Opinion: Bathroom Economics

Anthony Russo

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about weighing marginal costs and benefits in our everyday lives.

Like I mentioned in a previous column, I work at a golf course.  More specifically, I work in a locker room folding towels, stocking supplies and meeting members’ needs.  The bulk of my work is the fun job of cleaning and polishing golf and dress shoes for tips.

Let’s take golf spikes as a quick example.  Grass accumulates on the cleats, and the white and brown leather isn’t so shiny after a round or two.  Do I stand over my sink and pick off every single little blade of grass from the bottom of the shoe?  No, that would take all day because the grass gets stuck in the little cracks and caught in the spikes.

Instead, my brain weighs the cost of removing each blade of grass (not always consciously) versus the worth of my time.  The benefit of removing the grass is that I get tips.  Or if in the case of the stingy non-tippers, I have to at least do a good enough job to provide the service required by my employers.

I decide how thorough of a job I want to do.  I have to clean them adequately enough to meet member satisfaction but not adequately enough that I spend an hour detailing one pair of shoes.

We all do this in our own minds every single day.  Is the benefit from going out to the bar worth the cost of having less time to study?  We don’t spend every hour studying and no hours having fun. Instead we find a happy medium where the costs and benefits of doing both activities are equal.

I was talking with a buddy over the weekend and came across my favorite new example of this subconscious analysis.  When I first started dating my last girlfriend I had the unique experience of spending a few days at her family’s home after we had been dating only a couple of weeks.

When staying at a guest’s house, we all have had the uncomfortable feeling of having to use the bathroom — and without being gross — I’m not talking number one.  We wonder, “Will they notice?  I hope no one has to go in here right after me.  Should I just hold it?”

Well, you can’t hold it for three days in your new girlfriend’s home.  So you plan ahead, maybe before a shower or right before brushing your teeth.  Make it as unnoticeable as possible.  The cost of planning, and maybe holding it for a while, isn’t so great as to offset the benefit of not being embarrassed.

But over time you become comfortable around the person.  One day, well into the relationship, you don’t hide it anymore.  The benefit of not being embarrassed isn’t there because you realize this person probably doesn’t care, making the cost of hiding it not worth it.  So when she asks why you got up from the movie, you just say, “I had to poop.”  Isn’t microeconomics great?

Contact Anthony Russo at [email protected].