We Can Hoard Soap and Toilet Paper, but We Can’t Hoard Time
How the pandemic made time a treasure of the privileged while it was stolen from everyone else
The day we began sheltering in place, a year ago on March 13, we celebrated a family birthday. It was the first of five we would share in the coming year, in the same place, in what felt like the same eternal moment, because we’d lost all sense of time. With all of us working and learning at home, without our usual cues that the day had come and gone — a departure for work or school, an arrival back from the trenches — one day was much like any other.
In the first few weeks of shelter in place, hoarding instincts kicked in where we live. Told that masks were of no use but hands must be pristine, shoppers cleared the shelves of all hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and soap. Although I could understand why people didn’t normally keep buckets of hand sanitizer around, as I scanned the empty grocery shelves, I wondered why so many people had just discovered soap.
It’s possible they were just stocking up with extras because the future was uncertain. No one knew how this would go, but a lot of people had a very bad feeling. The signs weren’t good that we’d have the political will for a competent federal response. By mid-March, it had become clear that we all were largely on our own. Suddenly, all the posts on my neighborhood’s Nextdoor weren’t about “coyote in yard” (a common sight and a common post topic). Instead, they were about people, often elderly, having to go to four or five stores in a pandemic to find toilet paper. Sometimes they simply couldn’t find any and were on Nextdoor to crowdsource some.
Hoping to avoid this situation in our household of five full-sized people, I ordered a box of business-sized rolls of toilet paper, like the kind you find in public bathrooms. Every time we completed a regular roll that we had on hand, I’d collect the cardboard core. Then I’d sit in the evenings, while our family rewatched comforting television shows, and wind toilet paper from these giant rolls around the regular-sized cores so they’d fit on the bathroom holders. If we didn’t use these handmade TP rolls, I reasoned, I could donate them…