The Mystery of the Bathroom Trash Can

Why doesn’t your disgusting boyfriend have one? Let’s see.

Trash bin in a bathroom, cleaning concept
exploiting the gender bin-ary

Even when accessing the unlimited bounds of the human imagination and the unlimited depths of human depravity, it’s hard to imagine a place more vile than the apartment bathroom of a man in his early twenties. Beard hair in the sink; a toothbrush sitting out, coated in imperceptible fecal matter and perceptible old toothpaste; empty roll of toilet paper in the holder and a fuller roll on the floor. Contact lens casing and used floss and tissues laid out carefully on the sink, lest they fall to the invariably wet and pubic-hair-coated ground beneath, where they would be sentenced to remain indefinitely. A brown towel that has never been washed. Toilet lid always open. Shower bereft of soaplike products.

For those who do not occupy such a space, the scene inspires many questions. “Do you not understand that leaving the toilet seat up while flushing means you’re coating the entire room in whatever was in the toilet?” for one. “Do you wash your body with … Pert?” for another. But most pressingly: Why isn’t there a fucking trash can in here?

The subject of bathroom trash cans came up recently with a group of friends. A man in the group, now in his forties, was reminiscing about the time a female friend suggested he get a trash can for his bathroom “if you want girls to stay here.” And it is true that those with periods (and without diva cups) produce more bathroom trash than those without periods (or diva cups). Still, a bathroom produces other trash — where, I asked my friend, did that trash go?

“Men do not make a lot of trash in the bathroom,” he said, which can only be incorrect. “But if there was anything I really needed to get rid of in the bathroom there was always the toilet.” In the story, he was 24 and living in a studio apartment. Rather than flush the toilet every time he needed to get rid of something — Al Gore’s nightmare — why didn’t he just get a trash can for himself? “I think it is a thing men do not think about!”

The goings-on in the bathroom invariably make trash. Empty toilet paper rolls, used floss, the packaging from toothpaste, the plastic from a mouthwash bottle, tissues, those horrible plastic floss picks, beard trimmings, nail trimmings. If you’re in this canless situation and not regularly cleaning the bathroom, which I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you are not, I’d say you’re at least, every once in a while, using toilet paper to wipe down the sink. The bathroom is kitchen-like in its need for a trash can, which is why the bathroom trash can exists as one of the two major options of in-home trash cans. Why do these men in their early twenties (and beyond) not seem to recognize them as necessary?

To study this phenomenon I made a Google form labeled “for men” and shared it via my Twitter account, retweeting it at various times of the day in order to reach the largest audience possible with the modest amount of effort I was willing to expend. I received a total of 112 responses, which is actually not bad. The following are my results.

First I had to test my theory. Do my male responders have trash cans in their bathrooms?

Hm. Okay — this datum seemingly does not support my theory. But it’s likely that the audience I reach is older than the age demographic I’m trying to test. Did they at any point not have a trash can in their bathroom?

18 percent — now we’re getting somewhere. (I do suspect a healthy number of those who said they never didn’t have a trash can are lying, or that perhaps those who choose to follow me on Twitter are a particularly enlightened bunch, compromising the data.) Shockingly, the average age of men without bathroom trash cans — whether at present or in the past — was 30. This is at least four years older than I anticipated. The oldest non-bathroom trash can age of those surveyed was “44 :(“, from a man who appropriately responded with a sad face after his age. The youngest was 19.

When asked where men without bathroom trash cans put their bathroom trash, then, many reported that they took it out of the bathroom and into the kitchen to dispose of it. “In the kitchen trash around the corner, I've always lived in apartments. But I know why it's more important for women, which is why it's awful I haven't got one…,” said one ally with knowledge of women. “I’d carry it into the kitchen bathroom,” said one guy who I imagine made a mistake while typing. “Kitchen garbage,” “Kitchen bin,” “bin in kitchen,” “kitchen bin.” (A lot of British people responded, apparently.) For those who did not take their trash into the kitchen, the option seemed to be toilet. “Either flushed or it'd just be on the counter forever,” “toilet or external trash.” One man just said “Counter.”

I asked why, then, since they produced bathroom trash, didn’t they just get a bathroom trash can? “This is a very good point,” said one responder. Thank you. Lack of space and lack of desire to empty another trash can, particularly with roommates who might fight over the job, were typical responses. Never thinking of it was another. (“My partner never brings it up, and only one guest has ever [I felt terrible] ... It's never high enough in my mental to do list to remember.”) And in one case there was a lightly anticapitalist sentiment to it: “I either never thought of it, or I didn’t like the idea of having to buy two sizes of trash bag. I remember when I did finally get one, it really offended me that the Simple Human company was selling a proprietary bag. I begrudged the ‘lock in effect’ and almost closed the tab. In practice this hasn’t been a major problem.”

Some responses were a bit headier. “More trash cans is more objects on the floor,” said a man. “The end goal of trash removal is to have fewer objects on the floor. I have very little floor space in my bathroom to begin with, as I have set up a large fan on a bar stool to blow cigarette smoke out of my shower window.” Okay.

But clearly there was a discrepancy in the percentage of those without bathroom trash cans now, and those without bathroom trash cans ever. I think you could guess that the impetus to finally get a place to put all of the trash those surveyed accumulated in their bathrooms was mostly partner-related. “Girlfriend told me women need bathroom trash cans for bathroom trash / feminine products,” “I moved in with my partner, who wanted one,” “girlfriend :),” “Girlfriend (now wife),” “Marriage.” “My friend Sarah told me I had to get one if I wanted to have women over at my apartment.” And yes, we are grateful to the Sarahs of the world.

Otherwise, moving into an apartment of one’s own from an apartment shared with roommates seemed to do the trick, exposing the odd sentiment that a home with multiple people producing bathroom trash is fine without a trash receptacle, whereas a home with one person producing bathroom trash requires a trash receptacle. And finally, there was the love of beauty. “Happened to find a trash can that has a picture on the front that I enjoy.”

A fascinating data set. While we may never understand the mind of a man without a bathroom trash can, or accept the reasoning behind his decision as sound, we can listen to him. And after we’re done listening, we can pause for a respectful amount of time. And then we can say: “Okay, but you do actually need to get a bathroom trash can.”