Where it counts

Folks, it's that time of year again. Welcome to Round Two of the Bathroom Blogfest. Bloggers around the world will be asking and answering questions about the importance of restrooms in the customer experience.

I, however, have a slightly different kind of question. It's a bit more...personal. This question was posed to me many years ago, when I was a teenage counselor at summer camp. It shocked me, and it may shock you too.

On the first night of camp, before the kids arrived, the counselors were playing getting-to-know-you games. One went like this: the camp director would call out a category with two options, and we'd self-organize into groups based on our choices. For instance, he'd say "Peanut butter: creamy or crunchy?" The creamy folks would run to one side of the room; the crunchy folks, the other. We'd all laugh and high-five over our shared preferences. The game went on for a while - "Airplane seat: window or aisle?" "Superpower: flight or invisibility?"

But then came a question that reverberated throughout the big rec hall. "Toilet paper: crumple or fold?"

Wait - people fold?

I had no idea anyone folded their toilet paper. What, like, in half? In thirds? In origami cranes? I was shocked and intrigued. But no time for questions - I ran to the crumple team, where everyone was hysterical. We crumplers were cracking up with lines like, "Hell yeah I crumple!" and "Who has time to fold?" Meanwhile, the folders were looking at us like we were heathens: "Those people scrunch up their toilet paper?" "Do they not care about anything?"


As you may know, I am forever preoccupied with an ongoing quest to better understand the details of people's everyday lives. Not only their shopping lists, but their secrets, their morning rituals, what they have in their bags, wallets and fridges. And today is no exception. Dear reader, please take my poll.

Thanks. I can't tell you how excited I am to see these results.

Now, when I heard this question for the first time, not only was I surprised to learn that people did things differently than me, I was amazed at how enthusiastic the two sides became. We immediately bonded within our groups. I think there was even some chanting, along the lines of "CRUM-PLE! CRUM-PLE!" Men and women, old and young, we all cared passionately about our TP.

And we still do. I would argue that toilet paper represents the make-or-break moment of the restroom experience. If it's great, everything else can be forgiven. And if it's bad, or (gasp) gone, well, all the scented soap in the world won't bring it back.

Because let's get specific for a moment here. There are a number of ways in which we physically interact with the bathroom around us. Our feet touch the floor. Our hands touch the doors, the flushers and the faucets. Sometimes our waists touch the counter. But our nether regions - invariably our most personal, private parts - touch one thing and one thing only. So what are we going to care most about?

Now I don't think any sane consumer would articulate this if asked, but I believe that every other element in a restroom only serves as a clue as to whether or not the toilet paper is good. When I'm waiting in line, I'm subconsciously evaluating all these elements, in an effort to guess at what the TP situation will be. If I step into a restroom and the floor is marble, I heave a secret sigh of relief. I know it'll be plush. And if I step into a restroom and there is garbage on the floor, fear strikes my heart. I check to make sure there is some in my stall before I even shut the door.

Now sometimes, the toilet paper is inconsistent with the rest of the experience. In this case, I typically weight TP higher when casting my overall vote. If the bathroom is nice but the toilet paper is thin and abrasive, it speaks volumes. I now know that this store/office/restaurant has tried to make surface improvements in order to wow people, but the fancy tissue box and designer art are only aesthetic. This place doesn't really care. And conversely, if the bathroom is nothing special but the toilet paper is soft and durable, with ribs or quilts or clouds, I feel that the place is reaching out to me. That they are saying, "We know where it counts."

Like any experience, we expect bathrooms to be consistent. And obviously, women and men would love it if they were all havens of comfort and relaxation. But in reality, they can't all be the Shangri-La of restrooms, and I understand that. My assertion is simply that if you were going to do one thing to improve your restroom - just ONE thing - that one thing should be to upgrade your toilet paper. People will appreciate this on a much deeper level than if you went for fancy faucets. It's, shall we say, closer to home.

Whether you crumple or fold, welcome to the Bathroom Blogfest!

For more Bathroom Blogfest all week long, please check out:

Adaptive Path
Blog Till You Drop
Checking Out and Checking In
Customer Experience Crossroads
Customers Are Always
Customers Rock!
Diva Marketing
The Engaging Brand
Fast Company Now
Flooring the Consumer
K+B DeltaVee
Library Bytes
Life and Its Little Pleasures
Practical Katie
Purple Wren
Qualitative Research
Results Revolution
Spirit Women
The Ultimate Corporate Entrepreneur


Anonymous said...


