Hoarding and Waste

Is there a connection between hoarding and waste? You’d think not, since hoarders are hyper-savers and wasters have no care for saving. And yet I believe they are two sides of the same coin.

The Bible tells us innummerable times not to hoard (save up your treasures in heaven, not on earth), and that what we save of our harvest will be shared (as Joseph did in Egypt). Our own folk myths tell of the humble poor being rewarded for sharing their meagre goods, as well as being the subject of Jesus’s great exposition on the widow’s mite. (She gave her ony coin to serve God, trusting God to provide for her.)

When does saving prudently cross the line into hoarding? When the corners start to get rounded. I can understand that someone might not be willing to get all the closets cleaned out as gifts and purchases accumulate, but at least the stuff is stored in closets. It’s just a procrastination or a busyness elsewhere. It will get done at some point. (Whether it is good stewardship is another question.) But when the closets and attic and basement and sheds are full, no one is making a move to clean anything out, and more stuff is coming in, then the corners start to fill up. Cardboard boxes migrate to the outer walls of rooms; coats and stocked- up toilet paper, cases of soup, tools, and old newspapers pile up in corners. The corners of the room start to look rounded into the room; the furniture no longer fits. The space between the couch and the wall becomes storage area. Beds can`t be moved for the boxes and old toys or shoes pushed under them. Slowly, the person loses control of the house; possessions take over. Then it is an apparent pathology, and something needs to be done.

Waste is similar. There is a disregard for the needs of others; there is a disregard for one`s own needs, to some extent. Insead of using what is available, it is replaced with something else more appealing at the moment. We are all guilty of this when it comes to food. I personally can`t bear eating leftover soup made from leftovers more than three days in a week, so if I`ve accidentally made more than we will eat in that period, the last two servings will languish until I give it to the dog. (Please note that I know what is appropriate to feed dogs. My homemade dogfood was better quality than most commercial foods, and it used grocery store ingredients. I don`t feed dogs onions or chocolate or any of the things I know they don`t tolerate, and it is lowfat and lowsodium food.)

But waste goes beyond kitchen waste – the wilted lettuce or the week-old egg whites that didn`t make it into an omelette. It`s also the clothes we bought that we didn`t wear much, the shoes bought to go with an outfit but we didn`t wear them but once, the cute Christmas or Valentine Day stuffed toys that don`t serve any purpose but to give someone a gift they didn`t need. And then periodically we bundle it up, drop it off at Goodwill or the church rummage sale, and don`t worry about it. But it was still wasteful. We didn`t use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. We discarded carelessly, warehousing it with a resale shop or even tossing it out because it lay on the floor so long that the stains set or the dog was sick on it. We bought something we didn`t need and then we discarded it so it became someone else`s reponsibility.

Hoarders waste because they can`t let anyone else use what they have. The goods deteriorate, are destroyed by rodents, or are so hopelessly outdated by the time they are rescued that no one would want them. By keeping things that won`t be used, they keep the basic materials out of the recycling stream as well. They don`t want to deal with their accumulation, even though it sits there uselessly. They want someone else to deal with it, as one therapist said while trying to help a person caught in a hoarding pathology. While trying to maintain control, they don`t take control.

Wasting means that things are not used and discarded inappropriately. They don`t get used while fresh or timely; they get tossed into the waste stream instead where they might or might not get recycled. We live in a culture of disposal. Nothing is considered permanent – except maybe some church buildings no one attends but the former parishioners won`t tear down! (Hoarding church buildings must be a particuarly bad form of hoarding.) We have a Walmart mentality – buy it new, buy it now. Have it all. Then get rid of it when it is no longer appealing and start over.

Have you ever redocoratedÉ Have you ever had the impulse to go out, buy new curtains, slipcovers, towels, and rugsÉ Have you ever discarded a sofa just because you didn`t like the fabricÉ I never have, because I`ve never had the money to do that, but it is tempting, when we are bored or we`ve visited a friend who has just completely refurbished the bedroom and we are feeling kind of sad and left out, like it`s not our birthday. This is the attitude that leads to waste. Shopping and new things are not a source of pride or therapy. Retailers would like us to believe this – that a new pair of shoes will lift our spirits and we will not need to deal with the reasons we felt depressed or anxious. But new shoes get scuffed or stained pretty quickly. Someone else will have a newer pair, and again we will feel like the loser. It used to be called keeping up with the Joneses, an escalating battle of goods that sends families into debt and separation and envy.

