Updated on 02.18.09

The Happy Minimum

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Kate says:

    Another great post. Living consciously instead of automatically leads to making little cuts in consumption that can make a huge difference in the end.

  2. Sandy says:

    This reminds me of when a friend and I were in the restroom and our 2 little girls were in the potty pearning phase, and the other mommy reminded her little girl to only use 3 squares of toilet paper when #1 and 4-5 if she went #2.
    That stuck with me as a teaching tool.
    But it is just being conscious everywhere, at all times, that can save quite a bit.
    I think Amy Decision wrote about this, too, in learning to use the minimum of so many things, get down to where it doesn’t work for you, and then adding a bit more so that it works to your satisfaction. TP, laundry soap, dish soap, shampoo…
    also, she warned of when you have just bought a case of, let’s say TP, and since you have so much of it, you use a lot more of it (yes, someone actually did a study of the psychology of plenty).
    So, be aware!

  3. Jeff says:

    Amy Dacyczyn talked about this in the April 1992 issue of The Tightwad Gazette in the article “Seeking the Minimum Level.” Thank you for bringing this to our attention again and reminding us of how wasteful we really are. We can do with so much less (of everything) and still not be adversely affected.

  4. -_- says:

    I’ve decided not to use toilet paper.

  5. Carmen says:

    Nine squares!!! I’m shocked! And you really must be proud of your sensible child.
    America taught consumerism to all the world, probably to learn real frugality you should have a trip in the old Europe.
    Regards from Spain

  6. Kevin says:

    Decades ago a girlfriend was watching me get ready to brush my teeth. When I put toothpaste on the brush, she exclaimed “Whoa. Whaddya think you are – in a toothpaste commercial?” I never forgot it (or her, but that’s another story.) You don’t need to use as much as we’ve been conditioned to use, and can still get excellent results. I draw the line at pepper, though…. ;-)

  7. DrFunZ says:

    LOL! I draw the line at toilet paper!!

    But this was a great post to remind us of those reflexive things we do.

  8. 444 says:

    You are seriously zeroing in on things that don’t cost very much. It’s great to be efficient but please reconsider where you are focusing your attentions. As I understand it, you are comfortable enough now but have not always been. I don’t mean to sound patronizing but I hope you can redirect your energies, maybe zooming out and paying more attention to the big pictures. And even then, maybe spending time thinking about things other than money. That’s not meant to sound harsh, really – I have just noticed this tone increasing lately in your posts, and I think it would benefit you to find a way to stop trying so hard to analyze pennies or fractions of pennies, and turn your attentions to things not related directly to money at all. Life is short, you are doing pretty well, and you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who knew how to get the most out of a roll of toilet paper. Again, sorry if this sounds unkind because it genuinely, seriously, is not meant to. I’m saying this from experience because I also have to examine where I’m directing my mental energy sometimes. I think you’re a smart guy who could do a lot more than worry about homemade detergent (use 1/4 of a scoop of real detergent like I do – saves trouble, money, trips to the store, and gets clothes just as clean) and move on things in life that have to be more important.

  9. Lindsay says:

    reminds me of a child I babysit. She counts out 3 squares, separates them out, and uses them accordingly. The resourcefulness stops there though, because if any of the squares are torn she tosses it into the toilet and starts over.

    444 does have a point, more ‘bigger picture’ focus would be good for everyone. Good job though, I think you are doing great!

  10. Joey says:

    Got to agree with 444; big picture. If you’re counting TP squares but still getting a daily (or even weekly) snack from the fast food joint or vending machine or coffee shack, you might want to reassess where the money’s really going.

  11. chris says:

    And you could always use both sides of the toilet paper to get maximum value!

  12. Maximizing utility by limiting resources. The economist in me is proud.

  13. kristine says:

    Hey, When you’ve got the your normal financial habits under control, and you are in the frugal mindset, it is natural to fine tune to the small details, as with any activity about which you are passionate.

    And as a society, the small is the large. If we all used fewer squares, we would g through fewer trees. If we all used less shampoo, our water would be less polluted. Small stuff; big picture.

  14. Gabriel says:

    Sounds like you have a very responsible son – I know some adults that don’t know how to change a TP tube!

  15. Jan says:

    I think the point is to not be a wasteful consumer. Just stop and think about how we waste everyday commodities. We as a nation of consumers are incredibly wasteful. Times are tough and if we can make small changes in our lives without sacrificing our standard of living, then lets make those changes!

  16. Suzanne says:

    I don’t understand the criticism. Trent speaks to a wide variety of people, for one thing, and I appreciate when his posts are for people at many different levels of consciousness. And, secondly, I believe the topic was more of awareness than simple frugality and/or saving money. Developing awareness like “enough” or “what is too much” will translate well into other areas of life, with a more valuable end result to ourselves than simply saving money.

    As a mother who thinks & feels strongly about what I am teaching my children, I appreciated the inclusion of seeing how Trent’s influence has been on his son. I’d say it was a great influence, as the child is clearly able to respect others by taking care of the toilet paper and is developing his own awareness regarding “enough”. He is also able to use his awareness outwardly in being able to speak about his take on things (that 9 squares is too much in his opinion). At 3 years of age, that’s pretty impressive.

  17. TPol says:

    My dentist told me too much toothpaste is actually bad for your gums. Toothpaste about the size of a pea is enough to brush he says.

