When I was in my early twenties, my life was as a pile of unsorted mementos. Fresh out of my parents' home and merging my childhood and young adult belongings with those of my boyfriend at the time was absolute chaos. I also struggled with the direction my life was headed, in both practical and emotional ways. When I took these burdens to a therapist, I opened up to her about all of my heart's desires. I wanted it all: A prosperous and prestigious career, a family with children of my own, a marriage from the story books, mementos from my childhood, a fabulous home furnished with lavish belongings, and more. I thought that if I could just get one or more of these things, I would be happy again. Then, my therapist told me to seek more of something that I already had, something that wasn't on the ambitious "to-do" list I'd just given her.
My therapist asked me how my spiritual life was going. I stopped and thought. At the time, I thought that my spiritual life was okay. I had fellowship with spiritual peers. I was seeking and learning all the time. But it occurred to me that I wasn't devoting my time and efforts to spiritual pursuits as much as all those other practical woes. My therapist noted almost as an afterthought that spirituality is all that really matters in the end, and that people are often unhappy after they achieve those things I was seeking, like a family and a career, because they're still trying to fill that "God-shaped hole."
We all know that there are unsatisfied people who would seem to have all the wealth that anyone could ever need. The words from my therapist percolated in my brain. I read the writings of the Peace Pilgrim, who renounced her worldly possessions to carry a joyful message for God. I listened to the words of Amma the "Hugging Saint" from India, where she spoke of finding the joyful and spiritually satisfied amongst even the impoverished. The reason that I was having all of these first world problems was because I wasn't giving proper weight and value to my spiritual needs.
Now, this isn't to say that spiritual lack is what's wrong with everybody who lives in a cluttered or hoarded home, or who is dissatisfied with life circumstances. It's okay to look around at life and say, "Hey, this sucks!" I observe that there are some people who are naturally more spiritually hungry than others. Some might live their entire lives satisfied as atheists or agnostics, while you might feel a constant yearning to discover the mysteries of the universe and the divine. Or, you might have run into a spiritual awakening later in life that threw you for a loop. If you feel a calling and ignore that call for whatever reason, you'll subconsciously continue to attempt to fill that void. In our culture, that sometimes means filling your home, office, and car with stuff.
Here are some signs that you or a loved one might exhibit that indicate a physical or mental clutter problem caused by spiritual lack.
If these characteristics sound like you and you're also a spiritually hungry person, it's possible that you are trying to quench the yearning for spirituality with physical things and a busy life. Make no mistake, there can be other factors at play here. If you have a true hoarding condition, you may have psychological and emotional issues that can't be solved by any prayer or worship group. If your hoarding is affecting your health and safety or making you unable to function in everyday life, you'll need to talk with a doctor and therapist about brain chemistry and coping skill issues that may be in play.
If, however, you're otherwise healthy and suspect that a neglected spiritual life is part of your problem, this can be remedied with careful attention to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Think of these as the three legs of a stool. You'll need to carefully nurture these things in balance. This may seem counter-intuitive, if clearing out all the clutter seems like the most pressing need. But remember that if you don't fill the void with something intangible and more meaningful, you'll just fill those spaces right back up again with stuff. So, examine your barriers to spirituality in your life. It's possible that you're being prevented from following the spiritual path that meets your expectations. However, nobody else holds dominion over the inner workings of your heart and soul. Once I discovered how to integrate spirituality into my everyday life and even household chores, the order of the rest of my life seemed to just fall into place. I pray for the same success for you and for any of your loved ones who may struggle with accumulated clutter. I encourage you to address the lack, rather than simply the over-abundance, then allow your life and your excesses to become a blessing to others and an offering to Spirit.
Dr. Alexandra Chauran, of Port Moody, Canada, received a master's degree in teaching from Seattle University and a doctorate from Valdosta State University. She is the author of dozens of books, including Crystal Ball ...