Once you have lived through trauma like communism, a war or a depression, it stays in your DNA. And then you are a “survivor” – and your kids get the genetic imprint too. And sadly, that survivor DNA goes back generations in my case, being Polish, because of Poland’s long history of being a stomping ground of its neighbors and the resulting wars, famine and political instability. And lack of toilet paper.
When COVID-19 made its appearance in our news in February 2020, the ripples on our North American shores were still mildly susceptible. For me, the seriousness of the situation overseas did not register till I heard that people all over the world were starting to stock pile…toilet paper. That was my trigger and my survival instinct took over from there. The NEXT morning, I was one of the first people in line at COSTCO to get toilet paper.
I remember that morning vividly. It was beautiful outside. I must have been the 10th person to arrive before the store opened, Starbucks in hand. By the time the doors opened, there were about 50 people behind me. And we all made our way to the back of the store quietly and just as quietly, made our way out, buying what we needed. “Back then” in late February/early March 2020, panic buying was just starting to be a thing and there was still plenty of the toilet paper to go around. I remember walking out of COSTCO that morning thinking, “OK, we are READY, we’ve got TP!” Ready for what? I questioned my own reasons for doing this. But I couldn’t really answer then. This had ZERO to do with reason. It was just instinct and that DNA. I also remember thinking, “this is surreal, just like what I lived through in Poland in the 1970’s!”
Most people in the US did not grow up with a toilet paper shortage. But it turns out, this pandemic is not the first time the US has panicked over it. In 1973, in the wake of the stock market crash, people began hoarding toilet paper after a rumor started that there would be a TP shortage. But why toilet paper of all the things we could worry about being short on?
Toilet paper was invented in New York City in 1857 and became popular when flush toilets came into use. Decades of marketing made it into a household staple. It has come to mean many things. Toilet paper provides us with a sense of comfort and safety, helping us take care of our most basic needs. It contributes to keeping us social by keeping us clean and presentable. And unlike many other staples, TP has no substitutes. Also, it is non-perishable, versatile and can be stored indefinitely. I think it boils down to one thing though: being civilized. And the lack of toilet paper to some means the end of Western Civilization – that we can’t go any lower.
And on top of it, panic buying begets panic buying. Also, because the times are so uncertain, the hoarding provides us with a small sense of control.
So I get it. At the same time, I don’t get excessive anything, like hoarding way more than you need and leaving others empty handed. That’s just sick. And there IS enough toilet paper for everyone. In fact, Proctor & Gamble and others are on manufacturing overdrive keeping up with TP demand. But it is the retailers rationing it to us to be fair to everyone and to prevent a TP glut after the pandemic is over.
As for me, I’m grateful I went to COSTCO the day I did and got what I needed for my family. Our supplies are keeping us safely at HOME. Welcome to survival mode!