  18. cv says:

    I try to think this way for environmental reasons – we should all only be using what we actually need, not wasting mindlessly. Sure, it doesn’t make as big a difference as giving up a car or living in an eco-friendly house, but if everyone in America reduced their toilet paper and paper towel usage by half, that would be a whole lot of trees saved and a whole lot less material in landfills and sewage treatment plants.

  19. Mule Skinner says:

    I’m fighting a big picture dilemma right now. The kids want to go on a trip for spring break. That’ll cost a lot of tp.

  20. Cathy says:

    The big picture is if everybody uses less toilet paper, then there’s less that gets stuck in the public toilet at the movies, causing the women’s line to get ridiculously long, while your popcorn gets cold, and your date loses his nerve to kiss you because he thinks you’re a prima donna pampering your nose. All because some idiot with bad manners clogged up the toilet with too much toilet paper, and now there’s an empty, gross stall.

  21. Kari says:

    Good concept! I’ll try to have this in mind throughout the day, especially on portion control. Thanks for the idea, Trent.

  22. Faculties says:

    I’m not entirely sure I wanted to finish this post with a visual of you using the bare minimum of toilet paper… and your child only uses *one* square? One square will not do the job. I take the point about not overusing things, but I wish the example had been something a little less graphic…

  23. Dave says:

    I think Trent’s main focus on this was not necessarily the TP+toothpaste, but an overall “usage attitude”. If you use excess in your daily life, chances are you use excess on small AND large things. So if you get into an efficient usage policy with small things it will carry over into things like, efficient car purchases, efficient vacations, purchasing efficient appliances, and purchasing efficient homes. This hits a core value with me. I see so much waste in things my family did for years. To this day my grandfather will waste time/energy/materials on things that could be done in a quater of the usage and function better. It’s part of why I am an Engineer.
    And in the long run it is also environmentally sound philosophy.

  24. Geektronica says:

    While I initially thought this was going to be a post about frugality, I can’t ultimately agree with the above commenters that this post is overly frugal. I think Dave #20 has it right.

    The truth is, when you stop wasting things, you don’t just save money; you save on other costs, such as cleanup. When I stopped using so much toothpaste, I got less all over the sink when brushing my retainers, so there was less to clean up. I doubt I could even calculate how much money I’ve saved, but that’s not the point.

    For me, this is about challenging our privileged lifestyle that says “I can use as much of everything as I want, because money is no object.” We can now see where that’s gotten us as a society, in terms of our impact on the environment and the earth’s resources. We’re terrified that a larger, less-developed nation such as India or China will take the same path we did, because if they do, the environmental consequences of this wastefulness will be dire.

    So I’m reading this post not as tips on pinching pennies, but on using what you really need to use to get the result you want. Good message.

  25. guinness416 says:

    Heh – Cathy (comment #17), all of the men like Trent and his kid diligently saving their squares of toilet paper mean NOTHING in the big picture compared with those insane women who put reams of the stuff over the seats in your self same movie theatre toilets (or those of us have to use tons of it cleaning up the mess caused by the previous stall occupant “hovering”), causing even more line backup in the cinema and a whole lotta waste.

  26. 444 says:

    OK – now I’ll say what I really wanted to say.

    There’s a difference between being conscious of what you use, so as not to be wasteful, and being neurotic about it. Only a very prodigious kid is completely self-sufficient in the bathroom at age 3, and if you think he is getting himself clean with one square of toilet paper, all I can say is I hope you supervise him washing his hands for 1/2 hour.

    Really – don’t you want your son’s emotional and mental development going in a different direction than chastising someone for using six squares of toilet paper? Don’t you want yours?

    It’s great not to waste toothpaste or use two yards of toilet paper as kids sometimes mistakenly do when they are learning, but the paragraph about salt and pepper took things too far, unless there was a health element (and I don’t think there was.) Have you priced a canister of salt? It’s literally about 50 cents for what should last you two years in the kitchen.

  27. Colleen says:

    When I was learning to brush my teeth I of course squeezed a huge glob of toothpaste very carefully lined up with the bristles, and with the flourish at the end, just like in the commercials.

    Mom said, “you don’t need that much.”

    I said “but that’s how they do it on TV.”

    She said, “oh they want you to do it that way because that way you’ll use it up faster so you’ll buy more. But we’re smarter than them.”

    I got such a buzz out of feeling that I outsmarted a big toothpaste company and I to this day still get a little warm fuzzy every time I use just what I need of anything and not the huge quantities the companies try to convince me I must buy.

  28. NYC reader says:

    Uhhh… hate to bring this up Trent, but your son’s butt is considerably smaller than yours, so obviously he needs less TP to do a thorough job!

    That said, I think the idea of mindfulness when using resources is fine, but I don’t see mega financial or eco savings in the TP department if you use 5 squares instead of 9. Who keeps track of how many squares of TP are used anyway? Sounds a little like OCD to me.

    The cost-saving potential of the things you’ve mentioned in this post seem negligible, at best.

    You’d save more money buying the TP at Costco or Sam’s instead of the local supermarket, or by trading down to single ply instead of double-ply TP (better for the environment and plumbing too).

    You’re also not likely to save much money by cutting back on your grinds of pepper, but you should definitely taste food before seasoning it at the table, especially if you’re adding salt (which is not good for maintaining healthy blood pressure and general cardiovascular health).

    I do agree that the usual dispensers of products are designed to get us to use more product than necessary (e.g. the lotion pump squirts more than we want), and to leave lots of product in the container that’s not easily dispensed.

    Scraping the last bits out of a bottle of lotion or conditioner is sensible, adding water to dilute them doesn’t seem like a good idea, unless they are too thick to begin with.

