Looking back, I guess there’s plenty of blame to go around. It started when my wife bought Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
I dislike clutter as much as the next person, so I read Kondo’s book. Before long I was selling, donating and discarding anything that didn’t bring me joy.
Then I discovered all the notable minimalists. Guys like Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, Joshua Becker and Leo Babauta. The more I read their blogs, the more I realized that simplicity begets happiness.
I started to examine my life more closely, beyond clutter and needless consumerism. I found ways to simplify, in order to enhance the things that matter most to me. Like my artwork and writing.
I got rid of most of my clothing and moved to simple, interchangeable garments. To simplify travel, I switched to a backpack instead of rolling luggage.
The backpack stows easily under my plane seat. I can wear it in foreign cities without looking like a tourist. I got the idea from James Clear.
I adopted quick drying undergarments that can be washed in a hotel room sink. I traveled to Ireland with just two pairs of socks and underwear, which freed up my backpack for other stuff.
As an artist, I used to collect paint boxes (pochade boxes) for outdoor excursions. Every time a new paint box appeared on the market, I had to have it. The problem was that all my paint boxes caused indecision for me.
Every time my wife and I planned a road trip, I’d pack and unpack, trying to decide which paintbox was best. Not to mention all my paint brushes, tripods and related equipment.
I finally had a sale on my website and unloaded most of my paint boxes and extra gear. The experience made me think about other art supplies I don’t need.
For example, I used to buy tons of archival pens to draw my cartoons with. I bought them in different nib and brush sizes, to achieve certain effects. But all those pens led to paralysis from over analysis. I’d fret over which ones to use on different drawings. So I donated them all to a local school.
Now I draw my cartoons with a ball point pen and cheap watercolor set. It may not be archival, but most of my cartoons are published on the Internet.
There is a lot about minimalism to like. Once you start, it feels good to unburden yourself. To cut away the inessential. To create more space for truly living.
But there can be a dark side. You get addicted to owning and needing less. You start feeling superior to all those people who stuff their garages and clutter their homes.
You begin pushing, seeing how far you can take minimalism. You read articles about contemporary monasticism.
And then, one day, you decide that it’s time to give up toilet paper.
Wipe that smile off your face
The idea came to me on a road trip. We stayed in one of those cheap motels. Nature called, I ran to the bathroom and afterward discovered there was no toilet paper.
My wife had taken the car to pick up some food. So, I did what any problem solving traveler would do. I took a shower.
That’s when it hit me. Think about all the toilet paper out there that ends up in our clogged pipes, sewer systems, landfills, etc. Seems to me that an environmentally sensitive minimalist can show some leadership here.
When my wife got back I told her what happened and that I decided to give up toilet paper for a month. I said I was marrying minimalism with environmentalism.
“According to California divorce law, I get half,” my wife replied.
“Seriously honey, I used Marie Kondo’s philosophy and asked myself if toilet paper brought me joy. And you know what? Not really. I mean, it’s expensive, bad for the environment, and some brands are scratchy.” I smiled at her lovingly.
“Babe,” my wife said with a flat expression, “Wipe that smile off your face…with your clean hand. Your whole idea is just gross! I think I’ll go stay with my parents.”
When in Rome
A little research on the Internet confirmed my hunch. I wasn’t the only one to question the efficacy of toilet paper.
Consider these excerpts from writer Tom Thumb’s article The Left Hand Toilet Technique and Spitting — Most of the World Does It:
“From Morocco to Bangladesh, use your left hand to eat with, pick stuff up in the grocery store or even worse, to shake someone else’s hand and you’ll be considered a filthy barbarian. You might be forgiven for your ignorance if the locals take into account that you’re a Westerner but most Arabs, Turks, Africans, Iranians, Indians and Thais could just never imagine sinking to your level of squalid personal hygiene.”
I guess the old adage is true. When in Rome, travelers must adapt. Not using toilet paper might be a cultural thing in the Middle East, but it shows that my toilet paper boycott is not without merit.
Tom Thumb’s article goes on to note:
“When travelers head to the bathroom in North Africa, the Middle East and most of Asia they’re often confounded by the lack of toilet paper. They’re presented with a tap and a jug or maybe even the luxury option of a little hose pipe but nothing in sight with which to clean their behinds. For most people in the above mentioned countries, however, nothing could be more disgusting than to think of wiping with paper.”
I called my wife at her parent’s house, to share Tom Thumb’s article with her. “Seriously, you’re losing it! And the guy’s name is Tom Thumb? Gross!”my wife said. Then her Dad got on the phone and told me to get professional help.
Flushed with anger
Despite my wife’s displeasure, I was starting to feel like a hardcore minimalist. Except I noticed that people at work avoided shaking my hand.
I also noticed that, increasingly, I was the butt of people’s jokes (no pun intended). What I didn’t know is that there was a reason.
Like any self respecting minimalist, I had given up social media. Mostly because I read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Having shunned social media, I didn’t know about my wife’s meanspirited Facebook post. It apparently went viral.
