Is this Hoarding? The Ethics of Storage

Sharon July 22nd, 2008

What is hoarding? If I store food am I hoarding stuff?  Is that bad? 

 These are probably the most common emails I’m getting these days, from nice and smart people who genuinely want to protect themselves and their families, and who also don’t want to do bad things.  So I thought it would be useful to discuss what hoarding is, and what the ethics of food and goods storage actually are.

First, a quiz!

Question 1: If James has a large group of Hummel figurines (those weird looking kids with big eyes in cutesy poses), including some that are very rare and scarce, and he has more Hummel figurines than anyone could possible use or appreciate (for me, that number would be 1 figurine ;-) ), will people say James is hoarding Hummel figurines?

Question 2: If Laurie has more money than she needs to pay her expenses, and she takes this extra money, and puts it away where it earns interest and is available to her for future use, even though there are people in the world who could really use that money, will people say she is hoarding money?

Question 3: If Li goes to the grocery store only once every few months, purchases in bulk and in quantities he needs for a year, will people say he is hoarding food?

Question 4: If Gloria knows she is likely to lose her job soon, and takes her kids to the doctor, gets their teeth checked, and gets a 3 months supply of her allergy medication while insurance will still pay for it, is she hoarding medical care?

Question 5: If Gloria knows she will lose her job soon and isn’t confident about finding a new one, and goes to the thrift shop and buys clothes that are available in larger sizes for her oldest son and stores them, so that he’ll have nice clothes for school even if they are quite poor, will people say she is hoarding?

Queston 6: Laurie is also worried about affording clothes for her children.  So she puts as much of her salary aside in a specific account marked for her daughter’s clothing as possible.  Will people say she is hoarding?

Answers: 1. No, James is a collector.  2. No, Laurie is saving. 3. Probably many will. 4. No, people will say she is exercising common sense Question 5. Probably, yes.  Question 6 – No.

I do this simply to point out the fact that we don’t always look at having a lot of something, even more than you need, as a kind of hoarding.  In fact, we look at two different ways of dealing with precisely the same problem – not enough money for clothes – one is perceived as hoarding and the other isn’t.   We also tend to have a very visceral reaction to the idea that we would hold quantities of food or other basic staples – those, we’re supposed to get through the “just in time” delivery system, and any other methodology is really strange to people.   We tend to use the term “hoarding” on anything that seems strange to us.

 Why do we jump to it?  Partly the problem is that most of us don’t understand what hoarding actually is.  Part of the problem is that we’ve been trained (and our training strongly benefits the economic system) that some things are for collecting, saving or preserving and some things aren’t – and we need a language to express our shock and dismay at people who violate the social rules.  And partly the problem is that we are carrying cultural baggage left over from the World Wars, when there was a system of reasonably just allocation in place, and where stockpiling disrupted that system.

First of all, let’s figure out what hoarding actually is, and what can be described with less emotionally laden language as “saving” or “storing.”  Hoarding is an attempt to disrupt an ethical, equitable, reasonably functional system of distribution by claiming widely needed scarce items in greater supply than you need, or than the system can support while maintaining ethical distribution.  In order to have hoarding, you have to have two things.  First, you need a system under which most people can get what they need, regardless of circumstances, and in the face of forseeable consequences - that is, if the system is “just in time delivery to stores” most people have to be able to afford food, or subsidies have to be available, and food has to come into the stores regularly.  If any of those things falls apart, say, if the food stops coming in to stores regularly, the people who buy extra so they’ll have something to eat when the food isn’t there are not hoarding – they are using common practices and saving.

The other thing you need to hoard is scarcity of something necessary, or a conscious attempt to create scarcity.  That is, you can buy up all the beanie babies you want, hoping that they will someday make you rich, but because beanie babies aren’t necessary, this would be not hoarding.  You can buy up all the dandelions you want, and transplant them all into your yard, and that’s not hoarding either, because dandelions aren’t scarce.  You are only hoarding it you take something people really need, that is in short supply, and put it away, not for your own use, but either to manipulate markets or in excess of your ability to use it.  For example, if you buy up 10 years of brown rice in a market that is short of rice, that would be hoarding because you are essentially preventing other people from getting rice, and you can’t possibly eat it before it goes rancid.