    When I open a can of scouring powder, I paste the paper label/seal over half the holes instead of throwing away the seal. I get better control of how much I sprinkle, and I don’t dump a pile of Comet in one spot in the bathtub.

  29. Trent-

    I have to say I’ve gotten pretty close from unsubscribing from your blog lately. Here you are, earning a FT income from a blog, and yet you don’t devote 1/10 the time to income generation as you do to silly penny-pincher tips like saving 4 squares of toilet paper (?!)

    You have now, officially, with this post, squeezed the maximum you can out of frugality while still living a modern life. Please start going the other way with your posts and brainstorm some income generation tactics with your readers. If you wrote a blog entry a week about how to generate $10 extra a month, that could benefit a huge amount of people.


  30. Cathy says:

    I realized how wasteful Americans are when I started traveling to other countries. Especially 3rd world countries. Americans think conserving on toilet paper is stupid. You don’t think it’s so stupid when you go to places where the water pressure isn’t strong enough to flush all the wasted paper. You learn to use as much as you need real quick. And they don’t think it’s so stupid. But you sure get the sense real quick why Americans have such a bad reputation as wasteful, arrogant, and don’t appreciate what they have.

  31. IFMom says:

    The financial benefits of not being wasetful in all areas of life are significant. But I think this post was a bit off the mark.

    I find it odd that someone is spending mental energy calculating the financial impact of a square of toilet paper or a shake of pepper. To me, that misses the point of financial planning and responsiblilty.

    You could waste a 25 cent roll of toilet paper every week for the next 10 years and not have a significant financial impact (~$125). On the other hand, someone could miss a credit card payment or bounce a couple checks get hit with $125 in bank fees pretty quickly! Those are the things people should probably be spending their mental energy getting their financial house in order.

    Isn’t one of the benefits of getting your financial house in order that you no longer need to concern yourself with thinking about the 1/1000th of a cent saved on a shake of salt? If it amuses you, great, but to suggest it to others as some sort of financial planning is not of much value.

  32. mel says:

    I think the big question here is, how did you teach a 3 year old how to replace the TP roll??? I’ve got a 32 year old and a 3 year old in this house that don’t know how to do it….

  33. Cathy says:

    Erica: You have a blog that fills that niche. As does Ramit Sethi. I don’t think it’s necessary to make every financial blogger conform to the exact same topics. I find your writing style to be a bit more consumerist for my taste than I prefer, but it’s your blog and you don’t have to appeal to everyone out there. I like Trent and JD’s every man approach. And I like ‘stupid frugality’ tips like conserving on 2 tablespoons of cocoa.

  34. Tea says:


    Why not write a similar post on the ways we waste time rather than money? The two are rather related, after all, and there are many ways in which we waste small amounts of time when we don’t act consciously.

  35. Kel says:

    Sorry, toilet paper is not a passionate topic of mine in regards to getting my personal finances in order. I’m a student in college with mountains of bills. Sure, I feel an obligation to be conservative and help save the planet but as far as saving money on tp – I just don’t know about that.

  36. Carole says:

    Trent is writing a post everyday. He can’t always have really profound ideas. I think there was food for thought in this one. The toilet paper issue was just an example of little ways we waste money and resources without thinking. Sometimes children see things more clearly than we do in their innocence.

  37. @Trent:

    Excellent frame of reference Trent! It’s amazing how children can spark our awareness.

    Let me make a similar suggestion that has made quite an impact on my wife & I. We have stopped using paper products (even considered switching to reusable cloth toilet paper, but didn’t) and switched to non-disposable products instead.

    For example, instead of Kleenex, now we use handkerchiefs. Instead of paper towels, we use washable microfiber towels (Sam’s Club sells a great 24 pack). Instead of paper napkins, we busted into our stash of cloth napkins that we NEVER used. All these changes have been a joy for us. Not only do we not miss the paper products, we found that we heavily prefer the cloth products! The benefits are multi-fold, which you should use your imagination to discover.

    Also, making this change caused me to challenge the entire disposable product industry.

    Come to find out, this genius marketing idea of “disposable products” was invented by King Camp Gillette, the founder of The Gillette Company of razor fame. From Wikipedia, “Gillette realized that a profit could be made by selling an inexpensive razor and generating a market for disposable blades. This has been called The Razor and blades business model, or a “loss leader”, and has become a very common practice for a wide variety of products.”

    Now again, use your imagination and you’ll undoubtedly begin to conjure up over 20 products you use in every day life that have sold you on this idea of “disposable products”. Why? So they can keep you coming back for more. It’s the same concept as a service provider selling you a subscription instead of focusing on a one time service fee…scheduled & guaranteed return business (consider the swiffer mop & duster for example).

    My wife & I are currently auditing our life for the brainwashing affect of this marketing idea, and trying to make a frugal return to the days of true recycling…not using disposable products!

    I have a Tip of the Week series where I touched on the paper product issue, and am currently constructing a blog post on DFA to challenge myself & readers alike on this front of disposable products!

    God bless.

  38. Valerie says:

    I don’t even have to travel out of the country to see how wasteful and arrogant Americans are – I just have to read blog comments! It’s rather scary to see how people try to defend their own lavish wastefulness by putting down anybody who doesn’t waste as much.

    Don’t be intimidated, Trent! You’re raising kids who don’t flush money down the drain, literally or figuratively. Anybody who can’t see the value of that hasn’t lived a real life yet.

  39. Valerie says:

    P.S. Also, that thrifty kid story is cute as the dickens!

