I don’t watch TV reality hoarding shows. Once was enough. Looking on as some woman agonized whether to toss a stack of Styrofoam takeout trays saved from McDonald’s or to keep them was not for me. People like her need more help than a TV show can give.
Hoarding is not my vice. I learned not to stockpile from my mother. She had years of experience with bare cupboards during the Russian Revolution of 1917-19, the ensuing famine, and then the Depression years in Canada. She learned to live more with less.
In my little apartment the top and bottom shelves of my kitchen cupboards are nearly empty because I no longer climb on step-stools to look for a long-unused item or fold together like an accordion to retrieve an out-dated can of beans near the bottom. Extreme couponing to build stockpiles of food is not my way of shopping. I see that as another form of hoarding.
But let anyone suggest I throw out files – or even books – and I’m defending my stash like a she-bear with newborn cubs. Let anyone recommend thinning files grown fat over the years and I tremble. Clinging to paper is my besetting sin. Clutching books to my bosom when someone suggests getting rid of a few brings on heart palpitations. Books are friends on whose margins I have jotted notes and comments to the authors. To get rid of books would be like saying, “Be gone, old friend, I have no need of you.”
De-cluttering is a task my age-people are encouraged to do, especially things. If we don’t do it, someone else will do it when we’re gone. Yet clutter—any kind-- whether things, paper, even ideas, beliefs, pet words and phrases, or habits -- can bar the soul’s forward movement even as the body declines with age. And so I take my yellow pad and make a new list of what needs de-cluttering:
FAT FILE NO. 1 FEARS: Fears easily accumulate from childhood on up and over-stuff the shelves of the spirit. New ones are added each decade: fear of making left turns in heavy traffic, fear of the new pain in my left hip, of parallel parking (I never learned that), fear of the old twinge in my right hip, fear of forgetting to take a medication or to make a payment on time, of throwing out a document I should have kept. Fear of the long night, lying awake hour after hour. That file has love handles, saddle bags, flaps, and overhangs, and more.
OBESE FILE NO. 2 UNEXAMINED THEORIES AND BELIEFS: Over time certain favorite beliefs find a stronger and firmer lodging spot in our thinking. They start in early life with a comment, sermon, movie, article, maybe even a conversation, and get stuck—firmly. Protective fences and armaments are added with the years to make sure they aren’t dislodged accidentally. These pet theologies find a comfy hiding place and are never pulled out into the light of day and from protective safekeeping to be examined in the light of new evidence. And eventually they take over the inner being and leave no room for new thinking, or better thinking, about our set-in-cement interpretations of favorite Bible passages. And become the main issues in elections.
FAT FILE NO. 3 GRUDGES: I have been teaching writing personal or family histories for decades now and find that some of those wonderful people in my age category store grudges about events that may have only brushed past them in childhood and have now become monsters still bothering them. Preachers, teachers, parents, siblings, business partners and many more--someone gave them a sharp blow – and keeps giving it in memory, year after year.
OVERWEIGHT FILE NO. 4 PET WORDS AND PHRASES: I cringe when someone calls me “young lady.” I shudder when someone with an obviously impoverished word bank who has never met me before calls me “honey” or, even worse, “hon.” I grow weary when TV interviewers say, “Tell me a little bit about how you felt.” Why not “a lot”? Or when people on Antiques Roadshow respond to an evaluation of their cherished item with “Wow.” Some say they weren’t going to say that word, and then do anyway. And why bother to interview athletes? I have yet to hear one say something significant. It’s “like” and “you know.” Well, you know.
So though I may not be a thing-hoarder, I keep asking myself, “What in the filing cabinet of my soul is whole cloth that holds my inner being together and should be hoarded and what is wrapping paper and ribbon?”
Jesus talked about not hoarding treasures that get destroyed by rust or are eaten by moths. Someone who followed him wrote about another kind of hoarding—filling our minds with what is pure, just, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise.
What would a TV show about this kind of hoarding be like? Or a home? Boxes full of praises. Shelves full of love. Files full of grace and forgiveness. Cupboards stuffed with justice. There’d be no room for, like, my fat files of fears... you know.