Now you could make the case that my own food storage falls in the category of hoarding.  There is, at present, a system that enables people to get food – it is the just in time delivery system and a combination of the growth economy and food stamps (with 1 out of every 11 Americans, and 1 in 7 in Michigan, Washington DC and Ohio –  getting food stamps, it has reached the point where it isn’t just a social welfare program, but a basic way that people get access to food – fundamental to the system) and other social welfare programs.  And I have more food than is required to meet my immediate needs.

The difficulty is that the system I am expected to rely upon won’t work under a range of highly plausible situations – for example, the CDC itself in its avian flu preparations admits that in order to best avoid an epidemic, we need most people to have a large stockpile (12 weeks) of food reserves, because otherwise, the most effective means of controlling infection – avoiding contact with most people – can’t be utilized at all.  It won’t work in an extended Depression, for example, because the rising costs of food and energy are, in fact, already pricing people out of markets for basic commodities.  The US Government once stored commodities to use as food reserves for “safety net” systems like food pantries and for distribution in an emergency – the US no longer has substantial food reserves – they’ve been stripped.  So if there are supply problems, we have no recourse but our own reserves.

Moreover, we aren’t short of food – neither in the US nor the world is there an actual shortage of food.  I’m not buying up something that would otherwise be eaten by someone else – there is more than adequate food around – the problem is the distribution system.  In fact, because it is better to use food as well…food than it is to say, put it in your car, IMHO, people who buy corn and soybeans right now, and create markets for farmers to sell their grains as food grains to are actually doing something quite good.  Most US grains get used either in biofuels or in Confinement livestock production – and both are driving forces of the price rises we’re experiencing. Undermining them by creating viable markets for whole grains that people actually eat is a good thing. 

Equally importantly, storing food is part of human culture.  Just about every region on earth has a period of the year where less stuff grows than others.  Every region on earth has experienced times of food shortfalls, or bad harvests.  All through human history, our culture has grown up around the process of creating a reserve and a safety net to adapt to the fact that food systems are natural systems, not machines.  Human food cultures grew up around food storage and stored foods are essential to those cultures.  If we stop storing food, we are abandoning a large part of our heritage.

Now the danger of lots and lots of people buying food to store is that they will drive prices up. This has happened in some poor countries – when food prices rise and keep rising, people who like to eat buy as much as they can at lower prices, because they are afraid they won’t have any tomorrow.  And this does, in the short term, contribute to price increases.  So we might say that we shouldn’t buy food if the price is increasing.  But the categorical imperative isn’t always the best way to figure out whether something is ethical or not, and it isn’t in this case.  For example, while people buying out cooking oil or rice did raise the price in the short term, the fundamental problem – the thing that drove the prices up so high that people started buying all they could anyway, the thing that most deeply disturbed the system of distribution in the first place, was biofuels.  Instead of taking grains and selling them on markets for food, the not-very-but-more ethical system of distribution we had in place was fundamentally undermined and disrupted when the appetites of cars were treated as equal to the appetites of people.

The truth is that we don’t have an equitable system of distribution, we don’t have a system that can withstand reasonably forseeable shocks, and we don’t have any organic scarcity of food – what we have is a new set of competitors, created by a subsidy system, for people’s need for a resource – a resource that is not, in any objective sense, scarce, but has been made artificially scarce by the introduction of these new, heavily subsidized artificial appetites.  The right response is to remove the subsidies and to create a system in which cars can’t compete with people for food -  it is not to start feeling guilty becuase you want to be able to eat even after you lose your job.