  40. DB Cooper says:

    Trent said, “you’d be shocked how much less you can use during a day without sacrificing any quality.”

    Um, I’m pretty sure I’d be sacrificing a LOT of quality if I used just nine squares of toilet paper to wipe. And to @Cathy (#30) who referenced third world countries and their restroom habits, well, I don’t live there – I live here. My water pressure is fine, I get a good flush, so I’ll take a good wipe (or two, or three, or whatever it takes).

  41. L says:

    To those who are saying this post wasn’t worthwhile.. It just comes off as snobby, honestly. I was reading this and thinking how every day I use way too much toilet paper and toothpaste, as well as shampoo – and if you use good brands of shampoo, this gets pricey;) Not everyone makes enough to feel free enough to waste. If it helps cutdown household costs but using less toilet paper, toothpaste, whatever, why not do it? Especially if you’re setting an example for children.

    The American culture is so full of waste. The amount of trash that could be avoided – but hey, if you can AFFORD to waste more, why not, right?

    I appreciate posts like this. I feel like too many blogs are aimed only at people who either are/aspire to be high level execs. What about those of us who want to make financially sound decisions while living a simple life? I appreciate blogs like this that reach everybody, every situation.

  42. Jeff says:

    Why even bother with these small ways to save money? Because (Amy said in issue 27) there are more small strategies than big strategies. There are more opportunities to use small strategies than big ones. And, it’s good training. If we aren’t frugal in small things, will we be ready for the big ways when they come along? Will we even recognize them if we haven’t been careful in the small ways? I am glad that Trent has taken the time to comment on many frugal activities. The laundry detergent, for me, is one great example. It takes MAX 10 minutes to make enough for my family for 2 months and costs about $1! That’s a huge savings, but much more importantly, it makes me think about other areas in my life I can be more efficient.
    Keep on, Trent!

  43. Kelly says:

    Trent, I don’t need a mental picture of you using the toilet. Frugality/neurotic tendencies aside, that’s just gross.

    I get the point – I really do – but could you not have made the exact same point just as effectively without a toilet story?

    You’re a competent writer, but the beginning of this post was lazy and inappropriate.

  44. a bit too visual says:

    Trent, Trent, Trent….did we really need to have a visual of you in the bathroom. Surely, there are other examples you could have used to get your point accross.

  45. We follow this principle at work. What will give the customer most value for the least work. sometimes we throw out entire activities because they are just waste.

  46. Karen M says:

    I appreciate the idea of resourcefulness in all areas of life. I have used my own cloth shopping bags for years. I used to get so many strange looks when I pulled out my cloth bags! Now they are fairly commonplace. I don’t buy paper towels or paper napkins or paper tissue. I use a small amount of a product, say toothpaste or lotion, instead of the glob shown in adverts. However, I see this as more environmental than frugal.

    And, Trent, I thought you didn’t use Kleenex. Didn’t you post about that?

  47. Steph says:

    In some ways you’ve talked about the “minimum” before Trent and it really stuck with me. In an earlier post (sorry, don’t remember which or how long ago) I remember you saying that you went with the cheapest brand of things (in other words, the minimum) and worked your way up until you found the minimum quality you could live with and the cheapest price.

    I also like the idea of the minimum because it applies to other aspects of life. At the end of your post, you talk a little bit about eating less pizza. The minimum idea definitely carries over to weight loss and gluttony- what’s the minimum you can eat to not be hungry, instead of making yourself too full?

    I see a lot of comments here are critical about the issue of toilet paper, but of course the point here is not toilet paper, but watching consumption. As good world citizens, we should not take more than we need, whether that be in terms of fossil fuels or in something as seemingly trivial as toilet paper.

    Again, one of my favorite posts, this idea has the gears in my head grinding and I’ll be mulling this over for a bit.

  48. Melody says:

    Re:comment#38 – Right on the money. It amazes me how many people subscribe to want to be ‘debt free’, when what they really want is to be ‘rich’ and have unlimited resources and the ability to simply not care about throwing their money around. They have plenty of infomercials that deal with that!
    What Trent deals with are the thought processes we go through when you start a journey like this. You almost *have* to start asking yourself what is and is not worth your money and time. As he has stated before in his blog – that answer is different for you than it is for him in many situations. I for one am looking to move toward the re-usable vs. disposable in many areas. Not because I’m some tree-hugging crazy, but mostly because it is cheaper and less wasteful. Think about it – if you didn’t have to throw away bucketfuls of dirty tissues when you are sick, would trash bag manufacturers need to make bags that are ‘antifungal’?! It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Heaven forbid you use a washcloth and water when your kid gets something on his/her hands – disposable wipe! Throw those germs “out”. which really means toss them in a bin near your food (because most people’s largest trash container is in the kitchen) for several days, then put them by the curb so those germy things can be taken to a landfill conveniently not near *you* so you don’t have to think about it, but not only still on the Earth, but still in your community! So, tell me – how “out” do we take the trash, really? Why not just wash a washcloth in hot water to actually kill the germs/bacteria and then use the washcloth again?! If you are using a detergent that is either home made or relatively water-supply friendly, I would have to think that is the better option for all concerned.

  49. Allison says:

    I LIKE the small picture focus! So many sites talk about bigger things like investments, car purchases, what to do with your windfall, how to save money on that vacation. I am unemployed and appreciate tips on how to make the mundane areas of life a little cheaper. If you don’t like the micro-gaze, there are plenty of sites that take a bigger-picture look. Can’t both types of sites exist?

