We’ve read a lot of speculation on the reasons for the toilet paper hoarding that has marked the Coronavirus pandemic. After all, toilet paper is a commodity that is not subject to increased need nor shortages by manufacturers. So why?
In Dept. of Regression: Interrogating the T.P. Panic. Henry Alford outlined myriad explanations for toilet-paper hoarding, from theories of early childhood development and anthropology to Freud’s “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Eroticism” and Susan Signe Morrison’s “Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics”.
Andrea Greenman, the president of the Contemporary Freudian Society, posed it this way:
The fact that now we are all presumably losing control creates a regressive push to a very early time. So, I guess that translates in the unconscious to ‘If I have a lifelong supply of toilet paper, I’ll never be out of control, never be a helpless, dirty child again.’
Well, maybe. I think there are three main reasons why people are hoarding toilet paper:
1. A unique form of FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. It didn’t occur to me to hoard toilet paper until I saw empty shelves. It created a cascade effect: I, and everyone else, started overbuying toilet paper.
2. Not having toilet paper would be a big hassle.
3. Most importantly, in our disorientation and panic, we forget Possibility Thinking: That there are many alternatives to items in short supply like toilet paper, disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizers, masks. In a pinch, we’d figure out solutions.
I googled “toilet paper alternatives” and found lots of ideas for a need that spans human history.
flat oval stones or pieces of ceramic
sticks wrapped with cloth or sponges
lengths of rope
strips of old cloth
paper products like cardboard, coffee filters, tissues, notebook paper, old books, newspaper, catalogs, wrapping paper, paper towels (ripped into small pieces)…
Wikihow has some excellent graphics for how to employ a number of these that may get you thinking.
The reassuring fact is that hundreds of millions of people around the world don’t use toilet paper. Many rely on a rinse of water, which is what a bidet does. The fixture of most European bathrooms hasn’t been appealing to Americans until recently when the idea began to gain traction with devices designed to retrofit an ordinary toilet.
Since we currently seem to have no lack of water, it seems like a viable way to go.
Amazon searches for “toilet top bidet” offers various smart bidets like the Toto Washlet for $300+, as well as the highly-rated under-your-toilet-seat-rig Bio Bidet for about $50 (higher for warm water models).
Searches for”portable bidet” and “spray bottle bidet” led to cheap, simple, immediately practical solutions: spray bottles with a nozzle set at an angle to make it easy to aim water at your bum. The GenieBidet-GO with Telescoping Nozzle Storage looks promising. At the very least, it could reduce paper consumption. It is an iteration of the lota, a vessel of water widely used in the Muslim world that spurred the development of hand-held toilet-side sprayers.
Really, this is a question of mindset: first disengaging from the idea that toilet paper is the only option. And then seeing possibilities and trying them.
An artist friend who lived on very little for many years in order to finance his art takes the view that lack of the things we expect can open us to all sorts of new experiences. He calls it “adventuring”…