Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I’m lucky enough to have a vacation house. I love this place. I go almost every weekend and love – truly love – hosting our friends and family. Like many rural homes I have a septic tank rather than a sewer system. Anything that isn’t either toilet paper or something that has come out of a human body can really mess things up, and once the tank is full I have to pay someone to come and pump it out. I’m wondering how to brooch the subject with our guests? Similarly, I have an off-the-grid power system of solar panels and batteries with a back-up generator. How can I remind guests not to leave computers plugged in all day or turn off lights when they leave a room without being a total nag?
Happy to Host
If this sensible Midwesterner understands nothing else, it’s the importance of not flushing anything but what you’ve mentioned into a septic tank. Cabins (the sensible Midwestern version of a vacation house) are thick on the ground in the part of the Midwest in which I was raised.
You could do as my mother, herself a sensible Midwesterner, did at our cabin and place a Post-It note over the toilet that says “No Tampax.” Or you could do as my parents’ slightly less sensible friend did and have a plaque engraved with the same as a gag gift. (And no, to this day I don’t understand the branding on that one.) Such signs, usually in jokey iambic pentameter, are common sights above toilets in the woods and around the lakes of the Midwest.
But such signage, without any briefing on the why behind the reminder, won’t do much good.
Better, to my mind, to simply tell guests when they show up that there are a few house rules. Something like this should do the trick:
I’m so happy to have you! A few things you need to know, out here in the woods (mountains, beach, whatever) – I have a septic system, so everything you flush down the toilet goes into a tank [you could point out the location of the tank if you want to drive the point home]. Anything other than toilet paper just doesn’t break down fast enough and I end up having to pay to have the tank pumped, so please don’t flush anything else. That includes face tissue and tampons and wipes – nothing but actual toilet paper in the toilet.
Also, I’m lucky enough to have solar power, but I have to work with what I can harness with the panels, so please try and be aware of how much electricity you’re using. You can power up your phones and stuff, but please don’t leave anything plugged in that doesn’t need to be plugged in.
You may need to remind people, but as long as you do so with goo humor, I assure you they won’t mind. If they do, you’ll know to find some new people to invite to your own private Idaho. Also, depending on your electricity situation, I say it is completely reasonable to ask people not to bring tons of electronics with them, or to charge them back up at home.