April 3, 2020

We’re living in pandemic times. Yet, the fear of not being able to wipe our ass is a prospect grimmer than death itself. Stockpiling obscene amounts of toilet paper appears to be de rigueur. While pictures of toilet paper fanatics embroiled in fights and denuded shelves on social media are part entertaining, part horrifying, it goes to show that in our darkest hour, we have our priorities straight.

If Toilet Paper were to be ever quoted, it might sound like this: “It took you long enough to realise my true value! Thanks to the coronavirus, I’m now top of everyone’s lust list, the most sought-after commodity apart from gold—especially premium three-ply. Plebeians appreciate my feather-soft texture and admire the intricate motifs printed on me just before they clean their derrière. It all gets a little too heart-warming. Sometimes my own popularity baffles me; that people would maul each other to (near) death just for a piece of me. It’s also weird what they do to me. Has social distancing driven them to such extreme states of boredom that they have to create vertical stacks of me like a gallery installation? Does my presence offer them a sense of comfort and familiarity?”

Day by day, the global battle for toilet paper is becoming increasingly heated and intense. People have moved on from robbing banks to supermarkets. On February 17, an armed gang of thieves grabbed a whooping 600 rolls of toilet paper from a small shop in Mongkok, leaving the cashiers in shock. Less than a month later, three Australian women were enmeshed in a huge brawl over toilet paper at a Woolworths supermarket in Sydney which spiralled out of control. Vulgarities were hurled along with some major hair pulling and the police had to intervene. 

These are certainly worrying times, and a new German website Blitzrechner.de is here to reassure you that you do have enough toilet paper to survive this coronavirus apocalypse. Just key in the number of rolls you have and how often you go to the toilet, then leave the site to do the complicated math for you. Findings suggest that if you buy normal, sane amounts of toilet paper (10 rolls), you should survive for 53 days. The Poop Tool is another nifty app that estimates how long your precious bounty will last and the results are based on an average human’s daily faecal output, which is supposedly slightly over 400 grams.

Sigmund Freud would definitely have a thing or two to say about the psychology behind hoarding toilet paper but since dead men don’t speak, Professor Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics has offered us a possible theory. “The packets are quite distinctive and it’s become associated in the minds of people as a symbol of safety.” Another theory as to why people latch on so desperately to toilet paper is because of its association with cleanliness. Being in possession of bog roll helps us eradicate our instinctive sense of disgust towards things that are perceived as “dirty” (like infections). Dr Farasat Bokhari, a health economist, regards this illogical demand for toilet paper as a need to regain our control in a chaotic world that has spun out of control. Many Singaporeans also seem to gain psychological satisfaction from the huge packaging; the same way children tend to select larger presents during a Christmas gift exchange.

Although we have been assured that toilet paper will not run out, shoppers continue to express a siege mentality. World leaders have urged the masses to exercise discretion, ignore the hysterical voices in their head and buy only what is needed. Evidence has indicated that while coronavirus is contagious, intelligence is certainly not. An excess of toilet paper will not give you immunity against Covid-19, but maybe some common sense might. With so much happening right now, there’s no denying that toilet paper is the hottest new currency. Who knows, it might be traded on the black market soon. This weekend, I plan to recount my stash of toilet paper rolls—just in case I’m hard-pressed for some cash, or get a bad case of diarrhoea.