Why Are People Hoarding Toilet Paper?
I am seriously going to run out of toilet paper soon, and most of the stores in my neighborhood seem to be out. But why? I dig for an answer.
For 19 years I lived in metropolitan Baltimore, and when ever a snow storm approached, people would hoard toilet paper, and I never understood why. Maybe in 1882, the threat of being snowed in for weeks was a possibility, but we have modern snow removing equipment now.
Now, as the impending CoVid-19 pandemic approaches, supplies at some local stores run from low to non-existent. Nothing in the news indicates any reason to have to stock up on the precious two-ply Charmin, so what gives?
Most people who see the run on TP feel superior and like me, tend to get snarky about the hoarders, as this guy in the Houston Press did:
We understand the need for prioritizing sanitary conditions during this time of crisis. We think it's crazy to constantly Purell your entire body and those of your loved ones, but, hey, that's your journey. And we wash our hands with greater frequency these days. So, we get it to a degree.
We seriously do not get the need for warehouses full of toilet paper, but I guess if we run short, now we'll know who to call.
But that's all just virtue signalling, and not really helping.
I did a deep dive online looking for some reasons, and it turns out, it's because we're human. We don't know what's coming, so we prepare for the worst. And that's okay. Kind of.
Steven Taylor wrote a book called 'The Psychology of Pandemics', and the panic factor is a human condition that we just can't help at times:
The novel coronavirus scares people because it's new, and there's a lot about it that's still unknown. When people hear conflicting messages about the risk it poses and how seriously they should prepare for it, they tend to resort to the extreme, Taylor said.
"When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn't seem proportionate to the threat," he said. "Special danger needs special precautions."
The problem is not uniquely American, VICE reports that hoarding TP is a world wide issue:
Across the world, we see that people are zeroing in on one commodity in particular — toilet paper. There is now a shortage of the bathroom essential, which has led to armed gang robbery for toilet paper in Hong Kong and people taking them from public restrooms in Japan. In Australia, a cafe started accepting toilet paper as payment.
You read that right -- ARMED ROBBERY for toilet paper!! Yikes!
This is an example of “zero risk bias,” in which people prefer to try to eliminate one type of possibly superficial risk entirely rather than do something that would reduce their total risk by a greater amount.
Which explains why fruits and vegetables that could boost your immune system are in plentiful supply.
"People are stocking up on and hoarding toilet paper because it gives them a sense of comfort and control. Just seeing those white, fluffy rolls lets them know that they won't have to go out into the streets and risk catching this virus."
On the web site Mental Floss, they quote Taylor again, and he says it the trend steamrolls when the fear meets the visual of empty shelves combined with the chatter on social media:
There’s also the phenomenon of panic-buying having a snowball effect, Taylor told the outlet. If someone walks into a store and sees empty shelves where toilet paper used to be or sees social media posts in their feed about it, they’re being fed information that indicates toilet paper is in short supply and will proceed to stock up elsewhere.
There’s nothing intrinsically bad about scooping up toilet paper. It is, after all, a basic human necessity, and consumers are going to wind up using it eventually...
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stocking up on home essentials within reason is appropriate—but don’t limit it to a garage full of toilet paper. Consider having a supply of hand soap, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, food staples, and prescription medication. Just bear in mind that such preparedness is advisable all year for any unforeseen circumstances, not just a growing pandemic.
So there you have it -- why we have no toilet paper. Thank God for my wash cloth and my washing machine!