A Note from Chris Adams: I am more of a neatnik than a hoarder, but I do keep more than I really need to. Having a large attic makes it easy to just throw it up there “in case we need it later.” But I cannot imagine living in a hoarder’s home since I like things in their proper place. Since I cannot understand this kind of living, I would need to turn to professional help to even assist someone else with this dysfunction. Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA opens this topic for us from her own experience of helping a hoarder. We can learn much from her story.
Hoarding is not just a television reality show. It’s real life. Hoarding is not about value. It’s about a need to possess—a need to fill up life with something, anything. It’s not rational and not easy to understand.
I have been a participant in de-hoarding a home. I do not know if I will ever get over it. It will take the grace of God to wash away the memories and the smell. I went into it completely naive, and I was in denial of the scope of the problem. As we dug through the layers of ridiculousness, the filth sickened us…literally. Our lungs became coated with dust, grime, and other unthinkable things.
Hoarding is not about value. People without a hoarder experience innocently suggested we have an estate agent come in to sleuth out the collectibles and things of value. As we dug through hoarded stacks of trash, it was a challenge to not be offended by that lack of understanding of others. While some TV shows would lead you to believe all families have great and valuable treasures hidden away waiting to be found, the wrongness of this notion became wounding as we found stranger and stranger hoards of worthless trash.
A truckload of empty bags. Thousands of used plastic baggies, cereal bags, shampoo bottles, and twist ties. A mountain of sale paper advertisements. Hundreds of plastic sheets from packages of bacon. 70 years of magazines left to rot and be used as nests for rats. Thousands of empty, used envelopes hidden in every room of the house. Bags and tote bags full of old conference materials dating back to the ‘60s. Trailer loads and truckloads of trash were disposed of…a lifetime of collecting gone.
I type this in frustration because I cannot paint an adequate picture. Rat droppings covered every surface in the basement. There were decomposing bugs and other unidentifiable critters. Dust was so thick it had become sticky and like tar. And there was the smell—the choking smell lining our noses.
Hours of finding one cache after another. Boxes of plastic bottle tops. Boxes of empty boxes. Older boxes were labeled and stacked, but newer additions were added in random places. Toothbrushes and drop clothes in the dining room. Broken jars. Moth eaten clothes. Molded shoes. And papers of all kinds. Boxes of scraps of paper and material. Boxes of used and unused calendars. Notebooks of records of every detail of living.
And with each addition to the trash trailer, the understanding of the depths of the problem increased. Each item brought a deeper reality of the sadness of hoarding. The weight of sadness and the pity was intensified. The realization that a life had been consumed by the need to possess. Knowing that when life is possessed by one thing, by one addiction, one disease, then everything else is pushed away. Sad.
What do we do to help a woman in this situation?
- Pray for the hoarder.
- Help de-hoard or pay someone to do so.
- Understand it is not about stuff.
- Seek out counselors experienced in hoarding to help.
- Set personal boundaries.
The truth: I crossed personal boundaries as the home was de-hoarded. Boundaries are not to be treated as gates that we can open or crossover as we desire. Boundaries should stand strong. We put boundaries in place at moments of sanity and rationality so that when things get a little crazy, we can fall back on them to protect ourselves. I let shock at the situation, a strong desire to help others, and my own performance issues prevent me from walking away. The bottom line: when we are ministering to others and it is making us more than a little crazy, we need boundaries.
Ministering in the messiness of life may lead to messy physical environments. Places like we have never experienced before, but we know that where there is messiness, there are also needs. Set strong boundaries and then step out into the messiness of life wherever the Holy Spirit may lead!
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.