The Real Reason People Are Hoarding Toilet Paper

Before we get started, let's just take a moment to say "you don't need to hoard toilet paper, and you're adding to a potential problem if you do." We'll get around to why in a moment. "Everyone," it has been stated by acclaimed author Taro Gomi in his 1977 literary opus, "poops." With a global pandemic currently tearing through every continent but Antarctica, this seems to be more true than ever, with humanity collectively messing their britches in unbridled panic.

In an unexpected twist, the current climate of terror has led to a remarkable phenomenon: people, it seems, won't stop buying toilet paper. The 2020 run on wipes has resulted in local news piece after local news piece on the sudden shortage of tush cleaners. The shelves of supermarkets from sea to shining sea stand barren, and where once there was Angel Soft, there is now only silence.

All of this begs the pertinent question, "what the hell is going on?" While it's true that COVID-19 includes diarrhea amongst its symptoms, so does Taco Bell, and way more people get that every day. Why the sudden urgency?

Wipe that smile off your face

The reasoning behind the recent toilet paper boom is multifaceted and layered, much like the toilet paper itself.

In an interview with Time, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine Mary Alvord stated that the draw towards toilet paper in times of crisis is practically a primal instinct. "We all eat and we all sleep and we all poop. It's a basic need to take care of ourselves," she states. "There is comfort in knowing that it's there."

The usual promise that "it's there" isn't currently available, however, as rushes to purchase necessities have come seemingly out of nowhere. While disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes are relatively predictable, appearing at around the same time every year, the novel coronavirus popped up fast and mean. Additionally, it wasn't until it had already spread that authorities at the federal level acknowledged that the virus posed any kind of threat, which led to a flashpoint of panic-buying when the gravity of the situation was felt all at once.

It's not cute, and it's not charmin'

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, or a roll of toilet paper rolling up one, the situation appears to be making itself bigger. Psych Central lists several possible reasons for America's sudden love affair with their tuchus napkins, and they all point to a problem that's blowing itself out of proportion..

Firstly, they state that, when one person starts hoarding a necessity, they can unwittingly set an example for others to follow. The more people see mountains of Cottonelle being piled into a grocery cart, the more people will think "that seems like a good idea." It gets more pronounced when news outlets broadcast pictures of empty grocery shelves with single packs of one-ply rolling along like tumbleweeds in a particularly unpleasant-smelling ghost town.

And then there's control. When times get tough, we like to feel like we have a handle on something, even if it's a small something like the comparative cleanliness of our fudge-is-mades. We might not be able to actively combat an airborne contagion, but we can sure as shootin' stock up on toilet tissue. It's cheap, it's handy, and even if everything dies down fast, it's not like it hurts to have around. That's called "zero-risk bias." Look at that, you learned something.

Squeeze it for dear life

In case you're worried, America is in roughly zero danger of running out of toilet paper. For one thing, we make most of it here, as Business Insider points out, and the 10% or so that's imported from other countries comes from Canada and Mexico.

Even if we did run out — which, again, we won't – your average American runs through 100 rolls of TP every year, or about a roll every three and a half days. It would take some seriously ambitious wiping to run through even a moderately upscaled grocery run's worth in the worst of circumstances.

Unfortunately for fans of logic, the best way to stop a potential shortage would be to stop the hoarding, but it appears that recent events have taken their toll. Consumer confidence is at a low, and when that happens, people do dumb stuff. They stockpile food. They buy miracle cures. They get really, really concerned about where their next wipe is coming from.

It could also be that we've all accepted what's in our hearts and decided that the fastest route to happiness comes through living more like the Charmin Bears. They're the happiest family on TV. It only makes sense.