Hoarding is the same illness. The hoarder looks at an item and says, I must have this! It fills a need in me! It will add to my collection. I will corner the market on left-handed antique screwdrivers, so it will be worth something some day. (It won`t be, most likely. I used to be a museum curator – the reason we had all that antique stuff is that it wasn`t worth anything, and people were getting rid of it.) Hoarding wastes things by warehousing them where they are not useful. And someday I will explain why being a museum curator gave me pangs of conscience, for that very reason.

So before you all start squirming over whether you are hoarding or wasting – here are some basic rules.

1. If you aren`t going to use it soon, move it along. Give it away, sell it on eBay, donate it.

2. Don`t buy it until you need it. this means kitchen applances, power tools, cases of anything on sale if you don`t use it regularly.

3. Stay out of bin lot and discount stores unless you have a specific need.

3. See if you can re-use something yourself before you discard it. Can you make it overÉ Clean itÉ Move it to another roomÉ

4. If you are discarding, do it rationally. Recycle what you can, even if you have to put it in the car and drop it off at the recycling center – batteries, old paint. Break things down into components for recycling or it will end up in the landfill.

There are lots of resources for dealing with clutter, for streamlining the waste stream out of your house, for changing your attitude. I think the primary one is to see how the Bible tells us to deal with material possessions, and to pray for the Lord`s help in doing that.


9 thoughts on “Hoarding and Waste

  1. What a blessing/frustration your post is today! I’ve been mooning over the sales at Target for household items all day. I can’t afford a cushion, much less a “storage ottoman” or lamp. The colors are so pretty, too. You know how much I love color! But we are warm, we have a place to sleep, and lighting in our house.
    I think hording is also a fear to let God provide. I know that’s often why I won’t let go of things. I am constantly being nudged to relax myself in God’s provision. It is definitely bondage for me that I am working on.

    • If you like the colours but can’t afford the new items (so often the case!) why not indulge in a little colour therapy by making a collage out of origami paper or something else cheap and colourful? I’m seeing something twelve by fifteen inches, on bristol board or similar (should be a bright white background), torn origami paper laid out like a Tiffany lampshade pattern…You get the idea. Most likely, you just need a little novelty and diversion, and the Target flyer caught your eye at the time. So give yourself something of a lift that’s affordable. I buy origami paper at the dollar store, and they often have posterboard there. You can use diluted white glue as the medium. If it doesn’t succeed, at least you had some fun.

  2. Wow just what I needed to read today! My task for today is to start to clean out the front two bedrooms that I don’t currently use. As I don’t use them they have been used to store ‘stuff’ that I am not sure if I need but have kept…just in case. I have a trailer out the front and Im feeling really good about getting this done know thanks to your words!

    • I am one of the really odd people who love empty rooms. If I could have a big, big, empty house with just the basics and I could walk through all the empty rooms I would be happy about it. So I guess I’m in a good place to start, since I’ve little temptation to stow things. But I do have two boxes of loose papers and stuff in the closet! I have to deal with them. I don’t know if this is a gift or some strange aberration, but it helps me to help other people get motivated, because I can’t make excuses for myself. If you have a good storage place, then use it; get rid of the rest and you’ll feel a lot lighter spiritually.

  3. The other component to hoarding involves the emotional attachment to the item, beyond any rational reasoning. This really requites the hoarder to change how they think.
    I strongly recommend facing the need for therapy as well as compassionate organizer to help actually address the stuff in the home.

    I just posted an article about this at http://www.blog.composedomain.com

    • This is certainly true of compulsive hoarding; not all hoarders are compulsive, some are just habitual. I believe that addressing the spiritual cause of the hoarding is vital, before all else can be done. Admittedly, some hoarders are like Typhoid Mary, and need protective care for themselves and others since they cannot admit they have a problem. This is quite different from someone who has thoughtlessly compiled too many things they cannot use.

    • While I appreciate that Rebecca has contributed to our discussion, I want to make it clear that she offers her services for a fee. Rebecca, this is a Christian blog; I have looked at your site and see that it is not specifically Christian while being spiritually oriented. Please do not link here with other for-fee services. You are welcome to comment, but please do not solicit business.

    • I see I mentioned origami paper in my comments – you must have hit me on a search! I was quite the origamist when I was young – your site is bright and cheerful and looks like a great place to find papers and books. Thank you for looking in.

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