How Do You “Measure Up”?

There seems to be a couple of recurring themes, here. First, I get a lot of “likes” and “follows” when I write about toilets, hygienic practices and potty humor. Secondly, I always seem to have people in my life who are terribly concerned, to the point of intervention, with the amount of toilet paper I use.

Throughout my childhood, my mom, who has some Scotch in her ancestry and was raised during the Great Depression, would often confront me about my excessive toilet paper usage. I always thought I used an “ample” amount, meaning, there was enough paper between the wiping hand and what needed to be wiped that the wiping hand did not at any point feel moisture. Seem reasonable? To me, that seemed to be the whole purpose, to dry oneself and not to dampen oneself in so doing.

I vividly remember being told, probably at the age of six or seven, that I should only be using three squares to dry. I don’t remember the budgeted amount for wiping (as opposed to drying, to distinguish one need from the other). But, I’m sure, not enough, by my standards.

I won’t say I was a rebellious child, really, stubborn, perhaps. Okay, and a little rebellious in my later childhood years. We’ll cover part of that. The stubborn child in me was not disobedient, just stubborn. I truly tried, and, again, I vividly remember this as well, counting out three squares to dry with and being repulsed at the fact that my hand became wet. The three little squares only provided a small, thin sheet between my hand and the pee, and once the toilet paper had absorbed most of the pee, the three soggy squares lay there in my hand. I may have gagged a little, I seem to remember that. I also remember grabbing the first square on the roll and giving it a good, hard yank, tearing off the six foot long streamer of TP to create my more customary “pillow” of paper and finishing the job. Then, of course, washing my hands.

And that was my M.O. as a child where TP was concerned. Grab and yank. I took some pleasure in yanking so hard that the paper would create a wave like effect, curving upwards then streaming out. Try it, yank that first square so hard that you create a wave of toilet paper, it is a liberating feeling. Then I would wad the paper up and take care of business. Of course, this assumes you have a “free spinning” toilet paper roller. Another pet peeve, hard to spin toilet paper rollers, especially in public restrooms, where you have to use one hand to manipulate the roll and the other to gather and bunch. What should take a half a second (grab and yank) takes three minutes, scoot and gather, scoot and gather, scoot and gather. Don’t even get me started on the public restrooms that use the tiny, scratchy, non-contiguous squares (yank, yank, yank, yank, yank, etc.).

As to my rebellious phase; when I was a teenager, “TP’ing” houses was a common practice and an activity I embraced. When friends came over to spend the night, we’d go TP someone’s house. Our victims were either people we really liked or people we really disliked, but like most violent crimes, our victims were not strangers. I actually remember my mother condoning this activity, to a degree, in that she knew we were “sneaking out” in the dead of night with a couple of rolls of her coveted paper and she knew she’d likely get a phone call from a neighbor faced with more than just the morning newspaper in the morning. I don’t know why this activity was sanctioned, I don’t know why, against her frugal nature, she enabled this activity. I think she just wanted me to “fit in” and I probably told her that all the “cool” kids were doing this type of thing. This was sort of a pattern in my teen years. I got away with murder (figuratively speaking, of course).

I was a cheerleader in high school and before any type of game with our rival school we were expected to go TP the homes of all the boys on the team whether, football, basketball, soccer, or baseball. For some reason, we excluded cross-country, swimming and tennis. I don’t know why, but I do feel kind of bad for neglecting them. I’m sure their parents didn’t mind the oversight. We’d also leave a poster board with a inspirational message, using candy bars to replace words. The school didn’t supply the toilet paper, of course, and I’m not really sure they were aware of our activity, it was a tradition, I guess, rather than a formal, sanctioned, activity. There were things in high school I excelled at and this was one of them. Our parents were not about to supply enough toilet paper to TP the houses of every boy on the football team, nor was our allowance and babysitting money going to fund this activity. We spent it all on Taco Bell at lunch, anyway. And Schlitz Malt Liquor Talls, if we could. And it was after the Schlitz Malt Liquor Talls that we acquired enough gumption to do that which needed to be done. We stole cases of toilet paper from the pizza parlor where one of the girl’s older sisters was working. The best part of all of this? My friend, the oldest of my group of friends and the only one driving at this point, drove one of the super early Honda Civics. You know, the super tiny one with a trunk the size of a glove box. The stick shift came out of the dashboard. This car was so tiny, I’m really not sure how all five of us fit in there. But we did, and we tore up the town, blaring AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” from the cassette player, which was in the glove box because it wouldn’t fit in the dash. That’s where the stick shift was.  And somehow, we managed to fit a case of toilet paper, a six pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor Talls and the five of us in there.

I am an advocate for moderation, everything in moderation. Including moderation. I also am an advocate of preserving our natural resources, like trees, and no, I am not going to suggest recycling toilet paper. As I matured, though, and perhaps when it became my responsibility to buy my own toilet paper when I went off to college, I modified my method for gathering enough paper to work with. I don’t remember doing this deliberately, but I do know that at some point in time I stopped the grab and yank method. I still had a pillow in my palm but maybe more of an accent pillow as opposed to a king-sized bed pillow. I also stopped wadding, favoring a serpentine fold, instead, maybe three of four layers, maybe three to four squares in each layer. I don’t know, I’ve never actually counted.

