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stealing shampoo

I use “The Ethicist” column from the NYT as a moral barometer of sorts. It’s nice to check in every Sunday and verify that one is measurably less insane than the people who write into the column. Until, that is, you read a column and disagree with the Ethicist’s response. This happened to me last week, when someone wrote in about whether it was ok to take home the mini shampoo and conditioner bottles from hotel rooms. The Ethicist responded (basically) that those bottles are provided for your use under the condition that you use them inside the hotel room. Yeah, I know. WTF.

Screw the Ethicist. In my mind, not only is it ok to purloin those bottles, you would be a fool to leave them behind. When I get into a hotel room, after checking the bathroom floor for stray hairs, my first order of business is to immediately put all the miniature bottles in my bag, so that the housekeepers will put out new bottles of product at turndown. The next morning, I wash my hair with the Garnier I’ve brought from home, and then put the turndown bottles in my bag, so I can get new bottles when they clean the room. And so on and so forth. And here’s the thing. The housekeepers know I’m doing it. It’s not like they can’t see that the bottles are gone, or that the bottles aren’t in the trash can, which the housekeepers empty. No one’s reporting me. Because, you know what? They expect me to take the bottles. They NEED me to take those bottles.


primo minis from a recent trip to san diego

I’m going to pause here for a second to address the hotels that have replaced the mini bottles with communal shower dispensers. First of all, nothing says luxury accommodations like communal dispensers. Second, you can stick whatever label you want on the outside of the dispensers, but everyone knows what you’ve got in those dispensers is bottom-of-the-barrel Suave Awapuhi and VO5, which just means that you are dirty, cheap liars. Third, you’re not using dispensers for the environment, you’re using them because you want to save a buck, so stop pretending otherwise.  Communal hotel dispensers make me so mad that sometimes I am tempted to empty them out, in silent protest.  But that would be wasteful and petty.

I just want to be on vacation. I’m already doing my part for the environment at home. I recycle. I compost. I turn off the tap when I brush my teeth. And I grudgingly do my part at hotels. I reuse the stupid towels and sheets even though the main reason I go to a hotel is so I can sleep in crisp sheets that do not smell faintly of my kids’ urine, and luxuriate in the weight of a fresh towel that I can’t afford at home. I turn off all the lights and AC when I leave my room, and do the rest of the hotel’s bidding. So give back the mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner, ok? Jesus, I feel like crying.

If you think I’m weird, consider that I use those mini bottles for the gym, and travel to places that don’t provide product (e.g. vacation homes). So I have a real use for them. I’m not like my husband, who takes the mini bottles to use at our house, where he has access to regular-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. For reasons unknown, Tom seems to prefer using products in miniature. Miniature bottles of product are great because they are free, but when you get right down to it, they are kind of a pain to deal with. I mean, they are notoriously difficult to open and squeeze, and once squeezed, they never stay upright, and end up spilling all over your shower. It’s a real problem for me, because as the only space in my house that my kids don’t have access to, my shower is my refuge. I sometimes shower twice in one day, just to escape my kids. Anyway, I like a neat and tidy shower. So it drives me nuts when I have to deal with something like this.


If you don’t think this is weird, let me just point out for you that the miniature bottles are all l’Occitane bottles that Tom brought home from the Four Seasons in Seattle. That big bottle is filled with the SAME PRODUCT that is in the little bottles. The labels look different but trust me, I know, because years ago Tom demanded that I ask l’Occitane what product they put in their hotel minis. Which I did, like the loving wife that I am. And the shampoo in their hotel minis is essentially the same stuff in that big purple bottle, which he demands that I procure for him at regular intervals, while I lather up with the Garnier. And still, he continues to use the miniatures. Is this not weird? I think it is totally insane. Every time he does this I stand in my shower with the water going cold, staring hard at the bottles, just trying to make sense of it. And I never can.