CB Whittemore said...

Sara, great post and poll! The results will definitely be interesting [fold, fold].

Anonymous said...


You are sooooo correct!

Have you seen the latest ad for (I'm ashamed to admit I don't remember the brand) toilet paper in which it states, "the only beauty product you use an average of 5 times a day" or something along those lines? I did a double take and realized it really is a beauty product - and a VERY important one at that.

When I first moved out on my own, I purchased no brand name foods but there's no way I will "save" by purchasing cheap toilet paper (or ketchup - but that's another blog).

practical katie said...

Oh my goodness. People FOLD toilet paper??? Who knew?

Katie Konrath said...

When I was in high school, I worked in a restaurant as a hostess, and the first thing they told me was that it's extremely important to keep the bathrooms clean and stocked. Apparently people judge the restaurant on the upkeep of the bathroom.

A couple years down the road, I find myself completely agreeing. If a place doesn't care enough about its customers to take care of the bathrooms (a vitally important part of a restaurant for most of us), what else are they skimping on.

On the other hand though, I've never heard of the crumple or fold debate. Will be interesting to see how it turns out!

sara said...

Practical Katie, I KNOW!!! Isn't it surprising?

You know, I live with a folder, and he was shocked to learn that I crumpled! I won't go into the details of our debates, but we have definitely gone back and forth on the merits of each...

Anonymous said...

Seriously, until today I've never even heard of crumple. How do you crumple? Do you grab a bunch of paper, squish it into a ball, and wipe yourself with it? I'm so confused. Now I can add bathroom habits to the list of things my parents failed to teach me.

sara said...

Most recent Anonymous, that is so hilarious. We are enlightening both sides of the debate! Who knows - there might even be a "different TP prepper" living in YOUR HOUSE! (Sure hope this doesn't inspire any weird social prejudice...)

Hmm. I wouldn't call it a "ball" per se, it's not that um, tightly wadded. It's more like a loose wrinkly rumpled poof. Kinda like a shower poof.

Crumplers, am I right?

My question is, where the hell did we learn these things? Did half our parents migrate here from the western hemisphere, the other half eastern, and bring with them their TP traditions? Who started crumple versus fold?

Anonymous said...


I thought crumplers were forbidden to associate with folders and vice versa? It’s kind of the Capulets and the Montagues...just don't let your family find out this forbidden secret.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your stand on judging an establishment by the quality of its toilet paper. Thick, cushy TP can clog old plumbing, causing even worse problems! To me the most important consideration is if the toilets are in working condition. Cleanliness of the area and a generous supply of paper are also very important.

Oregongirl82 said...

Wow ... I'd never heard of the debate between crumple and fold either! But it intrigued me enough that I had to write my own blog on it too LOL. And I also agree that the quality (but also quantity) of the TP is a major factor of judging a restroom. Nancy brings up a good point that plushy TP could be bad for plumbing in some places though ... hadn't thought of that!

PS ... crumple!!!

sara said...

Bill, I've begun checking and have confirmed that at least 3 of my immediate family members crumple, including both parents. Obviously, we all had to learn from someone!

Nancy, good point. The establishment shouldn't get too ambitious by adding thick TP without upgrading plumbing. I think decent plumbing should be the cost of entry for providing a public restroom, but obviously not every store shares my sentiment!

Poll update: the crumples are still in the lead with a solid 60% of the vote! But the race is getting closer every day...

Anonymous said...

Sara - I will never 'experience' TP again without thinking of your post!

erin said...

This is hilarious! Is toilet paper quality another blog post? I have to say I am very particular about this as well. Soft vs hard. One ply vs two. Too many choices. So what does crumpling say about a person. Did you find that you had other things in common with the other crumplers???

cheapskate said...

