Why have so many people reacted to the threat of the coronavirus by hoarding toilet paper? It’s a respiratory illness, not a gastrointestinal one.
Panic and Hoard?
I usually buy toilet paper a case at a time, enough to last more than a year even with frequent houseguests who stay for several days. I’d been running low on toilet paper just before news of the pandemic broke, and it was hard to resist the impulse to buy more when everyone else was. News of empty shelves made me wonder if I was condemning my family to a challenging bathroom situation in a few weeks’ time.
How Much Toilet Paper Do You Actually Use?
Instead of giving in to herd mentality, I collected some data: I kept track of how long it took just the two of us to use a roll. Thanks to the governor’s Stay Home – Stay Safe order, we’ve been without dinner guests, visiting family, or overnight visitors. Ten days later, only the roll in the Master Bedroom bath shows any sign of dwindling.
Doing the Math
Next, I took an inventory of all rolls of TP in the house. Between the linen closet and three bathrooms, the grand total is twelve.
Given that we’re sheltering in place – and barring any digestive ailment unrelated to the coronavirus – I did the math. At our current rate of usage, we have roughly enough toilet paper on hand until July ninth. There’s no need to rush out and buy more.
I know that my calculations are not perfect; they don’t meet the gold-standard of a double-blind scientific experiment. Nevertheless, it is an example of applying knowledge, data and logic to the current situation.
This is exactly what we need to do, not just about toilet paper, which is a distraction, but about giving in to panic of all kinds. It’s possible to stay calm, use logic, be generous and stay well.
The whole toilet paper issue has baffled me too. In many parts of the world people don’t use toilet paper at all (and, indeed, find it highly unhygienic. As I read once, if you’ve got dirty hands, you don’t clean them with dry paper, do you?). And like disposable diapers and menstrual products, our reliance on toilet paper is relatively new, yet people are panicking that they’ll run out. Like you, I’ve worked out how long our current supply will last (about 12 more weeks, and that’s with zero panic buying). But if, in the middle of summer, I discover that the supermarket shelves are empty of toilet roll, I know there are other equally hygienic and more environmentally friendly ways to keep our precious bottoms clean.
Stay safe x
Matt Murray says
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Matt – this is terrific! Not as accurate as my on-the-ground observations here at home (the program says we need more TP than we actually use), but a good reality check for people who can’t move around their living rooms because there’s a stockpile of TP in the way!