The Tissue Shortage Epidemic of New York City

If you’ve ever had a roommate, been a roommate, or known a roommate, you’ll get this.


Written by Sophie Milrom

I recently spent an evening consoling a friend in need of venting over an argument with her roommate. What transpired between the two had turned someone who I consider even keeled, hormonally balanced and outright cheery into the love child of Taylor Swift and Ozzy Osborne (circa Ozzy biting off a bat’s head); she felt wronged, unappreciated, bitter and angry.

As I listened to a play-by-play of what went down in her Chelsea one-bedroom apartment (converted into a two-bedroom via bed sheet and forgiving zoning laws), I found myself able to finish her sentences.

“And in five years of living together I swear to you she has not once—” my friend started.

Bought toilet paper?” I interrupted.

“How did you know,” she asked, dumbfounded.

Having lived in New York City for six years and counting, I’ve watched as countless friendships turned into wars of attrition—a side-effect of sharing overpriced, minuscule living quarters. And when roommate relations digress they often boil down to the lowest common denominator of domestic life: toilet paper.

Yes. We’re talking about otherwise well-adjusted and highly functioning adults fighting over tissues.

In my personal observations, not contributing to your apartment’s supply of toilet paper is the most common—and seemingly loathsome—transgression in the world of roommates. I’m pretty sure “she eats all my food” comes in second.

But why?

Perhaps because it’s a reasonable expectation: toilet paper is easy and cheap, and denying that you use it is a lie. (Though if true it’s even more repugnant, whereas “I don’t even like hummus” is plausible. Kind of. Hummus is universally delicious.)

This is where it gets weird; my friends always seem to be the suppliers as opposed to the users. And most of them, if not all, while crying and screaming to me with frustration, have admitted to keeping toilet paper in their rooms to “test” the other roommate. Each felt it was the logical, and even mature, thing to do. An objective third party might find it petty or passive aggressive but I promise those words do not describe these individuals in any other context.

“It’s the principle,” they explain to me of the matter concerning their anger.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that when someone says “it’s the principle” to explain why he or she is mad, you’ve basically been exiled to emotional Siberia from which you better not dare return until invited back. No defense will do when the Principle Police has been building a case for months—sometimes years—especially over something as trivial as tissues.

This alarmingly frequent situation seems like a lose-lose race to the bottom. That’s an admittedly condescending view seeing as I live alone, but I’ve heard enough of the same stories to feel like an expert. I’m sure there are probably win-the-battle-but-lose-the-war moments along the way (“Let’s see how long she can go without any paper towels,” or “I can’t believe I’ve gotten away with not buying tissues for an entire year!”) but that really doesn’t seem like something you’d want to hang your hat on.

The whole thing is so absurd that it calls to mind the Seinfeld episode where Elaine finds herself trapped in a bathroom without toilet paper. She asks the woman in the next stall over to share some of her stall’s paper. The woman refuses, saying she “can’t spare a square.” The stingy woman turns out to be Jerry’s girlfriend (and a phone-sex worker with whom Kramer’s been chatting up); hilarity ensues.

But that’s a sitcom—shouldn’t real life be less messy?

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  • This brought back memories of hiding toilet paper from my roommates – who I SWEAR TO GOD – never bought their own. The funny thing is that, when I lived in the dorms, the toilet paper was free and kept in the basement (granted it was the very cheap kind) but then the problem was that some roommates didn’t even bother going downstairs once in a while to pick up free toilet paper to replenish each time they finished a roll. What is it about toilet paper that brings out the worst of us?

  • Hanne

    i love this – my roomate and i in berlin are bffs, and never passionately fought over toilet paper, but we both LOATH buying it, and do anything to have the other do it. walking home from the supermarket carrying toilet paper, or even picking it up from the shelf and standing in line holding it, is so awkward, you’re carrying the undeniable, unignorable proof that you shit. i could never flirt with the cashier or anybody carrying toilet paper, it is so weird… i have no problem with feminine products, condoms or telling pharmaceuticals, but toilet paper?? that diminishes all sexiness and makes you just another human… to treat the other, me or my roommate sometimes really stock up, and we know how stupid we are, but we are always so happy about it.

  • Rose

    Weirdly enough, I live in NYC and have never bought toilet paper…but, that’s because one of my roommates is very particular and perfectly content with buying all of it to get the brand he likes (to be fair-or unfair?-he has never once cleaned so much as a square inch of the bathroom. It’s a tradeoff, I suppose.)

  • Tierney @ The Preppy Leopard

    I knew I could feel like that sometimes with my last roommate, so with my new roommates, I started off with a new house policy. I have a monthly Amazon Prime shipment that includes stuff like cleaning supplies, trash bags, toilet paper, paper towels, etc–of which I tack on a portion to their rent. And to make sure no one felt cheated, I made them an itemized list of all the stuff we were getting and broke down the costs. Everyone agreed it looked good, and now the only disagreement we’ve had so far is about the thermostat!