Hey Sara-

This is Kelli from the shopper conference (as I shall forever now be called) and I decided to finally comment after months of reading. I wholeheartedly agree that the bathroom is crucial to the opinion of the establishment..in many ways. Cool bar, only one stall = terrible Comfortably dumpy bar, grossly dumpy bathroom, but with a BATHROOM ATTENDANT (!)= OH CRAP (no pun intended). Growing up my parents always bought the stiff, thin, cheap toilet paper (sometimes even the COLORED kind, ugh!) and I vowed I would never do the same. I splurge where it counts. One other strange TP habit...I never knew there was a "wrong" way to put the TP on the roll..until my BF told me..now I'm a staunch believer...apparently my parents didn't teach me that..did everone else's? And I'm a proud crumpler. Whoa, long comment, you inspired me.

sara said...

Erin, that's a good question. What does crumpling say about you? Does it have anything to do with your other personal-hygiene habits, or your general cleanliness or attention to detail?

That was my original thesis, but now I'm not so sure. I've been getting the sense that we were all simply taught one method by our parents, and that once we learned, there was no need to change. Both ways get the job done, so to speak. It's kinda like our preference for the roll being pulled from the top versus the bottom. I think we just do what our parents did.

Hi Kelli! I have to agree wholeheartedly that colored toilet paper is the second creepiest bathroom-related thing on earth. The creepiest? Blue toilet water.

PS, I hope everyone is voting in the poll, because that is "where it counts." These comments are always welcome, but please also voice your support with data! (The race is getting closer, so every vote counts!)

Anonymous said...

I agree that the "how you put the tp on the roll" is also a topic of heated debate. I live with someone who does it "the wrong way," and I will usually go to the lengths of changing it so that it pulls the way I like it (from the top!).

Interestingly, I don't think the crumple vs. fold debate has reached pop culture, but the top vs. bottom roll has. There was a movie many years back--I think it was "How to Deal" with Mandy Moore--that had the sister's fiance toasting her pre-wedding with the joke that she taught him that there was a right way and a wrong way to load toilet paper on the roll. The sister's character was SUPER-anal. But still.

Also, I'm crumple all the way. Not a coincidence that Sara and I are related! Must have come from our 'rents.

Anonymous said...

Toilet paper is only correct when it is pulled from the top! I remember reading this in Ann Landers' column many years ago, and I still believe it's true! Bottom pullers, you are wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Anonymous said...

Forgive me if this posts twice.

I am a crumpler myself but did know that others fold. Don't know how I came upon this information though. Also, I am a militant "over" person. It annoys me to no end when others put the TP in the holder so that it dispense "under".

I judge a restroom on the smell and cleanliness. I am blessed/cursed with a very acute sense of smell so I am immediately aware of mold, mildew, and general states of unsanitariness (is that a word).

One other thing I look for are foot pedals for flushing the commode. You don't see them too much anymore as they cost more to install. I work for a large company that has two campuses, one built in the 70's and the other in the 90's. The 70's one has foot pedals and is where I work. When people ask me if I like 70's building better I say yes and tick off reasons that are valid such as not feeling like you are in a warehouse, but in my head I'm thinking that the foot pedals are the real reason.

As George Carlin says, "These are things I think of when the lights go out."

Love your articles Sara.

cheapskate said...

Oh my goodness, i just came across this article on the economics of toilet paper (which mentions folding as a cost-saving measure!) on MSNBC:


Anonymous said...

Who has time to fold?!

DASully said...

I don't think the "Folder's" can be trusted. My guess is they clean the house before having the cleaning person show up - or send "Thank-you" cards to people thanking them for their "thank-you" card. I think it was Robert Frost who said, "If you fold - you must be old"....I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I just had to say it: I really love your writing.
And this toilet paper post is really hilarious.
I didn't think people crumple the TP.
I'm a really organized person, by nature - I always have a tidy closet, perfectly ironed shirts, and perfectly sharpened eye-liners.
I can't stand messy heaps of...well, anything. The sheer thought of using the TP in an un-organized fashion gives me nightmares! ;)
You rock

Anonymous said...

This is a little weird, but can I get involved in this bathroom blogfest (this year 2008)? I've been looking for an excuse to write about the innovative rest-stop bathrooms from the places I've visited in the past years.

So, if it's possible, I'd love to participate in this.

Anonymous said...

This is a blog refered to by another blog mortgage implode.com so I am a blog aholic but thats another story.

I am a crumple with over the top roll history....truth be told I prefer those mini baby wipes then you don't have to worry about crumple or fold it just takes care of business!!

Anonymous said...


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