PALESTINE — Question: My sister-in-law has started hoarding. She didn't used to do this. My brother is so grief-stricken over the death of their son he doesn't seem to be able to see it. I am concerned for them both and confused about what has caused her to start hoarding. Her house is getting so stacked up with stuff she's finding on sale that there's little room for the regular stuff. Is this considered an addiction, what causes it, and how can I help her?
Answer: Usually, when we talk about addictions, most people automatically think drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. However, people can be addicted to nearly anything that they allow to control them including food, caffeine, television, religion, and even hoarding. An addiction can be defined as any compulsive, repetitive behavior that can't be stopped and results in negative consequences. Often, those consequences can be financial, medical, and/or relational.
Addictions can be rooted in a chemical imbalance of the brain. However, if an addiction evolves after a tragic life experience, then often the source can be pinpointed as emotionally (or fear) driven. If your brother and sister-in-law have experienced the death of a child, then that could very likely be linked to the cause of her hoarding. Many times when people experience the loss of a loved one, they become afraid of losing anything and everything else. So they hoard. Hoarding is a repetitive, compulsive behavior that usually can't be stopped without counseling. It does have negative fallout, such as misdirecting finances for items not needed and creating a fire hazard in the home.
However, different people hoard different things. For some, it's everything on sale. For others, it's clothing or shoes. For many, it's food.
The whole idea behind hoarding is that the hoarder has lost control of an area of his/her life and is straining to regain the feeling of being in control. Because the future is uncertain and bleak, they believe that by hoarding they can prepare for the uncertainty and be in control in their future. Hoarders can hang onto the tiniest things, thinking they might need them in the future. Meanwhile, all those things stack up and take over their lives.
None of this means preparing for the future in a healthy, balanced way is unwise. But the truth is, no matter how much any of us prepares for the future, the future is in God's hands and we cannot control it. At any given moment, a natural disaster, fire, financial crisis or major robbery can wipe out almost every physical thing we've saved. Those who have a life focused on what bad things might happen and allow that fear to drive compulsive behavior often miss all the good that is happening.
The answer for your sister-in-law and all of us it to fully release control of the past, present, and future to Christ. Once this is accomplished, there is an amazing peace that descends from heaven. At that point, many addictions are well on the way to no longer having control over the individual. I remember the lines of a song by Stuart Hamblen my dad played when I was a kid, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. It's a secret known only to Him.”
Your sister-in-law needs prayer and counseling. Certainly pray for her, but also pray that the Lord will open up an opportunity for you to talk to her about her hoarding. Go ahead and plan ahead. Find a counselor you trust in your church or in the community you can recommend when God opens up the opportunity to talk with her.
Furthermore, your brother and sister-in-law both need a support group to help them through their grief. I recommend that you also find out what's available in that area as well and be ready to gently direct them.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org