What kind of toilet do you have?

Susan stood in front of me as hundreds of women surged past us on their way to hear Ani DeFranco on stage. “Well?”

I took a moment, searching for the best euphemism but gave up. “I shit in a bucket.”

It’s a nice bucket. It sits in a nice wooden box with a lid. I shit in a bucket. A honey box. Outhouse. Compost toilet. Humanure. There are so many ways to speak nicely of my toilet.  The question is asked often though, more than I’d expected after living off grid most of my adult life. Curious as to how I live, these strangers and friends wonder about my ablutions.

Let me explain. Life off grid, my style, is to keep it simple. Rain-catchment into 800 gallon tanks that feed the kitchen and one for the bathroom. Solar electric power, a small system of 150 watts, which is enough for this computer, the lights, water pumps, and internet. I don’t need a hairdryer, this in New Mexico, everything dries within minutes.

There’s a woodstove in the living room and a small propane one in the kitchen. The fridge and stove are propane too and they deliver out here as needed, about twice a year on average. Not bad. Not expensive. And after many a year without a fridge, I love having cream for the coffee and a cold beer waiting at the end of the day.

That’s your introduction. Back to my buckets. Yep, you know what I do in them but why? and how do you deal with it afterwards?

Yes, I have choices, a bucket, a compost toilet, or an outhouse. I don’t have enough water or funds for a traditional septic system, and why bother when these other methods work pretty well. It’s much more hands on though, and not everyone who visits  me likes that aspect.

When you do what you do in the clean green bucket, cover everything with sawdust or peatmoss. This is to contain smells, visuals, and helps decompose your shit. When the bucket’s close to full, then bring it out to the compost pile…but make sure your pups aren’t anywhere near. Dogs are nasty critters, well, Rosie is. So I made the compost pile with four pallets tied together, then fenced off to keep her little white nose from browning. I keep a bale of straw near by, again, to cover the layers of poop and sawdust, to help decompose and smother the smell.

It’s not bad, I like having the indoor bucket toilet but I am thinking of changing it up. That’s where this essay comes in. I’m thinking outloud. You see, I’m tired of emptying buckets when people stay up here. I’m tired of buying the straw, the sawdust, the cleaning supplies to bleach and scrub the buckets. It’s time for a change. The question is, do I go back to an outhouse?

I do love my outhouse, but it’s filling fast. I need to pay someone with a small backhoe to dig another deep hole, one to last a few years at a time. The cost to dig, and rebuild is close to $300.

So I started thinking of getting an actual premade compost toilet. Those plastic kinds you see in Backwoods Magazine and the such. The pros? Once every few weeks or even a month before cleaning out the tray underneath. The seat is clean and professional looking these days, nice and traditional in shape more often than not. The cons? Cost. The cheapest I’ve found is a Biolet non-electric for $1200. The need for fans. The fact that if you don’t quite keep the balance of peatmoss and ‘presents’, then the cleaning tray isn’t quite so nice to empty. It’s work if you mess it up…I’m also not sure of the smell. Some reviews say you’d need an electric fan to keep the outside not smelling of urine. Other people say it depends on the temperatures. The reviews are mixed.

Photo on 4-28-14 at 5.04 PM

I’m confused. Does it make sense to keep doing what I’m doing with the buckets? Throw down a few hundred for each new outhouse? Or use my savings on a plastic pre-made compost toilet that might smell?

So I ask you. What kind of toilet do you have?

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Author: Sarah Leamy

Sarah Leamy is a freelance writer, a novelist, and cartoonist. She is currently a MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is on the editorial team at Upstreet, Hunger Mountain, and Wanderlust-Journal. She is writing a collection of short stories and prose poems. She lives in Vermont.

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