Q: I want your take on what is going on in the brains of people who stockpile toilet paper. I never heard of anything quite so insane! Did they think the pandemic was going to trigger diarrhea in their households or what?


A: Naturally, I do not know what individuals were thinking. Somehow I doubt they were worried about diarrhea. The term “stockpiling” itself is subjective. What is “enough”? Six months? Nine or twelve months?

Some researchers have wondered about the stockpiling, as well. A recent study looked at the type of people who tended to stockpile and identified personality traits that they believe trigger stockpiling. I found the conclusions interesting.

The three main findings are:

  • The level of perceived threat of COVID-19 predicts toilet paper stockpiling.
  • Emotionality predicts the perceived threat of COVID-19 and thereby indirectly affects stockpiling behavior.
  • Individuals high in conscientiousness (thinking ahead) engage in more toilet paper stockpiling.

In my case, I have been through several pandemics as a nurse epidemiologist and typically take steps toward prudence (although without much fear). Epidemics and pandemics have taught me to think ahead. At the end of February, when it appeared COVID-19 was not a proverbial flash in a pan, I purchased paper supplies and grocery staples enough to last me four months. By the end of June those were pretty much used up and I shall restock. Probably not for four months, as things are slowly beginning to open up. I do like to have about 2-3 months of staples on hand, however.

So, it is different strokes for different folks. I did find it interesting to hear that some households had only two or three extra rolls of toilet paper on hand and one box of tissue. My guess would be they were very small households, or they shopped quite frequently, or they didn't have a mindset of thinking ahead.