A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?


A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?


A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From Toiletpaperworld.com surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP


How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.

 

Clutter

ClutClutterter. It was everywhere I looked. I spent a day (a whole day!) fighting it off, but it rolled right back in like a peeping-Tom wave to a nude beach.

This phenomenon is known in family circles as the “clutter factor (CF).” Here’s the formula:

CF = 

(Number of people in the living unit) to a factor of pack-rat lineage 


(The volume of the clutter container)

Screw the math: If you buy too much stuff, never get rid of it, work and/or go to school, and have a lot of busy people under one roof, your Clutter Factor is high. My husband said I obsessed over it, but then, I saw it, he didn’t. (Neither did the boys.)

When the kids were home, my husband and kids focused on their work, their studies, their music, and their hobbies. I worked, too, but I railed at the insufferable encroachment of detritus as the work/school week wore on. On Monday, it seeped in the back door; by Tuesday, it washed through the living area; Wednesday found it sloshing into the bathrooms; and on Thursday, it surged into the bedrooms. By Friday, we were neck deep in it, barely able to crane our necks above it to carry on a conversation. Newspapers, laundry, homework, music, bills, projects, books, invitations, purchases, and pets whirled and spun through the churning sea of our busy lives. Weekends sighed in hopes of stemming the tide. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn’t.

The Clutter Factor had (and still has) a companion that lurks shamefully in my very own personality. This sin sister is what I call the “Project Factor.” I own this one. I have three to five projects besides work on the front burners at all times – volunteer stuff, hobbies, things to write, things to read, and more. Because all of these contain anxious due dates, their associated files and piles dot the house like seagulls at a picnic. I am a contributor to the clutter! There, I said it.

To overcome the reprehensible clutter side of myself, I invoked my alter ego, “Buffy the Clutter Slayer”— who is still alive and well. Buffy wields trash sacks and Goodwill bags, and tears as if possessed through the house. Her ruling mantra: “If I Cat_Clutterhaven’t seen it move in the last five minutes, it’s clutter and it’s history.”   We lost a cat one year. She was too slow.

One summer, Buffy and I cleaned out the garage in a flurry of self-righteous de-cluttering. My family didn’t speak to either of us for three weeks after that: Buffy threw out their valuable stuff that they hadn’t used since we had moved in. Buffy wanted to move. I said we had to stay. Good lord, we’d have to corral the stuff and box it. I didn’t have the energy!

Here’s the deal: Our clutter defined us, and tried to control us, but with Buffy around, it shouldn’t defeat us. Some days, I actually reveled in our clutter: it told me we were busy and doing. I didn’t trust people whose houses were too clean: they weren’t supporting the American economy, I’d argue.

The very next day as I looked across the burgeoning heaps, I grabbed myself by the collar, pulled myself just an inch or so off the ground and said, “Civilized people don’t live this way.” I strained toward civility as Buffy cleaned out a drawer. I wondered if I would ever live a Spartan, monkish existence, wearing a robe with no underwear, and murmuring all day. I wondered if that would make me happy. Probably not. I wondered if it would be okay to have at least one clean room. One? Okay, I’ll take a closet. No? Then, give me a drawer. I’ll take anything.

It’s a lot of stuff!

Those days are gone. Well almost. The kids are grown and out of the house, but their clutter remains. And while it’s contained in the attic and the garage, mostly boxed with labels, waiting to move on to the next phase it’s still here! I don’t miss the clutter in the house, that’s for sure. But when we’re feeling like we need a fond reminder of what it was like to have noise and craziness filling our space, Buffy and I go up to the attic and look at what remains. It’s a lot of stuff. We sigh. And then we shake our heads, with thoughts of the cat we lost. After we clean up a little, we check to make sure our new dog is still around, we give each other a high five and walk through the house, mostly clear of clutter.

Oh… but don’t look in the guest room closet, please.

 

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.

YES!

Just say yes. Yes to life. Yes to happiness. Yes to adventure.  Yes to experiments. Yes to yesterday. Yes to being outside. Yes to travel. Yes to solitude. Yes to crowds. Yes to humbleness. Giving. Gratitude.  Yes to meditation. Consciousness. Yes to frugality. Yes to IMG_0761creativity. Forgiveness. Prayer. Enlightenment, learning, knowledge.  Yes to children. Babies. Dogs. Bubbles. Water. Quiet. Far off places. Smells. Rising bread. Sweet apple pies. Yes to permanence. Yes to transience. Yes to classes, to study, to goals. To rootlessness, to roots! Yes to writing. Finding joy. Living joy. Living light. Yes to being free. Yes to comfort in your own skin. Yes to solving knotty problems. The scientific method. Trial and error. Dumb luck. Smart luck. Being open to luck. Having love. Giving love. Staying married. Being okay. Always positive. Being the best you can be. Say yes to curiosity. Yes to failure. Say yes to experience. Just say yes.