Does that mean there are no ethical grey areas or problems?  Of course there are – this is human life, not a sitcom.  If we are going to store, we have the obligation, if we can afford to be conscious of these issues, to store carefully, not to buy foods that others are experiencing real shortages of if we have any choice, to buy and store foods that are as basic as possible – ie, prioritizing whole grains rather than industrially produced powdered milks and dried meats that reduce the total quantity of food for humans, and most of all to spend our dollars in ways that actually increase the equity, quality and accessibility of the food system.  Just like everything else, storing food has to be done as ethically as possible.  The rules vary depending on your abilities – those who have the money to buy locally and sustainably every time should, those who don’t should do what they can.

The same rules apply to the storage of goods, as well as food.  For example, I buy shoes for my kids to grow into.  I do this for several reasons. The first is that my kids’ feet are going to get bigger no matter what I do, but there are other reasons – environmental health, the saving of used goods from landfills, saving money. The convention, of course is that I should go to the mall when they get bigger and buy the next size up. Of course, that isn’t the most ethical choice – the dollars go to a large corporation, the gas to the mall is a waste, nor is it the best choice for me – I have to make more trips to the mall since I don’t have a supply at home, even if I’d rather be doing something else (and trust me, I would), and I have to spend more money. 

As long as I’ll use the shoes – and I will – there’s no ethical issue with me buying a supply of used shoes at Goodwill.  In fact, I honestly don’t understand why anyone does it any other way – hmmm…cheaper, often barely used or never used, keeps things out of a landfill, subsidizes a charity, don’t have to drive to the mall, saves energy making a new thing…what’s not to like?  But to do this successfully, you pretty much have to store – the thing is, buying used isn’t like going to a department store – you don’t say “I’ll take the green in a size 5″ – in order for me to have a pair of size five shoes, I have to plan ahead, because yard saling is only in spring and summer, and Goodwill gets what it gets – a pair of suitable, high quality size five shoes might not come in for six months – and then I’d have to go buy new.

In fact, it isn’t possible for me to live as I do without storing – I came to this not because I worry about the end of the world, but because my family of 6 has lived, for the last 7 years on between 20 and 40K per year, without any debt but mortgage debt, and while accumulating a reserve of goods, and expanding our farm.  The fact is, there is no way we could live this way - no way we could run the farm, keep the husband’s commute and thus carbon emissions as low as we do, no way we could feel ourselves comfortably well off on that income (which to be fair has hovered closer to 40 for the last few years, but was much, much, much less for a long time before that) without these strategies. 

In order to be sure that I’ll have a clean, nice, high quality, reasonably priced wardrobe, shoes, library, toys for my kids, I plan ahead.  I started buying children’s books for older kids at yard and library sales when my children were babies – because a lot of children’s books are series, and I wanted to have the whole sets.  But used books don’t usually show up as whole sets – they come in bits and pieces, so I knew if I wanted to have a complete set of Narnia or His Dark Materials, I should start hunting earlier – and lo and behold, I now have much of what I want. 

The same is true of clothes and shoes – I buy three sizes ahead, generally speaking.  Some years I get tons of bigger kid clothes in sizes that are just what they are growing into.  Other years, I don’t find much at all – or only things that are much too big. I have reasonable confidence, however, that my kids will keep growing for a good while yet – and some of the things I bought a few years ago that looked crazy too big, now are part of their regular wardrobes.  The reality is that the lifestyle that enables us to live cheaply, the lifestyle that enables us to be as secure as we are, that depends on stockpiling, on planning ahead at many levels – on buying in bulk, on buying used goods when they are available, on looking to future needs.  We don’t do a lot of this in our society, and like all the other basic skills of thrift, they are probably going to be among the most urgent skills out there for us – we may need our guns and ammo far less than we need the ability to stretch soup, look ahead to the future, and make do with what we’ve got.

 Now it is true that I’m also buying stuff because I believe that hard times are coming.  I’m concerned not so much that there won’t be food in the stores, but that my husband might lose his job and I might not be able to buy it. I think it is possible that energy shortages will mean that there will be supply disruptions, but the most likely scenario to me is always this – we become poor.  Our lives start looking more and more (and they already are looking that way for many) like the lives of the world’s poor.  And sometimes the world’s poor experience supply disruptions of things they really need – food, power, energy – because less reliability is a hallmark of poverty.  But more importantly, the economy and energy prices and climate change make it more likely that I’ll be walking by a store thinking, ‘I don’t have enough to afford this thing I need.’  And since I have enough now, and the things we’re talking about are things we waste and throw away all the time, it only makes sense to get them now. 

