The Toilet Paper Chronicles

People tend to have strong opinions about poverty and those who have “less than.” Many times, the individual is blamed for their “poor” choices. We refuse to acknowledge the societal factors that contribute to the cycle of poverty and instead firmly place all blame and responsibility for being poor on the individual.

There was an article recently that used toilet paper as an example of why people are poor. Unfortunately, as gross as it may sound, this issue of toilet paper has been a recurring theme in my life. More on that later. This particular article pointed out that buying toilet paper in bulk is cheaper in the long term than buying toilet paper in smaller packages. For example, the 20 roll bulk pack works out to be cheaper than continuously buying rolls that are either individually wrapped or packaged in groups of four (very common).

Do the math. Toilet paper is cheaper in bulk than in four roll packages. You can’t really argue with the numbers. It is a fact that bulk toilet paper is cheaper. The article then says that low income people or those on a fixed income, have a finite amount of money to spend. People are more likely to buy the four roll pack because it is “cheaper” (for that week) to pay the $2 for the four pack than it is to pay $10 for the bulk pack.

If you only have $30 a week to spend on groceries, it makes sense. You do not want to spend $10 on toilet paper and only have $20 that week to spend on your milk, bread, and eggs. When you are low income, it is hard to squeeze out that $10 in an individual week even if it is cheaper in the long run. When every day life is an emergency, you are constantly reacting to the present situation and it is extremely difficult to plan for the long term when you do not have any additional resources to set aside for an emergency. The emergency is now. You are living it.

The article then concluded because people only have a finite amount of money to spend each week, that the cycle of poverty is partially perpetuated by people’s inability to buy bulk toilet paper. They end up paying more in the long run for toilet paper and are unable to take advantage of the savings of buying in bulk.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of the point the article was making, but you get the idea. When you are low income, you are limited in what you can access. For example, if you do not have transportation to get to the discount store, you may be restricted to having to buy necessities at the local gas station down the street. We all know that this strategy is expensive. I personally do not buy anything in a gas station unless I absolutely have to. We all know the markup on items is astronomical. For some people who lack transportation or are in a geographic area that are what we call “food deserts,” there is no other access to necessities than the local gas station.

The cost of being poor is that sometimes, due to lack of resources, you end up paying more for necessities because you do not have the capacity to access cheaper alternatives. Poor people are often condemned for their “choices,” but often, they are making the best choices they can give what they have at the moment. It’s hard to break free of the cycle.

Toilet paper is a luxury item, not a necessity.

When I was growing up, toilet paper was a luxury item. We very rarely had it. Before there was SNAP or EBT cards, we had these things called paper food stamps. They came in little booklets where you would tear out a “stamp” that looked like monopoly money. The ones were brown, the fives were blue. If you were really lucky, the 20s were green. These were very rarely seen, and the highest denomination of food stamps.

When you used a food stamp, cashiers were only allowed to give you back change if the amount was less than a dollar. You could get coin change back, but if you had a $5 food stamp, and your grocery bill came to $3.73, the cashier could give you the $0.27 cents back in coins, but for the $1, they had to be able to give you a brown food stamp dollar, not a real American dollar. Thus, when you used your food stamps, you better use them in a place that could also give you change in food stamps. Otherwise, if the cashier did not have the brown $1 food stamp, you would have to forfeit it, and could only take the $0.27 cents in coin change.

As a child, I was given one brown food stamp per week for groceries. I can tell you that I used that $1 food stamp each week to buy 3 cans of spaghetti o’s and a pack of gum. The spaghetti o’s were $0.30 cents and a pack of gum was $0.05 cents. I would have a nickle left over each week. Each can of spaghetti o’s would last 2 days, so I had enough food for 6 days a week. As a child, I was pretty good at getting myself invited to friends houses for a meal so I could eat on the 7th day each week.

I remember when the price of spaghetti o’s increased to $0.33 cents because of how it affected my weekly food alliance. No more gum, and I only had a penny each week instead of a nickle. And people wonder why I started working at age 14. I had a paper route.

Food stamps were not allowed to be used to buy paper products. No toilet paper, tissues or paper towels. Food stamps were only for food. I used them for food. If I didn’t I would have starved.

At the time, you could get a roll of toilet paper for a quarter. So I was saving my nickels each week to be able to buy one roll of toilet paper every 5 weeks. This meant that you only used toilet paper when you absolutely needed to. If you were in a public restroom, you always grabbed an extra handful of toilet paper to take with you so you could have it for home.