  50. GayleRN says:

    As a nurse I get to observe a lot of toilet habits and their results. So here is my somewhat gross 2 cents. When assisting people with cleaning up after toileting nurses generally let people do what they think is appropriate and enough, in other words whatever is their habit. Then the nurse will invariably finish the job with whatever it takes in the line of more toilet paper, wet washcloths, or disposable wipes. Believe me when I tell you that nobody does a thorough job with 9 sheets of tp. Most times it takes at least 3 swipes with something wet. I guess that is enough said from a professional wiper.

  51. GayleRN says:

    And don’t even get me started about proper handwashing.

  52. Jen says:

    I think this was a great post on how to be more mindful and less wasteful. Having kids myself, it made me laugh and really think about what we are teaching them (which is more important than whether or not it really saves money-it helps the environment!!!). Thanks for these kinds of posts, Trent, and keep it up for those of us that do enjoy it!

  53. Ford Hillman says:

    I think about the TP issue a lot given that I’m on a septic system. Unfortunately, I have to pay $20k for the sewer line being run in front of my house, even though I will not be connecting to it. But when you live 7 miles south of downtown Seattle, you get used to a bit of government intervention. However, at least a roll of TP lasts me a month!

    Keeping in mind the minimum you need to have a good life is best. No one ever said “Oh darn, I saved too much” and focusing on what fulfills you rather than over-stuffs you benefits everyone. And sharing good common sense values with your children is a valuable bond that will last throughout their lives.

    Money comes and goes, but strong common sense values will see you through every time. Taking care of the little things leaves plenty of time to look at the big picture and admire the view.

  54. anna says:

    What a controversial topic!

    Why do some people think it is ok to waste anything? Why do they think only about the money? If you are using twice (or more) as much of anything than you actually need to achieve the same result – well, who is the fool?

  55. Andrew La Barbera says:

    Waste?As for toilet paper,you use the amount you want,I’ll use mine.You can ask but don’t tell me to.
    Anna,ever look in a mirror?
    My father told me two things. The only fool is the person who doesn’t think he’s one and eat it up,wear it out make it do or do without.

  56. NYC reader says:

    Ok, this might rile some folks up, but I have to take issue with the folks who ASSUME that reusable is always better/cheaper than disposable.

    Let’s take the usual candidates: Hankerchiefs vs. Kleenex, cloth towels/rags vs. paper towels, cloth diapers vs. Pampers (no, I’m not going to touch, even figuratively, the cloth TP someone mentioned above!).

    The arguments in favor of the reusables ASSUME that all resources are equally priced and equally distributed, and the ecological effects are homogenous wherever a person resides, and that’s simply not true.

    If you live in a community where water is a scarce and/or expensive resource (e.g. Arizona), and garbage landfill space is not a problem, it’s likely that using disposables is less expensive and better for the local environment.

    If you don’t have access to your own washing machine, schlepping loads of soiled diapers and rags daily to a laundromat at $2.25@wash/$1.50@dry, plus the hours of time wasted sitting there, is not an economically feasible activity compared with buying disposable diapers.

    Likewise, making one’s own laundry soap in a large bucket might be ok if you have your own washer/dryer and sufficient room to store it, but there’s no way I’m going to carry some homemade soap slime many blocks away to the laundromat along with a pile of clothes (and hope it doesn’t leak all over everything). And where would I store a bucket of soap slime in my apartment anyway? I toss some dry detergent in a ziplock bag (which I reuse until it develops holes), and I’m set.

    The economics of living in a house in Iowa don’t always correspond to the economics of folks living in other places. Please drop the “holier than thou” inferences that people who choose to use disposable items are arrogant, gluttonous, selfish, wasteful, spendthrift cretins who must be shamed into “proper” frugal habits. Their habits might be more frugal than you realize.

  57. Amber says:

    I think Trent is focusing on the bigger picture. He is not a robot and he takes the time in his life to be aware of what he does and why he does it. If we were all a little more concious of everything-including toliet paper then maybe we wouldn’t be stuck in our own little boxes-and create problems for ourselves. This post is inspirational.

  58. @NYC Reader (#52)
    Do what works for you. That goes for everyone. If it seems good to you to do a thing…then by all means do it. If it seems bad, then by all means do not.

  59. NYC reader says:

    @DBA #54

    You’re absolutely correct on that. My point was that the economics and ecological soundness of our choices aren’t always apparent at first glance, and one size does not fit all. I dislike simplistic pigeonholing.

    For example, I griped about having to do laundry in a laundromat, but that’s a much better use of the washer/dryer resource (used by hundreds of people per week) instead of owning a washer/dryer and having it used only by me.

    I don’t own a car; I walk and use public transportation. I live in a highrise multidwelling building, which makes better use of scarce resources of land, materials, and which costs less to heat and cool.

    Overall, my carbon footprint is very low, even with use of some disposable paper goods. As with everything in life, there are tradeoffs (financially and environmentally), and the key is to find a sustainable balance that works.

  60. Jason says:

    Similar to how others have described, I feel that the message of this post is not meant to be an instruction manual as to how to go about using everyday products, where saving little amounts may seem to make little difference. It’s just about the mindset as a whole, and that I think is the intended message. Just because we have lived in a land aplenty for so long, doesn’t mean that we should treat everything as perpetually abundant and plentiful, where conserving small amounts doesn’t matter. Indeed, they all add up, and resources most certainly are not everlasting, to be used with voracious abandon.

