On Monday, I shared my initial thoughts on TLC’s new reality show, Extreme Couponing. The show spends quite a bit of time showing each participant’s stockpile and viewers tend to be intrigued and sometimes downright horrified about the stockpile situation. Oh, the judgement just pours out of people’s fingers (because they are typing, right?).
“No one needs that much mustard.”
“It’s just wasteful to store that much toothpaste.”
“It looks like an episode of Hoarders.”
Errk. (That’s the sound of me putting on the brakes.) Stop. Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Stockpiling and hoarding are two very different things.
Stockpiling vs. Hoarding
I’ve watched the television show Hoarders. Hoarding is a mental illness and watching people unable to get rid of things, live in filth and choose their possessions over relationships with people is completely heart-breaking to me. I ache for people who struggle with hoarding as much as people who struggle with other mental illnesses.
Stockpiling is completely different. Most of the stockpiles featured in Extreme Couponing and the real-life stockpiles I have seen (including my own) are the following:
- organized and orderly
- out-of-the-way — either in the basement or a closet or under a bed or in a shelving unit
Hoarding items keeps the business of life from happening. Homes are unlivable, smelly and unsanitary. Family members can’t freely move throughout their own home due to the junk and usually have strong negative feelings and reactions about the “stuff” they have to live with. The hoarder hangs on to items regardless of if it has real value or if someone else needs it.
In contrast, stockpiles are stored out of the way and do not keep the family from functioning normally (walking through the living room, sleeping in bed, eating at the dining room table). While people may “live” along side of a stockpile (for instance, my kids’ toys and books share a closet with our toiletry stockpile), it’s not “in the way.” The stockpiler’s family is by-in-large supportive of the presence of the stockpile because they see the value in it and they are willing to give away excess to those in need.
Here’s a quick and easy way to know if you’re a hoarder or a stockpiler:
Your girlfriend is at your house and mentions that she needs to stop by the grocery store on the way home to pick up frozen spinach for dinner. You have spinach stockpiled in your freezer that you got for free with coupons. If you’re a hoarder, you keep your mouth shut and let her take her three kids into Safeway to buy the spinach.
If you’re a stockpiler, you will give her the box of frozen spinach.
Pretty simple, huh?
Here’s the other thing I want to make super clear: I do not believe it is my place to determine how extensive one’s stockpile should be. It really isn’t. If you want a three-year supply of toothpaste and your husband (or wife or mom or partner or roommate) is cool with it, then do it. As long as you’re not acting in greed — clearing shelves, taking all the store coupons, using coupons unethically — I don’t care how you play the game.
If you want my advice about how much to stockpile, I suggest you start with a 3-6 month supply of items your family regularly uses depending on the space you have available in your home. But if you want more, go for it.
There’s much more to say about how to build and maintain a stockpile so I’ll save it for another day.
Now it’s your turn: How do you build a stockpile without entering the “crazy” zone?
This post may contain affiliate links. See the disclosure policy for more information.
I think the thing for all of us to keep in mind is that we do not know the unique situations that others are in and so cannot fairly judge how much is too much to be considered a stockpile rather than hoarding. I am a single female with one dependent so to an outsider my stockpile of 20 tubes of toothpaste may seem excessive. But what they don’t know is that I have several relatives that are struggling and I can often help them with my “excessive” stockpile.
That seems great to me! My family is the same size as yours. I have my own storage areas, and another one that is extra that goes to others. It is also great when you hear of people that are struggling to know you have several bags you can give to them to help.
The twin with all the diapers and no children was pretty crazy. While it makes sense to be prepared you also must be realistic. How fast will her future baby grow? How big will it be at birth? When will they need what size of diaper and for how long?
When you can’t use common sense any more or when getting good deals becomes a bigger priority in your life than the people you love, then it is a problem.
Definitely agree that stockpiling can be hoarding. Unless the twin is engaged or at least seriously involved with someone, I was appalled by her stock of diapers. And I definitely think those who clear the shelves just because they can are being rude at the very least, if not downright greedy. If you’re going to clear the store out, order ahead of time.
I grew up hearing the admonition from our church leaders that we should live debt-free as much as possible, and have a year’s supply of food & essentials in case of emergency. (Anyone else have 50# bags of wheat or rice stored under your bed as a kid?) I didn’t follow in my parents’ footsteps with the wheat and rice because A.) I wouldn’t know how to turn un-ground wheat into something edible and B.) I have a hard time spending money on something I hope I never need.