But this is one of those “Theory of Anyway” things – it makes sense if “the world ends” – or more likely, our world changes, but it makes sense if it doesn’t.  And no, you can’t store your way out of everything – but you don’t have to.  As long as you use your stores and use them wisely, you don’t have to have enough to last you forever.  The truth is that if the present system stops working, a new system will arise – we had shoes and food before peak oil and climate change, and people will make and grow them afterwards.  But there is a transitional period where there might not be enough food for sale, and where no one may be making shoes or distributing them, or where you can’t store them.  And while some of these things are just plain things we may have to get used to living without, it doesn’t hurt anyone to make that a gradual transition, not a rapid one – others, we might have to live without if we don’t store them.  Books, for example, can be copied, or reprinted using very simple technology and renewable energies.  But they can’t be copied if we don’t have them in our communities.

Am I saying everyone should store? No, everyone is different.  Some people are already better suited to a light, migratory lifestyle.  Some people don’t want to the burden, or don’t have the space.  But I do think that for many of us, who are settling in a place and creating a likely refuge for others, storing makes sense for three reasons – the first is that it enables you to spend less and use less energy, which is inherently good.  The second is that it is perfectly normal, in every human society except ours we have stored extra food as a reserve for hard times and seasonal periods where it is necessary, and it is not hoarding to do so.  The third, and perhaps most important reason is that in the absence of a system of fair and equitable distribution, we have no choice but to create those systems – we have to compensate for the failure to maintain a public system.  For some of us, our compensation might be simply the creation of a private reserve, designed to protect our own – and our own could be a broad or narrow category depending on who we call “ours” - maybe immediate family, maybe extended, maybe a whole neighborhood.  But we may also be compensating for the loss of the public sphere – that is, our libraries may be the community library, our store of seeds can be multiplied and spread through our communities, our extra shoes and clothes, when outgrown, can go to the next family in need, to compensate for an overburdened or absent support system.

 Ok, next, living off stored food as a way of life, not as an emergency practice.

 Sharon

27 Responses to “Is this Hoarding? The Ethics of Storage”

  1. Shamba says:

    Again, Sharon, you have written out very clearly the issues, thoughts, doubts and reasoning around the subject you have chosen.

    I have been wondering how we define “hoarding” these days and I think you’ve covered it all here.

    thanks for your great informative blog and you write wonderfully.

    Looking forward to more,

    Shamba

  2. Pica says:

    Sharon: wow. Great post. I just realized this morning I’m a hoarder of art supplies and need to start using them more!

  3. Cathy says:

    Eeks! Don’t confuse those AWFUL Precious Moments figurines (weird kids with big eyes in cutesy poses) with the classical Hummels from Germany!

  4. MEA says:

    I have a concept, called shared hoarding — just coined.

    Here’s a real-life example — I have collection of used children’s shoes (and a few adult) that gets pass around. You take out what you need, put in what you don’t and send it along.

    Of course, the pair of shoes your child needs might be 1) worn out or 2) on another’s child’s feet. But you might also what you need.

    MEA

  5. risa b says:

    I understood hoarding to be the keeping of “extra” stuff to the point where it was no longer useful for anyone else: a source of waste, rather than a prevention of personal scarcity. Exceptions would be like in the siege of Leningrad, where cornering a week’s supply of bread might mean someone else would die.

    We don’t buy everything in sight but we do lay maintain supplies of seed and mulch and hand tools to expand our ability to grow and put up food and make things, so that the means are on hand should sources of “bagged and tagged” or “ready-made” become difficult to find. But, hey we started doing this in 1976 and never got out of the habit. I don’t think anyone has ever said “hoarder”to us. “Pack-rat,” maybe. Yeah, “Pack-rat” a lot.

