The strangest birthday request my mother ever made was for an outhouse. I could not understand why she wanted one so badly. There were two perfectly functional toilets in the house, so why would anyone in their right mind choose to sit suspended over a hole, either freezing one’s rear in winter or breathing noxious fumes in summer? My father, however, being the loving husband he is, built an outhouse for my mother. He made it out of rough-hewn pine boards, cut a half-moon in the door, and painted it dark brown. She joyfully named it “The Goblins.”
At first I avoided using The Goblins unless there was a power outage. But in recent years, something has changed inside me. My grudging acknowledgment of The Goblins’ usefulness in emergency situations has slowly morphed into genuine appreciation, and perhaps even affection. When I visit my parents, I find myself looking for reasons to escape to The Goblins. I can now understand my mother’s desire for an outhouse because I have finally discovered its many wonderful qualities.
It’s satisfying to know that an outhouse doesn’t waste water as flushing toilets do. You’d be hard-pressed to find a greener way of dealing with human waste. All you need is a bit of toilet paper and an optional scoop of crushed lime to keep down the smell. An outhouse also lasts a long time. They are light and portable and can be moved to new locations as needed. The old hole gets filled in and the earth is then left to work its decomposing magic, free from chemicals. I’ve seen some composting outhouses that don’t even use a hole; instead, there’s a pail set beneath the seat and each user adds a scoop of fresh sawdust when finished.
Using the outhouse makes me feel empowered, like some strong, capable pioneer woman roughing it on the frontier. I no longer dread power outages because the outhouse doesn’t rely on the grid. Using it is luxurious compared to hauling heavy pails of lake water to flush the toilets in the house.
From an aesthetic point of view, it’s a lot more pleasant to sit in an outhouse with the door ajar, gazing out at the beautiful forest, than it is to stare at bathroom grout. From my vantage point in The Goblins, I can see little chipmunks playing tag, my brother’s chickens rolling around in the dry leaves, and bees buzzing through the flower garden. Of course, I have to keep my eye out for approaching visitors and shut the door as quickly and quietly as possible, in order not to draw attention to my presence, but I’ve got that down to a fine art.
It may have taken a while, but I’m now a big fan of outhouses. Perhaps homeowners on rural properties shouldn’t be so quick to disqualify them as archaic and irrelevant. Many of us have started using low-flow toilets, so why not consider an outhouse, which is the ultimate water-saving device?