Fear Of “Running Out”

Lately we’ve been exposed to lots of curious storm-related behavior.  Among the more interesting phenomena are the phobias that seem to be triggered by the approach of a significant storm.  You’ve got people who worry compulsively about how snow is going to affect their lives, and many of them decide the appropriate, rational response is . . . to head to the store and buy toilet paper.

Lots and lots of toilet paper, in fact.  When I walked past the Giant Eagle in our neighborhood in advance of one of this winter’s storms, I saw multiple worried people trotting out of the store to their cars, clutching huge, 24-roll packs of bathroom tissue.  At that post-purchase moment, with the toilet paper safely in hand, they undoubtedly felt an enormous surge of relief knowing that, even if the storm was a historic disaster that left them snowbound for days or even weeks and every member of their extended families decided to visit at just that moment, they would have enough toilet paper in the home to take care of business.  In short, they wouldn’t “run out.”  And they weren’t alone, either.  The rush to buy toilet paper in advance of a snowstorm has been the subject of some reporting; traditionally, toilet paper, milk, and bread are the panic buying items of choice.  With the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, I’m guessing that TP has now moved past milk and bread to occupy the number one snow-buying slot.

Oddly, there appears to be no official name for the psychological condition that causes otherwise rational people to rush to the store to lay in enormous supplies of toilet paper when storms are near.  Perhaps we can call it Cottonellophobia, which sounds like something you could find in the DSM-VI.  Nevertheless, the toilet paper effect is so pronounced I’ve got to believe it influences grocery stores supply decisions and sales figures for companies that produce Scotts and Charmin.  If Mr. Whipple were still alive, he would be squeezing his brains out during the winter months.