  6. Squrrl says:

    I find it bizarre and frightening that after millenia of working all summer to store up for the winter, of putting away for a rainy day, of striving to live providentially, in a mere hundred years we’ve gone from that to demonizing all that as hoarding.

    Like Sharon said…hoarding is holding on to a resource in quantities greater than you can use. If you obtain an item with every reasonable expectation of using it, then you should be fine, even if you won’t be using it for a year or more. Taking that item as your own, though, does obligate you to make sure you don’t waste it, in my opinion.

    Me, I’ve never had any patience for “collecting”, which, to me, involves having either many more of a useful item than is actually useful (i.e. my MIL’s colander collection) or many of something that just plain isn’t useful at all (i.e. baseball cards). I am quite curmudgeonly on the subject, actually. On the other hand, I pick up every plastic bucket I see because I honestly think I’ll use them….and I do, too. One’s never empty when I need it.

    Anyway…me, I’m just thrilled because last weekend I loaded up on lovely sturdy, warm clothing for my daughter for the next three winters for a few bucks–maybe $.40 a garment for sweaters and jackets and overalls. Who wouldn’t want to shop this way? I just saved literally hundreds of dollars and kept stuff out of a landfill. Hoarding? Sign me up!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this essay.

    I wonder about money though, i.e. is it ethical (or Christian? – the ol’ “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle…” bit comes to mind) to save and invest money for the future when it could literally could save or improve someone else’s life today if given away.

    Is this just prudent saving for a rainy day? Is my future rainy day more important than someone else’s current one? And how much is justifiable to keep in a reserve (or cash or investments)?

    I remember reading an article by Peter Singer about this a ways back but being unsatisfied with it…

    Anyway, thank you for our thoughtful post.

  8. ToilingAnt says:

    To me, the difference between hoarding and prudent storage is that hoarding is fear-based and self-centered (and potentially wasteful, as Risa pointed out). It’s the opposite of laying in food reserves with the awareness that difficult times could be ahead, and with the knowledge of the importance of community and bearing the burdens of the weak in a time of need.

  9. Maeve says:

    I have accounts of family members in the 1910s eating the last of the apples in the cellar in the springtime, and noting how those apples were wrinkled but still sweet.

    100 years ago, many people still didn’t have electricity or flush toilets; most people still put up food in the summer and fall for winter eating.

    It wasn’t called “hoarding”. It was just a normal thing to do.

    So much of our mythologies and religious stories embody prudence and storing up for the future that it is weird to me that these behaviors have come to be smeared as “hoarding”.

    It is about survival of the adverse elements of winter/drought/etc, and I sure as heck prefer to survive than to expire. And I will do whatever I need to, in order to give my kids the chance to prosper. Even if some people will label me a ‘hoarder’ for doing so.

    Mostly they just think I’m a bit odd, but with the economy and gas prices and predicted utility rate increases and food contamination scares, most of them have started saying things like “your garden really is a good idea”.

    I refrain from responding with “DUH”, and aim for encouraging them to give it a try.

    I don’t like the coming hard times, but part of me is a wee bit relieved- because of stuff like not being viewed like a freak if (when) I evict the grass from my front lawn and replace it with edibles and medicinals. I do plan on making it aesthetically pleasing, with a knot-garden layout, and heavy use of perennial herbs and berry shrubs and so forth. I’d rather water food than grass.

