If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that freshness counts.
The last year or so has taught us that as a species we have one common fear and it's acartohygieiophobia.
The fear of running out of toilet paper.
If you're planning for the Rapture, you won't need this article.
But if you're a sinner like me, you'll probably be stuck down here lingering in whatever fresh hell we're hurtling towards.
So to help prepare for Armageddon, I've identified the six main problems of the post-apocalyptic powder room and put together some old-school solutions.
1. Toilet Paper
Everyone knows the first signal of the breakdown of civilization is the hoarding of bum-wipes.
Inevitably though, stockpiles will dwindle, and people will wonder what to do about their dingleberries.
Don't get caught with your pants down when the zombies come knocking.
Get making or collecting these now.
Here are some toilet paper alternatives borrowed from history:
- Sponge on a stick: Yes, you read that right — Ancient Romans used a tersorium, which is just a fancy word for sponge on a stick, and it's just as the name implies. They were shared in public bathrooms and cleaned in salt and vinegar. If this is your wipe of choice, you might want to make enough, so each person in your household gets their own and maybe a few extras for guests.
- Rocks: These are the TP of choice for stone age man, also used by the Greeks, who carved their enemies' names on them.
- Sticks: Yes, the unlikely instrument of choice for East Asians of the 700's was literally a stick. It's thought that the Chinese were the original inventors of toilet paper, which would make sense since scraping your poop off with a stick seems like the perfect motivation to find something better.
- Corn Cobs, leaves, and straw: The TP of choice for colonial Americans.
2. Sanitary protection
For half the world, there'll be another problem coming up roughly once a month.
Ladies, I suggest you grab a diva cup or two while you're looting the drugstores, but if you're late to the party and miss your chance to grab one, here are some ideas from our ancestors.
- The ancient Egyptians used papyrus, but since you're probably not located on the Nile, it might be hard to come by.
- Hippocrates wrote about and wrapping bits of wood with lint as they did in ancient Greece and Rome. Maybe not super comfy, but at least you'd have concrete plans for that dryer lint that's been piling up.
- From the 5th to the 15th Century, women used rags — hence the classy term "being on the rag." You could buy a big bag of old towels from Goodwill and keep them in your basement until needed.
- Native American women seemed to have the best idea of the time and used pads made out of moss and buffalo skin. After the world as we know it ends, you might be able to substitute the skin of the squirrels you'll be eating eventually.
After zombies eat the public works employees, computers take over, and/or robots destroy the infrastructure, we'll have to go back to the old-fashioned ways of doing our business.
We take indoor plumbing for granted, but flush toilets are a relatively new thing.
So, people had been getting by for a long time without them.
Since indoor toilets get pretty gross without running water, here are some old-school suggestions to keep the waste management in your household under control.
- Outhouses: You know, that thing you hate at someone's too-rustic cottage. It's a shack with it's a toilet outside of your house. The seat can be over a bucket or a pit. They get a bit smelly, so you might not want to do this if you don't have a big backyard.
- Chamber pots: This would be good for apartment dwellers, but you'll have to figure out where to empty them. In the old days, people walked their poop out to a field or forest for dumping. Some information says in crowded cities, they just dumped it out the window for a person called a "muckraker" to clean up. With what we know from modern science, it would probably be a good idea to work with your fellow survivors to dispose of it properly.
- Hole in the ground: If you don't want to go to the trouble of building an outhouse or you're running for your life, you can just dig a hole and poop into that (don't forget your stick or favorite rock).
- Communal toilets: If you live in a tight-knit community, you could get together and dig out a communal bathroom that links to the sewer system that's already there.
The end of times will probably be pretty stinky with the rotting corpses and all, but you still might want to smell fresh since you'll most likely be trying to repopulate the earth.
In that case, you'll need a strategy for when the deodorant runs out.
For about 2% of people, this won't apply. A few lucky people have an unusual form of the gene ABCC11, which means their armpits never smell.
Those people will probably attract the most mates, so the next incarnation of the human race may evolve without BO.
Until then, here are some ideas for the rest of us, mostly courtesy of the ancient Egyptians:
- Egyptians made dense pastes with ostrich eggs, tortoiseshell, and gallnuts scented with cardamom, cassia, cinnamon, lemongrass, lily, myrrh, and rose. They'd spread it on their head, neck, and wrists. So you might want to head over to Bulk Barn. Then get in touch with that friend who posts her essential oil business on Facebook before putting your emergency doomsday kit together.
- Egyptians also developed jewelry that incorporated scented materials. I think that friend who sells the oils also sells these.
- Porridge balls also courtesy of the Egyptians: Yes, make oatmeal and then roll it up into a ball with incense and wedge under in your armpits.
- Carob also courtesy of the Egyptians: Crush up the pods and rub them all over your body. Put it on your Bulk Barn list.
- Olive oil: Steep nice smelling roots and things in olive oil and rub it on yourself like the Grecians and Romans.
Even though you might want to wash your hair if you have access to water, you might need to drink it to stay alive.
If by some chance you have enough water, you might not have shampoo.
So here are some non-water and non-shampoo ideas.
- Wigs: The Egyptians shaved their heads and wore wigs. The Georgians also liked their wigs, but they greased their hair and pulled it back.
- Eggs: The Victorians washed their hair with eggs. Just cracked it directly onto the head and lathered it up.
- Lye soap: Romans washed their hair with lye soap, made by combining ashes with lard or other oils and fats.
- Vinegar, rosemary water, nettles, mint, thyme: These are all things people in the middle ages used to wash their hair.
6. Oral Hygiene
Tooth maintenance will matter after the end times.
If your teeth rot, things could get pretty unpleasant if robots have killed your dentist.
Without teeth how will you gnaw the meat off rotting carcasses?
So taking care of them might be more important than you think.
Here are a few substitutions for when you run out of Sensodyne, courtesy of our ancestors:
- Chewing sticks: Used by everyone from the ancient Chinese to the Egyptians and Romans. These were simply twigs that people chewed on. But the Egyptians took it to the next level when they frayed one end and sharpened the other.
- Old school toothbrush: Around the 15th Century, the Chinese made the first toothbrushes by attaching a pig's neck hair to a handle of bamboo or bone. The Europeans made them with horsehair in the 1700s because the pig hair was too bristly.
- Toothpaste: Makers of toothpaste across the ages used just about anything they could think of, from the obvious choices like mint and ginger to more random stuff like eggshells, ox hooves, charcoal, bark, crushed bones, and oyster shells. The general rule seems to be as long as you can find something abrasive to mix with something tasty, you'll be okay. One recipe from ancient Egypt combined mint, iris flowers, peppers, and salt. Although it's thought to be one of history's most effective recipes, it also caused bleeding gums, so there's that.
- If you want to whiten your teeth when the Whitestrips have gone, you can use urine like the Romans did. But if the idea of swishing your pee isn't appealing, you can do what the Victorians did and use ground charcoal and honey.
Convinced this is the end of days?
That we're entering Mad Max/Escape from New York territory?
Then you might want to start planning for your hygiene after things go south.
Get your outhouse built and tersoriums stockpiled, so you can be ahead of the curve when everyone realizes the toilet paper's gone and it's not coming back.