Overcoming Clutter through Charity

I recently read a book about hoarding. It was really fascinating. I was drawn to this book because I know and love someone that I believe to have a problem with hoarding. I know that this person is faithful, but I can see how their possessions have become a true disruption in their lives.

Going to the home of a hoarder is difficult. Whenever I go to this person’s house, I’m filled with shame, anger, and I have an extremely difficult time paying attention. The house is chaotic. There is no order, whatsoever. It is as if I feel the Spirit leave my body before I enter into the premises.

The interesting thing about this scenario is that the person I know who is a moderate hoarder is a faithful person. They go to church! They have a testimony. There is nothing, in particular, in the house that would drive away the Spirit. Instead, it is the number of objects, and the lack of order that makes this place feel like some kind of insane prison. I feel like I’m developing ADD when I am in the walls of this home. I can see that not only am I affected, but that there have been many ramifications to this person, too. They have been adversely affected by their “stuff”. In the home, there is no feeling of peace. Nothing can be nurtured in such an environment. Because of my relationship with this person, I often begin to feel overwhelmed by frustration and even anger when I think of the house and the stuff. It is no way to live.

Hoarding is becoming a more prevalent issue (especially in the U.S.). Perhaps it is because so many people have so much now. It is hard to let go of our stuff. For some reason, we attach meaning to it. We feel like if we give up something – even if it is essentially trash – we are giving up a memory, an opportunity, or a choice. We become attached to these things, and the stuff accumulates to the point where we have a hard time following Christ because his Spirit is drowned out by the chaos created by our stuff.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are given a piece of valuable advice:

“And if any man shall give unto any of you a coat, or a suit, take the old and cast it unto the poor, and go on your way rejoicing.” – Doctrine and Covenants 84:105

When we get something new, we need to let go of our old stuff. There is no need to keep accumulating more.

I love this pattern of advice, too. Because we can help other people amidst our own prosperity. This is the best way to be grateful. And, as far as being resourceful, when we give our old things (that are still in good shape, of course) to be used by someone else, then we are not wasting as much! The item is getting good use, and now two people can rejoice.

King Benjamin, likewise teaches:

“And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.” – Mosiah 4:21

It seems to me that the key to overcoming clutter, and even hoarding is charity. It is simple, but maybe not quite as easy as it sounds.

I am reminded of the story of Christ and the rich young ruler.

Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler, Index of Armenian Art. (Click Image for source)

The story is basically about a guy – a faithful guy. He asked the Savior how to obtain eternal life. He was interested in the promises of the gospel. He knew that eternal life was something to seek after. He also recognized that Christ was the Son of God and would know how to obtain eternal life. So he inquired of the Savior.

Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He reiterates some of them. The rich young ruler had kept the commandments his whole entire life. He was a good guy. Yet there was still something he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life:

“Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22

This advice isn’t easy for the young ruler to hear.

“And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:23-25

It is easy to look at the rich young ruler and chide him for not being charitable. It is easy to judge him, and say, If I were rich, then I would give up what I had and follow God. It is always so easy to judge these people! Yet, I think about clutter – the things we are hoarding – and are we really that much different than this rich young ruler? Are we letting our “things” cumber us to the point where we cannot follow Christ?

When you think of this in regards to a hoarder, following the advice of the Savior will not only help you to inherit eternal life in the future, but will make your life infinitely better in the present. A hoarder lives in a prison – made up of stuff. Many of us, even if we aren’t hoarders, also imprison ourselves with our stuff. We imprison ourselves before we even own it by getting into debt. We become so worried about our stuff, and obtaining more of it, that it gets in the way of our charity and support of others. We begin to assign more value to the items than they are worth. They become symbols of opportunities, knowledge, and maybe even happiness, and we think that if we give the item away, then we are also giving away opportunities, knowledge, and happiness. We begin to fear that we will regret giving something up. This fear creates a shackle of lifeless goods: books, clothes, toys, papers, electronics, etc.

In order to break free from this pattern, we simply need to remember that our stuff is just stuff, and that Christ offers us so much more than what we have now. We need to remember that when we support others, we will both rejoice. We need to remember that our things aren’t truly opportunities, or happiness, but that they’re just things. Above all, as difficult as it may be, in order to break free from this pattern of fear and chaos caused by hoarding and clutter, we need to keep the commandment that has been given of us: to impart of our substance to the poor. It is when we give to others, that we begin to see the true source of happiness and opportunity in our lives. The Spirit sanctifies us as we give to others, which helps us to have a better perspective on our possessions.

How do you keep a good perspective on your “stuff?” What do you do to impart of your substance? What are ways that you keep your eye on the true goal: of inheriting eternal blessings rather than get sidetracked by the shiny things we accumulate in our homes?

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4 Comments

  1. Nice job on this post! I’m going to have to go find that book now. I feel a need to understand hoarding better, since I will probably help hoarders in the future.

    Reply
  2. meg

     /  July 19, 2012

    good post! I have family members who are hoarders, (and I live across the street from a severe hoarder) and it literally causes them pain to let go of anything. Even garbage! But they are all giving, loving, serving, people. I like the idea that giving of your things is giving of yourself, and that might be a concept to help them part with things they don’t need.

    And I totally agree that cleanliness is next to godliness. I keep seeing phrases on the internet, especially pinterest that say something like, “my house has sticky floors, dirty oven, messy rooms and happy kids” or something like that. I get the message—-don’t spend so much time worrying about messes and cleaning them up that you miss out on living, but I think there has to be balance there. There is a reason our church is so ordered and the auxiliaries are organized beautifull. The Spirit cannot thrive in chaos. Heavenly Father is a planner. Christ is an organizer. You can see planning and order in everything created from our bodies to the world we live in. I don’t think it’s a sin to be messy or disorganized, but it is a distraction from things that will uplift us and bring us happiness.

    Reply
  3. I enjoyed reading this post!
    We go through toys, books, clothes, and possesions regularly and pass along what has accumulated that we no longer need/use. With 7 little ones in the house it’s always interesting to see how generous they are when giving away their toys and things. We talk about what we’ll do before giveaway day and where the items will go, who they will help. Then we make a fun day of it working together to see how much we can say goodbye to. It’s great!

    We usually put things out by the curb first to give neighbors the opportunity first, then we take what isn’t gone within a few hours to a charity.

    Reply
  4. Lisa S

     /  July 19, 2012

    I had a friend once who was a hoarder and I saw her evicted from two places. Her hoarding was directly related to her relationship with her mean and hurtful father what passed away over two decades ago. I told her that these habits were giving her father too much room in her life. Over the course of a year I helped her emotionally get through some of the feelings she had that caused these behaviors, but it was still too late for the second eviction. I do feel bad for hoarders because it really isn’t about the things as it is really about the feelings attached to those things.
    Thankfully I’m not materialistic at all. I like nice things but I don’t obsess over acquiring them. We raised two girls in a two bedroom one bathroom 900 sq ft condo. One is finishing her first year at BYU Idaho tomorrow and the other one is serving the Lord Spanish speaking in Chicago.

    Reply

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