Travel

christopher Muther

A hotel toiletries thief comes clean about his dirty habit

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

When I could no longer cram the tiny bottles of soap, shampoo, and body wash that I swiped from hotels into a single cabinet, I simply starting storing them in another cabinet. When there was no more room in the second cabinet, they went into a third. Then I thought, “Perhaps I have a problem.”

My toiletries collection served as a fragrant souvenir. But when I started counting what I had — nearly 300 bottles and bars of pilfered toiletries — I realized I was one mini bottle of conditioner away from a hoarding intervention, or, perhaps a citizen’s arrest by that creepy guy from the Trivago commercials.

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I use the word collection, but I think the legal term in this case is grand theft shower gel. If a chamber maid left a new set of toiletries in my room, it went into my suitcase faster than you can say Malin + Goetz cilantro conditioner. If a chamber maid left an unattended trolley in the hallway, I was on it like a sticky-fingered trick-or-treater on a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Look upon me as a lowlife if you must, but is it a crime to cling to memories of beautiful places such as Hong Kong, Miami, Paris, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, and Lima through flowery soaps with hints of sandalwood and mint? Is it against the law to call the front desk and ask for more shampoo and towels, when all you really want is extra shampoo to take home?

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“The guy in 1345 must work out a lot,” I can imagine them saying at the front desk after I put in my request. “He’s out of soap again.”

As my stash grew over the years, I thought “These products will be great when people stay over. They’ll feel like they’re at a hotel!” But I don’t have 300 house guests a year. Also, I don’t think anyone has ever mistaken my leaky air mattress for a hotel bed.

Occasionally I could defend my obsession. There are hotels that work with perfumers to come up with exclusive scents for their soap. If I fell in love with the one-of-a-kind smell that the artisans at Le Labo created for the Edition hotel in New York, I couldn’t be blamed for taking it. I can’t buy it in stores. They left me no choice.

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The first time I smelled Le Labo’s bespoke toiletries, it was as if my nose was attending a party in a forest of bergamot and cedar hosted by Alexander Skarsgård and Tilda Swinton. This was what I imagined perfection smelled like.

The Boston Harbor hotel developed its own signature fragrance with Florentine perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi. I flooded Boston Harbor Hotel general manager Stephen Johnston with questions such as, “Are you hoping that guests will take toiletries home with them to remember the hotel through the smell?,” “Is it seen as stealing when guests take extra toiletries from the room?,” and the revealing, “At what point does it become too much?”

After likely placing me on a hotel watch list, he responded with a polite e-mail.

“Scents trigger memories and can transport you back to that special place in time. It is our hope that our guests do take home this small part of the Boston Harbor Hotel after their stay to remind them of their time with us.”

Other hotels gave similar replies. What I was hearing was that it was OK to fill my suitcase with the stolen goods.

“We use Molton Brown toiletries at Ames Boston Hotel,” said Trish Berry, general manager of the Ames. “I’m sure many of our past guests have enjoyed the extra bottles found in their room at home. It’s something we do account for, to a point, and see it as a way for guests to take a little something extra home from their stay. As long as they don’t empty the housekeeping cart.”

I opted not to mention that I’ve raided those carts much the same way that Indiana Jones raids lost arks.

What finally snapped me out of my thieving ways was storage. I was devoting too much real estate to housing soap that I never use.

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Some hotels have gotten smart and started putting their toiletries in shower dispensers to keep the likes of me from pillaging their supplies. Technically it’s done to be environmentally friendly. The Revere Boston Common Hotel uses C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries, another favorite target. But they’re kept in the dreaded dispensers.

“The bottles are contained in a wall mount where a special key is required to remove the pump, so you couldn’t take the entire dispenser without breaking the bracket,” said Tim Brett, general manager at the Revere. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Was that a challenge, Mr. Brett?

Dispensers could not deter me. What finally snapped me out of my thieving ways was storage. I was devoting too much real estate to housing soap that I never use. With all due respect to those of you who keep baskets of decorative sea shell soaps in your powder room, what good is a bunch of soap if you don’t use it?

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I took a final rummage through three years of soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bar soap, mending kits, shaving kits, and dental kits from around the world. I admired the beautiful packaging, took in the smells, and remembered the lovely hotels where I stole them, I mean found them.

I then said goodbye to all my soapy friends and donated them to a homeless shelter. If you’re also sitting on a stash of unused, unopened toiletries, I’d advise you to do the same. Shelters can always use travel-size toiletries.

My precious aromatic souvenirs are gone, but I still have my memories. Also, don’t tell anyone, but I still have a few tubes of the cilantro conditioner, as well.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.
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