A buddy clued me in and I read my wife’s post. It was a picture of me, photoshopped to look like a toilet. In the picture I’m saying, “I gave up toilet paper and now my marriage is in the toilet.”
Needless to say, I was flushed with anger (no pun intended). I called my wife at her mother’s house, but her Dad answered and told me to get help. Again.
Wisdom from the Ty-D-Bol man
Before you think I went off the deep end with my whole minimalist boycott of toilet paper, I’d like you to consider the Ty-D-Bowl man.
Maybe you remember those Ty-D-Bol commercials back in the 1970’s? In them, a homemaker lifts the lid to clean the toilet. Inside, there is a little man dressed in a nautical outfit, sitting in a small power boat. He proceeds to sell the homemaker on the Ty-D-Bol cleaning product.
Who comes up with commercials like that? Anyway, last night I had a dream involving the Ty-D-Bol man. He crawled out of the toilet and tried to get on my pillow to talk to me. I told him to get off the pillow because his little shoes were wet.
The Ty-D-Bowl man said, “Dude, no offense or anything, but you’ve gone too far with this whole minimalism stuff. Face it, you don’t live in the Middle East. Your wife is threatening to leave you. No one wants to shake your hand. Your water bill is through the roof from all those showers.”
I hated to admit it, but he had a point. “So what do you suggest?” I asked the Ty-D-Bol man.
“I want you to read this blog post by Mark Manson: The Disease of More.” The Ty-D-B0l man pulled this little iPad out of his peacoat (no pun intended) to show me the article, but the print was way too small.
“And no, Manson’s article isn’t about minimalism,” the Ty-D-Bol man added.
Since I couldn’t read his little iPad, I grabbed mine and Google’d Mark Manson. Then I found his blog post about the “disease of more.” Here are a few excerpts:
“It took me a long time to accept the fact that just because something can be improved in my life, does not mean that it should be improved in my life.”
Manson’s post continued:
“The improvement is not the problem, it’s the WHY that’s motivating the improvement that matters. When one compulsively looks to improve oneself, without any greater cause or reason driving it other than self-aggrandizement, it leads to a life of immense self-preoccupation, a light and beneficent form of narcissism where one’s constant attention and focus is on oneself.
And ironically, this will probably make your life worse off.”
I looked over at the Ty-D-Bol man, whose little shoes were still dripping. He smiled and said, “Manson argues that life is not a game of improvements but a game of tradeoffs. We all know people who are addicted to self improvement. Or the latest, greatest thing. Like you with your extreme minimalism philosophy. Or the neighbor with her 4 hour Peloton workouts.”
“Hey, minimalism is helping me live a less complicated, simpler life,” I said.
“Really? Dude, you don’t use toilet paper. Your wife wants a divorce. No one will shake your hand. And why? Because you took it too far.” The Ty-D-Bol man was now shimmying up my bed spread, with those wet shoes. I let him anyway.
“So what great wisdom do you have for me? You, a dude who lives in a toilet.” It was a low blow, but I was feeling a bit defensive.
“Hey, I may live in a toilet but I’ve got a speedboat and don’t take life to extremes!” Then the Ty-D-Bol man plopped down on my pillow, looked me in the eyes and said:
“All things in moderation. Listen to Mark Manson. Start with your ‘why.’Why is it so important for you to be the best minimalist? What is this really about? Attention? Ego? Insecurity? Forget all that stuff. And stop reading all those self help gurus and minimalist bloggers. They’re not you! Figure out what makes you happy in life. Your hobbies or passions? Family? Go after those things.”
He lifted the little hat off his head, saluted me, and slid off the bed. Like a mouse he scampered across the bedroom floor and I heard the plop as he dove back into the toilet.
What dreams may come
Do you still remember your high school Shakespeare? Hamlet’s soliloquy? I bring it up because one line always stood out to me:
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,”
Hamlet was weighing the pros and cons for living and dying. We endure the burdens of life because no one has come back from the other side. No one has told us what lays beyond the veil. It’s a mystery.
Since we don’t know, it’s wise to make the best of the life we’re living right now.
I don’t know why I thought of Shakespeare. Maybe because the Ty-D-Bol man was kind of theatrical.
When I awoke from my crazy dream, I felt my wife next to me in bed. That’s when it hit me that the whole thing was a dream. The toilet paper boycott. My wife’s threat of divorce. The Ty-D-Bol man. All a silly dream!
I sat up in bed and wiped my eyes. I thought about the dream and my conversation with the Ty-D-Bol man. I realized that I needed to stop taking things to extremes. I needed to embrace moderation and only focus on the stuff that brought me true joy in my life. Namely, my family and creative passions.
The only weird part was when I got out of bed. There were these little wet footprints on the floor that led all the way to the toilet.
Sometimes, life is truly stranger than fiction.
(Not on my email list for the latest cartoons, art & musings? Sign up here.)
(Originally published in TheCoffeelicious.com)