  10. gen says:

    Sharon:
    This was a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. If you observe nature, you notice that animals, trees, plants, etc all listen to the seasonal cycles of the earth, and prepare during the abundance of summer for leaner winter times. People who live close to the land, such as farmers, grow their crops to be able to care for their families and animals during times they cannot grow them. If you learn lessons from sources like the Old Testament and the story of Joseph, you will feel the need to prepare, even if you, unlike he, are not in a position to save so many. I don’t consider being prepared the same as hoarding. I consider that you are being part of the solution, and not adding to a problem, because you can take care of you and yours, and a few others besides.
    We are fortunate in this country to have abundance and availability.
    It many not always be so for us. It is prudent to be prepared for the day that our jobs and our means of providing for ourselves is in jeopardy. If everyone in this country suddenly needed food stamps, for example, there is no way our government could meet such needs. Haven’t some of the natural disasters taught us this?
    I can’t imagine that mothers in some countries have the leisure and resources to be worried about the ethics of hoarding……..they are just trying to feed their families today. We are a fortunate people.
    My thoughts are to prepare to take care of you and yours, don’t be a burden on the system, volunteer with a food bank or Habitat, and donate a few dollars to reputable organizations who are helping those in need in this world.
    Ethical debates are interesting; actions to help out are better.

  11. Rebekka says:

    I am absolutely all for buying clothes (for both adults & kids) second-hand, but shoes are another matter, for children at least.

    I’ve read that because children’s feet are more ‘pliable’ than adult feet, second-hand shoes don’t get ‘broken in’ by a child, but instead break the child’s feet in instead – i.e. the child’s feet get moulded to the shape of the shoe, and if the child who wore the shoes before them had wider/narrower feet this causes problems. The British Podiatry bit of their NHS estimates that 70% of foot problems in adults are caused by shoes that didn’t fit properly as a child.

    The bones in the human foot are not fully developed until around 18 years old – at birth, the foot contains 22 partially developed bones. By school age, kids’ feet have 45 bones. By the time they’re an adult, they only have 26 bones in each foot. There’s a lot of development going on there, and
    I personally would not put children in second-hand shoes, it’s not worth the risk of foot problems that can’t be fixed later.

  12. Ani says:

    Thanks for this post- it’s an important topic imho. I guess that I would consider storing a reasonable quantity of food to not be hoarding but prudent- it would devolve to hoarding if one were storing so much that it went to waste as they couldn’t possibly eat it or they were trying to buy up so much of it that others had none. But putting food away, especially if one grows it, is a good idea I think. Having 5 years worth of flour stashed away going bad is not…..

    I am somewhat concerned though as to what I see as fear-driven approaches to stocking-up; the urge to accumulate enough safety-pins or whatever to last a lifetime. I don’t see that as a healthy thing myself. I guess that I would say that stashing a reasonable amount of anything would not be hoarding; blankets and pillows sufficient for however many beds one has for instance, but storing enough for half the US Army would be over-the-top, unless one were the US Army……

  13. Squrrl says:

    I don’t see why having more blankets (as an example) than you could currently use would be a problem. Is there an urgent blanket shortage that I was unaware of? Just because now there are only three people living in this house, and we can just turn up the thermostat if we get cold, doesn’t mean that will always be true. If I buy a blanket now, it will simply be replaced on the shelf with another blanket. Even a wool blanket, while it doesn’t have the same immediate effect on the manufacture of wool blankets due to supply constraints, might prevent some shepherd out there from throwing in the towel on wool entirely (despite the consumer expense, it’s hardly worth the shearing for a meat farmer) and getting hair sheep…meaning a significant decrease in future availability of wool. I only have one actual bed, but people slept before inner-spring mattresses, too, you know.

    And in a more general sense, I would like to ask what exactly is so wrong with fear. I am afraid that someday I won’t be able to turn up the thermostat. I’m afraid that maybe my mother will be here and need a big pile of blankets too, especially since she is older and sleeps very poorly when she’s cold, and then even if we had only a temporary guest we suddenly wouldn’t have enough blankets. I’m afraid that my wonderful but flaky neighbors might suddenly find that the nights are feeling a little chilly and I won’t have anything to offer them. I consider these fears to be reasonable and healthy responses to an unpredictable future. I feel no need to talk myself out of them or suppress them.

