Covid-19 pandemic…or a toilet paper crisis?

man with mask surrounded by toilet paper
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

I keep thinking about this toilet paper crisis during this pandemic, a crisis that seems to only affect those of us in the United States. COVID-19 is affecting the world at large, but toilet paper…this one is reserved for those of us trained up in overconsumption and “me first” attitudes. We’ve been practicing and rehearsing this for quite some time as a nation. I shake my head and move on to other thoughts because I really can’t get my head around it.

Many people correlate this weird toilet paper over-purchasing trend with our lack of control and the ways in which we attempt to compensate for that lack. The overconsumption has moved on from toilet paper to meat, eggs, formula, bread, etc. And for the most part, that works because our oversized houses easily hold our large buying patterns and tendencies.

We have large freezers in our garages and pantries in our kitchens and additional storage spaces for additional stock in our basements. Our houses can hold all the extra. They can handle the surplus. 

We are so… “extra” in our American culture.

We cram into malls during the most festive times of the year to celebrate our purchasing power. We know how to war over a beloved object, at the demise of our opponents. We watch shows like Hoarders and can’t look away from the obsessive, emotional connections we have to our things. We overbuy food to celebrate a time of Thanksgiving. We Pinterest-perfect our children’s birthday parties and if something goes amiss, we run out and buy what we need to make it perfect.

If competing itself were a competition, by our own admissions we would win.

community together mural
Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

When catastrophe hits, we as a nation are known to come and pick up the broken pieces, to aid the broken and oppressed. Tornadoes and flooding wreck communities, and people will travel far and wide to help out their fellow brothers and sisters. Terrorists demolish families and buildings, and we come to the aid of the grieving to show love, support, and a helping hand.

But a pandemic? It sends us on a compulsive shopping spree. Why?


Because we’ve been primed for this. Overconsumption has been sold for years, and we have all been buying.

In all irony, my Environmental Science academics have mirrored the pandemic happening in our and other countries. Instead of collectively working toward solutions – like actually socially distancing and trusting doctors and scientists who know best or finding ways to encourage and equip each other and help – we instead fight in grocery stores over toilet paper.

We overspend in an effort to self-protect, self-soothe, self-guarantee, and self-care. That brother or sister we would have helped yesterday, we won’t even spare a square for today. Like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld in that hilarious bathroom scene, I want to rush into all nearby grocery stores and stop the crisis in its tracks. I want to remove all of the toilet paper from every selfish person who just doesn’t have enough kindness in their heart to spare a square for those of us that might actually need a few squares.

So no, it’s not about the toilet paper. There is a bigger problem at stake here in our humanity.

kindness and humanity quote When a toilet paper roll takes precedence over common decency and goodness toward the welfare of all men and women, there is a bigger problem than that marketable product that is flying off of the shelves.

Be a part of the solution. And in the words of every beloved mother that didn’t hoard packs of toilet paper when she couldn’t quite believe the media’s toilet paper tragedies, “Can you please just spare a square”?


  1. This was a fantastic read. And I love the Seinfeld tidbit. My mom mentioned that too the other day. Let’s all be kind enough to spare.

  2. Thanks Jeannette. I love that episode. From one sane toilet paper purchaser to another, safety and good health to you and yours.

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