This was the 80s when I was a child. The priority was having food, so toilet paper was a luxury item.

Because of how I grew up, I have this tendency as an adult to always buy toilet paper in bulk to have it on hand. It makes me feel rich knowing I never run out of toilet paper or have to go without. No matter how difficult my life has been at times as an adult, I have always had toilet paper. Even when I was living in my car.

As an adult making my own money, who is not on food stamps, I have the ability to buy toilet paper in bulk. I am privileged. I know there are people in my town and in this country who are not as privileged as I am who are making the choices I had to make as a child every single day. It’s the reality of being poor in America.

Buying in bulk may seem counterintuitive to the concept of minimalism. As a minimalist, the concept is less not more. Logically, bulk items make sense because they save money in the long run, especially for a household item you can use. For me, I have no problem making the argument to buy toilet paper in bulk. Buying other items in bulk such as shampoo or toothpaste, does not make sense to me, but to each his own.

Toilet paper is a recurring theme in my life. I cannot escape it.

I was in the grocery store this week and I bought the four roll pack of toilet paper.

Wha? I just spent how many paragraphs discussing the merits of buying toilet paper in bulk and got the four pack roll?

Yup.

I am currently having a housing crisis which has significantly reduced the spending power of my income. That’s a story for another day, but the consequence is that I have a limited amount of money to spend each week on groceries now. With multiple food allergies, it is very challenging to have to go from $80 a week for groceries down to $30 a week for groceries. This is especially true when I only have one choice of allergen-free bread and it costs $10.79 a loaf, which is half the size of a “standard” loaf.

So instead of spending the $10 to buy the bulk toilet paper, I spent $2 to buy the four pack. I took the $8 I “saved” and used it to buy a box of allergy-friendly cereal. Again, I only have one choice, and it is $6.78 a box. I may be paying more for toilet paper in the long run, but hey, I will have breakfast this week. I need to eat something in the morning in order to take my medication for it to absorb.

I currently do not consider myself poor. I still have toilet paper! I’m trying really hard to keep my family together and healthy. But these are the choices you have to make sometimes when you are in challenging situations such as being rent overburdened because someone decides to increase your rent hundreds of dollars each month to over 50% of your income.

Your next comment is probably going to be: “Then move to cheaper housing.” People make the best choices they can given the situation that they are in. I am working on it, but these things take time. Especially when the area I am in is extremely economically depressed and wages are well below what is considered “market rate” housing in a bedroom community. Again, a discussion for a different day.

While I feel that my life is constantly being measured in toilet paper, the point is to take a different perspective on poverty and circumstances. Sometimes you can make all the best and right choices in the world, and shit still happens. Literally and figuratively. The deeper the shit you are in, the less toilet paper you have to clean it up. Hope you brought a shovel. Hey, what did you expect? It’s the toilet paper chronicles.

Before you go judging someone and the choices they make, take a moment to step back and consider what may be driving those choices. You never know what some people are facing in life, whether as a result of their “choices” or simply the circumstances they are in. They could be reacting to something that happened to them in their environment.

And always buy your toilet paper in bulk. It’s cheaper.

 

Demon Snuggling

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In my efforts to downsize and minimize, some items are easier to evaluate and part with than others. The two criteria by which I usually decide an item’s placement in my life is if it is useful or if it brings me joy. Perhaps the items most difficult to go through, not only for myself, but also for anyone are sentimental items. While not useful, sentimental items tend to fall under the category of “joy.”

It is completely understandable. The coffee mug that reminds you of your Alma Mater, or the quilt your now-deceased grandmother made by hand are items to treasure because they make your heart sing. While these points seem obvious, what is perhaps more difficult to understand is the phenomenon I will dub “demon snuggling.”

I recently got down and dirty “demon snuggling,” and am happy to declare that I am demon snuggling no more.

These past few weeks, I decided to go through the “stuff from growing up” box. Most everyone has one. Parents usually save items that were significant from childhood including baby shoes, report cards, art projects, teddy bears, and other well-loved items that usually make their way into adulthood. If you have children, then this entourage grows, as most parents tend to keep a box of precious belongings for their children in turn.

While for most people, these are happy memories, for me they were not. I had a less than stellar childhood, and I prefer to leave it behind. I am proud of the fact that I overcame some challenging circumstances, but I do not need the reminder of that triumph locked in a box to peruse for the rest of my life.