  14. Sharon says:

    Rebekka, Amy Dacyczyn, in _The Tightwad Gazette_ did considerable research into the question of used shoes, including asking multiple podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, and the American Podiatric Medical Association, and concluded that the idea that used shoes were bad for children is at best unproven, that opinions vary widely and that there is exactly no research on this subject – so most of the material is opinion. Particularly, a podiatrist notes that if your children mostly wear soft shoes, like sneakers (as mine do), the give in the shoe is so great that it is impossible to imagine it shaping the child’s foot meaningfully. The general consensus was that it was much more important that shoes fit properly than that they be new vs. used, and that the shoe theory was completely unresearched – there were varying opinions, but no actually evidence. Generally, if shoes are not terribly worn (and some used shoes are barely worn or not at all) they probably are fine.

    So I admit, other than making sure their shoes fit and are in good condition, this is not something I lose sleep over.

    Ani, I’m with Sqqqrl, I’m not sure why it would be a bad thing to buy all of X you need for a lifetime? What’s wrong with it? If I buy all the safety pins I need for a lifetime, I never need to shop for safety pins again, and I get safety pins at 2008 price, not 2038 prices – what’s the downside. Not everyone wants to do it, or deal with the stuff – I hate to sew, so I think I probably have a lifetime worth of safety pins but that’s one box ;-) – but why worry about what other people store? We have a lot of beds, and don’t heat the bedrooms, so it would be a long way before I had more blankets than we can possibly use so I don’t qualify, but I also don’t worry about it. Particularly if people are buying at yard sales and thrift shops – in many cases, if things don’t sell, they end up in the landfill – I’d much rather see the blankets in someone’s house.

    Sharon

  15. Ailsa Ek says:

    I don’t think fear is necessarily a bad thing as a motivator either. A decade or so ago I was desperately broke and couldn’t afford to fill our oil tank during a bad cold snap. My daughter and I went to bed as soon as we got home and burrowed under masses of blankets and comforters to keep warm, and took our showers at the Boys and Girls Club. I got bad bronchitis and had to miss work to go to emergency care, and we finally got heat because a friend of mine was horrified at how miserable we were and handed us money (I considered pride for a nanosecond, but since he was holding me up because I was coughing so hard, pride lost).

    I will never forget that winter, and I am afraid of being that cold again, despite the fact that I am generally more comfortable in cold than heat. That’s too much cold, thank you. And because if that, I’ve been watching the thermostat, keeping it as low as possible to keep our heat bills low so that there’s no risk that we won’t be able to have it. And this winter we will have a woodstove as well.

  16. MEA says:

    I think that the question of buying a life times supply of safety pins depends in part on the number of safety pins available. Sort of like rushing out now and buying 1,000 lbs of rice wouldn’t be that cool, but canning 1,000 lbs of your own veg would be. (Actually, it would be so uncool that I feel faint at the thought, but I’m like a leaf of lettuce once it’s over 80 degrees F.

  17. Ani says:

    Sharon and Squrll

    The issue here I think has to do with whether your fear, and need to stash stuff away, deprives others of the ability to do so at reasonable cost. If you for instance hit the thrift store daily and snatch up all the good blankets and sheets they put out, that will deprive others from buying them at a reasonable price. Some people may be able to buy them new at the store but others will just have to do without. Some people can’t get to the thrift store exept on Saturday for instance as they work all week, and if it is cleaned out of everything all week long, little will be left to put out on Saturday. The same with any other thing, be it safety pins or rice or whatever. Rice shortages only started happening recently when people started snatching up way more than they normally did, thus precipitating a shortage.

    So I am not saying that it is not ok to have enough blankets for your perceived needs, allowing for cool conditions and lots of houseguests, but there is a difference between that and enough blankets for the whole town. Buying used stuff in particular, which is good environmentally and sutainability- wise, does not add to the impetus to a shepherd to increase their flock size or a blanket maker to produce more so far as I can tell- buying new would do that. I do think there is a point beyond which it does become hoarding, and I do think one should keep in mind the need to share with others when it comes to used goods at reasonable prices, allowing others the chance to buy these items as well. I’d have to concurr with MEA that canning what you grow would not be hoarding, but rushing out and cornering a humongous supply would be.

