Flotsam & Jetsam

Over the last few years Labor Day has become the annual deep clean and purge weekend around my house. 

After I emptied out the “Harry Potter Closet”, aka the cupboard under the stairs, I took this video and posted to Instagram…

I realize that to some of you this may not look too bad.  My wife and I are far from what might be considered hoarders.  And, I am happy to report that after a trip to Value Village to jettison a few books that have followed me since High-school, some old knickknacks and a few Christmas decorations, everything fit back in the closet.

All of this got me thinking about how we tend to accumulate so much flotsam and jetsam as we go through life.  Flotsam and jetsam are marine terms referring to debris found floating in the ocean.  Flotsam is debris from a shipwreck, jetsam is debris thrown overboard deliberately to lighten the load and avoid said shipwreck.  I guess with those definitions in mind what I have would be considered jetsam (short for jettison) but if I were to hang onto it until I die, that would be more accurately considered flotsam (from the French for floater).

My mother-in-law is moving into a retirement home next month.  She has a lot of jetsam, close to 50 years worth of it to be exact. Much of it has been stored away in the cupboards and corners of her house since she first moved to the city in 1971.  Her husband, my father-in-law, was a hoarder.  When he retired, way back in 2001, he promised to go through everything he had accumulated through life and start lightening their load.  Then he started showing signs of dementia and died before anything got done.  Going through his possessions and paring down a lifetime of accumulation from a three-bedroom home with full basement, to a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community is not easy. 

typical hoarding household, my mother-in-law would kill me if I showed you an actual picture of her home….

Hoarding is an actual mental disorder that my mother-in-law had the misfortune of dealing with for over 50 years.  According to the Mayo Clinic, Hoarding Disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them.  A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items.  Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs. 

My father in law would often say that he was keeping things because he thought he could fix them, use them or sell them.  But the economics of collecting, selling and reusing items have changed.  We live in a throw-away and freecycle society. No one pays for used items anymore, regardless of their cost or value.  It’s just too easy to buy new.  Stores like Value Village, where I dropped my jetsam, cater to a niche of consumer that is both cost conscious and wants to support local charities.  The local garage sale has gone on-line and is only good for larger items of a certain value.  It’s more common to find smaller items offered for free. 

Bottom line – it just doesn’t pay to be a hoarder.  Jettison your jetsam now before it becomes flotsam for someone else who has to clean up your crap. 

Treasures in Heaven

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there  your heart will be also. [Jesus; Matthew 6:19-21]

So I just spent the weekend at my in-law’s house.  Let me first say that my in-laws are great people, real salt of the earth types.  My father-in-law spent 35 years working at the national headquarters of Canada Post, before that he worked in the defence industry.  My mother-in-law was a stay at home mom.  The Cleavers have nothing on these two.  But I learned something about them this past weekend that was a bit disturbing.

My father-in-law’s heart is stored in the basement.

Disposophobia, more commonly known as Compulsive Hoarding, is a newly recognized mental disorder.  It is the fear of getting rid of stuff, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.  According to the Mayo Clinic; hoarders collect items because they believe they will have some value in the future but compulsive hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation and sleeping.   It’s really just been in the last 10 to 15 years that psychologists have begun to treat hoarding separately from other closely related disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and most psychologists still believe it is just a manifestation of OCD and not a separate disorder at all.

Regardless, I have no problem pronouncing my father-in-law a hoarder.  Everything from years of Life Magazine (dating back to 1950s), broken telephones, old clothes, and practically every piece of mail he has ever received, from personal letters to bills, some dating back more than 40 years are stored in his basement.  And it is next to impossible to get him to go through any of it and determine what has value and what can be thrown out.  To me, that is the very definition of disposophobia.

But this isn’t just about my father-in-law.  Hoarding is a 21st century epidemic and from a spiritual point of view, it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue.  It’s about our human tendency to place value in the wrong place and on the wrong things.

Jesus it seems knew a thing or two about hoarding.  He knew that it would “impair mobility and interfere with basic activities.”  Most of all he knew that if you place undue value on things it would damage relationships.

He goes on in Matthew 6 to talk about the damaging effects of worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life  more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Matthew 6:25]

Worry, to me is what lies at the heart of hoarding and OCD.  It’s a matter of trust.  If you place your trust in Jesus and His Kingdom (or community) you don’t need to hang on to things in the same way.  When you release your hold on the things of this world you can more freely give them away to people in greater need thereby building relationships with people and furthering the kingdom.

One incident this past weekend drove that point home for me more than any other.  We found a box containing 4 winter coats.  All where is slight need of repair, lining was torn or they were stained in some way, but they were otherwise in pretty good shape.  He hasn’t worn any of them in years.  Winter is coming so we suggested we take them to goodwill so someone less fortunate could benefit.  He panicked!  Claimed that he might wear them again, that he needed time to look at them and think about it.  He came up with ridiculous scenarios in which he lost or damaged his current coat and needed one of these old ones in an emergency.  (There really is no limit to our human creativity under pressure but that’s a topic for another time.)  In the end my brother-in-law finally just picked up the box and walked out.

The bottom line is this; hoarders are really nothing more than compulsive worriers who don’t trust anyone, especially God.  Therefore they become their own worst enemy when it comes to experiencing true community and joining in the workings of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these  things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:31-34]

Release your worry and pray for the hoarders, Meekonomists seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.