Y171: Yuk Factor

As my experiences deepen six months into my sustainability challenge, I am realizing I am losing my fastidious filter™. I believe it was installed sometime during toddler days of my mother’s training to feed myself and use the potty.

Come to think of it, I think the 50’s for this little white girl was about serious ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ conventions. Nightly baths, clean ironed dresses every day and white gloves, polished shoes for Sunday School.

Throughout childhood, teenage years and adulthood many thousands, no millions, of fastidious filter™ upgrades were downloaded into my conscious and subconscious mind from advertising. Advertising and peer pressure in our current world can’t be treated as separate spheres. We are shaped by the pack and our handlers in corporate advertising know it.

Millions and millions of up-down, good-bad forces and messages let the American consumer know that happiness, security, recognition and wisdom are attained through products. The vast majority of products never existed even 50 or a hundred years ago, but are now considered vital. Let me name just three and some Wikipedia stats:

Shampoo. I stopped using March 26.
Originally, soap and shampoo were very similar products; both containing surfactants, a type of detergent. Modern shampoo as it is known today was first introduced in the 1930s with Drene, the first synthetic (non-soap) shampoo.

From ancient times to this day, Indians have been using different formulations of shampoos using herbs like neem, shikakai or soapnut, henna, bael, brahmi, fenugreek, buttermilk, amla, aloe, and almond in combination with some aromatic components like sandalwood, jasmine, turmeric, rose, and musk.

Paper Towels, I stopped using three years ago.

In 1879, a school teacher in Philadelphia gave students individual paper squares, so that the single towel in the bathroom would not be infected with germs.

Toilet Paper, I stopped using in December 2007.

The Scott Brothers are often cited as being the first to sell rolled and perforated toilet paper, but unless they were doing so without a patent, the beginning of toilet paper and dispensers familiar in the 21st century is with Seth Wheeler of Albany, NY, who obtained several patents. The first of note is for the idea of perforating commercial papers (25 July 1871, #117355), the application for which includes and illustration of a perforated roll of paper. On 13 February 1883 he was granted patent #272369, which presented a roll of perforated wrapping or toilet paper supported in the center with a tube. Wheeler also had patents for mounted brackets that held the rolls. Under the name Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Co., the product was manufactured as early as 1886 at their factory just north of downtown Albany.

Life before these products was not by definition dirty or uncouth. The Chinese royalty had toilet papers for centuries. The wealthy of the world have always had any number of things to wipe their butts and wash their hands, their hair. But, the vast majority of living people survived many centuries without ‘products’ for head to toe (or butt) cleaning. Rivers, streams, lakes, grasses, herbs, textiles and air were and are now all used by people to clean up. It isn’t that complicated.

Having said that, it’s true the invention of disposable paper products in the last 130 years did achieve a great thing towards slowing the spread of germs. In particular fecal matter is still a modern day killer in spreading disease. But germs can be avoided or cleaned away without chemicals and paper. Sunlight or heat, air and water used with fibers/ baking soda –earth basics are the 4 essential elements in action. The disposable products of hospitals are now a nightmare of toxic waste and the chemical anti-bacterial products have all but wiped out healthy, protective bacteria. Can we say too much of a good thing with the fastidious filter™?

And even if there was some really compelling reason to cling to shampoo, toilet paper and paper towels, Americans might still weigh what possible reason could justify the packaging of these products beyond branding – more advertising for these non-essential?

Yes, non-essential . . . Despite the yuk factor we have been programmed, manipulated and peer pressured into feeling, I personally have experienced the unlearning of this yuk factor (high range of the fastidious filter™) is healthier or more wholesome feeling.

Besides learning a simpler approach to living and needing fewer and fewer reasons to ever enter a grocery store, here are the bonus points for never buying toilet paper, paper towels or shampoo:

Carbon Footprint

  • no waste for the landfill
  • no forests destroyed
  • no petroleum products manufacture products, containers or any packaging
  • no fossil fuels used to transport


  • hundreds of dollars saved in a year
  • initial investments $0 for 80 cloth wipes from old black flannel sheets, existing cleaning cloths and towels
  • large container of baking soda for hair and other household cleaning I already had and more than half of it was a donation in the laundry room. (My neighbor and I split the package and shook our heads with trying to figure out; who would not want baking soda?)
  • ~ $70 investment for clothesline, manual washer & soap nuts at beginning of the year


  • save a lot of running around time since I have all I need right here.
  • I can deal with washing cloths, towels in a grabbed moment with only a few more minutes to hang on a drying rack or the line
  • washing my hair is a simple wash in the sink with the occasional baking soda without the production number of full grooming mode


  • compare time to earn the money to buy the toilet paper, paper towels or shampoo at or before running out and feeling the emergency of needing to dash to the store to simply never needing to feel the anxiety or stress of a lost job, no toilet paper/paper towels or shampoo.

That last one may have seemed like a stretch. But I remember my mother many years ago, after she and my dad divorced. I was already out of the house and on my own. She was struggling financially and working a crap job. She told me her biggest fear right then was running out of toilet paper. She would stock up like a snow storm was coming. That’s a serious fastidious filter™ my Mom has and I ought to know.

Helpful links
No Shampoo is the link provided by Jeanne at Life Less Plastic

Just in today . . . Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish jumps in.

Alternet article about Chemical toxins in our everyday products like shampoo

Toilet Habits by the beancounter

Disposable Paper Towel PSA Design

Today I decided not to include my own personal descriptions of the process of deciding to eliminate these products. In part, this was because I found the previous links so descriptive and entertaining. My own decisions and experience were pretty jejune.

Okay, I can relax now that I remembered to use one of my favorite words before June ended. I know it has nothing to do with June. Indulge me.

Update: My spelling sucks. I fixed an error and for the record . . . I often fix my idiot mistakes after the fact.


katecontinued said...

Damn, I think I accidentally deleted a comment - before I even got to read it. Poop.

Ecogeek said...

Kate, I feel it's necessary to take a moment thank you for sharing your sustainability journey - it's been so heartening and instructive at the beginning of my own. I tried to briefly discuss the ways in which you've most recently inspired me, but it got obnoxiously long, so I've moved my salute of you to my tiny young little blog over here.

Just, thank you.

katecontinued said...

Thank you for being so thoughtful. I mean that in a literal way - full of thought. Your comments show you are a thinking guy. How lucky for us you are going to teach.