Strategic couponing, however, has opened up a way for me to stock up on non-perishables my family WILL eat and use, while still spending less on those items overall. We just have to make sure we rotate our stock. The last time we had a bad snow storm we stayed home for two weeks and ate from our pantry, and watched all the panicked grocery shoppers on the news rather than being one of them.
I do have about 60# of wheat, in 10# cans. Next winter storm, we’ll grind some and make bread — for fun and to learn something new, not because we need it for survival.
There is absolutely no way a family is going to use 100’s of deodorants 100’s of toothpaste and body washes before they expire. These people buy them because they have an obsession to getting things for free.
Stockpiling more than a years worth of things like that, is a sickness, it’s sad! My Family of 5 needs no more than 20 boxes of toothpaste and thats on a high estimate, but when I go to the store and cant even buy 1 box with a coupon because Mrs. Buy100 boxes was there before me loading her cart, to put the boxes on her shelf to collect dust and admire her collection. It just makes me SICK!
I use coupons, but I usually don’t buy more than 2 or 3 of an item. It makes me sick to go to a store week after week and find the shelves cleared.
I watched an episode of Hoarders, I mean Extreme Couponing last night and The lady was shopping with her kid, which was probably 3-4 years old. She asks him, how many should we get? He says 3!!! She laughs and says how about 40!!!! and then piles jar after jar of Ragu onto her child sitting in the cart. It’s obsessive and sick and if causes someone to get offended then I think there’s some soul searching to be done.
I completely agree with you. Its very selfish!!!
While I can appreciate a differing opinion (because rest assured, I feel VERY differently regarding this show) the thing is this: In the original special that aired in December, the first woman profiled did have problems with her spouse over her stockpile. Her family (meaning her spouse) wasn’t supportive. Her stockpile was taking over his personal space. Goodness, she was in tears over how her couponing compulsion (& for her, it was a compulsion) was interferring with her life. THAT is not how normal couponers shop & yet this show opened up with her. TLC chose the sensational to bring in viewers & it worked.
So yes, I have a huge problem with this show. In fact, I haven’t watched any of the new episodes because I refuse to contribue to TLC’s ratings. Why? I believe this show does far more harm than good for the retailers, manufacturers, & the millions of Americans who will now suffer the reprocussions.
Are all of the people on the show hoarders? I don’t know since I’m not watching it. My guess is no. Are some of them hoarders? Most definitely, if the original special is any indication. Are we guilty of passing judgement because we voice our displeasure over the show? I suppose that’s up to interpretation (however, I haven’t said anything online that I wouldn’t say to one of the participants if I had the chance).
However, the participants can’t expect to appear on national television & not open themselves up to scrutiny. The good typically comes with the bad.
It still strikes me as hoarding. Not the stockpile that will keep a person from paying full price for a product because they ran out, but the stockpile that is several lifetimes worth of a product. No matter how neatly it is organized or that fact that it was free, several lifetimes of deodorant or mustard or whatever, is hoarding. The fine line between organized hoarding and just plain hoarding was demonstrated to me on the first show when the woman took over her husband’s “man cave”. Prior to their shopping trip it was already full of bags from another trip, then she added another hundred or so boxes of pasta and I don’t know what all else. Clearly her husband was not happy with that, or the fact that she would drop any and everything else to go get a deal. How is that not “choosing possessions over people”?
I think for me the difference comes down to this–hoarding is not stockpiling, but stockpiling can be hoarding.
I hear that these extreme couponers are donating a lot of items to other organizations, and if that is so, it would be nice if the show would clearly explain that. The only one they really did so on was the guy who donated the tower of cereal. Note that the cereal was never shown going into his stockpile…
As for your question about building a stockpile without going crazy…I have a set amount of space for my stockpile. When it’s full, be it a drawer, shelf, freezer, or whatever, I don’t buy any more of that product until there is room. Other freebies I get after that are donated immediately. In a 700 sq ft house, there are not a lot of places to expand to, so that works for me. I call it equilibrium, and I love being in that place where I don’t HAVE TO go shopping at all except maybe for milk.
“…hoarding is not stockpiling, but stockpiling can be hoarding.” Well said! 🙂
I agree with some of what you’re saying, but I also think we should remember this is TV, and the way show is edited can greatly affect how we view these people. I’m sure if someone followed me around and selectively replayed sentences or things I did during my day out of context then it I might appear to be a different person than I really am.