  18. Sharon says:

    Ani, I see your point. I think part of the issue is the situation – I agree, buying up all the blankets at Goodwill, week after week, with no intention to share would be a problem, and right now, I’m being cautious about how I buy blankets, precisely because I think a lot of people are seriously scared about this coming winter. But I haven’t gotten the impression here that people are doing that – and most of the people who post here seem very sensitive to awareness of others. I’m still seeing, at the end of big yardsales, blankets and such at the curb, or at the bag sales, though – so some of them are still getting to the landfill.

    I do disagree with how you describe the rice situation – the shortages, at least in the US, came first after suppliers from places like Thailand and India stopped exporting rice. Which meant that warehouses stopped receiving as much rice as they’d like. There was definitely a “run” on rice, with people trying to ensure their supply, and possibly some people bought it in excess of their perceived needs – but most of the stories I heard involved areas with large Asian populations, where people go through large quantities of rice in a short time, and often where people have living memories of food shortages. So I actually don’t think that this was hoarding – it did make it difficult for people who wanted to buy rice and couldn’t get it, but there was plenty of pasta and bread and everything else – so I don’t think the case can be made that people were genuinely harmed by this.

    I agree it is necessary that people be sensitive and adaptive in their storing – but right now, whether new or used, buying all the safety pins pretty much hurts no one, and if it makes people feel better – not to worry.

    Sharon

  19. caelids says:

    I love Amy D. and the Tightwad Gazette–but I’m starting to think the whole thrift thing needs updating viz-a-viz the whole environment/ethics/free trade/scarcity everywhere developments. And I think she would be the first to agree (this is not a criticism)!

    Your post really made me think, because when I am out and about doing my tightwadd-y shopping, I am occasionally bothered by the fact that it appears I’m taking the last four cans of sale chicken off the shelf. If I’m just adding to an already-full larder, I could be taking it away from the single young mom who’s bound to come along hoping to discover the same deal. So while I used to think “Yes! I just grabbed the greatest bargain around!” I now think, “Do I really need this, or do I just want it because it’s cheap and adds to my feeling (not substance) of security?”

    OTOH, there are things that it would be just as well to have. For instance, cash. Can you imagine what would happen if there were indeed a general financial system failure and people realized that these “debit” cards they carry around aren’t really money, and that all the “money” they think they have in the bank is not, in fact, there? There would be a general run on cash. And there’s not really that much out there…compared to all the electronic digits that say how much should be there. Is it OK to ask for cashback at the grocery store when the clerk always has to run and get more money? Are you taking cash away from somebody else who might need it more than you? This discussion can get pretty esoteric regarding blankets/used clothing/other non-food items. Good discussion, tho.

  20. WWJD? says:

    The world is a crazy place when you label those who plan ahead, put aside for a rainy day and show thoughtfulness and industry to provide for themselves and others in lean times. As to passing on an item I know my family will use in the future because somebody else may need it now I must point out the vast surplus available at any given time right now. In my town there are no less than half a dozen major thrift stores that are literally packed to the rafters with merchandise. They receive new items weekly by the semi-truck load. They also regularly purge their burgeoning racks and donate truck loads to homeless shelters and send tons to the landfill. How likely is it that someone is going to go without shoes if I take that pair of shoes 2 sizes bigger than my son is wearing right now? Not very likely. Even rice. My mother called me in a panick because of the rice shortage. I never went to one store that did not have shelves completely stocked full of rice. I saw one store that even put out extra rice on a big pallett right in the aisle to cash in on people rushing to get rice because there was a shortage. Did I feel bad about buying 100 lbs of rice? No! Unless there’s a natural disaster or draught that wipes out a crop any food shortage will be artificially created … meaning easily corrected and not really a shortage.

  21. Isabella says:

    Is there really a law that prohibits someone from having a 1 year food supply in their home?

  22. [...] If you want to read more, this is an excellent article on the ethical issues surrounding food storage… http://sharonastyk.com/2008/07/22/is-this-hoarding-the-ethics-of-storage/. [...]

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