HOARDING & why everyone is doing it

You’ve seen it. Someone in the supermarket that has a trolley overflowing with groceries you’re certain they don’t need. Meanwhile, as you reach for that pack of pasta you feel an urge to grab more than the 2 packs you are now limited to. You rationalise that it would be fine for you to take more because you aren’t hoarding like those people are, or you missed out last time, or you are sure you would share your supplies with others in need if they asked. Yet, your gaze falls back on that overflowing trolley, on that person with a pack of toilet paper under each arm and you judge them, you label them as selfish, as a panic buyer, something you convince yourself you aren’t. But is that true?

The reality of it is that we are all hoarders to some extent. The devastating and terrifying pandemic has brought to the surface a behaviour that is a part of our evolutionary history, that we practice in different ways each day, and yet when we see others do it we judge them. What we are really doing is stockpiling provisions.

It wasn’t that long ago that our survival was dependent on producing enough food and stores in the spring and summer to last us through the harsh empty winters. In many areas of the world this is still the way people survive. People grow and harvest their crops when they can, they fatten and breed their livestock when the conditions are favourable, they gather resources to help them survive through the unfavourable conditions and to hopefully be able to continue the cycle when the spring comes again.

Animals do it too. Squirrels hide nuts during the autumn to eat during the winter when food is hard to find. Some birds can store thousands of maps to seeds they have hidden for the winter so they don’t starve when food is notoriously hard to come by. This is hoarding, also called caching. It is stockpiling provisions to survive the hard times.

This is a totally normal and adaptive behaviour. However, when seen in a modern setting it’s distressing, an aberrant behaviour that on the one hand we don’t understand whilst on the other we do ourselves. We need to realise though that we are all behaving in the same way and have done even before the pandemic occurred. Think about it, were you putting money into a savings account? Or, did you ever hide your snack stash from other people in your house? Those are hoards, yet you wouldn’t shame a neighbour for having a good savings account, and you connect with other parents who have a secret chocolate stash to keep from the kids like you do.

I do it. I’ve always saved, or hoarded, my money ever since I started earning. I remember as a teenager with my first job I would stash my money under my mattress and bring it out to count it to be sure I had “lots”. I grew up on a farm that experienced droughts year after year. We raised our livestock and fattened them up for sale and we stockpiled resources to try and maintain our populations through the winter to start again in the spring. There were times though when our livestock would die and we were left without financial stability to make it to the next season. On top of that living out in an isolated area it’s hard to get supplies, so you need to buy multiple packs of things when you make it to town (which is a few hours drive away) as you don’t know when you will be able to get those things again. My experiences as a kid that I wasn’t fully cognisant of have had a lasting impact. To this day I have always had at least an extra can of beans, tomatoes, pasta, and long life milk in the pantry just in case I didn’t have enough money in my next pay check to afford to shop. It’s not logical considering I also “hoard” my money, but this isn’t a logical decision, it’s biological, and it makes me feel safe.

The extent to which we hoard is dependent on our experiences. Put simply, people who have suffered traumatic loss are more likely to become hoarders than those who haven’t, driven by a need to feel safer in times of uncertainty. If there is one thing I think we can agree on during this pandemic is that we are all facing uncertainty on a scale none of us has likely ever experienced before. It’s this level of uncertainty that feeds into this “panic buying” cycle, that triggers your behaviour to stock up, so you feel safer, less stressed, and realistically protected if things go badly. So we’re all doing it, but we’re also looking at others and judging them for taking that little extra as well. This is also a natural reaction. As a group we want to ensure cooperation and that we work together for the best interests of the group, so we shame those who take more than we think they should whilst also taking more than we probably should.

What we need to remember during this pandemic is that as long as people are scared and uncertain, they will continue to hoard. We need to remember that those people in the supermarkets are us; maybe they’re buying more this week because they missed out last week and are scared, maybe they’re buying more today because they have a large family to provide for, maybe they are buying more today because they are taking it to someone who can’t get to the shops or who hasn’t been able to get what they need. Or maybe they are buying more today because they are simply scared for the future.

What we need to do is support each other to get through this as a group. We need to be reminded that we are all in this together, we need to try to ease the worry, to comfort, and to share with those around us. So when you’re at the shop and you see someone with an overloaded trolley, don’t give them a dirty look. When you reach for that extra tin of beans when you have a surplus in your pantry back home think about how you are feeling and whether you really need to take that little extra or if you have enough. These times are hard but together we can make them easier.

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