/apple cider vinegar rinse for hair and am thinking of doing it too. There is a website I've gone to to make my own laundy detergent - and I found it worked better than the pre-made stuff you can buy at the store, plus it's so much cheaper in the long run. Of course, you need a blender to do it. (Sorry.) But she might have some other ideas on there to help you with too.

    I am so impressed at how little water you use. Wow! You should write a book when you get the time - use your blog as inspiration for each of the chapters, and this one could be titled "MacGyver style..." (Btw, is that a binder clip you are using to hold up the towel?? Very cool.

    1. Terri, I love the apple cider vinegar rinse for my hair. I wish my mom had known about it when I was a kid! We both would have shed a lot fewer tears trying to comb out my long hair after washing. The rinse doesn't feel like it is doing anything to help with detangling - like conditioner - but it does a great job. I am still on the fence with the baking soda "shampoo", not really liking it as much as I did initially, but haven't been able to wash my hair much with this cold weather to do more experimentation. I will check out the link for the homemade laundry detergent - thanks! I have seen some different recipes for it, but am still using up what I already had first. Soon I might be able to run a blender with my new solar system!

      Living simply without running water and low water consumption kind of go hand-in-hand. It also helps when you have to go find water sources to refill jugs. Makes one a lot more aware of how much they are using. There are people out there who I'm sure use even less than I do. Thank you for the compliment about writing a book! I like the idea, but I don't know how many people would find it helpful since most people probably don't think or care about how much water they use. When an unlimited supply is readily available at the turn of a knob why would anyone think they should conserve it - especially if it means they have to change their lifestyle. That is a very difficult thing for many people to do unfortunately. Living deliberately makes you so more aware of your day to day actions. That's one of the things I like about living this way, brings me closer to the earth and nature.

      You have a good eye! Yes that is a binder clip! I have it clipped to my awning rail with a big "S" hook through the rings to hang the towel from. Doesn't work when I put up my awning though. Oh well, nothing is perfect. ;o)