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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Much to the distaste of my family, I’ve been re-watching the show Hoarders lately. If you’ve never had the pleasure, let me explain to you the American institution that is Hoarders.

It’s a TV show that follows one or two people that have hoarding disorder. Usually, these are older people who have been hoarding for a while. On a scale of livability, their houses range from “small game trail from front door to recliner in living room” to “I have 30 animals that shit everywhere and my plumbing hasn’t worked since ’86.” The show sends in a board-certified psychologist who specializes in OCD and hoarding disorder to work with the hoarder during a 3-day cleanup, which is led by a professional organizer who brings a crew of people in.

Hoarding can be genetic and some people on the show grew up in hoarded households and just continued the family tradition. Most often, hoarding is triggered by some sort of trauma, usually related to loss. The hoarder uses possessions as a way to fill the void that the trauma left. The stuff piled around them is literally a protective wall, fending off the everpresent reality of grief and tragedy.

Some people have shopping addictions to feed their hoard and so their houses are filled with brand new things (and empty bank accounts). Some people’s houses are filled with treasures that they have collected on bulk trash days. Some rare cases hoard animals who have destroyed their house. Regardless of what the hoard consists of, the hoarder sees potential and history in each item.

It’s not uncommon for the hoarders to know that the hoarding is causing problems for them. They want their family back in their lives. They want their toilets to work again. They want to be able to sleep in a bed, instead of on a pile of rolled up carpets covered in blankets and dogs. The Hoarders team works to try and show the hoarder that their way of thinking is off, using the goal in mind.

“Do you want this broken stool or do you want to see your grandkids?”

“Do you want a clean house or would you prefer to keep this can of corn from 1973?”

“Are you really going to fix these 14 rusty lawn mowers up to sell them or do you want city code enforcement off your back?”

Sometimes, they’re successful. Sometimes, they aren’t.

***

The other day, I found myself in our guest room closet. Now, we are not hoarders. You might think so by our inherent inability to keep the garage clear for any length of time, but, no. However, we do have a medically needy kid with medical equipment and that means that, every month, we get boxes and boxes of diapers, bipap filters, oxygen tubing, etc, etc. If the Durable Medical Equipment companies had their way, we would refill every item on the list, every month, but I fight back and tell them to send just what we need.

Regardless of my efforts to staunch the inward flow of piddly medical equipment, our guest room closet is currently an avalanche. While digging around in the closet for laminating pouches, I thought about the hoarders and how frustrating it must be to have their whole life be like our guest room closet. Nothing you need or want is at hand. Everything is hard, as you find yourself wading through empty boxes and a sea of things that you *might* need while you look for your wok or that second tennis shoe for work.

What a frustrating, exhausting life.

That hoarded closet experience led me to think about my faith deconstruction and how I could also call that whole process a faith “decluttering”. Maybe in the Marie Kondo style of keeping only what brings joy or maybe in the more brutal style of “get rid of this or it might topple over and kill you”.

I grew up in the church and so I had lots of beliefs to hold on to. I acquired them slowly over time, bringing them in one or two at a time. It was a slow trickle-in. It wasn’t really until we adopted The Kid that I took stock of my spiritual home and realized, “Holy shit. How did racism get in here?” That recognition kickstarted a decluttering process that has led me to today, where my spiritual house is bare, maybe a bed.

Maybe that sounds sad to you. There’s always some kind of walkthrough at the end of the Hoarders episodes- a tour of the cleaned-out spaces, even if it’s only a kitchen and bedroom. Sometimes the walkthroughs show barren walls and spaces- a bed and a chair and a few family pictures. Even though it looks desolate to the rest of us, the hoarder is usually ecstatic because it means they have space to decide where they go from here. Space to dream, space to plan, and space to think.

It might look sad and empty, but it isn’t. It’s hopeful.

For now, a barren spiritual home is good. I’m enjoying the space and time to think about what comes next.

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