Totally! Which is why I would never, ever go on this show. The original participants may not have known what the slant of the show would be (although I have a friend who was approached for the original special & she declined since she said it was obvious that it was a sensational type program) but the people who are now on it? They knew what to expect. And they signed up anyway. So yeah….I’m not feeling a ton of sympathy.
And while TLC can edit things & make it look one way….if you have a stockpile of 40 years worth of toilet paper to begin with….well, how is TLC supposed to make that look normal?
Carla M says
Exactly! That bin of deodorant didn’t happen the night before the film crews came!
I totally agree with this Angela, well said! I do think its okay to have a year or two’s supply of items that do not expire if you want them. I am somewhat of a worry-wort so I like the feeling of security of having at least 3-4 months of everything I need and use stockpiled in my home always. I also try to keep a year’s supply of all the items that do not expire like toilet paper and laundry soap on hand. I always remember my family over in Washington DC when they had a big winter storm for a few weeks acouple of years ago – all the stores shelves were cleared out in a day. A day. And because of the storm the trucks to deliver did not come to replenish very quickly. So people had to live on what they had. I like feeling like I wouldnt have to be one of the people in an emergency running out to get food – instead I could help out my neighbors in times like that.
If someone wants to stockpile – I say sure as long as they are not clearing shelves. Placing special orders at stores when they want large quantities.
Thanks for the great post Angela! You are awesome!
Carla M says
When I first started stockpiling, my husband asked me if I am a hoarder. I told him no because if you told me I had to get rid of the whole thing tomorrow – a hoarder would go into cold sweats and I would just take it all to the food bank. I really feel that’s the difference.
That being said, my personal stock pile depends on the cycles. For examples razors really only go on the the cheap about once a year, so I will get as many as we will use to last us until the next razor deals the following year. I give a few away here and there, but for the most part, it’s what we will use in that year. For things that have roughly a six month cycle, then six months. You can find free toothpaste frequently, so I usually only have 3-4 toothpastes on hand at one time.
I don’t like the idea of clear the shelves and then donate it because you’re still clearing the shelves and not allowing anyone else to enjoy the deal or regular shoppers to enjoy the sale. It’s rude, regardless of the intention. I donate every few months and I do it based on usage and expiration dates. For example I bought Honey Bunches of Oats with raisins when they were free. I got five boxes. I don’t eat cereal, my baby is too young and my hubby didn’t like it, so I donated the other four boxes.
Mary S says
This is balance! “Like”
I agree with your stockpiling / donation methodology! I find that experience plays a large role in how “couponers” use their items. If you know what type of deals cycle a lot –like toothpaste –then you’re less likely to buy 15 every time they’re free. It would be interesting to view a list of items that you can “count on” to get for free, such as toothpaste, cereal, pasta, body wash, floss, frozen veggies and things that only come around once in a blue moon like free toilet paper, your favorite contact solution, diapers, and cheese.
Carla M says
There is a cycle list that Frugal Living NW has posted before. I want to say it was from Coupon Connections, but I’m not certain (I lost all my favorites links with my most recent virus attack – sad). As you coupon for years (15 years here) you just start to know and some of it is very intuitive. For example… notice all the razor deals lately. Could it be because summer is approaching and we are going to show more skin? 😉 Baking = holidays. Etc, etc.
Toothpaste is easy to get free to cheap monthly – stack a target coupon with a $1 mfg coupon and you have free to cheap tooth paste. And that’s with Target’s regular price.
Cereal is hit and miss, but we had a recent rash of deals which mean we should see another in about six months or maybe for the “back to school” rush?
Pasta is easy to get free/cheap with an Albertsons double even at full price or on sale. So when there aren’t super awesome double deals – use one set of your doublers to get some pasta.
I think body wash is part of the summer rush – I got free body wash last year during this time and now Nivea has those $3 off coupons again. (see frugal livings rite aid post this week!)
Floss is another easy one – last sunday SS came out with $1 off any reach product coupon. I found them at Walmart for $.88, so free with overage!
Frozen veggies – March is frozen foods month. That is the best time, but there are decent deals through out the year.
As for TP, diapers, cheese… I’m not sure.
I hope that helps and thank you!
What is happening in my area is that we have seveal people that wiping out the shelves of the free and cheap items then sale them at their garage/yard sale. That means other can’t get even the one or two that they need for their family’s use.
I have the same thing in my community and it gets really annoying when I’m trying to buy just a couple of things for my family at a good price but can’t because they already wiped the shelves clean to make a profit later. I actually follow one of the ladies’ blogs because then I know when she posts she’s been to the store, it’s no use going because she’s already cleaned them out!
