HOW DO YOU HELP SOMEONE who needs it, but doesn’t want it?
I’ve had that going on lately with a couple of people – one relative and one stranger.
How about I talk about the stranger, so as not to get in quite as much hot water.
I don’t mean to be calling anyone names, but the stranger is a hoarder.
Of Google Earth proportion.
With Google Earth and the man’s address, you can see the massive blue tarps that, for years, have covered treasure stored in his backyard.
I was astonished when I saw that on my computer screen. I was looking up his address so I would know how to get there. I did not expect the satellite picture to show me why I was going there.
Folks in my Sunday Bible study group try to help people in our community who need a little elbow grease. One of the mission team members in our group contacted the city office that handles those kinds of needs.
As it turns out, there was an elderly gentleman who needed to get junk off his property. Neighbors had asked it. And the court had ordered it. Many times over. With fines.
Trouble is, the gentleman does not consider his assets junk. They are his Precious. The court might as well have asked him to get rid of that extra kidney. Go ahead, toss it in the dumpster that the county provided.
When we got to his property on the outskirts of town, we saw huge piles of who knows what wrapped in massive blue tarps. These were the size of garages. Several.
The court had ordered these tarps and everything beneath them to disappear.
When we started peeling away the blue, we found scores of cardboard boxes carefully packed with a lifetime of stuff. Packages of new windshield wipers. Rusty tools. Waterlogged sheets of paper. And enough used cans of paint to build a wall that would kill you if it fell on you.
There were old and disintegrating vehicles. Mowers. Refrigerators. Washing machines.
We would spend the better part of a day sorting through his stuff and pitching most of it into the dumpster. But after we left, you can imagine what the gent did. He put a ladder up to the dumpster, climbed in, and started salvaging.
The gentleman has a barn. We could have simply moved the stuff into the barn. But we couldn’t get it in there. From the floor to the ceiling, the barn was more than half full. Though I think the gentleman might’ve called it half empty.
Here’s what you’d see. Imagine walking to the door of a barn. You can’t go straight in. The wall of stuff extends into the doorway. You have to climb up into it like you would climb into the back of a U-Haul truck that had space only at the very top.
Which is why we couldn’t move his stuff into the barn.
The gentleman wanted to see everything we threw out. And he argued to keep everything he could.
Here’s an example. Picture a scrap of leftover carpet hacked up in a pattern for a giant jigsaw puzzle. It’s matted with about 10 years of dirt from laying outside on the ground. I picked it up and was already in my backswing for hurling it up into the dumpster when the gentleman yelled, “Stop! I can stand on that.”
But he could have stood on the moldy cardboard boxes that fell apart in my hands when I tried to pick them up. They would be a bit slippery under his feet, but he could have stood on them. The smell might bother him a little, but that wouldn’t affect his ability to stand on them. He let me throw them out.
We were able to get a fair amount of stuff into the dumpster—especially when someone distracted him by taking him for a walk or talking with him in a way that put his back to us. But when he was hovering, it was hard to get much of anything done except to move stuff from one pile to the next. Instead of putting stuff in a dumpster, he would tell us to put it another pile.
- Paint in this pile.
- Tools, rusty or not, in this pile.
- New stuff like work gloves and unopened auto parts in this pile.
We tried to help him off and on for several days. He was never happy with us. He used descriptive words to talk about what we were doing to him. These were not the kind of words you would say to a pastor after a sermon, though you might think them.
One gentleman in our group was especially gifted at absorbing the impact of the man’s harsh words. Our guy responded in quiet tones to help calm the elderly man. We had to keep assuring the gentleman that we weren’t there to take his stuff. We were just from a church group trying to save him from the County Sheriff who, we figured, would come in with hired workers to clear off the property at the man’s expense.
I don’t think we got that message into the man’s head. He called the city office and told them he didn’t need our help anymore.
Since then, he has been to court two more times. Over the stretch of more than a year, the judge has given him many extensions on deadlines for clearing the property. I think the county is trying to be compassionate with a man who clearly has trouble letting go.
A country rep recently asked us to come back.
He said the gentleman wanted to move the remaining stuff into his barn.
We declined. The barn is nothing close to safe.
What’s a Christian to do?
I would quote the Bible if I thought it would help:
- “Your treasures have already rotted,” (James 5:2).
- “Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has,” (Luke 12:15).
Or we could do what Jesus told his disciples to do when they found themselves in a place they weren’t wanted:
“If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way,” (Matthew 10:14).
That’s pretty much what we did, after the gentleman told us he didn’t want us anymore.
But when we got the call to tight-pack his rickety barn, which looks like it could blow over any day now, was it okay to say no?
Our mission team leader felt it was the right thing to do.
I’ve got to say I have incredible respect for that man—even more so after seeing how he deflected the harsh words thrown at us while we were in the process of doing what we thought was a good deed. My friend just absorbed the words like a sponge, talked soothingly to the gentleman, and waved his hand at us, motioning us to keep working.
Another friend of mine once told me that whenever I’m in doubt about what to do I should do the loving thing.
I think that’s great advice, as far as it goes.
But sometimes we need to know what the loving thing is.
Bible Gateway Blogger Grid Member
Stephen…thank you for sharing this…hoarding is a major problem in today’s society — I personally knew two hoarders myself — very sad situation and hard to deal with! The program “Buried Alive: Hoarders” has actual cases and I found the show very moving — this is a very common problem in our modern desperate society!
Stephen M. Miller
I wonder if it’s a side-effect of living many years without having enough. Once you start getting stuff, you can’t let go for fear that you’ll once again face hard times and need that old stash. It takes time to wean people away from this warped way of thinking. I wonder if hoarding is a mental illness of sorts.
Wow. I commend you and the other Rez Chatters for making such an effort in the spirit of helping – it is my understanding that hoarding is like any other kind of addiction or mental affliction: completely irrational and completely paralyzing. Certainly your way of handling it would have been less traumatizing to the man than if (when?) the city would come out and clear his property. Ugh. I could not have helped out with this – I wonder if you might need to seek the services of a trained therapist or counselor to help this man?
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Erin. I understand that his daughter has tried to get him that kind of help.