Counseling the Heart of a Hoarder (Todd Sorrell)
Have you seen the television show called Hoarders? If so, you’ve seen the sad, everyday existence of real people held captive by decades of accumulation, most often in the form of piles of trash and clothes. Some even live with dead animals and waste. The house seems to be falling apart in a lot of cases. Or perhaps you actually know someone who seems to fall into the category of a hoarder. You may have hesitated to say something due to the awkwardness of pointing out something so obvious. Or you may have said something only to be rebuffed. Either way, the trash remains. The piles increase. If this person you know is someone you love, you seem to be losing hope as fast as the hoarder does. After all, there’s no cure for whatever is causing this.
Hoarding Is Not a New Problem
When we think of accumulation, our Christians minds often are drawn to the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus teaches that we are not to lay up for ourselves “treasures on earth,” but rather, we are to lay up treasures in heaven. However, when it comes to hoarders, we don’t seem to find a passage that deals with storing up piles of seemingly worthless items. But perhaps we should reconsider. In Matthew 6, Jesus is explaining that everything on earth, if not for the kingdom of God, is worthless. Maybe the hoarder’s piles are closer than we think to our own valuables. Indeed, a hoarder finds comfort in his accumulation. He finds familiarity in it. He does not want to part with it. Sound familiar?
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (James 5:1-3)
Even the Israelites hoarded manna as food security even when God commanded against it (Exodus 16). The point is that hoarding is a sin that natural man experiences, whether that be in riches or in piles of rubbish.
Life Change Is Possible
I say all of this to point out that hoarders are people like you and me. Without God, they are lost and have placed their trust in material possessions and in the familiarity of those piles. But the world offers no hope to such people. Although the secular book on mental disorders seems to always be evolving, hoarding currently is listed in the DSM-V as related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is a pattern of recurring irrational thoughts leading to significant irrational behavior in order to relieve anxiety. According to secular mental health “professionals,” it is akin to hair-pulling and skin-picking disorders. It is estimated that approximately five percent of the population suffers from this problem. So what’s the cure? According to the world, nothing. In fact, therapists have given up on finding a cure and now focus their efforts on cognitive behavioral therapy, and include assignments such as motivational speech and behavioral practice. You see, the world has no fix for the problem. It simply tries to help hoarders manage the problem.
But is managing the problem the best we can do? If hoarding is a sin, where in the Bible does God call us to simply “manage” our sin? Nowhere, of course. Fortunately, God is not limited by what secular therapists claim to know. He spoke the world into existence, and nothing we ask is beyond His capability. God can and does do what seems impossible when we learn to trust and obey (Matthew 19:26). What we must do is recognize that the sin of hoarding is not unique and there is an escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). God calls His children to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Hoarding is a sin that must be put off (Hebrews 12:1-2). Is it scary? For the hoarder, oftentimes the answer to that question is yes. But God also calls us to cast our anxiety on Him in prayer and thankfulness (Philippians 4:6-7).
In Help! Someone I Love Is a Hoarder, there are practical tips on how to help someone who is suffering under the weight of this rubbish and, more importantly, his own sin. But let’s keep in mind that while we may have an ideal living situation in mind for the hoarder, that “ideal” may not be what God has in mind. Every hoarder (and every non-hoarder) needs first to know God and obey His commands. That requires diligent study and prayer. And although there are a number of practical steps that can be taken to help a hoarder in his daily life, the starting point is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once He is our treasure, the things of this world will grow dim and can be cast off. Hoarders can have hope. His name is Jesus.