Toilet Paper: The Perfect Gift in Korea

When my husband and I moved a couple years back, I decided it was high time we had a housewarming party or a jipdeuri (집들이) in Korean. We invited various friends and on the day of the get-together I was confused when my husband said we had to go get this food or that drink. Wouldn’t our friends be bringing food and it’s Korea, so probably drinks, or flowers and plants? As Emily Post had taught me, guests, though it’s not a rule, often bring drinks, say a bottle of wine, perhaps some bread and the odd plant or two. That had me thinking that my preparations weren’t as many as my husband then led me to believe.

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In Korea, housewarming guests bring cleaning supplies, but more than any of that, they bring loads of tissue or toilet paper.

By the time the party was over, we were stacked ceiling high and certainly set for the year when it came to tissue. What was that all about, I wondered.

Where did the custom originate?

Photo from

Photo from

Originally, jipdeuri was the actual moving from one house to another and a ritual was done to thank the spirits and pray for good luck and fortune in the new abode. Come evening, family and friends would stop over to partake in a feast to celebrate. Probably due to lack of electricity, the gifts way back when consisted of lots of candles and matches to “light up” the new house with good fortune and happiness. If the period in the previous home was especially prosperous, families would take embers from the previous home to the new home still lit to continue the prosperity.

These days, not everyone in Korea holds housewarming parties because people move much more often now and the rituals just aren’t done as often. If a housewarming party is done, due to the lack of need of candles and matches, the gifts have shifted to cleaning supplies and tissue.

Why cleaning supplies and tissue?

Cleaning supplies and tissue used to be luxury items as they were expensive so the gift was seen as a pretty special one. Cleaning supplies like detergent bubble profusely and as such mean the person hopes the residents wealth will “bubble over”. Rolls of tissue and kitchen towels are long also adding to the prosperity wishes to the friends or family that has moved.

Alternative times to give toilet paper:

Toilet paper as a gift came up in my life recently because though we’ve lived in our house for over two years, I was gifted more toilet paper from the manager of a nearby construction crew. Because they were bound to be noisy and cause commotion in the neighborhood, he was going around offering toilet paper and tissue to the neighbors. This was the third time that a construction crew manager had given me some sort of paper cleansing gift. Suffice it to say, if you want to gift something to a Korean and be generous, toilet paper is a good go-to and never seems to be out of the question.

What do you take to housewarming parties?

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3 Responses

  1. kei says:

    I’ve never heard of toilet tissue as a housewarming gift, but it’s really a useful gift! If I brought that to a housewarming in the US it would earn confused looks. Usually, Americans gift wine.

    • Hallie says:

      Exactly. That’s why I was confused when my husband said we had to go out to get drinks. I was sure the guests would bring wine so we’d be set. Little did I know… It is super useful though… Only if you have the space to keep it somewhere. Haha

  1. January 28, 2017

    […] they used pumpkin leaves (?!) or newspapers while growing up. In fact, toilet paper used to be a luxury good in Korea until so recently that we even still give toilet paper as housewarming gifts (yes, my family has done this on multiple […]

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