OPINION: The Toilet Paper Hoarder

by Matt Chan

When I was asked to write an article on hoarding toilet paper because I was the creator and producer of the TV show HOARDERS, I didn’t know if I should be flattered or horrified.  Like everyone else who dares to venture into stores these days I was unnerved by the site of shelves stripped bare of an item that is essential to our personal hygiene and well-being.  So, knowing a thing or two about hoarding I came up with these thoughts.

On average people use about 100 rolls of toilet paper a year, roughly 3 Costco packages.  90% of our toilet paper is made in the USA, with 10% imported from Canada and Mexico. Nearly 150 companies produce TP, so we’d have to be in deep _____ to actually run out of toilet paper.

On the show HOARDERS there are certain terms for various aspects of hoarding.  The “Hoard” is used as a noun when referring to, well the hoard (aka the mess). Then there’s the hoarder who owns the “Hoard”.  So strictly speaking all of “those” people who’ve stockpiled more TP than they could use in a year, that supply is their “Hoard”, and the people who own the “hoard” are technically “Hoarders”.  When speaking about their hoards, hoarders often use the phases; “You never know when I’m going to need it”, “It keeps forever and doesn’t go bad”, “I’ll use it eventually”, and “It’s cheap”, which unsurprisingly is how most people describe toilet paper.

But aside from TP being the ultimate item to hoard, hoarding also has two parts, the physical act of hoarding and the underlying psychological reason for the hoarding.  See hoarding is usually a symptom of an underlying problem and is almost never the primary reason people hoard. And it’s the second part that I think drives our current situation.

In the scheme of things toilet paper is a modern invention, but it is also highly primal.  It’s about our hygiene, although highly personal it’s one of the things that makes us feel civilized. Right now, our collective feel about civilization is shaky. Most people are happiest when they have a measure of control in their lives and right now that control is not there while we all fight an unseen threat.  We intellectually know it will come to an end, but the uncertainty we are dealing with is when it will end. So, we search for things we can control. The idea of eliminating one risk, running out of toilet paper, is one small thing people can do to feel like they are in control, that they are doing something.

Ultimately it comes down to human nature.  So are people who buy more toilet paper than they need, while depriving others of a commodity that is universally needed “Hoarders”, technically yes.  But we are all in an uncontrollable world right now, with mass media pumping out fear-based information 24/7, images of empty shelves, all fueled by Facebook.  I’m certainly not immune to all of this even though I know better. Of course when I’m in the store, knowing I have toilet paper, see a pack of 30 rolls and reflexively grab it, stop myself, and then live with the self-doubt the rest of the day, “I should have grabbed the TP when I had a chance.”  Human nature.

Understand people are scared and rightly so, but we can only do the best we can…but please leave some toilet paper for the rest of us.

Matt Chan has been in the media for nearly 45 years and is the creator and Executive Producer of the A&E Network’s hit show HOARDERS.  In “retirement” he produces videos to support community non-profits and teaches at the UW.

Featured image by Jacky Lawrence