So, what was all that toilet paper hoarding about…?

Its been a funny old year, 2020. We had bushfires, water shortages and drought. Then Covid-19 hit, with all the deaths, anxiety and life changes. Then police brutality and the Black Lives Matter protests.

It might be hard for the younger readers to believe, but there was a time, many moons ago, that toilet paper was scarce in this fair land. And before we were locked away from one another by law, we would congregate and talk about toilet paper shortages. It eased our anxiety to connect and laugh and roll our eyes at the hoarding hoarders’ baffling ways. “What’s all this toilet paper shortage about…?” we’d ask each other in flummoxed tones.

Well, gladly the science is starting to trickle in about this puzzling footnote to 2020. And although the conversation has well-and-truly moved on, I thought that it’d be worth reporting on a recent study which shines a tiny ray of light on this ancient issue.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany surveyed over 1,000 adults online in late March. The participants came from more than 30 different countries. They asked the participants about hoarding behaviour, perceived threat, and had them complete a personality inventory.

The results showed a few things. Older people more likely to hoard TP than younger. Americans stashed more bumwad than Europeans. But the finding that caught my eye was about personality. The personality trait most associated with squirrelling away bog role was conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness is the tendency to be careful and considerate. You can read a little bit more about conscientiousness on this post.

A good example of a morality tale about conscientiousness is Aesop’s 2,500-year-old fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant works her backside off all summer to prepare for winter, whilst the lazy Grasshopper just sings and dances and has a good time. But when the good times end, the unprepared Grasshopper seeks help and knocks on the Ant’s door. “I’ve got no toilet paper for you!” shouts the indignant ant and slams the door in the crestfallen creepy-crawly’s sour mug.

So, while some of us (Grasshoppers) were lining up on a cold Tuesday morning at Coles. The conscientious Ants were sitting smugly on their thrones, reading their phones, and laughing. Laughing as the conscientious always do at those who have not saved for winter.

And that is the moral of that chapter of our lives.

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