    • Suzy_Q

      Such a smart cookie! Definitely the mature way to go about it 🙂

  • Raquel

    The best are the passive aggressive sticky notes, like “If you’re going to use the last sheet of toilet paper, at least have the decency to replace it – THANKS” aaah, friendship.

  • dd

    omg this is spot on, and HIGH-larious. p.s. is it too early to request a blog post on the topic of Halloween costume ideas???

  • Madeline Zappala

    My roommates and I decided to start a fun ( -____-) game tallying up how many squares each of us used…it turned (for some) into a race to use the least. But I honestly had a sanitary boundary. You don’t need a tp-mitten but one square per use – too far.

    • Amatoria Clothing

      hahaha! One square is downright disgusting!…. I have to admit. I have a pet-peeve about paper-towels. People always grab FOUR paper towels and then barely get them moist and throw them away. I want to grab them and say, “PAPER TOWELS ABSORB MOISTURE!” One usually does the trick… two at the MOST. I am always happy to see those touch-less hand-dryers!

      • Jessica

        Here’s a tried and true hand-drying technique (as perfected in a very entertaining TED talk). After washing your hands, shake them off approximately 10 times, take ONE meager piece of papertowel, FOLD IT IN HALF (that’s the important part), and dry away. That’s all you need! I promise you’ll never waste more paper towel then you need!

  • Amatoria Clothing

    This is hilarious. Unfortunately, things like this happen even when you start living with a man-friend…. I find it better to be straight up about it and say, “it’s your turn to buy the toilet paper”.

  • Been there. As passive aggressive as I consider myself outside of the home, I’ve found that it’s just best to talk, negotiate, and agree that, of two household items that are most often used, you split who buys particular items. I go through more toilet paper than boyfriend and he goes through more paper towels (hello! cloth napkins, people!). The agreement has worked out well so far….though he isn’t always too happy with my frugality when it comes to TP.

  • contentnet

    Why can’t people buy a year’s-worth of TP at their favorite wholesale warehouse? You can decide who buys for what year, hoping the relationship will last that long, and call it a day!

  • Chrissabella

    Hahah great post and I think everyone who every shared a flat with a friend has been down that road … what made me lose my cool sometimes was also when all pots and plates haven been left dirty and I first had to clean them in order to cook 😉

    But I guess that’s a learning curve and very character building ha

    Greetings from London,

  • Laura

    I’ve only had a roommate for a month now and I can assure you this is repetitive behavior. I mean, I like her, but hasn’t she noticed that I’ve bought a pack of toilet paper every week since she is here, and she hasn’t buy any?! Darn, what’s wrong with people?

  • Charlotte

    This was a big issue with my old roommates but my new roommate and I partake in a collaborative game called “let’s see how long we can go without buying TP for.” It’s been two months. Sorry to all the bars and restaurants we have stolen from.

  • Aubrey Green

    I think it’s just as bad when the other person doesn’t put the new toilet paper roll in it’s place, it just sits the new roll on the old one; laziness at it’s finest!

  • Bethanie Marshall

    I have only had to share a bathroom once, when I lived in LA for the summer to intern. I’m pretty sure the girls who sublet the apartment to us just left a huge stock of it. Every other place I have rented, up until living with my boyfriend, have had 2 bathrooms. I guess that would be one of the little bonuses of living where I do.

  • Camille Ervin

    LOLL This reminds me of when students on my campus would steal tissue from the bathrooms. Broke college students?

  • Lilli

    When I first read this i thought ‘ my housemate and i never have this problem’…then ….HOLY SHIT I’ve realised I’m the one that has NEVER bought the tissue!!!

    • nosygirl

      I am curious, I am sure some of us here do as well. Why do you not buy any ever? Have you ever thought about it? Do you tend to think about other peoples feeling from time to time or that doesn’t come to you mind most of the time? If we can solve this mystery it would be very helpful between flatmates who buy and don’t buy, because they are either very insensitive or they are just assholes, or with your answer, there could be another outcome.

  • I don’t think I can’t not relate to this. (Sorry, for the triple negatives!) It’s totally true.

    Your Friend, Jess

  • O lord, the memories are coming back of my previous roomie situations. many that have ended over the most absurd arguments. There’s several rules that should just be common sense when it comes to having a roomie. Never going back to those days again haha!



  • Reading this makes me feel crazy for getting angry that my roommate never buys toilet roll!

  • Gwen

    I got into an argument over which kind of toilet paper we should get with my very first roommate and since then I don’t share it. I’m upfront and tell any future roommates that I don’t share it and they need to get their own. Then we are all happy.

