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Confessions of a Hotel Toiletries Hoarder

Also explained: Why hotels give you free shampoo but not toothpaste

My name is Michele and I have a small problem. Well, it started with small things but the problem grows bigger and bigger. I take all those mini toiletry products from hotel rooms and I hoard them. I have bins upon bins of them – not your polite kitchen-sized containers, but ones big enough that they could otherwise be used to store the family Christmas tree. They’re stacked more than four feet high in my walk-in closet.

Inside are hundreds and hundreds of gels, shampoos, conditioners, lotions and potions of all makes, plus makeup remover wipes, shower caps, sewing kits, mouthwash, tiny bags of cotton balls, and even the odd shoehorn and pairs of monogrammed hotel slippers. Clearly, it all got to be a bit much.

My habit started innocently enough. My summers were spent road tripping with my parents, visiting relatives in Nova Scotia or Alberta. We’d stay at motels and hotels along the way. The first time I saw a tiny, fragrant soap wrapped up in paper that I wanted to claim was in the bathroom of a Days Inn in Burlington, Vermont.

I was just nine years old, but I thought it was a wondrous thing – so cute, small and child-size. “This is free! I can take this?” I asked. It felt like it was the greatest gift ever and free! Before anyone had a chance to open it, I tucked my treasured souvenir in my suitcase. My mom indulged me by asking the front desk for more soap.

“A study found that 24% of respondents admitted to 'hoarding' hotel toiletries”

Once home, I would unpack my supply and neatly put them in a Black Magic chocolate box. On occasion, I’d look at them and remember the hotels that “gifted” them. Once in a while, I would even use a soap I especially liked.

That was the beginning. I soon evolved from soap to anything else that was offered, from combs to shoe shine mitts. When I began my career as a travel journalist more than 15 years ago, I had many more opportunities to sweep toiletries from hotel bathroom counters all over the world into my cosmetics case. These days, I stay in hotels an average of 50 nights a year.

I love hotels and their toiletries. My fascination has not waned at all through the years. In fact, it’s deepened because I am fortunate enough to stay at amazing properties, from Bali to Newfoundland and Germany – and the nicer the hotel, the nicer the toiletries. Whenever I check into a hotel room, my first stop is the bathroom to see what kind it has. It’s still exciting.

I don’t think I’m alone in my obsession. A recent Expedia study found that 24% of respondents admitted to “hoarding” hotel toiletries. That’s when you swipe and pack away every one of them from the bathroom counter on the very first night of your stay so that housekeeping will fully replenish them the next day.

I do that. I also take home partial bottles of stuff I’ve used, including bars of soap. Otherwise, they go in the trash. I’m eco-friendly, you know. Plus this makes up for the fact that I sometimes leave my television set on in my room when I’m out at dinner as a safety measure.

Michele Sponagle

A very tiny sample of the author's very large hoard of very small personal care items

Another stat to ponder: 73% of Americans admitted they took hotel toiletries (no Canadian figure is available, leaving the effect of the politeness factor unknown). By the way, I have issues with the word “admitted.” It’s not wrong to take toiletries. Hotels know you will, and are at peace with that. And besides, it’s built into the room rate.

Addiction management

There are natural limits to how much you should hoard, of course. When I no longer had anywhere left to stuff additional bins of toiletries, it was time to tame my bloated stash. First, I started making little goody bags of products together for any overnight guests staying with me. Secondly, I took a garbage bag full of the most useful stuff to a local women’s shelter, which was super happy to have it. And third, I developed new – and may I say ingenious? – uses for what I had.

I found shower gels make good liquid hand soap, so I spent more time than I care to admit to pour the contents of dozens of little bottles into one big dispenser. I swirled them together and made a one-of-a-kind Franken-scent – a mash up of the nicest smelling products into a truly exclusive creation never to be replicated anywhere else, ever.

“I’ll stuff anything made locally into my suitcase”

As for conditioners, I read that they were an ideal swap for shaving cream since they are thick and cling to the skin. That turned out to be true, and now my hair-free, smooth legs smell like a mix of peppermint gum and oranges. It didn’t cause my boyfriend to kick me out of bed, so it’s all good.

Shower caps are remarkably useful, though I’ve never even put one on my head. I put them over my dirty running shoes and boots before I pack them in my suitcase. In hotels, they are handy placed over plates of leftover salads, cheese trays and such from in-room dining to keep them fresh. I’ve also used them to keep my camera dry in a rainstorm. You laugh, but one day these tips could save you.

Most of all, I have whittled back the toiletries I take. I’m strong enough now to leave some behind. But I’m very discerning about which brands are swipe worthy. Aveda – even its rosemary mint shampoo, so common in hotels? Nope. That doesn’t cut it any more.

On my hit list are items from L’Occitane, Bliss (found at W Hotels), Molton Brown, Jo Malone, Bvlgari, Hermès and the ones that you get from Fairmont properties with your name on the bottles. It would be rude not to take those.

Plus I’ll stuff anything made locally into my suitcase as well. Examples: Indigena products (stocked by Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn), Peruvian pink bath salt (from JW Marriott El Convento Cusco), Sea Flora goodies (made with seaweed around Vancouver Island, offered by The Wickanannish Inn in Tofino).

Some lingering questions

The world of hotel toiletries is a curious one. It’s something I think about often. I’d love to know why North American hotels never give you those cute-as-a-button little tubes of toothpaste that you get at some Asian properties. I mean, doesn’t everyone brush their teeth? I did some digging and found out why toothpaste is AWOL.

It turns out it relates to ratings. A company like AAA, which doles out diamonds from one to five to hotels, has very specific demands around toiletries. A one-diamond property can get away with providing as little as two small bars of soap. A fiver is expected to provide guests with two much bigger ones, plus a wide assortment of goops, lotions, combs and cotton swabs. For whatever reason, toothpaste is not among the requirements.

When will this shunning of toothpaste end? Maybe soon. Hyatt properties have got the ball rolling. They now stock their bathrooms with travel-sized Aquafresh Extreme Clean toothpaste. Perhaps others will follow suit.

As a toiletry connoisseur, I have another grievance I’d like to bring up. Lately, I’ve noticed there are hotels are spoiling the party for the toiletry hoarding crowd. They affix big dispensers to the shower wall, which pump out cleanser, shampoo and condition from big stupid plastic spouts – all at the expense of those darling little mini bottles we have loved so dearly.

To these hotels, here is my plea: I demand so little from this world. Please just let me have a floral, spicy, fruity cache of toiletries to enjoy as I see fit. Is that too much too ask?

Published Monday, October 17th 2016

Header image credit: Shutterstock

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