But whatever. I say nothing, because I want to support Tom’s hotel product benders, which probably save me at least $27 dollars a year in man-tastic beauty products, which I consider less fun to buy than even diapers or dishwasher tablets. As for any lingering qualms I might feel because of the Ethicist’s stupid column, here’s what I have to say to him, who as far as I know, lacks ethical credentials of any kind. He is not licensed in psychology or sociology, or morals. I, however, am a lawyer. As such, I might not know morals, but I damn well know conditional use. Those miniature bottles are mine. I paid for them with my hotel room, and if you want to say they are conditional even though those words appear nowhere on the bottles or on my hotel terms and conditions, go right ahead. But you’re wrong.

34 Comments Post a comment
  1. sleepdeprivedbliss #

    You are hilarious! I love your witty take on things, and you’ve become one of my favorite bloggers!

    October 24, 2012
  2. Andy #

    Obviously Randy Cohen is either trying for sainthood or owns stock in Marriott. If being a good person were an actual hotel. Just being ethical would probably be the lobby-level of goodness, whereas sainthood is on the slightly higher mezzanine level. Penthouse level would probably be someone who is too busy giving their organs to orphans or something to ever stay at a hotel and is therefore irrelevant.

    Also hotel shampoo ≠ packets of Splenda in Starbucks (which I also steal). I know this because no one has ever yelled at me for taking the shampoo bottles from a hotel, whereas my barista always gives me that knowing look as I try sneak out the back, pockets literally overflowing with little yellow packets. Luckily people who make $7 an hour are rarely interested in going that extra-mile for corporate cost savings.

    October 23, 2012
    • splenda from starbucks. bold, yet brilliant

      October 23, 2012
    • it’s not randy cohen anymore. it’s chuck klosterman, who i understand is a very funny writer, but the ethicist isn’t a very funny column, at least not intentionally

      October 23, 2012
  3. Jan #

    Oh, and if I don’t use them myself, I save them, bag them up, and take them to the local women’s shelter or the food bank.

    October 22, 2012
  4. Jan #

    AMEN! (and I’m going to travel to Seattle to stay at the Four Seasons so that I can bring home some of those L’Occitane minis!!!)

    October 22, 2012
  5. I have to admit, I always take the freebies!! They make great little Toiletries to take on holiday on planes

    For more about my hilarious life as a British teenager, go to

    October 21, 2012
  6. mettemia #

    He he……like wice all over the planet! I just love the little cute bottels who waits for me to come and “steal” them from the hotel room. It gives me a kick to put the bottels in my bag. And i never regrets ore feel bad about it……………..just genuin pleasure. But I dont like the content in the bottels, i just need to have them because they are for free 😉 Lovely……..Hope you understand my english?

    October 21, 2012
  7. I immediately put them in my bag too so that the maids replace them. And then I take the replacements. It’s a problem… that I love. 🙂

    October 20, 2012
  8. Amen Sister.

    October 19, 2012
  9. thevirtualrealityofstaci #

    Oh you made me laugh so hard!!! See I read the comments on the local news sites to remind myself that I am not crazy, now I have a new place to visit.

    As for the communal shower dispensers. I would empty them…………..into an empty shampoo bottle I brought from home, and then donate it to a homeless shelter or the VA hospital. 🙂

    October 19, 2012
    • anyone can be saner than the people who make it to local news. the ethicist is a bit of a higher bar. i admit to being stumped regularly by his readership, mostly in regards to tipping

      October 19, 2012
  10. As long as you aren’t taking towels or robes I feel certain the price of a hotel room covers mini bottles of shampoo/conditioner and lotion. It would additionally seem to me the product lines provided directly benefit from the captive advertising – being positioned as a “luxury” products. I figure you taking those bottles is a no harm/no foul situation (as long as you recycle the empties once you get home).

    I’m guessing the ethicist wouldn’t take pens home from a Title Company either though it was my impression they were gently insisting I take the advertising laden pen home after closing a sale (they provided a note pad as well). I didn’t ask for extras…but maybe I should have.