  • Raquel

    I was going out with my future roommate, and we were on a date. When we were going back to his place it was like 1am, we passed in front of a supermarket, and all of a sudden he remembered that none of his roommates had bought toillet paper, and them we had to go in and get some. That used to piss him off, as we ended up living together, and all the fights were about damn toilet paper.

  • Kayla

    2 stories. I’ve never had this issue but both my male friends who have roommates and my female friends have had this issue and it is so mind blowing and hilarious to me! Neither situation involved an argument over it, although they would vent to me about it. The female situation ended with the girl asking her roommate if she “ate toilet paper” because they would go through a roll in about a day and half (according to her.) The male situation was the major complaint of one party purchasing while the other didn’t. The toilet paper hoarding began on my friend’s behalf. Better yet, he would take it with him to the restroom and carry it back to his room when leaving the restroom.

    I now have to consider myself lucky. But I couldn’t possibly have this much luck..I pray this toilet tissue issue doesn’t catch up with me when I’m married lol

  • nosygirl

    What about the ones who NEVER change the toilet rolls and leave the last square on so the other person has to do it? Damn!

  • I had a roommate in law school, known these days quite lovingly as “Roomie”. I am relieved to say we never had this issue, with tissue. In fact we were rather diabolical and would save money (British pounds to be exact because we were living in Wales and everything was so fucking expensive) by “borrowing” toilet tissue whenever we needed some. On girls nights out when our stock was running low she would bust out “the big purse”. It was a gorgeous yellow leather Marc Jacobs, and she would sacrifice bringing it along to a grungy club just so we could swipe one of the big rolls of industrial toilet paper from the washroom. The theft definitely brought us closer as friends.

  • I only had one roommate who did this, and it really does bring one to the boiling point. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stranded in a bathroom without toilet paper, and realizing you’re probably sitting in an apartment without toilet paper. I was never too mad about it, though – she also had a nasty habit of not paying her bills or rent, and then ordering hundreds of dollars worth of Victoria’s Secret and having it sent to the apartment. That, my dears, is a bigger fish to fry than toilet issues…or tissues.

    Living with my husband now, I have to say I’ve run into the “I don’t use toilet paper” argument from him more times than I can count. This coming from the man who currently occupies 2 of 3 bathrooms in our current place (no, we don’t need that many…it’s a byproduct of the bedbug fiasco…our new apartment is disgustingly huge). Oh, and we run through toilet paper furiously now – even though I’m pretty sure I can go with 2 rolls a week. Where do the other 10 rolls go? I have no idea…you know, since he doesn’t use toilet paper EVER. 😉

    See? They should put “Toilet Paper Betrayal” as a checkbox right under “Irreconcilable Differences” on divorce paperwork. I’m sure it’s led to a few. 😉

    • Paperstarz

      TWO rolls per week??!! I thought we were going through it too quickly, we’re three and we go through one roll/week.

      • I don’t have tissues in my bathroom, so sometimes it does double duty. I should probably just suck it up and buy tissues…haha!

  • Madame Skittle

    OMG! this is my life! i just suck it up and buy it at this point after 3 yrs cause why be frustrated? I also rationalized that if I lived alone, i would be always buying it anyway…so w/e…the other reason is the times where I would purposefully not buy any and save a roll in my room, she would buy the cheapest ($1- REALLY?) toilet paper and only like 2 rolls. REALLY? either she is just that cheap (probably) or she knows that I will get frustrated and buy the 20-32 roll pack right after? ugh i need to move…

  • Paperstarz

    Running out of butt towels,…

  • WordToAdina

    This is hilarious because when I moved to NYC I’d get the large pack for cheaper and it would last quite a while. My roomie would get the single roll EVERYTIME!! I didn’t even know they came like that before moving to the city!

  • Pualani@TheRustedKey

    Yes the roommate conundrum. I bought a Costco-sized package of premium two-ply toilet paper because last year the dorms only supplied barely-there one-ply toilet paper, and I vowed to never make my tush go through that struggle again. Because I’ve never had to buy toilet paper before, I thought it’d last a couple months. It’s been one month and there’s only a layer of rolls left. How many squares does a person really need?

  • Lou

    As a observer of this argument/situation I can safely hope that I will never be as petty to argue with my future room mates over something as trivial as toilet paper. Or as we sometimes call it over here in UK-land ‘bog roll’ – that’s your British slang lesson for the day. I mean its not like toilet paper is ever likely to break the bank is it? Surely if your room mates behaviour is annoying you so much why not talk about it before your head explodes like a metaphorical volcano and causes WW3 in your abode? Just a thought.

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  • Don’t waste your money on Toilet Paper because it’s obsolete. Enjoy superior, hygiene by washing with water from a Hand Bidet Sprayer. Far cleaner, healthier, saves money and you never run out!