So, I got in down and dirty for some demon snuggling and was able to reduce that box from an approximate 50-quart storage bin down to an approximate 10-quart storage bin. While earlier in the fall, I looked to the future in Playing Dress Up , this winter I dealt with the past by demon snuggling.

A 50-quart box of things from growing up is not something I would ever want to cart with me if I move. Yet, and I am sure most of you would agree, it’s not something I want to get rid of completely either. Some things like your first Winnie the Pooh always stay with you.

For better or for worse, sentimental items are perhaps the most difficult items to downsize. There is so much emotion attached. In demon snuggling, I had a lot of starts and stops to the process, as I had to process through pain in order to part with some items. The pain, however, was good, as I was able to kick some major negativity to the curb. However, it is almost always easier to snuggle with your demons than to face them.

Many of the items that were shed, I took photos of them and uploaded those photos to the cloud. I am perfectly fine with looking at a picture of the happy-gram I received in 1988 for “appropriate attire in physical education class” as I was in physically having the happy-gram. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I’m dead and people are going through my belongings that if said happy-gram was still among my possessions, that whomever was going through my stuff would put said happy-gram in the trash anyway. Replacing the physical happy-gram with a digital photo of it that exists in the cloud does not in any way diminish the lessons I learned by dressing appropriately for gym in 1988. I have 14 marathon medals, and many of those were earned in inclement weather. I am pretty sure I am well versed in being able to dress myself for participation in physical activity.

While something such as a happy-gram seems quite innocuous, I did try to keep in mind (forgive the morbidity, but we’re talking about demon snuggling here) that someday someone will be going through my stuff after I am dead and gone. What type of burden do you want to leave for that person? It is going to be hard enough for loved ones to deal with the fact that you have passed on, do not give them the added chore of needing to spend months or even years going through all of your stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Keep in mind that what is left behind after you die is also a part of your legacy. Your most intimate possessions tell a part of your legacy. What do you want your legacy to say about you? Do you want your legacy to say you had a whole bunch of things hoarded from the 1980s (as people find your old band outfit and track ribbons)? Or do you want your legacy to say you had a full, active life full of adventure (as people go through your luggage and sporting equipment). What you have is not as important as what you do or how you make people feel. How you make people feel is your greatest legacy, and hopefully you have the chance to touch some hearts along the way.

Back to demon snuggling.

Many of the items in my “growing up” box were not there for the happy sentimental feelings they evoked. Rather, there were many things in that box that brought to mind painful memories, and made me sad, mad or hurt. For some reason, it is easier to snuggle with our demons than it is to kick them to the curb. It was actually more challenging to rid myself of the items that evoked negative emotion than to contemplate whether or not something brings me joy.

Life is too short to be unhappy.

I do not need reminders of times in my life in which I felt pain or was not happy. Yes, those are parts of my life that happened and I must own. Just because I accept and admit that they happened does not mean I need a constant reminder or slap in the face to remind me of what I have endured or overcome. Many times we demon snuggle because it is easier to live with the pain than it is to process that pain and come through the other side. Pretty much anyone who has faced their demons in life fails to come through unscathed. However, the triumph of facing demons far outweighs a few scars.

I am not sure why demon snuggling is so easy. It is counter-intuitive that it is harder to part with pain than it is to part with joy. I don’t have enough time or space to figure that one out.

I will say that downsizing sentimental items is challenging. Setting a limit on what number or type of container you want to hold onto is helpful. For me, I wanted to downsize from a 50-quart box to a 10-quart one. Maybe you have three boxes of stuff from growing up and want to downsize to one. Maybe you are struggling with all of your children’s treasures that you are saving for when they leave the nest someday.

Taking photos of items such as artwork and certificates is helpful because they can be stored digitally without taking up space. The less space taken up by paper products means more room for teddy bears and action figures.

How do you deal with sentimental items? Do you find some items evoke negative emotions? Have you figured out a system or a way to cap the treasures you keep? Just because you dragged that Care Bear everywhere does not mean that your children will do the same. They will have their own cherished object that goes everywhere with them.

Are you snuggling with your demons or have you kicked them to the curb? As I strive to only have things in my life that are either useful or that bring me joy, I am happy that I am able to recognize when I am demon snuggling so that I can kick them to the curb.