Carla M says
LMBO!! There is a blog I follow just for that specific reason too! I know if it’s posted on there that I shouldn’t even bother!
Even when people don’t sell them it is still really annoying to walk into a store wanting one or two free bottles of mustard or whatever and find every single bottle gone. While I do understand stockpiling and all that it seems very overkill and selfish. Get a good deal but don’t take everything so that no one else can!
I remember last winter when Safeway had a great coupon book out-and one lady bragged (in our area) that she had gotten 70 of them! Obviously she didn’t need that many (I can only hope she donated some of her great deals-which there were with that book), and that meant many other people didn’t get any. It is important to be considerate and not get overly caught up with how much “you” can get.
I agree with the majority of your description of stockpiling vs hoarding. However, even if it’s well-organized, it can still be hoarding…just an OCD version of it. The majority of the people they have featured on that show fit into a sort of OCD/Hoarder description. Just because it is well-organized and clean doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken over the thoughts and actions of their days…it has become an obsession, not just a frugal way of living, because, to me, being frugal also means being frugal with your time and energy. It means that you have more money, time and resources to devote to your family, friends, and faith because you are saving somewhere else and have prioritized. In most of these cases, the “stuff” has become an obsession. Products that can be used in a reasonable amount of time makes sense, and I totally support! But they have had enough salad dressing, deodorant, etc to last for more than 20 years…if it doesn’t rot. That is not stockpiling.
Carla M says
When I see more than can be used before it expires, that is sad to me-because I know there are so many people out there that could benefit from it. If you enjoy couponing & part of why you do it is more of a hobby-that is an excellent benefit-to give to others. Most of the couponing blogs are good about promoting this also.
@charolyn – I agree…sharing is a great reason for being frugal and couponing! Unfortunately, with the exception of Nathan, I think most of those on TLC would react pretty much the same way as any other hoarder if they were to think about giving away anything….for whatever reason. It’s very sad really, because they could put their talents to good use to help others.
Mary S says
I believe there is wisdom in a reasonably sized stockpile, especially in this economy where you, a family member or a neighbor could be working one day and out of a job the next… happened to us just over 2 years ago. We’ve never spent a lot at the grocery store but at the end of the month the cupboards were scant. Now since I started couponing again last fall (did it in 93 for a similar reason) I am getting a lot more food for the same money and if I know someone who needs help… well I can. Thankfully my husband has found a new job but it was a tough couple of years, if I had been doing then what I am now, it would have made life a little less stressful at the time.
It also came in handy when my son got married, the month leading up to the wedding I didn’t have any time to grocery shop… it was the milk and creamer dash only. But I really didn’t notice until after the whirlwind of the wedding was over and I went to purge my binder of expired coupons… wow there was a lot.
I think the key is wisdom and balance in life, not just in your stockpile but in all things. My one hint, it may be a bit too much if it takes over every nook and cranny, that is NOT balance.
Blessings and happy couponing everyone!!
These are good points. Also along these same lines-is to have a stash for emergencies-like earthquakes, where it could be days before you could get out -or even longer before there is clean water to use. It is good to think too, that your neighbors may well not be prepared, so you could be really helpful to those around you also.
Actually a hoarder can be orderly and organized unlike you see on The Tv show Hoarders, the definition of a Hoarder is a general term for a behavior that leads people or animals to the accumulation of food or other items.
I whole heartedly believe that many of the people featured on the show Extreme Couponing has an obsession with stockpiling and in an extreme hoarding like manner. Many of those people have stockpiles of bodywashes, toothpastes etc just because they can get it free, not because they can actually use it before the expiration date..etc
The lady that purchased 100’s of candy bars, do you think she bought all of them because it was a way to feed her family?? Or do you think she piled her cart full because she got them for free?
The show is also misleading to those who know nothing about couponing. If you’re spending money to buy 5-10 newspapers a week or money to pay a clipping service, that is not considered FREE.
Did you know that she was buying them for Halloween??? Yep, she gave them to kids!
I don’t know about anyone else but I just started this couponing thing and theirs really no way to do it without stockpiling. Coupons almost force you to do that. I started about a month and a half ago and I already have a pretty nice stock. Although, my husband is in shock by it all and doesn’t really understand; I am okay with having 15 tubes of tooth paste if it will save me time in money in the long run. I am sure as it goes on he will come around and be okay with it. At first or should I say he still thinks it’s hoarding to some degree.