    October 19, 2012
    • i just really miss randy cohen. i mean, i’m sure chuck klosterman is a nice guy, but he also seems like, a peer. and i want ethical advice, not from a peer, but from someone from a higher plane

      October 19, 2012
      • Imagine my plight – I am so old now most people who would be considered as offering advice from a higher plane would have to be communicating from “the other side”. And I’m not sure dead people are like the rest of us when it comes to ethical considerations. Would an Ethics-Advice Seance even fly?

        October 22, 2012
  11. I take them ALL and feel no remorse. I also take the shower caps and complimentary shoe shine kits. I LOVE LOVE LOVE hotel swag.

    October 19, 2012
    • you’re hardcore. i’ve never taken a complimentary shoe shine kit. or a sewing kit. i’ve wanted to take bath salts but have lacked a container.

      October 19, 2012
  12. michelle haase #

    Love it…the mini bottles are meant to jump in our bags. My husband brings home “his favorite” soap from a hotel in Eugene every time….swears its the best. I personally hate bar soap and the site of it all gooey in the shower grosses me out……

    October 19, 2012
    • bar soap also grosses me out. unfortunately my husband insists on bar soap no matter how much body wash i put in his path. bar soap is a huge and disgusting plague

      October 19, 2012
  13. Kim #

    Although others have already confirmed this for you, the hotel not only assumes you will take the mini bottles, they also assume the price of the tissues and toilet paper in your bill. Those would be much less fun to take, but apparently a significant number of guests do. I know this for a fact because I have a vague recollection of Oprah doing a show on this and related questions of what it’s ok to take (extra sugar packs from Starbucks because your going to make tea later and are out of sugar at home). Anyway, some big hotel chain rep said we can take all the mini bottles we want. The ethicist doesn’t know jack s$#t about hotel ethics. Stupid ethicist.

    October 19, 2012
    • Kim #

      Please note that in my hurry to offer you support, used your for the progressive verb instead of you’re. Don’t worry, I’ll be able to sleep through the night again in approximately two weeks.

      October 19, 2012
      • Kim #

        Now, somehow, I forgot the I in the main clause of the first sentence of explanation of my other grammar error. I’ll stop now.

        October 19, 2012
    • holy mother, kim. you have provided a definitive response to the issue. if a hotel guy tells me i can take all the minis i want, i am absolved. as you are absolved, of your casual blog grammatical errors. i don’t even use capitals. we’re all friends here

      October 19, 2012
  14. Do you refill your husband’s mini bottles when they are empty?
    I also am a shampoo taker. No shame in using what you paid for.

    October 19, 2012
    • thanks for the laugh. i love my husband but not enough to do that

      October 19, 2012
  15. I LOVE hotel shampoo/conditioner! I make a point to take the little bottles everytime I go, I even take the body wash and soap if they have it. My husband now knows me so well he puts them in my bag for me. Great post 🙂

    October 19, 2012
    • personally my fave mini item is the body lotion. i cannot moisturize enough. tom’s favorite are the mini l’occitane bars, which are $5 in the stores. i’d be tempted to swipe those from the housekeeping carts, which definitely would be stealing

      October 19, 2012
  16. Gr8ful Ted #

    Actually, I just got back from Vegas and when I didn’t take the miniature bottles the first night, there were additional bottles the second day, and even more on the third. The staff just kept adding to the number the longer we stayed.

    I must state, however, that since I work for a nonprofit that has a residential facility, I do take the minis home with me to give to our clients in that facility to use.

    And besides, the cost of the room includes the assumption those minis will be gone every day, so one pays for them anyway. Still the residents here appreciate them.

    October 19, 2012
    • ah, the gratuitous refiller hotels. they occupy a special place in my heart. i remember, and usually return

      October 19, 2012
  17. I always take the mini bottles with me because it would be wasteful not to! You know that housekeeping is just going to throw away the half-used bottle once you leave so, by taking it, I am saving the hotel some garbage.

    October 19, 2012
    • yes of course, can’t waste those. but do you take full bottles you haven’t cracked, that is the question

      October 19, 2012

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