Toothbrushes and minimalism

When minimalism takes the form of a quiet and simple campaign of manipulation

Toothbrushes and minimalism

When my two children asked to upgrade their wrist-powered, bamboo toothbrushes to electric ones, my first instinct was to deflect. Perhaps I was afeared of fostering laziness, drawing on the notion (which is either dated or distinctly... parental) that unless you learn a skill yourself, by hand, you won’t ever properly master it. Which to a child – and to be fair, perhaps to everyone – is like saying that in order to appreciate convenience, one must first endure inconvenience.

“Papa, when can I get an electric toothbrush?” asked Neko (10 at the time), his forehead squished into a frown at my appeal for him to scrub his canines more purposefully.

“And me!” said Ida (6 at the time).

“Goodness, it’s late all of a sudden, isn’t it?” I said, looking at the patch of wrist where a watch might go. “Let’s wrap this up and get you two to bed, eh?”

Later that week the three of us were gliding a heavy supermarket trolley, really too big for the handful of goods we intended to buy, down the aisle for handwash, headaches, cuts and teeth.

“I want the Frozen one!” Ida said, gesturing towards a bright pink and blue electric toothbrush, nested upon a shrine of glinting plastic and card.

“I guess I’ll take the Spiderman one,” Neko said, less enthusiastically, unimpressed at the lack of range between sleek electric models for adults who no longer want colour in their life and small children who love Frozen.

“You’ve already got toothbrushes,” I said, gesturing towards toothbrushes of the same ilk they had at home. They took a perfunctory glance at the charcoal bamboo range, turned back to the electric toothbrushes, and came to their own conclusions about minimalism.

I started to move on, but they didn’t follow.

“Not right now,” I said.

No more words were exchanged. They just gave me a wilfully dull look, then walked off up the aisle without me.

I prepared a lecture in my head, leaning on the trolley, letting it guide me towards the checkout. We need to be able to do things ourselves. We shouldn’t be in such a hurry to cede control to the machines. But the words fizzled away, unsaid. It was flimsy to suggest that a battery-powered toothbrush was one step closer to Skynet.

My phone beeped. It was a message from my wife Vic, asking to make sure I’d got milk. I turned this sleek black rectangle over in my hands, warm from my pocket, more a computer than a phone, and considered whether I had established a technological double standard within the family ranks.

No, I decided, putting the phone away. They can wait for their magic toothbrush which moves on its own. Maybe forever.

Over the next few weeks, whenever the children raised the matter of the electric toothbrush, I continued to fob them off.

Ida stopped asking at around about the same time that her bamboo toothbrushes started going missing.

I found the first toothbrush wedged down the side of the kitty litter tray in the corner of the bathroom. (Should there even be a litter tray there? Answer: absolutely not.) It wasn’t in the litter, but close enough that it may have been at some point. I didn’t want to chance any physical overlap between cat business and tools of the mouth, so I got rid of it.

Toothbrushes sometimes fell off the windowsill, I figured. I bought Ida a new bamboo toothbrush identical to the first.

A week later, Ida’s new toothbrush went missing. I looked under the sink, on the floor in the general area, and then came to the litter tray. It has a cover on the top, and the cats have to go through an opening to get in there, so I thought: surely not. It would defy physics. I pulled the cover off the litter tray, and there it was. Right in there.

It’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that the toothbrush fell from the windowsill, ricocheted off some skirting, and pirouetted in through the litter box entrance.

But it’s unlikely.

I bought a third toothbrush.

When I found the third toothbrush wedged in the litter like a stake in the ground, all pretence dispensed with, my suspicions were confirmed.

I went to Ida’s room.

“Did you put your toothbrush down in the litter box, Ida?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” Ida said, then she walked past me and left her room, without a backwards glance.

While I was mulling this over, planning my countermove, Vic just went and bought Ida and Neko an electric toothbrush each. Vic had no issue with the kids going electric, and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

After the purchase of the electric toothbrushes, no more toothbrushes of any variety found their way into the kitty litter.

Although I was not happy to have been so easily trumped, I could appreciate that minimalism was in fact not entirely lost on my daughter – only the form it took was a quiet and simple campaign of manipulation.

The casual drop of a toothbrush, again and again and again.