The Happy Minimum

Yesterday morning, my son and I were in the bathroom cleaning. I noticed that we were almost out of toilet paper. My son went to retrieve some (he may only be three years old, but he knows how to change the toilet paper roll! I’m so proud.) and while he was getting the paper, I quickly used the toilet, using the remaining toilet paper – about nine squares of it or so.

When my son came back, he saw that the toilet paper roll was now empty and he actually admonished me about it. “You used all of that toilet paper, Dad? I only use one piece.”

We washed our hands (since we were done in the bathroom) and joked about how much paper I had used, but after a bit, I began to think more carefully about his comment. Did I really need to use that much toilet paper?

So I tried a little experiment for the day. Whenever I went to use something of varying quantity – salt, toothpaste, pepper, salsa – I strove to try to figure out the minimum amount that I could use and still get full enjoyment and utility out of the situation.

Take pepper, for starters. I will put a large dose of pepper almost reflexively on anything I eat that isn’t sweet. The pepper grinder is a mainstay on our kitchen table.

Instead of simply grinding away over the soup we had for lunch, though, I tasted it first, added just two grinds of pepper, stirred, tried it again, and found that I liked the taste. Ordinarily, I would have just ground twelve or fourteen times without thinking about it.

What about toothpaste? I usually put a big glob on the brush without thinking about it too much. Instead, I put just a tiny bit on my brush, spread it over the bristles, and started brushing. Almost immediately, I had a nice bit of foam in my mouth and my teeth felt wonderfully clean afterwards.

By the end of the day, I was carrying this idea forward into all sorts of avenues. Instead of getting four or five small squares off of the homemade pizza to start with, why not just get one square, see how I feel after it, then get another one if I still feel hungry? Instead of grabbing two or three Kleenexes to blow my nose, why not just grab one and use it until I absolutely can’t use it any more, then get another if I need it?

What I’ve found is this: you’d be shocked how much less you can use during a day without sacrificing any quality. There are so many disposable and consumable things that we use in our lives, even if we’re careful about it. Taking the time to “reset” our expectations on how much we have to use can pay great dividends – not only are we directly saving money by consuming less (and thus not having to replace these consumables as often), we’re also changing our expectations.

You don’t need more than you need, after all.