When You Don’t Have Toilet Paper: Lessons from a TP-Free Household

Reader Contribution by Aur Beck and Advanced Energy Solutions Group
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As regular readers of this series know, most my life I’ve lived off the grid in some form or another. This lifestyle has taught me lots of quirky survival techniques and energy-saving skills.

For example, this morning I realize I never make a cup of tea. Rather, I always make a thermos of tea, and then I don’t have to waste the heat or waste the teabag — you get three cups out of one teabag over the course of the day this way. My dad used to do that or he’d make a pot of coffee, put it in a thermos, and never have to worry about heating it up.

A Toilet Paper-Free Childhood

Frugality like this was more commonplace in the early part of the 20th Century, and extended to most rooms of the house, including the bathroom. I looked it up: For the most part, people in the U.S. actually didn’t really begin using toilet paper until the 1930s after the Depression. It was available in the 1920s but didn’t take off until a decade later.

Most of my youth, we used an outhouse (that way we didn’t even waste our waste) and relied on pretty much anything you could possibly think of as toilet paper. I never thought I would write about this as it’s kind of embarrassing for me, but due to our “shortage”, I thought it’s time to talk about growing up using other options besides toilet paper. I never wanted to talk about this subject, because I thought my family imposed these rules because we were extremely poor, growing up in Tennessee in the poorest county in the state. But now, looking back I realize it was a conscious choice by my parents to figure out how to simplify and not rely on others as much as possible. We would only go to the store or town once a month.

Options for When You Don’t Have Toilet Paper

Newspaper is nice and soft, especially if you crumble it up. But don’t use the slick ads, because it’s got too waxy a surface on it and a doesn’t absorb anything. The same thing applies to most modern catalogs; they now print them glossy so, as the saying goes, they don’t work like they used to.

Corn cobs. I have used the corncob method but we didn’t have ready access to those. They can be surprisingly soft if all the kernels were properly removed.

Water body washing. In the summer, there were times that I went feral and just jumped in the creek afterwards to wash up. Or, if I wasn’t near an outhouse when I was in the woods and really had to go, a small handful of dirt surprisingly did a good job. I’d then jump in the creek afterward and rinse. I tried to use leaves once or twice but beware of poison ivy — those are definitely leaves you want to stay away from

Cotton fabric scraps. We got given a whole bunch of old T-shirts and we ripped them up, used them and put them in a basket in the outhouse. Only use shirts or other linens that are 100 percent cotton so that they will fully decompose. The most sustainable and best method — familiar to anybody who uses cloth diapers — is to use strips of old T-shirt and after use, drop them into a bucket (with a lid) full of bleach water. When the bucket is full, run a load of laundry.

I look forward everyday to the interactions that I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. Stay energized.

Aur Beckhas lived off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter atThe Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict atOil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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