As a matter of fact, this has all receded into the very far reaches of my mind until more recently, with a  new relationship. The first time I visited my man in Alaska, I remember a comment being made about toilet paper usage. A man who lives by himself, surely, uses far less toilet paper than a man and a woman, and, yes, obviously, more than twice the amount. Women use toilet paper every time they potty and men only for big jobs. So, yes, I’m sure it seemed like the toilet paper was flying off the shelf at an alarming rate. My rebellion, these days, being focused in other areas (shoes and handbags, mostly), I made a concerted effort to conserve and have tried to be sensitive to this issue on each of my visits.

During my last visit, though, I remember depleting the supply on the roll and reaching under the kitchen sink for another to find none. I improvised and went downstairs to restock from the shelves in the other bathroom. Upon noticing this activity, my man mentioned that there was a supply under the sink upstairs. When I informed him that the supply had been used up there was a look of mild panic on his face, like how could he afford to keep a girl like me in supply of toilet paper.

During this time frame, I also moved back in with my mom. I was fairly certain toilet paper was going make front page news again, there, too. In her continued efforts towards frugality, two developments have occurred. First, the toilets have all been replaced with the (cheapest) low-flow toilets the local water district subsidy will buy. Now, in my own home, several years ago, when replacing toilets, I remember my husband spending weeks of intensive internet research into the best “low-flow” toilet. We ended up with two $450 toilets that used 1.6 gallons to flush but did so with such power that it was advisable to stand up before flushing so as not to be sucked into the bowl ass first. Having a big ass was helpful. After the initial 1.6 gallon flush, though, the toilet would chase it with a supplemental stream of water, not calculated into the 1.6 gallon “low-flow” standard. These toilets were made in Canada and were the best toilets ever. When we moved, we took them with us. Mom’s low-flow toilets, not adequate. I have simply peed and used three squares (as an experiment) and clogged the toilet. I won’t even use the toilet upstairs because I know I’m going to have to go down two flights of stairs to the garage to get the plunger, walk up two flights of stairs, plunge vigorously, go back downstairs to replace the plunger to its spot in the garage, then walk back upstairs to resume. I’m an advocate of a plunger by every toilet, like a toilet brush, but that is excessive in some people’s opinion.

I am visiting my man, again, now, and I noticed that the cupboard upstairs and the shelves downstairs are stocked with an impressive amount of toilet paper. I think there may be a whole case, enough to fill up a ‘70’s vintage Honda Civic, I’m pretty sure. I think a Sam’s Club visit preceded my visit. I feel a little bad. I don’t want to be a burden, nor do I want to be known as “the girlfriend who has toilet tissue issues.” Is there a twelve-step program for this unwanted behavior? And it was at this point that I really began to scrutinize how, exactly, I “measure up”.

So, my growing awareness and sensitivity surrounding my personal use and possible overuse of toilet paper has spurred some thoughtful observation on my part. Try this, next time you “go”, pay attention to how you gather up your paperwork. I caught myself, the other evening, after a very physically tiring day, sort of zoning out while unrolling. I found, on that occasion, I unrolled, slowly, for the entire time I peed. I ended up with the “usual” amount, but it seemed an extraordinarily long time to be unrolling. I must have been subconsciously measuring both the time and the paper. I don’t know, but I found this both enlightening and a litter unsettling. I don’t think this is my customary method, but, perhaps, the pattern I fall into when tired and not really thinking.

My “usual” manner for gathering paper, I’ve noticed depends on how the toilet paper is presented. For example, if the roll is set on its end and is not in a dispenser, I pick up the roll and place the index and middle finger of my left hand inside the cardboard roll, then I unwind three wraps, tear and fold. I counted. Thirteen squares. Is that excessive? I don’t think so. Am I alone here? If there is a “standard” household dispenser I’ve found that I grab the end of the toilet paper with my left hand and pull vigorously, not quite a yank, there is no “wave action”, when I have enough paper, I place my right hand on top of the roll and tear. I found that I unroll, on average, about twelve squares, then fold and take care of business. I thought the ply of the toilet paper may also be a factor in the amount used, but, surprisingly, this is not the case. Boyfriend buys single-ply, quilted toilet paper, at least that is what is currently stocked. I buy two-ply, quilted paper for my own use and find that I use the same amount, about thirteen squares. I find this amount to be quite comfortable, and, provides for refolding and taking a second swipe, if, upon inspection, a second swipe is deemed necessary. Wait. Do you inspect after wiping? Or is this another behavior to be examined in the future?

I am considering applying for a grant or for federal funding to conduct an extensive study of global and cultural differences in toilet paper usage. Just as soon as I get the “paper work” done. I just really want to know how everyone “measures up”!

Stockpile for the girlfriend's visit.
Stockpile for the girlfriend’s visit.
Out of paper! I only used four squares (that's all that was left).
Out of paper! I only used four squares (that’s all that was left).

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