Simply Living: Hoarding or stockpiling? There is a difference.

We are living in unsure times. Some might say surreal times. I experienced one of those surreal moments this past weekend when I stepped inside my local chain grocery store—with my list and coupons in hand—and stared at the empty shelves in the produce section.

Covid-19, or the Coronavirus, has disrupted our lives. Grocery shopping is no exception.

I’ve been stockpiling non-perishable items for several weeks, and the reason had nothing to do with the pandemic. I’m retiring from my day job soon and I wanted to have a surplus of essential supplies on hand—food, toiletries, and medication—in case I experienced gaps in receiving my anticipated retirement income.

Suddenly, however, things shifted. Enter Covid-19.

Earlier in the week I ran out to a local “dollar” store to stockpile a few more household items—yes, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, along with detergent, bleach, antibacterial items, and a few canned goods. I didn’t go overboard—I got what I needed and what I assumed I would use within the next several weeks. With what I had previously stockpiled, I felt I was fine—but knew I wanted to get to the larger grocery store by the end of the week for fresh produce and meat.

I couldn’t break away from other responsibilities long enough during the week to get there until early Saturday morning. And, as I stood staring at the vacant produce shelves, I mumbled to myself, “This is going to change my game plan.” I stared at my list and my coupons and put them back into my purse.

Another shopper stepped up beside me. “There are three bags of small purple potatoes over there.” She pointed. My gaze shifted and I spied them. “It’s all they will have until next week,” she added.

I don’t think, in all my forty-plus years of grocery shopping, I’ve ever experienced the feeling I had at that moment. I have never had to live through a food crisis. Suddenly, in the middle of farm country, I’m living in a food desert.

Something kicked in. I pointed my cart forward and began to formulate my new game plan.

I got what fresh produce I could find that would work for both myself, and my elderly father, whom I was also shopping for. He eats lots of greens to help keep his blood sugar low. There were two bags of Romaine lettuce. I stared at them and took one. About that time, a worker in the produce section leaned in and said, “Take them both. If you don’t, they will be gone in five seconds anyway.”

I contemplated. I had a twofer coupon, which made getting the two seem more appealing and justifiable. Should I?

There were several bags of regular salad mix still there and a few boxes of greens. I glanced at him. He nodded. I put both bags in my cart and felt a little hint of remorse. Then I reminded myself—I needed two bags. One for dad, one for me. I was not being selfish. Right?

I moved on. There were about a dozen yellow squash in a bin. I bought four. I scored two small bags of carrots from a bin of about 15 bags. There were four boxes of baby spinach. I took one.

With a glance back at what was left behind, I rounded a corner to the meat department.

The meat butcher case was empty. Totally empty. No steaks, no seafood, nothing. The packaged meat was extremely sparse. No ground beef except for two packages of organic patties. I started looking for meat that would give me the most bang for the buck dollar- and protein-wise. In the organic section, there were several rib eyes. I bought five. I snagged one of two remaining pork roasts. There was a bin of frozen turkey breasts on sale—one went into my cart. I got one of five packages of corned beef, a slab of ribs for dad (last one), and a package of chicken thighs/wings for him too, plus a package of chicken breasts for me. There was one package of chicken left in the case.

Again, I felt a little weird as I left the meat section. We needed meat. I wasn’t hoarding. And truly, this wasn’t a lot -- but I made a small dent in what was there.

I continued my shopping trip, all the while with one thing on my mind – we need enough food to get us through this crisis, in case either my father, or myself, are quarantined and can’t get out. Or, if the food supply dwindles. We’re not talking forever; we are talking getting through until this is done.

I have to remember I’m not the spring chicken I once was. I’m 63, Dad is almost 83 – we are in the high-risk category for Covid-19, him more so than me. But I can’t get sick, because he can’t get sick. Neither of us should just pop out to the store on a whim. We need to be cautious for a few weeks until things blow over.

The thing is, we don’t know when that will happen. Or if. Right? I shopped with all those thoughts spinning in my head.

According to Merriam-Webster, hoarding is “the practice of collecting or accumulating something (such as money or food).” The psychology of hoarding, again according to Merriam-Webster, is “the compulsion to continually accumulate a variety of items that are often considered useless or worthless by others accompanied by an inability to discard the items without great distress.”

A majority of the people, myself included, are not hoarding. (yes, of course, some are) We may be succumbing more to panic-buying behavior. We’ve also heard this phrase being bantered about recently. The Cambridge Dictionary defines panic buying as “a situation in which many people suddenly buy as much food, fuel, etc. as they can because they are worried about something bad that may happen.”

Ahem. Okay. So perhaps, along with my surreal moment, a bit of panic slipped in. Perhaps. The emotion that gripped me upon seeing empty shelves, was real. However, I didn’t clear the shelves. I bought what I needed. I rationalized my own situation. I did try to think of others.

I prefer to think of my buying behavior as stockpiling. I like the Free Dictionary’s definition of stockpiling: “A supply stored for future use, usually carefully accrued and maintained; to accumulate and maintain a supply of for future use.”

Yes. Everything purchased was for future use and for a limited amount of time. Purchases happened with intent and were carefully considered. While panic may motivate us to buy, we need to consider how we accrue and maintain our purchases for the future, without willnilly, careless, out-of-control purchasing that becomes wasteful (because you can’t use it all) or spiteful (because you don’t want anyone else to have it).

Later this week, I’ll be sharing Part 2 of this article, how I stockpile and what things you should consider about stockpiling for your own family.

What are your experiences around grocery shopping this week? Care to share?