Saturday, August 6, 2011

Outdoor showering, reflections

When I wrote a blog entry a few weeks ago on some friends of mine who turned off their hot water heater for the summer, I described how I was inspired to try showering outdoors using a black garden hose.  I didn't realize at the time that this would be an idea that would be offensive to some people -- my kids and I thought it was just such a kick, and we were so delighted, that we couldn't imagine that other people would take issue with the post.

Well, I was wrong, and other people did get turned off.  (No one has said so on this blog yet, but there are a couple of other really cool blog sites that have had vigorous discussions about my blog.  Pretty daunting, actually). 
I didn't mean to cause offense.  How could I have missed this concern?  I think it is in part related to what Thorstein Veblen described  in his Theory of the Leisure Class (a great book, as long as you like long-winded 1900-era treatises on political and social economy, which I actually do).  Veblen is the person who came up with the phrase "conspicuous consumption" -- the idea that we purchase things partly (or largely) because they signal our wealth and status to other people.  People don't buy Ferraris instead of Volvos because they're inherently better at transporting us to work or the grocery store, he says -- people buy Ferraris to impress the neighbors.

In his book, Veblen also described "conspicuous leisure" -- a phrase that hasn't caught on as well as his other phrase.  The basic idea behind what he said is that it's impressive to purchase expensive things that keep us from doing manual labor or other work.  For example, high heeled shoes for women and silk ties for men both indicate that the wearer is not heading out to pick potatoes; equally expensive items that assist us in our work (like steel-toed boots) are "low class".

If I had said, "I sent my kids out back to play in the sprinkler" (a leisure, non-work activity), I could imagine that people might have worried about wasting water or other environmental issues, but they wouldn't have worried about my boys.  I don't think anyone would have written, 
How generous of her not to make her kids take hypothermia- inducing baths.
If I had said I wear my bathing suit out in the backyard to get a tan (another leisure activity), people might have worried about health risks, but I don't think anyone would write,
And it causes a lot of giggling and pointing amongst the neighbors...
this woman is definitely BSC. 
Oh, gosh, I don't even know what "BSC" means.  But I'm sure these people are right.  Adding soap to the mix changes this activity entirely from one that's fun into one that's low-class.  What I'm doing isn't normal, and I'm sure normal people are right when they write things like this:
 taking showers outside with a garden hose to save money is over the top 
Definitely whacked and kooky... 
Guilty as charged.  Oh, geez.

How much money does this actually save us, by the way?  Probably not a whole lot.  I went to a shower cost calculator and made a bunch of guestimations (do our usual showers last 10 minutes?  Will we move about 7 showers a week from indoor to outdoor?  For how many weeks?).  A rough estimate is about $45, or 300 kWh, for one summer.  If the boys and I did all of our showers outside, that number would be a bit higher.  But even weirder.

He's not dead.  He says, "Mom, I'm working on my tan."  Okay, honey.
We're going to keep doing some of our showers outside as long we enjoy it and the weather cooperates, of course (and we do think it's fun, strange as that sounds to many who read that post).  But I'll try to keep in mind that not everyone who winds up at this blog thinks quite like me.


  1. I thought it was a great idea!! :D

  2. You and me both, Ela! Together with my boys, that makes 4 of us . . .

  3. I always put a little baby wash in the wading pool (bubbles are fun) and usually follow it up with a quick shampoo and a pitcher of warm water from the house to rinse everyone clean.

    Now that my boys are older (7 & 10) they think the whole "super soaker as portable shower" idea is pretty fun.

  4. Nice idea, Lisa! Alas, our wading pool suffered vital injuries recently when it became a temporary skate board rink, so I'll have to pass on the idea myself. Sigh.

  5. If I didn't live in the city I would turn off my hot water heater and use my solar camping shower as much as I could!

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