I love a shower. I’ve been the target of “Save some for the fish!” remarks for over 20 years. After the showerhead rumbles on and I give it a minute or two to warm up, I’ll stand under the water for an indiscriminate amount of time — under oath, I’d say it’s 10 minutes, but in reality I have no idea — and let my mind wander halfway to Mars.
People like to say that they do their best thinking in the shower; I do my least. It’s a time in the day (and on many days, the only time) when my brain has license to let go and mimic the loosening that occurs in my shoulders. It’s little wonder that I always reach for soap and shampoo as an afterthought, cleaning myself in the final seconds as if confused by how I’d gotten there. In my shower, there is no due date, no rent, no president. Like the most hardboiled of detectives, shower time is when I regroup and recharge.
There are some specifics have led me to my reputation as a long shower guy. Namely: A) I tend to shower at the very end of the day, when others have gone to bed, and B) I’m a bit of a space cadet, happy to binge on silence when it arrives. But the numbers suggest that I’m not alone in my extended-shower habit. According to Home Water Works, a project of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average American shower is nearly eight minutes long, and uses 15.8 gallons of water. The average American family, then, devotes around 40 gallons of water a day to the shower. As a country, we use around 1.2 trillion gallons a year.
Don’t worry, this isn’t just another hit piece on America’s acrimonious relationship with the environment. Most countries with reliable running water posts similar figures, and quite a few of them — mainly nations with higher average temperatures, like Australia, Mexico and Spain — take more weekly showers than the United States. In fact: in Brazil, a nation with both high humidity and high hygiene standards, people average nearly 12 showers a week. It’s clear that a preference for consistent, not-so-quick showers (a Unilever study in the United Kingdom found that the Brits average around eight minutes, too) is now a staple of the developed world.
So, in a year when almost 750,000 have lost their lives to a deadly virus and communities have resolved to address time-old inequities and prejudices, why should you be worrying about your shower time? If anything, isn’t this the optimal time to embrace a little meditative “me time”? That’s a fair point, and one that I historically haven’t bothered to question. But it’s increasingly clear that the daily shower, as beloved as it is, and as innocuous as it may seem, is at the intersection of issues personal, national and global. The stressors that have turned 2020 into this T-shirt aren’t going away….