It’s amazing how often I talk to new couponers whose partners/housemates do not get it at first but come around when they realize how much money they can save in the long run. My housemate was like this until one day she urgently needed something and was going to have to run out in the middle of a huge storm and Ta-Da! I had the item she needed. Now she is almost as enthusiastic as I am!
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate says
I bought what was probably a year’s supply of toothpaste when Fred Meyer had it on sale with store coupons that made it free. I have it neatly stored with my bathroom supplies and have consciously not clipped toothpaste coupons since. Even the $1 off ones!
We will use this product. I am a stockpiler. 😀
Nicole P says
I always remember that we could get laid off any time. Thank God the most we’ve been out of work has only been three weeks, but it was scary. I didn’t want to be scared we wouldn’t have enough nutritious food for the kids. So, I started couponing and stockpiling. We have toiletries for very cheap so we don’t have to spend money on them and spend that money for fresh veggies and meat. I have around a year or more stocked up in toiletries, shampoo, and body wash… oh and toothpaste and brushes. Food, I have around 3 months worth stockpiled in the fridge and freezer. I don’t consider it over kill. It’s my safety net if anything goes wrong. We are also trying to get our debt paid off. Spending $35-$40 a year on all the toiletries we need FOR THE YEAR is not that bad. Usually I do that in two to three weeks a year. THAT’S IT! I don’t spend everyday couponing. I’d like to. It’s fun, but… I get what we need. 🙂
Mary Jane says
People who buy 100 jars of peanut butter and they are the only ones living in the house, 100 bottles of liquid detergent and they are the ones living in the house, hoarding is hoarding, why do people think they are smart to hoard all the specials from one sale? living alone a person could not use that much of those products..they act like they are superior to others and hang it over others, I am lucky just to get one good buy lest alone 100 jars of peanut butter and 100 bottles of detergent..why take away any special from people who actually use the product???? I wanted to buy some liquid detergent and wanted to get several in the whole of the store the product was gone and it was a big grocery store No NOT Walmart or any other store like that but a big grocery store, I called the detergent maker and they sent me a coupon for a free product after I told them about the situation, yes I had a big coupon and it would have made it cheap, but when this product goes on sale I always notice the big store is out of it in one day, so I know people are hoarding that special, why on earth? please consider giving those 99 jars to a food bank and the detergent too, many are starving in this country and cannot buy detergent on food stamps and peanut butter is a great source of protein for the whole family…
I totally agree with you! I think some of the extreme couponers do have a form of hoarding. They are sweating, anxious, and almost shaking as they think of all the deals they will get. They get a high from it. And I have noticed that only one of the couponers on the show even had kids. Most of the people are just couples with no one but themselves to feed. The set of twins who had all those diapers and had no children or were even married?!?! To me all those diapers could have gone to a family who truly needed them. I have had to wait a month for my Walgreens to get their diapers in with a rain check. I am ALL for stockpiling and have a general store in my home for my 5 children, but there are different levels of hoarding and I do believe that some of these people do have a form of it. The man with the 1200 boxes of toothpaste, and had to have a special room for them because he ran out of room? That seems like there is more too it than just a great deal. There was also a woman who would drop everything, family parties,etc to shop for a deal. She would go out at midnight or early in the morning to shop. That to me is not normal coupon shopping, that is an addiction. This is all my opinion and we feel different, but I don’t want people to see coupon usage as they see it on extreme couponing. I already get problems from cashiers, this is only going to make it worse.
Carla M says
Totally agreed, Julene!
I think there is one more element to this, which is will you use it all before it expires? Or if not do you have a plan for donating it to a food bank, friends, etc. If you are obtaining and keeping more than you can actually use, then I think it is some form of hoarding regardless of how neatly it is stored.
Also I have concerns about these stockpiles in garages. Where I live at least rodents are an issue. I would never store food that are in boxes or bags in my garage for that reason.
I agree with Jennifer. Even if your family uses 1 tube of toothpaste a month, there is no way you can use shelves and shelves of it before it expires. I think people that have that much excess enjoy looking at their conquests, spoils of war if you will. DONATE IT PEOPLE!! Then you get triple the joy, getting stuff for free, helping those in need, and more space on your shelves! Keep what is reasonable.
My parents were visiting the other day and we were at costco, my dad was looking at whole wheat pasta, I said don’t bother I have a bunch of boxes of that kind at home you can have, since i paid nothing for it and no one in my house likes it lol, and I had the quick cook oat quaker oatmeal that I made money on, they said they needed that too lol, its like grocery shopping at suzie’s house, but anything I can do to help makes me feel good
As always, well said Angela!