Simplify Everything 1: Hoarding - thrive UMC Official Blog

Simplify Everything 1: Hoarding


I think I’ve already shared this story with a number of you, but I wanted to lift it up again because I think it has something to teach us about this new series we’re entering into.  Maybe four years ago, I was invited one morning to help someone with a last-minute move.  I had been told that this particular individual was being evicted from her apartment and only had ‘til that night to vacate the premises.  It seemed like a straight-forward job, and it got me out of work for the morning, so I said ‘okay, let’s go.’

But it turned out to be not so simple of a move.  Even before I entered the apartment itself, I was greeted by one of the movers, who was leading against the wall opposite the door with his arms crossed.  I told him I was there to help the occupant move; and he gave me this look, like [wide-eyed glare] ‘you might want to reconsider that decision.’  A second later, my nose caught up to the situation; and a few seconds after that, I got to peek inside the apartment to see what we were up against.  And what we were up against was a certifiable hoarder.

And I’m not sure how many of you have seen any of those reality television shows about hoarding, but let me assure you that it’s an entirely different scenario to actually be there in person.  Inside, there were stacked cases of sports beverages that had leaked and spoiled, three-year-old cake on the kitchen counter, left from her mother’s funeral –just sitting out in the open; piles and piles of newspapers and magazines, up to the windows; and boxes of movie and music cassettes; and pizza boxes, and old plates of food on the table that looked, but did not smell, like a Chia Pet.  There was a puddle on the floor that smelled distinctly like cat-urine, though I never did see a cat. Then finally there, upon the couch, which was two-thirds occupied by papers and indiscernible refuse, sat this poor woman we had come to help.

When I entered, she was busy barking orders at the movers who had been hired for four hours by the facility manager to get her and her stuff out. They were dumping all the stuff from the big entertainment console that housed her television off onto the floor so they could move the piece of furniture out, but she was angry because they were mistaking her relics for garbage.  There was a tiny rock she’d taken home from a vacation to San Diego; there was a memento from a long-gone boyfriend –which I think was an ancient wrapper from a fast-food hamburger. There was a newspaper that she had saved because it had had something important in it –though in her excitement, she was having trouble remembering what.  She was flustered, and angry, and grieving, and trying to laugh off all of her embarrassment at having a bunch of strangers walk right into her life –to see and smell that terrible, terrible mess.

For the first couple of hours, we didn’t move anything into the U-Haul parked waiting outside; and the movers left without having actually moved anything.  Instead we just shuffled around the mess. We were stuck because she just couldn’t accept the fact that she wouldn’t be able to take it all with her.

Eventually, she starts asking us if we wanted some of her stuff –like, hey, would any of us drink beer that had expired 9 years ago?  “I don’t drink beer myself, which is why it’s still here, but I bet it’s probably still okay,” she offered.

‘Sorry, mam, but no thank you.’  It was like it would have been easier to let go of it all if we could have found some value in the things she refused to see as trash –if she could have somehow made a gift out of it.  But of course, it was all too late.

By nightfall, we’d only filled about a third of the U-Haul; the front part was loaded with junk, and her clothes and bed were thrown on top.  We even had to leave most of her furniture behind because there just wasn’t enough time for her to sort out what was worth keeping and what wasn’t in the course of a day.  And then, that was it. From there, she apparently drove down to Florida to live with some boyfriend she’d parted with over 20 or 30 years ago.

Now, I dig this story back up because, lately, when I hear people tell me just how insanely busy they are, or I see a status update on Facebook sharing how stressed out and overwhelmed people feel, or I hear someone say they can’t go to a Food Truck 5K because they have a Netflix marathon to watch –whenever I hear or see any of that stuff, which is pretty much every day now, I find myself thinking back to that woman’s disastrous apartment and her nervous laugh as she watched us see it.  And more and more I’m beginning to think there’s a connection.

You see folks, as a culture I think we have a hoarding problem.  We’ve developed something of an unhealthy attachment to our stuff; and we’re not really sure what’s treasure and what’s junk –so we end up holding on to too many things —‘just in case.’ Of course, some of you are probably sitting there, elbowing your spouse right now, or thinking of that one person you wish was here so you could start that uncomfortable conversation about their desk, garage, yard, or car. Maybe you’re somebody who can actually park your car in your garage, and good for you; but what about your calendar?  How many of us find ourselves at the end of a week or a decade and wonder ‘where did all the time go?  What actually happened?’  How many of us have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, but no one we’d trust with our children on a Friday night, let alone trust with our deep dark secrets about our anxieties, our sense of loneliness, or our addictions?  How many of us make something close to a sustainable wage, but somehow never seem to have any money?  Or feel just crushed by debt?  How many of us feel like we’re only running on fumes… and it seems like it’s been that way for years now? How many of us feel like our lives are practically spinning out of control, and we’re out of breath, and there’s nothing we can do about it?

In other words, this hoarding problem isn’t a case of not having enough, or not having what you need –but it’s the case of having all this stuff you don’t need, and to such an extent that the really, really important stuff gets lost in the mess.  And the end result is always that we get stuck.  Our lives get stuck.

Just a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about a hoarder they had met, and I was told a story of a person who had so much stuff, her hoarding had gotten so out of control, that she couldn’t even live in the nice big home she had!  This person had to sleep in her office because a few of the narrow canyon-ways through the neck-high junk running throughout her entire house –these canyon-ways which had allowed her to move from room to room had toppled over!  So she couldn’t even get to her bedroom or the bathroom anymore.  Because her junk-problem got so bad that it took over her whole house and made it unlivable.

