On the surface, Jennifer and her husband, Ron, look like any young American couple with kids. That is, until you come to their home in Louisville, Kentucky. Stacks of clothes, food, and junk are everywhere, making it hazardous to even go downstairs. How did things get to this point? Jennifer says she is a compulsive shopper and Ron a compulsive hoarder. Together they represent a group of more than 3 million people who are compulsive hoarders.
Recently defined as a mental disorder, compulsive hoarding is an “obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.” Such conditions may threaten health and safety not only to the hoarders but anyone who lives with them. In Jennifer and Ron’s case, they are afraid that child services may take their children away due to the dangerous living conditions.
According to the mayoclinc.com people who hoard do it for several reasons:
- They believe that the things they save will be needed or be valuable in the future;
- They attach sentimental value to things reminding them of loved ones or happier times;
- They derive a sense of security from stockpiling, feeling they will always have what they need.
While some experts believe hoarders can “improve by cognitive therapy and sometimes medications to treat an underlying condition,” they don’t offer hope of healing. But others have found, like Emily Maixner, a Christian Scientist, that a spiritual approach can help overcome the need to stockpile.
In Emily’s case, impulse to hoard didn’t begin all at once. Over the years, one of the side effects of reading adventure stories of survival, was her growing fear that she might not have what she needed to survive if there was a political or international emergency. “It was hard to fight a tendency to stockpile or hoard things,” Emily said. “I had increasingly terrifying nightmares. I seemed unable to escape the rumination: Am I prepared? Do I have the supplies, let alone the skills, to deal with a true catastrophe?”
Then in 2012, a hurricane swept up the East coast. Emily and her husband had taken all the necessary precautions and yet she was still scared as she anticipated being evacuated. She wondered what she should take. She made a small list that included clothing, tools, her Bible, and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.
Then it hit her. The most valuable resource she could ever need was the knowledge that God, divine Love, would always be there to guide her to whatever human resource she would need and to the right steps to take in any situation. Her reliance on God, she realized, was the only thing that would give her peace, safety, and assurance, and provide just what she needed.
Although it was important to take wise precautions during emergency situations, Emily saw it was far more important to prepare her thought spiritually— turning to God as her one dependable resource. She was also encouraged by this idea from Science and Health, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.”
In those brief minutes of inspiration, Emily felt the fear drop away. “I released years of built-up anxiety I hadn’t even known I’d been carrying,” she said. Her confidence was restored with this renewed trust in God’s protection.
In spite of the dire news reports, the hurricane never touched her family and Emily was able to comfort others who were afraid. But there were other by-products from the experience. Emily no longer suffered from nightmares, and she stopped reading cataclysmic literature. The crippling fear of being unprepared for a disaster fell away as well as her hoarding behavior.
Whatever the reason people may hoard, Emily’s experience gives hope that healing is possible through realizing that Divine Love is the source of all good and is always at hand to satisfy our longings, quiet our fears, and keep us safe.
Valerie Minard writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @valerieminard.