Toilet Paper Is a Privilege, Not a Right

November 15, 2009

I almost blew my nose on my demonstration materials for the conference presentation I’m giving later this week. I collect toilet paper and I’d forgotten that I put a piece in my pocket to add to my collection. It’s dated and has the place I collected it—Fred Meyer, Salem, Oregon, November 14, 2009—written on it carefully. Too hard and you tear holes in the stuff. I know. I collected toilet paper from every facility I visited on a 12,000 mile cross-country round trip on the back roads of America several years ago.

I started collecting TP at the first place we stopped on 2005’s Highway 20 Fun in Learning Tour and Detours, a rest area on the way to Newport, Oregon. The paper provided was skinny and fragile, and was meant, I’m sure, to save money. The problem was that it took a rather large wad to get the job done. No savings there. If one foot of Charmin© or some other stuff would be needed, at least a yard of this flimsy stuff had to be unraveled to adequately perform the task. I was hooked. That was my first time, and now I have several large manila envelopes filled with neatly folded and labeled strips of white paper. (Am I the only one who remembers the days when you could purchase colored toilet paper, the pastels meant to match your bathroom decor, an odd concept to me at the time: toilet paper as decorative accessory?)

My presentation this coming Friday focuses on strategies I’ve developed to help students connect with research topics that are interesting to them. I believe that almost anything, when looked at closely, has much more depth than you might at first imagine. Over the years, I’ve challenged myself—and been challenged by my students—to explore lots of odd things: chewing gum; rock, paper, scissors; and hair, for example. I knew as I sat there several years ago that toilet paper could become a new research obsession. I also knew that I needed data and that I wanted to be personally involved in gathering it. The collection began.

As I began to explore further, I found lots of interesting things about this subject. Prison inmates use toilet paper to make modeling clay. I’ve used this activity since with my students, one of whom experimented and came up with a formula based on my somewhat vague “water, white glue, and toilet paper mixed until of the right consistency for modeling“ instructions. You can experiment yourself—just in time to make holiday ornaments.

Oh, and about the title: it’s one of my favorite high school announcements. I collect those too and apparently, this school had been having problems with students lighting the rolls on fire and using them to decorate the bathrooms. (Wait. This is an example of a time when editing is necessary. There were two separate actions. The lighting and the decorating. Clearly once the roll is on fire, it becomes more difficult to decorate with it.) The announcement truly did say that toilet paper is a right and not a privilege, and was, I assume, written by a man who doesn’t need to use it quite as regularly as we femalefolk.

I am in the Amtrak station in Portland waiting to get on a train headed for Chicago and then on to Cincinnati and Oxford, Ohio. I understand that the internet connection comes and goes here at the station, so I’m stopping now. More later. Maybe much later once I arrive at my destination.

What do you collect? Why? What got you started on your collection?

It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.
• Rod Serling, producer, writer, and host of
The Twilight Zone
NOTE: I am especially fond of the bear bottoms seeking to save us from bits of paper remaining behind.



  1. You are a singularly amazing person. I feel like finding your blog was like discovering a hidden gem. What a wonderful writer…not that I’d know froma technical standpoint…but I enjoy reading it! I am jealous of your writing ability!

  2. haha i forgot the space after from.

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