  61. BJ says:

    I won’t be disgusted at all by seeing people ‘waste’ toilet paper, I won’t feel like a villian for using a half a roll of toilet paper at a time if I feel I need to, and I won’t accept that so many people feel it is acceptable to use one square or nine squares and call it quits. I use at least two squares just to wipe the toilet seat, which indicates the one in my house, before I sit down. And I’ll use a sizeable amount to begin with, and another and another, until it comes out just as white as it went in. I probably don’t even need to wash my hands and run that .00034 cents worth of water and use that .0215 cents worth of handsoap, but I sure as hell will. And it’s Charmin regular, the best and only toilet paper out there. Are all of you toilet paper conservationists also using the cheapest toilet paper you can find? Well you should be, I’m sure Trent can do a cost analysis to find out how many squares of a premium wiping paper are equivalent to the cheapest generic.
    After reading this article, but before reading the comments, I turned to my boyfriend and told him I thought Trent had finally gone off his rocker. He was shocked and disgusted by the ‘one square’ and ‘nine square’ references. Not that he can’t discuss that sort of thing, just shocked that anyone would think that is acceptable. Especially anyone that would allow a three year old to use ‘one square.’
    And fourteen grinds of pepper? Pepper stays on top of a non-moving food. Can’t you visually gauge how much is on the surface and how that compares to what you need? Pardon the pun, but is Trent just pulling some of these posts out of his ass, while having a good laugh? How about saving money by doing your own surgery? Will that be tomorrow’s post? C’mon, get serious.

  62. BJ says:

    Oh, and I see that there is about 200 sheets per roll of toilet paper. That means that a man and his son could have two bowel movements per day, use two sheets, and your wife could have one bowel movement and the standard eight urinations, using eight sheets, for a total of eleven sheets per day. 200 sheets on the roll, divided by 11, means a roll should last at least 18 days in your house. Think you can pull that off? My god, you could buy a charmin 24 pack at Wal-Mart for $8.00 and it would last you more than a year! Is that really worth writing about? Sheesh.

  63. cv says:

    Good grief, people are getting up in arms over this. I like the concept a lot – think about how much you consume, whether it’s shampoo, water for washing dishes, food on your plate, paper for wrapping presents, napkins in a fast-food restaurant, or anything else. Many of us, myself included, consume without thinking far too often, to the detriment of our bank accounts, waistlines and environment.

    Also, brands of toilet paper vary dramatically. If you buy triple-think super-soft fancy stuff, you’ll use a lot fewer squares than if you buy the cheapest possible stuff they usually have in my office bathroom. Trying to compare by number of squares is just silly.

  64. jaya says:

    hey, trent just figured out the first part of “reduce, reuse, recycle” .

    so, he is taking a good hard look at what consuption he can REDUCE without affecting his quality of life. why are people getting so mad about the exact logistics?

    the way so many people are on first name basis with trent, feeling like he’s part of your “group”, some get offended that he only used nine squares of tp!!! get over it!

    the point is not exactly how many cents he saved.. the point is how to reduce the amount of stuff that we use..you know, bigger picture…

  65. Jess says:

    Wow! This post really got some people all riled up… I find it amusing to see how people took this post.

    First of all I think it’s INCREDIBLE that your son is so aware at three year old.

    Next, I think that the POINT that Trent was making was to stop and think about what you’re doing. Because using “insert large number” of “whatever disposable item” here is the same force that causes people to stop at the coffee shop every morning and spend 6$ on coffee and a muffin. It’s not stopping to question the status quo. The POINT of the article is not to use 1 square of TP (@BJ #57/58 and etc…) . The point is to stop and think and question the habits that you have.

  66. reulte says:

    I’m getting a chuckle out of how many people actually think this post is about tp…

  67. Jimbo says:

    I’m seeing a LOT of posts recently where commenters are explaining what Trent “really meant.” Have you guys paused to think that Trent meant what the post said and NOT the fanciful interpretation you have discerned from the post?

    This blog is doing downhill at an ever-increasing pace. I’m off to getrichslowly for good.

  68. Carmen says:

    WOW! I am absolutely gobsmacked that you don’t do this already. How on Earth?

  69. 444 says:

    I am simply glad he did not write about feminine products and the monitoring of how many items have been removed from the package each day, with a resulting talking-to for the wife.

    If this sounds like a leap, refer back to the kleenex paragraph…

    I guess I’m just saying that at some point, we have to trust people to be smart enough to use what they actually need. Being aware is important and being wasteful is… wasteful as well as expensive, but there’s only so much we can cut down on certain necessities. I’m pretty sure most people use what they need and if they don’t, they might be going a little nutty by thinking too much about pennies saved in the personal hygiene department, which is a fairly important department to most people (or should be).

  70. Karen says:

    “…what Trent really meant…”

    Maybe, Trent, this is where you could chime back in and comment, or at least address these issues in another post. You do seem to forget about your readers on a regular basis these days. Sometimes, it seems that the controversy in the comments comes from a genuine confusion about the angle of the post.

    I don’t even know why I’m commenting, though, as I really don’t even think you read them anymore.

  71. WendyB says:

    Sorry, but I really think your son should use more than 1 square…

  72. CU_Flatlander says:

    Ugh- this is reminiscent of the woman on Donna Freeman’s (MSN) message boards (for grossest money-saving tip): she dried out her toilet paper when she just used it for #1 so it can be reused.
    Hey, a new family project!

    ONE square for the kid? -even those who are older with superior manual dexterity (bec. of age, so no slam to the child) would be challenged.
    Go take a Microbiology class and see how that concept settles with you thereafter.

