By Jim Rawles
We’re sharing an article from our Journal of Civil Defense a few years back – originally found on Survivalblog.com
A couple of years ago I was watching a commercial on television that showed two young men as they stood in a check-out line at a grocery store with a 6 pack of beer, a bag of chips and a package of toilet paper…when the young men found that they had only enough money for two of the three items, they chose the 6 pack of beer and the chips. When asked by checker “Paper or plastic?” the decision was unanimous, “Paper!”
This stark reality of such a simple decision led me on a journey that would involve many years and begin my search for the answer to the question of how much is enough toilet paper and where do I store it. I never really understood just how important TP was and the impact that it could have on our daily lives until that commercial was played out. Oh sure, like many deer hunters and fishermen or any outdoor type, we all have had our moment where our lack of preparedness has caused us great concern and given us an opportunity to experience the humility of mother nature without TP and all that it encompasses.
The necessity of toilet paper and the amount of storage room necessary for a one to two years supply and the quest to keep it dry, even in our homes, is sometimes a task that has caused me great concern and some sleepless nights to say the least. With a family of seven (who will most probably come home in an emergency) and no way to transport two years of their own TP supply plus their family and their gear, I had to find a way to simplify this dilemma. The one thing that I have learned in the past 28 years is that the simplest ideas most always end up being the best…with that being said, I find myself writing about one of the simplest ideas that my wife has produced for our family, and has ended my search for the perfect ending to the mystery.
Just a short piece of history, first: About five years ago, we were on a two-week camp out when a sudden and unforeseen four days of rain descended upon our group of 18 families, who were camped in a narrow canyon with restroom facilities about ½ mile from our camp. Even though we have our own toilet facilities, we decided to use the restroom facilities provided even though we knew we would have to plan our walks for the sake of nature very carefully. We found that in this situation of being away from these very useful luxuries (our portable outhouses), the trek of ½ mile in wet and cold conditions early in the morning or late at night, with a roll of TP tucked under our jackets was sometimes a daring adventure. I lost count of the times a roll of TP was dropped onto the wet ground or in a puddle of water making it completely useless, and of the nature walks that ended half way to the desired destination. And of the rolls of TP that were found early in the morning, standing silently alone atop the picnic table, dripping wet, after someone forgot that TP and rain don’t mix.
The use of toilet paper in very damp conditions led many of our group to wonder out loud about ways to solve this problem. The storage of large amounts of TP seemed to be a major concern for the whole group. Keeping it dry usually came up as well – the room necessary to store such was vast, to say the least, when you consider a one or two year supply of this basic luxury. I know that many folks on other blogs and survival sites are stacking phone books to use, or they are storing boxes and boxes of TP and to be quite honest, a phone book or a catalog is not quite the best choice of clean wipe tissue if you have ever tried it, and as my wife discovered, the cost of baby wipes was out of the question and our tries at making our own baby wipes (with environmentally safe soap) were discouraging simply because we knew that eventually we would run out of paper towels. We needed a solution to a problem that everyone will face someday – paper, plastic, a leaf, or well … let’s just say any port in the storm, whatever it came to, we still had a choice: find a solution or suffer someday.
They say that every problem is nothing more than a solution in waiting. Being born in the 1950s, I remembered what many of you may not – it was called the diaper pal and was as common as toothpaste for families with babies. A closed plastic container would hold about 10-15 dirty diapers and, if kept clean (which my mother and other moms demanded), would wait patiently until Saturday morning when the pal was drained into the toilet and the cotton diapers were placed in the washing machine, to be cleaned with bleach and Tide and hung on the clothes line to be sun dried and returned to the diaper basket where, once again, the cycle would continue.
The solution to my problem was as simple as looking to the past for an answer to the future. Why not use cotton diaper material, cut into 4 x 9 inch sections, and then sown around the edges of the material with a zig-zag stitch to prevent the edges from unraveling? My wife and some of her friends chose a Saturday afternoon, had the men load their sewing machines into the truck and carted them over to a local church where an assembly line soon formed; men setting up sewing machines, women cutting material, and other women sewing the edges, after which we men would then package them in bundles of 50 – a finished product that every man and women took special care not to lose. We all enjoyed the Saturday, we have a product that we are comfortable with now, and we have no fear of it being destroyed by rain or muddy puddles, left outside in the morning dew, or blown off of a table top. We can store 5,000 reusable sheets in a medium cardboard box.
My cost in time and material was around 20 cents per sheet if we figured $10 per man-hour to complete the task. Then again this was five years ago, but the benefits have outweighed our investment ten to one! The material was purchased at a local box store but as many of our women discovered, their mothers had a lot of diaper material stored in boxes in their basements and were grateful to have it put to good use. We have found that it took a few times to get use to not depositing the wipes into the toilet facility, but with practice and a few reminders the system works.
The results of our efforts became a very useful item that we now carry in all of our backpacks or bug out packs, stored in freezer bags (but we don’t care if they get wet, as they are still usable) and stacked neatly in our portable toilet’s cabinets in plastic containers right next to our regular TP that we still use while we can.
I have been able to find diaper pails at yard sales and in some stores, and I have found some that would have really made my mom sit up and take notice; they have two-way entries and are very insect proof. We have found that this cotton TP also serves as a wound dressing when two are sown together with a famine napkin in between, as a washcloth, a sweat rag, as a feminine pad (also when sown together with a sponge material in between) in an emergency situation, and other ways that we are finding each and every trip into the wilderness and around our home. As a student of outdoor survival and family preparedness for 28 years, I have found that each and every bit of information received, is another thread of the tapestry that will assist us in the days of uncertainty that lie ahead, and that will greatly add to our chances of survival in the world in which we will soon find ourselves.
Note from TACDA: Microfiber material may be an option to cotton. It dries quickly, and is very absorbent.