The outbreak and spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) has the world in an uproar, and to a certain extent that is understandable. The stock markets have been on a roller coaster ride, we’ve been introduced to the concept of ‘social distancing’, public events are being canceled, people are getting sick and even dying, and there is nothing but empty space on the shelves where the toilet paper, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and hand soap are meant to be.
Which brings me to my point. Why are we hoarding the Northern? Why are we squeezing the Charmin? Why are we acting like complete arseholes over the flimsy, flushable? And most importantly, why are we snapping up the hand soap and sanitizers when we need everyone to to be washing their hands in order for hand-washing to be an effective barrier to the spread of disease?
I understand the impulse. We are facing the real possibility (or reality) of quarantine or voluntary isolation, and nobody wants to be stuck at home without the necessities. But what makes a person buy the last four jumbo packs of toilet paper (as happened in our small town this weekend), leaving the shelves bare and their neighbors up Shit Creek, so to speak?
Is it selfishness, or fear? If it’s the former, there is probably nothing I can say to help. That is a personal failing based on messed up values and beyond the purview of this article. I suggest you find a way to deal with it or you’ll die alone in a fortress of ass wipe and Purell. If it’s the former, I hope I can talk you down.
Humans have been around for tens of thousands of years, whereas TP was invented just before the American Civil War, in 1857 to be precise. Paper used to be a valuable, labor-intensive product and most of our ancestors would no more have wiped with paper than we would with paper currency.
So what did they use? Leaves, corn husks, handfuls of dried grass, damp cloth, and even smooth rocks. I remember my grandparents and stepdad reminiscing fondly about the Montgomery Ward catalog, which served as both reading and wiping material in the outhouse.
I’m going to assume most of you don’t have a stock of corn husks lying around, or even an old Montgomery Ward catalog. The few catalogs arriving in my mailbox tend to be thin, and I think the glossy pages would provide an unsatisfactory result. Rocks are readily available, but not compatible with indoor plumbing. Still, as a last resort…
Moving on in my customary practical fashion, I shall turn to a solution that was not only acceptable to our ancestors, but has been adopted by the modern day Zero Waste movement: cloth. You can improvise a bidet-like experience with a squeeze bottle and warm water, and all that is left to do is dry up a bit and toss the damp and lightly soiled scrap of cloth into a bucket of vinegar and water to await the laundry. I’ll admit, it sounds a bit rustic, but trust me, I raised three kids and we used cloth diapers for a good while. This will be considerably less yucky.
For some folks, the idea of sharing the ‘Family Cloths’ with others is a bit off-putting. ( Me. I’m ‘some folks’). So if you find yourself having to take this route, I suggest designating a certain color or print of fabric for each person. We do this for hankies in our house, and if we are ever forced to adopt the Family Cloth model of bathroom hygiene, I guarantee we will segregate our butt cloths, as well.
As to fabric, any soft, absorbent fabric will work. No need to buy something special unless you just don’t have any old t-shirts, sweatshirts, odd socks (or socks that just need to be retired – I’m looking at you!) I’m a quilter, so I have good supply of cotton and flannel scraps, but I would probably sacrifice yardage for the sake of keeping everybody on their own page. If you want to buy fabric, brushed cotton, cotton flannel, or birdseye cotton (used for diapers) would probably work the best. You can also check Etsy for products made for this purpose.
Having covered the awkward but essential topic of keeping your butt clean in a pandemic, let’s address hand soap and sanitizer. Please don’t buy all the soap. If we are going to stop the spread of this disease, we need everyone to have access to soap and water or hand sanitizer. If you have all the soap in your closet, how is that sticky kid across the street, the produce clerk at your grocery store, or the cashier at your favorite convenience store going to wash up? Share the soap!
While we’re on the topic of soap, you don’t have to use hand soap. Bar soap or dish soap work just as well, and they even come in antibacterial varieties. The essential thing is to wash your hands with soap and warm water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, followed by a rinse and a thorough dry.
I have asked my family to set alarms on their phones every two hours, and to wash their hands when the alarm goes off as well as the other times one would normally wash up. They haven’t done it, of course, because they’re men and are therefore impervious to germs and illness as well as good advice. I will remind them of that when they get sick and want someone to nurse them back to health. This will almost certainly not be from the coronavirus, because they are healthy young (or young-ish) men. It will be from the flu, because they also didn’t follow my advice to get their flu shots (see above regarding being impervious to good advice).
Be well, be sane.