    If this works for YOUR quality of life- terrific, but UGH UGH UGH…warn me when you bring your homemade dish to the potluck, ok?

  73. Sheila says:

    I agree with Jason #56.
    My over all take on Trent’s post is more on the lines of, “Look at what we waste in this life and be conscious of our usage.” The toilet paper was an example. This “Consciousness” can roll over to other areas of our life where the impact would matter more.
    I don’t scrimp on the TP. As another nurse pointed out many don’t use enough. My aunt talked about the “3 sheet” rule during the depression as a school child. Any one remember the nasty little squares in road side rest areas? Kind of like wax paper and just as useless!
    Gave me a good laugh reading replies.

  74. SteveJ says:


    First off Trent, good article, and I think the mindset is dead on, especially since it expands well from frugality and into reducing waste and reducing calories.

    And the range of opinions on this is amazing, but I find that some people are confusing the activity of reading a personal opinion, on a free medium, in their free time, with being held at gunpoint and forced to conform with ideas they don’t agree with. Disagree all you want and feel free to share your opinion, but don’t bash anyone for expressing theirs as well. If Trent took every “I can’t believe you wrote this” to heart he’d be left with book reviews.

  75. EngineerMom says:

    I agree with the mindset about using less of the disposable items in our lives (toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc.). It would be especially helpful if people would stop using the antibacterial soaps out there – it isn’t much better than regular soap, and there is some evidence that using antibacterial soap for everyday handwashing increases the presence of resistant bad bacteria.

    However, I draw the line at toilet paper. The idea that something could soak through and get on my hands completely grosses me out. Yes, I wash my hands after using the bathroom.

    Also, my husband only uses about 3-4 squares for each wipe after going #2, and the result is little bits of dirty toilet paper collecting under/behind the toilet seat from the scrubbing! ICK!! I end up cleaning the toilet more often (with paper towels, which go into a landfill), so I think him using a bit more paper and not “scrubbing” would be better than the current method.

  76. Diane says:

    Trent after reading 60 of the comments here I’ve come to the conclusion that you need to find a way to get some of your readers some cheap Zoloft. People need to lighten up for crying out loud! Toilet paper is just a metaphor here!

  77. Jim says:

    My first impression was that limiting TP usage was going overboard. But TP usage is just an example that started the idea in Trent’s head. The main point is not to over use items and look at what you use so you aren’t wasteful.

    If you’re using 2-3 times as much toothpaste, kleenex, pepper, paper towels, laundry detergent, etc as actually needed then you’re spending 2-3 times as much as necessary.

    Is this a “nobody should use more than 5 squares” post? No, its a “think about how much you consume” post.

  78. carrie says:

    This is a great post :) It’s a little shocking how riled up people have gotten.
    I love that your son is such an environmentalist!

  79. Amy says:

    I am blown away at how personally some people have taken this post! All the blogs I subscribe to enhance my life because I take what I want and leave the rest. If something Trent, or anyone else writes resonates with me, I will try to implement it. If not, I move on. The idea that Trent is laying some guilt trip is absurd. Come on, people. What he posts about is HIS journey, and we get a peek at it for free.

    That said, thanks Trent for reminding me that the little things count too–Your blog helps me more than any other to feel like my family and I can be eco-conscious and not go broke doing it.

  80. Charlotte says:

    Question: How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?

    Answer: No one knows. It’s never been done.

  81. Tim Manni says:

    I have to agree with “444,” focusing in on grinds of pepper doesn’t seem like useful area to refocus your consumption habits. And as far as toilet paper, unless you’re like the bear cub from the Charmin commercials spinning the toilet paper roll like the wheel from ‘The Price is Right,’ I’m not going tell anyone to worry about tp. Now paper towels might be a better are of focus. Cut out paper towels and use a dish towel for clean ups. That’s a significant money saver.

    I really like the blog, and as “444” said I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but re-focusing on things that could actually save us some dollars would be more useful.


  82. NYC reader says:

    Charlotte, you made my day!! ROTFLMAO!

  83. Zannie says:

    Wow–when I read this post I was shocked that Trent had been pulling three sheets of Kleenex before he’d even used the first one, and here so many people are shocked that he would care. So now I’m shocked at how oblivious people are to their own wastefulness.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be, though. In the last year or so I’ve become more and more aware of various ways I can reduce waste–which I do primarily for environmental reasons, not “penny pinching”–so I know how easy it can be to be oblivious to one’s own bad habits. Waste is a bad habit, though, no two ways about it.

  84. CathyG says:

    Another example of wastefulness to think about – I was a scout leader and PTA room mom. Whenever we offered sandwiches or snacks to the group, we noticed a large amount of waste afterward. I started cutting the sandwiches in half, and asking the kids to start with a half (these were really little kids), then if they were still hungry they could come back for another. We stressed that they could come back as many times as they wanted and have as many sandwiches as they wanted, but half at a time. Waste went down significantly.

  85. Nick says:

    To comment #37– reuseable cloth toilet paper? Do you mean a washcloth? I can see it now: “Honey, don’t put that shirt in the washer, I’m getting ready to do a load of shit rags.”

  86. ceejay74 says:

    Cool article! I’m interested from a green perspective even more than the moneysaving side, but either way, thinking about little things does help, and for those big-picture thinkers, can lead to changes in big-picture thinking and acting as well.

    It’s why I pick up pennies, not just larger coins and bills, when I see them on the ground. Maybe it doesn’t make a huge difference in my life, but it helps me think no financial improvement is too small. This leads me to follow up on rebates, question being overcharged, pay down higher-interest debt first, etc. The change in mindset is invaluable.

