Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Hold of Hoarding

By Johanna Tooke

Maybe one of God’s greatest gifts to us is misery and suffering. After all, without them we’d continue to walk obliviously through life as though nothing were wrong. Like any normal human being I was doing my best to avoid undue pain. My strategy was a simple one: Do good, make things look good, and life will be good.

At all costs (literally at times) I wanted to avoid repeating pain or remembrance of it from life’s past. What’s more, I was convinced if I saved anything from my life that had represented a good memory or a happy time, somehow the darker times would fade out with the tangible memory of things from happy times. As if that weren’t enough, I had reasoned by having a passel of possessions I could single-handedly create happy memories.

My strategy was foiled by the time it took to not only keep track of, care for and organize the possessions, but create the happy memories in between. My memories- “instead of happy” were becoming prominently miserable. This problem of mine was hoarding or in kinder terms- excessive saving.

Hoarding had never even been a consideration in my litany of life dilemmas. Among the complaints on my exhaustive list were: never enough time to exercise, a lack of money to buy organizing essentials, a lack of time to organize and have a workable system, a husband who lacked a vision to see the potential behind all of my belongings and moreover a vision of what could be done with them to glorify God. Yes, I had wrapped religion into being a justifiable reason to keep whatever I deemed worthy.

I knew I kept a lot, but I also believed I was honoring God by having the items. When in all reality, I was trying to play God by keeping things and hoping I wouldn’t have to depend on Him for the things “I could handle.”

Since hoarding had never even entered into my conscientiousness, all I knew was I was miserable. Each consecutive day seemed harder then the day prior and circumstances seemed dimmer. Waking up in the morning was stifling and meandering through the day felt more like a convoluted maze. I began feverishly reading self help books on organizing and de-cluttering. Several years later and heaps mounting higher than ever before, I felt hopeless. As I swirled in the abyss of confusion, I called a professional organizer as a final effort.

Without mincing words she told me what my husband had all along, “Whoa you have a lot of stuff.” Okay, so she couldn’t stop exclaiming in between breaths how much I had. Her reaction to my basement sent me reeling. We made a plan to help me stop the influx of stuff and begin the outtake. Once we parted ways, I spent every spare moment doing my best to clean and cull. Bravely I’d pack another box full of things we weren’t using, ready to be hauled off. My efforts seemed to be paying off. Except I noticed instead of experiencing freedom, I was feeling suffocated and smothered by this new lifestyle.

Still determined, I continued to zealously makeover our home. That was until one day I had a stomach ache I couldn’t shake. When the pain was intolerable a visit to the emergency room was in order. A couple of days later in the hospital, I felt as though there was more than a bug that had paid me a visit. I was reminded of Psalm 23:2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.” While I didn’t have angels hovering over my hospital bed delivering a message, I encountered a stillness I hadn’t known for some time. Moreover, I had gotten to spend time praying and reading my Bible, disciplines I had abandoned until the house was placed in proper order.

Before I headed home I recommitted myself to be faithful in reading my Bible, journaling and giving God my day before it took off without me. The next morning I flipped open my Bible to the ribbon that held its place in the New Testament. That day’s reading was in Matthew 23. I was caught by the words in verse 26: “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

“Wait,” I thought, “the Bible does have a thing or two to say about cleaning house.” After calling upon a wiser friend in Christ, I confirmed what I had suspected: I had been cleaning house in precisely the opposite order Jesus had intended. I had been so immersed in scouring, decorating, organizing, and saving ALL for the outside- I had given hardly any thought to the inside. At once I felt relief wash over me with a healthy dose of insufficiency to humbly level me; leveling me to the foot of the cross where my real help could be found.

Three years have passed since my hospital visit. Since then trailer loads of things have backed out of our driveway. As a family we are still vigilantly attempting to live with less. Now, instead of turning only to man’s wisdom to weave my way out of the colossal messes, I turn to God’s Word. Regardless of the battle, we fight with the same weapons. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Johanna Tooke lives in Forsyth, Montana with her husband Ryan, and three children: Gracie (10); and twins Royce and Katie (7). In between family, friends and country living, Johanna leads Bible Studies for girls and women. Her hope is to encourage women of all ages in their walk of faith with Jesus Christ. For more on Johanna’s journey, go to www.johannatooke.com.

Editor’s Note: Hoarding can be a sign that an individual needs more help than a book or a friend can provide. If you know someone who hoards, please visit The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.org) for resources.

If you need a little extra push to get organized, please consider purchasing one of these two resources by our own Proverbs 31 Ministries writers: “I Used to Be So Organized”
by Glynnis Whitwer and “The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized” by Karen Ehman.