And the same thing can happen with all of the activities, right?  That you can fill your calendar and your days up with so much stuff that there’s no room to live anymore.  It’s almost standard American fair now, to fill our lives so full with work, and kids’ sports, and media, and maintenance, and worry, and technology, and information, and entertainment, and God only knows what else, that sometimes I wonder if we’re losing sight of how to simply be human beings to one another.

Because we know that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  We’re just supposed to be people who are good to one another.  Jesus says all the rules in the Bible can be summed up in a single sentence: God is One, so love God and love your neighbor.  It’s really about as simple as that.  You could state this essential mandate of Christianity in a single tweet –it’s something even children can grasp.  And if we take it to heart and take it seriously, that simple sentiment has so much power.  Love God and love your neighbor. –I still believe it has the power to save the world.  Not just change it, but save it.

And the more I’ve read the Bible, the more I think Jesus is right about his cliff notes.  In my current re-reading of the Hebrew Bible, I just can’t believe how many times God says ‘all you needed to do was live in the fertile land I gave you! And be just!’  In other words, love me and what I’ve given you!  And the people you share stuff with –e.g. your neighbors! But there’s something about the human spirit that can’t be satisfied with that!  It can’t leave things in such a simple state where things are good, so we have to complicate everything.  Hence, over and over in the bible and in real life you see people who have pretty nice stuff; they’re okay –but pretty soon they notice their neighbors have nice stuff too –and they decide it’d be great to have their stuff as well!  So they start praying to other gods, and they try to wheel and deal and steal to get this delicious-looking stuff.  And suddenly you have lots and lots of trauma and drama.  And everything gets messed up!

Or, let me give you another example: how many of you who are parents or expecting to be parents have ever walked into the nightmare called “Buy Buy Baby?”  That store is a pagan cult, and let me tell you why: because that store demands that you sacrifice your first-born child so that all the ones that come after can have the blessings they need to live.  It’s even built into the name!  Buy, buy baby; or it’s bye bye baby!  Do you get me? It is like a 15,000 square-foot warehouse of supplies for a human organism that’s small enough to fit in a shoe box.  They have high-tech infra-red nursery surveillance systems, machines promising to rock colicky babies to sleep with 13 different simulated soothing motions and a variety of lab-proven songs; they have jogging strollers with I-pod compatible stereo systems, literature promising to unlock all of the hidden knowledge of baby-charming, and specially designed toys and entertainment devices engineered to make your baby smarter, happier, and healthier.

And all the while, the store screams at you, in a hundred different ways: you want to be a good parent, don’t you?  Would you deny your child these oh-so-very-necessary supplies and advantages?  Do you want your child to grow up to be uncomfortable and technologically illiterate?  Then buy, buy, buy –think of the baby!  But in the meantime, give us your souuuuul!  Who needs to pay their rent or their mortgage when they could have an over-the shoulder bottle holder that looks like a rotatable prosthetic boob?  What kind of barbarian lets their kid chew on their fingers and toes when they could spend $25 on a tiny rubber giraffe?

Seriously after 15 minutes in that store you will totally forget the 200,000 years + of human history and even 60% of our contemporary world today where human infants survive with absolutely none of that stuff –not so much as a diaper.

After all, what does a baby need?  Just human love and then love will find a way.

So if that’s all they need, then we might ask the all-important question of why stores like Buy Buy Baby exist in the first place?  It’s so we don’t have to make so many sacrifices as parents, right?  The store, with all of its aisles and aisles of stuff, exist in hopes that we, as parents, might live with a little more sleep, a little less work, a little less crying, so we can still do all the others stuff we want to do, right?  Like work, and play, and make money.  And it’s to compensate for the fact that we don’t have a village to help us raise our kids in America.  So all that stuff functions as a kind of a village substitute.

Just like that hoarder-woman in the apartment had all that junk as a family substitute.  She had been living with her mom, in a significantly less cluttered apartment until her mom died 3 years before and left her alone.  And in that one single day of meeting her it became obvious to me that she just couldn’t bring herself to throw anything away because she’d already lost all the people she cared about, and who cared about her.  And she was desperate for something, anything, to hold on to –even if it was really junk.  And it was holding her hostage, until the last stick of support collapsed out from under her and she was forced to move on.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, this is why we’re beginning a new series, a series that will help us Simplify the Hell Out of Everything –because our lives will be and remain a mess until we’re equipped with the tools to sort out the clutter, and get rid of the garbage.  Our whole goal of the next seven weeks is to find our sense of focus in our lives so that we can cling to what matters and discard the mess.  And as we find our focus, we’ll find our life’s power.  It will allow all of the fragments of our stuff, and our calendars and our selves to be drawn together and centered so it can move forward in a unified direction. And so we’re going to talk about what we value, our energy, our stuff, our time, our tribe, our money and conclude with a picture of what we hope our lives will grow to look like.  And each week, as we focus on that single life-topic, we’ll pair it with some self-assessments, take home proscriptions, and small-group sharing.

And for today, I just want to invite you to simply start to think of your values.  What matters most to you?  What do you live for?  Or, another way to think of this would be to imagine a eulogy you could write for yourself? What kinds of stories do you want told about you, what kind of a legacy do you hope to leave behind?  What’s something you know of that’s worth pouring yourself into and feeling guiltlessly good about?  And what would it look like for you to conform you life in a way that would serve that picture and those stories?

[Read 1 John 4:1-3a]