  87. Sarah says:

    IT’S NOT ABOUT SAVING FRACTIONS OF PENNIES, IT’S ABOUT WASTEFULLNESS! I can’t believe all the negative things people are saying! This is a wonderful article. We are wasteful beings and we need to examine all aspects of our wastefullness. Thank you for your insight

  88. Rachel says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post! My family has also been trying to determine just how little we can consume. We are fleeing from a lifestyle of excess and embracing the frugal, conservative lifestyle demonstrated by our grandparents. Thanks for this great post and I look forward to seeing what you have to say in the future.

  89. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    More than anything, I think the comments here just represent how differently we all are in little details of our life.

    As for my son using one square, he’s three years old. He uses one square, then sometimes another, then sometimes another. That’s how he does it, regardless of how he’s encouraged.

  90. Nora says:

    A three year old really should not be giving advise on the use of toilet paper. One look at his/her underwear will tell you why!

  91. Jen says:

    I just finished reading many of these comments, and this is the funniest discussion I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for the comic relief! I think we all need to do our part, and we all have different ways of making that happen. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  92. Laura says:

    I’m just shaking my head that people are freaking out over how much tp you choose to use. They really missed the big picture didn’t they? Can’t see the forest for the trees…

    This post was awesome – hands down a great job. Gave me lots to ponder over in my own life.

  93. Lana says:

    Here is a kleenex saving idea. My dad keeps a good quality paper towel in all of his pants pockets to blow his nose on. He leaves it there to go through the washer and dryer and just keeps using it until it falls apart-MANY washes. WOE to anyone who removes his paper towel from his pocket before washing his pants. The grandchildren think this is a scream but it does work!

  94. Great post… so true! Less is more, and that’s something we need to remember. We can conserve and save $$ at the same time!

  95. Tiffany says:

    This is a great post. Its hard sometimes for my husband to see that we can use less. We shop very frugal at my house and often shop for free, still I feel like if we can use less toothpaste, face wash, and etc., then why not?


  96. Mrs. Shannon H. says:

    Reading these comments reminds me why I like to read posts instead of comments—such unnecessary unkindness. Trent wrote a post from an experience from his regular, daily life. It’s his story, just like we all have our own stories. If it helps us, or causes us to think for a minute, great. If not, move on. Should not be a big deal. **Thanks, Trent, for being real. I hope the negative comments don’t discourage you.**

  97. Lisa says:

    Your post reminds me of my grandmother lecturing my brother about how he used too much toilet paper. It wasn’t too funny for him (a teen) then, but we all still laugh about it now (at 30).

    I think some of the readers are missing the wider picture of this post. We go on automatic about so many things in our life. Toothpaste, salting our food, etc. it is a good idea to slow down and be more present in our day and more conscious of our consumption of anything!

  98. Becky says:

    FYI – Aldi’s has a great price on TP!!

  99. Trina says:

    Wish my hubs cared enough to pay that close attention to how much of what he was using. *sigh*

  100. Karla says:

    Wow! Some people really got their back up about using a certain amount of TP squares! Looks like it struck a nerve. I think a lot of people are missing the point here. This post is really NOT about Toilet paper or counting pennies. It is about the notion that we can’t keep living our lavish lifestyles and not expect their to be consequences. Every little bit helps. I’ve been using less detergent, less dish soap, less hand soap, paper towels (replaced napkins with cloth ones) all in an effort to help the planet. The less you use, the less you need to buy and ultimately the less car trips, less CO2 emmissions, and the list goes on. Americans are Arrogant and can’t see beyond their nose. (I live here, but was not born here and it’s a very sad state of affairs). If WE ALL used less of everythig and thought about our own individual impact (leaving the lights on in several rooms you’re not even in for example) this is just another example of how most Americans think it’s available to them so why not use it. RESOURCES are not limitless, when they are gone, they’re GONE! This includes money.

  101. Nelson says:

    Why not just steal tp from public washrooms? Sure, it’s usually terrible quality and kind of immoral, but who cares as long as you’re saving money?

  102. steve says:

    I do this too. A few minutes spent thinking about how to reduce the amount of stuff you are using, while it doesn’t yield massive financial return, is satisfying and does cut down on expenses and pollution etc.

    Rather than pouring it out of a box and into the detergent dispenser until the dispenser is full,
    I pour the automatic dishwasher detergent into a plastic tub and cover it, and put a teaspoon on top.

    When I go to do the dishes, rather than filling up the detergent dispenser in the machine, I put in either one or two teaspoons only, depending on how dirty the dishes are. I find that even one teaspoon does the trick in my dishwasher.

    This saves about 2/3 on the cost of detergent. Really, it’s not a big deal monetarily, but it’s still saving me a small amount of money (a couple bucks) every few months. And it takes no effort or focus except in the first part of deciding to find a better way to dispense the detergent.

  103. Jen says:

    The little things do matter. My husband makes about $140k a year and therefore, we could afford to do a lot of things we don’t do. We live on about 1/2 of our income and have a nice life. I was able to quit my job recently and stay home since we have no debts and lots of savings.

    And yes, we started with the big things, like refinancing the mortgage at a lower rate and saving $300 a month in payments and so on. But after all that, we do try to use less of everything, keep lights off when we aren’t using them, eat cheaply, etc. Some people would look at us like, “oh you can afford more!” but by saving in big and SMALL ways, we have bought ourselves a lot of freedom.

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