I have an elderly friend who’s a hoarder. She doesn’t know that I’m aware of it, nor that all her friends are aware. We all love her, admire her, and wish we could help. But she hides and denies her problem.
We first learned of it when her grown daughter confided that there are ceiling-high stacks of bags and boxes, through which pathways lead to a bed, a toilet, and a microwave oven. None of the children have been allowed into the house for years. Her car is crammed full of shopping bags, and when she meets us for lunch she parks a block away in hopes that no one will notice.
She’s not LDS, so she doesn’t have a bishop, Visiting Teachers, or Home Teachers who could help. And, since she doesn’t use a computer, she can’t research online to find out the cause of her problem, nor the solution.
Some time ago I offered to help her have a neighborhood garage sale, to benefit a favorite charity of hers. I was hoping she’d donate most of the items. It never happened. Others have let her know of shelters and organizations who’d love donations. But the problem isn’t that she can’t think of how to unload all her belongings; she doesn’t want to.
Hoarders aren’t greedy, often quite the reverse. But studies have shown they hoard for various reasons. Some can’t make decisions. Some are emotionally attached to everything. Some collect various items to assuage depression. Some feel compelled to shop. Needless to say, their homes are fire hazards, and their health is at risk. Yet, despite knowing they have a disorder (hence the hiding of it), they cannot just wake up one day and decide to start tossing things out.
My heart breaks for these people, trapped in a cocoon of their own making. But a few weeks ago as I was thinking about my friend, it occurred to me that many of us have a hoarding disorder of another kind. Some of us hoard our talents and our time.
This problem has been around for centuries, and we read many scriptural passages about not burying our talents, and about how different ones are given to different individuals, so that the whole community can benefit.
So why do we do it? Why does someone who can play the piano try to hide that ability? Are we afraid we’ll be bombarded with exhausting requests? Or of making mistakes and being judged? Why don’t more people raise their hands to read scriptures aloud, when they are perfectly literate and speak well? Doesn’t God want us to use our abilities to build the kingdom, and haven’t many of us committed to do just that?
Sometimes we’re slow to volunteer our time, as well. We may be wonderful with children, but we don’t all pop into the nursery to see if help is needed. While many members serve and sacrifice on a regular basis, there are others who never come early to set up chairs, and never stay late to clean up. They turn down callings, refuse to give talks, and keep their abilities to themselves. Is this not a form of hoarding?
My friend’s hoarding is psychological, but this other kind is spiritual. It may stem from insecurity, shyness, feelings of unworthiness, the impression that enough help is already gathered, or even from plain selfishness. The reasons for it are different than for physical hoarding, but the result is similar—we think we have surrounded ourselves with protection, but in reality we are anything but safe.
And sometimes it’s simply inertia. We’re tired, burned out, busy elsewhere, even lazy. So we don’t step up to share our abilities, concealing them for as long as we can. This isn’t why God gave us our talents, or why he provides us with the time to serve others. Not only do our abilities stagnate (some would say shrink) when we don’t use them, but we offend the giver of our gifts. Even those of us who attend the temple, and have therein pledged to give all we can, sometimes step back.
Let’s look at the person who plays piano or makes gorgeous posters, yet who doesn’t want anyone to find out because they’ll be asked to do these things constantly—or what can seem like constantly. The solution is to say yes when you can, and be forthright when you simply don’t have the time. The solution is not to withdraw into a turtle’s shell and refuse ever to help, just because you can’t think of a kind way to say no. Instead, learn how to say no with honesty and compassion. Helping sometimes is better than never helping at all.
For those who refuse to pray or read aloud in class, examine the reasons why. Are you overly worried about what others may think? Are you a perfectionist who cannot bear to do something that might not be flawless? This prevents you from truly sustaining the teacher and helping in any way you can. There are many legitimate reasons for saying no, by the way—knees that hurt when you stand, laryngitis, heartfelt concerns that have you on the brink of tears at the moment, paralyzing stage fright, unworthiness, etc. But if, in your heart, you are capable and are just dodging a duty, maybe it’s time to stop hoarding your abilities.
I once heard a brother say, “I’ll admit it. I’m lazy. I’d rather stay home and watch TV than come to the Ward Trunk or Treat, where all I do is hand out candy to other people’s kids.” (His are grown.) Yet that’s what these activities are for—unity and helping one another. When your own kids were little, think how much you appreciated the senior members who took an interest in them. And those who plan the event are hoping for a good turnout; that can’t happen if everyone plays the lazy card. Furthermore, these activities are supposed to be fellowshipping opportunities, and if a young couple invites their elderly neighbor hoping they’ll find some friends there, and then if the very senior they had in mind doesn’t show up, you’ve missed a great opportunity to serve the Lord and make a difference.
Obviously there are people with the opposite problem—they overcommit and wear themselves to nubbins, but that’s another article. If we’re all being frank, more of us fall into the hoarding category than the “giving away the shirt off our back” crowd. And, might I add, I am not immune; I’ve caught myself time and again avoiding a big assignment, probably from the same laziness as the honest brother above.
Because time and talents are invisible as objects, we don’t always see the hoarding of them the way we do physical belongings. But many of us have souls packed to the ceiling with boxes and bags. And it’s time to take stock, and unload them.
Hilton’s LDS Nursery Rhymes is hot off the presses and can be purchased at the BYU Store, or at this link.
You can find her other books here.
She is also the “YouTube Mom” and shares short videos about easy household tips and life skills at this channel.
And be sure to read her blog.
Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.