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Can hoarding be healed?

From the March 11, 2013 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

If cleanliness is next to Godliness, being labeled a “hoarder” (one who collects things in excess) can be embarrassing and make a person feel far from God!

A recent report on NPR, regarding the updated manual of what psychiatrists classify as mental disorders, stated that “hoarding disorder” was a new inclusion. A bit surprised, my thought immediately went to, “Can hoarding be healed through prayer?”

Sure, we’ve all seen it, someone’s yard littered with old cars or flotsam. Or a reality TV show about people who struggle with piles of junk, making their home unlivable. Or maybe you have a friend who collects things and they’ve asked you to help them move? Aargh!! 

Some readers might be thinking: “Phew! That’s not me. I’m not so materialistic as to hold on to junk.” And yet the scope of our prayer often needs to be less pious and more tender. If we’re honest, we would see that many of us stash away our own mental baggage of self-pity, regret, or resentment. Don’t you think it’s time for us all to be free from this junk? Where do we begin?

I like to begin with why and how we can be free of not just accumulating lots of stuff, but of materialism in general. This text from Mary Baker Eddy serves as a catalyst to not just talk about it, but also to jump on it: “Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: ‘Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!’ Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God,’ and be free! This is your divine right” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 227).

Christian Science teaches us about the spiritual freedom that comes from relinquishing matter-based thinking, as Jesus was constantly proving. How cool to consider that true success or security is not about getting and keeping stuff, instead true success is the freedom to think and pray.

Here’s some background on how I’ve been finding freedom from clutter.

When I was a child, my family affectionately called me a “pack rat.” It took me longer than my sisters to clean my room because everything had sentimental value! Studying art in college fostered this habit to collect. Each scrap of paper, found object, or thinly pressed paint tube held potential for the next creative idea. 

In the past four years, I’ve moved seven times, requiring me to get real about what I need. One time when I was preparing to move, I was feeling sorry for myself—that I had to pack all this stuff up by myself. I had an idea to do what I called the “love it” purge. I went through my belongings and asked:

  • Do I love it? 
  • Is it useful?
  • Does it contribute to my spiritual well-being and life purpose? 

You might laugh that such profound questions could be asked of a skirt or a book, but this exercise was incredibly helpful! It helped me to establish a simple but meaningful standard by which to sort through my stuff and gradually my thoughts.

This need for deep cleaning and honest mental reconciliation makes me think about what Eddy wrote, “If half the attention given to hygiene were given to the study of Christian Science and to the spiritualization of thought, this alone would usher in the millennium.” And later she continues, “We must beware of making clean merely the outside of the platter” (Science and Health, p. 382).

The scope of our prayer often needs to be less pious and more tender.

A few days after this project, I was doing some volunteer work with an organization that helps homeless families. Over dinner, one of the middle school girls told me that she had recently started playing basketball on her school’s team. It was going well, but she needed new shoes. In my “love it” purge, I had let go of some basketball shoes that a friend had given me a few years before. I didn’t wear them and they were in my car ready to be donated. I went out to the car and retrieved the shoes and she tried them on. They fit! I think we were both delighted—she with her new shoes and me with a renewed conviction, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

I like to interject these words into this passage: “Freely [without fear] ye have received, freely [without fear] give.” The appreciation that the middle school girl expressed went above and beyond keeping the shoes. Giving was the opposite of losing. Giving makes space while hoarding stagnates. It’s hard to help others or to make progress if we are preoccupied with ourselves and our stuff.

As spiritual ideas, we are constantly growing and learning to look beyond matter. We are worthy of fresh inspiration each day. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, God provided manna each day for them. Moses explained that this was daily bread. When the Israelites kept it overnight, for fear of not having food for the next day, “it bred worms, and stank” (Exodus 16:20). Gross!

That’s how matter is, it appears glamorous and satisfying, but it ends up being like yesterday’s garbage. I can relate to the children of Israel wanting to hold on to yesterday’s manna. But if we see that God is the source of all good, we won’t run short. God will always provide. 

Feeling close to God is the ultimate. As we feel close to God, we won’t need to hoard, because we see God is providing for us in fresh ways. Am I saying get rid of all your family heirlooms and become a strict minimalist? No. Am I saying all this is easy? No! But I am saying that we should thoughtfully ask whether things and thoughts are contributing to our ability to be a healer. It’s worth considering what we value and what we want to fill our thoughts and lives with. I think it’s Spirit.

Ginger Mack Emden is a Christian Science practitioner in Madison, Wisconsin.

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