Monday, October 17, 2011

P4E.216 Hoarders Revisited

If it didn't come across clearly in my last post, I can and DO identify with some of the mental disorder that the people featured on the TV show Hoarders exhibit. This was brought home to me just a few weekends ago. My wife Gwen asked me to tackle the shelves of paper and records that are sitting in the middle of the garage, where a car might easily be parked. In fact, she did not ask me to clear the whole thing out, just to work on it. One box. One hour.

I did not handle the situation very well and I talked it over with Gwen the next day. She is very patient with me, but clearly does NOT identify with the struggles I have. That is not meant to disparage her. The reason she doesn't identify will become clear.

It's hard to describe the wave of anxiety that I felt when Gwen suggested that I tackle the paperwork in the garage. Because I am so intimidated by this kind of task, my first response was to become morose about the fact that Gwen had "sprung" this honey-do task on me on an otherwise idyllic Saturday morning. I did not believe that Gwen would be satisfied with one hour or one box-worth of work in there. My mistake. The number of decisions to be made as I rummaged through the paper records was incredibly daunting to me. What to save? What to keep? The inevitable anxiety that as soon as I throw something away, I will need it (Even though it might already be ten years or more since it was last touched). How can one be sentimentally attached to an SDG&E bill from 1984? Why would that be hard to part with? These questions nagged at me even as I was tossing paper into the recycle bin. I became even gloomier, withdrawn and quiet.

I couldn't care less about college football, but the thought actually crossed my mind, "You know some guys are laying on their couch all day with chips and a Coke watching football games." Instead, I was in the hot, dusty garage reminiscing and agonizing over Tidy Didy diaper bills from when my 18 year old son was an infant.

Then, there's the identity theft issue. I've saved a lot of records that have our social security numbers on them. It's amazing how free banks and other institutions used to be in printing important personal data on statements. Now, I feel compelled to shred most everything, which is really time consuming and annoying. Part of me wonders if this is simply paranoia on my part. I mean, what are the chances of these documents getting intercepted by an identity thief in going from my trashcan to the landfill and being buried by huge tractors? It's gotta be small odds.

Much of the paper in the garage is related to my architectural practice that I closed a few years ago. My understanding is that I need to keep those records for 10 years. So, I'm slowly but surely throwing records away that are over 10 years old. I'm definitely conflicted about this. I think I'm like a lot of guys in that I have a tendency to attach my self-worth to my work. So, there's part of me that feels like I'm throwing myself away when I throw that paper-work away. It's as though that work which was so important at the time is now worthless. That's a hard pill for me to swallow.

I was self-employed for about 18 years. Wading through the records of my architectural practice is a particularly painful exercise. Although it was successful and profitable in some ways, it was NOT in other very important ways. In those years I was consumed by work. The work ATE my time, my energy, my good nature, my relationships with my wife and my sons. Although Gwen was very supportive of my being self-employed, there were many times when she encouraged me to leave private practice and "just get a job." The pain comes now in realizing how many years I ignored my "helpmate" and put my head down and the blinders on and got eaten by my work. It hurt everything in so many ways. And going through the paper brings it all to the surface.

And there was Gwen, pleased as punch to see some un-cluttering activity happening in the garage. Didn't she see the agony I was in? Well, yes she did because I was being so overt in my displeasure.

In retrospect, I'm able to see that my weaknesses were exposed by that paper pile in the garage. It seems silly to say, but I know I need to muster the "courage" to face that fire trap. The courage to push through the discomfort to get a much-needed task accomplished. A big part of what I've described above is simply laziness. An inability and un-willingness to face some hard work. A bad attitude made it even harder to be around me than usual.

This is the reason why Gwen can't relate to my struggles. She is not lazy. She is strong, courageous, undaunted by hard work and even tempered. Gwen has helped me to recognize that the way I handled the situation was anything BUT Christlike. A spiritual leader just simply does not act that way. I'm motivated and inspired by Gwen. I'm praying that God will imbue me with the strength of character to face daunting, painful (and sometimes thankless) tasks without complaint. Like He did and does. That means that I'm sure to be faced with more daunting, painful, thankless opportunities to exhibit strength, courage, hard work, and a good attitude. Bring it!