Confessions of a toilet paper hoarder (yes, I’m one of those people)

Hahaha – who’d be such a loser as to be hoarding toilet paper?

You’ve heard the comments, maybe made them yourself. Probably your friends have made those comments. Mine certainly have.

Shelves are emptying due to coronavirus fears.Credit:Steven Siewert

I haven’t been able to join in the mocking or the hilarity, nor have I been able to confess the truth.

That’s because I’m one of those people.

I hoard toilet paper and I vote. More accurately, “They panic-buy toilet paper and they vote. Just sayin.”

This was a throwaway tweet by ABC broadcaster and Meanjin editor Jonathan Green. And I get why he says that. He’s being coolly rational. But I’m not and I can’t be.

Even former lawyer and MasterChef maestro Adam Liaw has a list: salt (tick), flour (tick), eggs with long use-by dates, chuck steak (tick) and frozen peas (double tick) among other useful ideas. As soon as I read it, I upped my anteroom (what I’m now calling the small spare room we have for guests).

Empty toilet paper shelves at Coles.Credit:Steven Siewert

Many years ago, in the 1970s, Australia experienced a fuel shortage. I was not yet a driver, but I remember my mum or my dad getting into the car early on the morning of the exact days we were eligible. My memory is that it was odd numberplates at designated times and even numberplates on alternate days. But what I remember most clearly is that some families never seemed to need to queue. My dad, with his extremely broken English, said it was because that family worked for the government, or at least the father did. They were protected from the shortages the rest experienced.

There is nothing to persuade me that Australia has become any fairer since then, nothing to ensure that our most vulnerable are protected. And I’m not even among the most vulnerable. I have sick pay unlike so many Australians.

Over the course of my journalistic life, I have interviewed so many of the people speaking out against hoarding. They’d probably be shocked to know I’m one of the ones they describe as selfish and greedy but a lot of those calling out hoarding are extremely well-connected. Minimal hoarding is just a way to make ourselves feel safe and secure.

I haven’t yet left the supermarket with four packets of bulk loo paper and I’m somewhat soothed by the CEO of the company which makes my favourite brand say it will all be OK. I haven’t elbowed anyone out of the way. Nor have I taken the last packet of pasta from the shelf. My stash will stay untouched until the panic is over, or I am.

I want to make sure that my little nest with its newest inhabitant can be safe at a time when no one else seems to know how to make that happen. Trying to make order from chaos. Thirty-six rolls is all it takes.

Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.

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