Are you a hoarder? Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is a reality TV show like Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive. Although some may find these programs fascinating as extreme circumstances are turned around for the better, the reality is that hoarding may not look as dramatic as a collection of 500 pairs of shoes or an extensive media archive that spans your entire house. The problem begins in a subtle manner, but the chaos can build and build until you feel helpless.
A more realistic view of hoarding may look like a room or two of your house in which the floor is perpetually covered in disorganized items that don’t seem to have a home (a bit of this is normal during moving or home improvement projects). It might look like a kitchen in which you no longer have counter space to prepare a meal or to clean properly. Like any other challenge we face in this life, God has promised that we are not alone—others have faced this problem before, and God provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Is your treasure buried in your living room—or is it placed elsewhere?
Jesus addresses the problem of hoarding in one of His parables. It’s a sobering story, but one we can all learn from. “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21). Just prior to this parable, Jesus had been speaking with a man who wanted Jesus to arbitrate a share of an inheritance for him. Jesus’ response? “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Jesus is direct about the problem. And if we’re honest, we can all relate to the rich man in the parable in one way or another. Too much stuff? It’s time to upgrade the size of the storage containers, the number of shelves or even the house you live in. Is that really the solution? Jesus’ point is that no matter how much we have, we can’t prevent the inevitable end to our physical lives. We could stockpile enough food, clothes or other essentials to last the next 20 years, yet get into a fatal car accident the next day—and all that stuff would do no good. This is not to say we should never prepare for the future. The Bible is clear that we are to act with wisdom concerning our future, including providing for family members after our decease as we are able (Proverbs 13:22). The problem Jesus addresses in the parable has to do with superfluous wealth. Although well-meaning family and friends may respond to hoarding by encouraging you to bag everything up and donate or throw it away, this response results only in temporary relief from the clutter. A lasting solution looks at the reasons why we hoard and what scripture says about this reasoning.
When considering hoarding, it’s important to consider what is truly valuable. There’s a distinction between hoarding (which involves retaining a lot of useless clutter) and collecting (which is a deliberate process of searching for specific items, such as a set of books or vintage coins, and carefully categorizing and displaying them). Collections are usually limited in scope and may hold some monetary value. But it’s important to be honest about collections. I had a friend whose goal used to be to collect every Ty plush animal, thinking they held a lot of resale value, but she quickly discovered that was not necessarily the case. The book of Ecclesiastes highlights the truth that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). “Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has already been in ancient times before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:10). If you’re holding on to something just because it’s unique, remember that others have thought this too and chased things that held little value for their lives long term.
It may be useful one day
This thought goes along with the idea of reusing items to avoid waste. My grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression, was raised to save everything that could be useful. She carried some of these skills throughout her life—salvaging zippers from old clothing, saving magazines for making greeting cards and reusing the blank side of printed paper for to do lists. There’s a lot of good that results from resourcefulness, but any of these habits can be taken to extreme. Reusing items that were intended to be disposable, like plastic forks and paper napkins can become a health hazard. Saving food that has been sitting in your refrigerator for too long can make you sick. When it comes to saving items for our future, it’s important to keep in mind that God provides for our needs. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Keep the things that will add value to your life, and if you’re not sure you’ll use that extra coffee grinder, duplicate set of wrenches or 25 unopened jigsaw puzzles, give them to someone who can!
It holds sentimental value
This one is perhaps the hardest challenge, but it’s not impossible to face. In no way am I saying that it’s ideal to part with all sentimental items. However, we do have be choosey when it comes to how many items we save for sentimental reasons. Ultimately, we need to view this in light of eternity. Over the years, I’ve saved many items simply because people gave them to me. Many of them are useful, like coffee mugs, notebooks and clothing items. But when I moved from a house to an apartment, I had to begin making some dramatic changes to what I save and what I part with. A friendship is more valuable than the physical items exchanged as part of that friendship. As a gift-giver, I’ve since made extra effort to give people items that they truly can use, rather than decorative items that end up collecting dust on a shelf, but as I’m sure you can relate, it doesn’t always come naturally to think this way.
It can be especially difficult to part with items when the person has moved away or is deceased. Scripture is clear that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7). Physical items may change hands many times. Just as the relative from whom you inherited the set of porcelain dinnerware was unable to keep it when she died, you will one day have to part with it, whether that is intentional or after you are gone. Many have described the comfort a physical item has brought them after the loss of a loved one, almost as though it somehow brought the person back. But is this true? Christ said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). Jesus offers hope, not in looking back, but in looking forward! This belief is freeing, because we do not have to hang on to every last physical item our loved one used to own—we hang on instead to the promise that our friends and family members will be resurrected one day! When you meet your loved one again, he or she will be more excited to give you a hug than to hear that you saved every last personal belonging they left at their death.
Although the problem may seem overwhelming, with God’s help, overcoming hoarding is possible! Remember the rich man in Jesus’ parable and how, despite the wealth he saved, it ultimately did him little good. Something might be unique, useful or hold sentimental value, but what holds the ultimate value? Eternal life is worth more than anything we could buy or receive in this life (Matthew 13:45-46). “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Where is your treasure?