The Psychological Reason Coronavirus Is Prompting People to Hoard Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is in short supply.
Toilet paper is in short supply. / Praneat/iStock via Getty Images

Walk into a Costco, grocery store, or pharmacy today and there’s a good chance you might be greeted by bare shelves. A number of retail locations have seen consumers deplete inventory in anticipation of the coronavirus becoming more disruptive to commerce and daily living. While it’s understandable to see shortages of disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer, stores are reporting a high demand for toilet paper. Why?

According to clinical psychologist Steven Taylor, who spoke with CNN, the rush for toilet paper may be based on a panic response to global fears over how coronavirus may impact populations. Because much is still unknown about the virus, consumers may feel compelled to stock up on essentials.

If communities face a quarantine, consumers may fear that some personal care items won't easily be replenished. In the event they’ve been exposed to coronavirus and are recommended to stay home for 14 days, having toiletries on hand is reasonable, though purchasing enough to last for months on end may be excessive.

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. But it’s important to note that a perceived scarcity of Charmin is not proof of a global health crisis. It’s only proof that some people are taking an abundance of caution. If someone fears not being able to buy toilet paper, that apprehension can be remedied by buying a lot of it. It’s one of the few things about the current health climate that consumers can control.

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.

[h/t CNN]