Wow. This is a big day. If you are or live with someone with hoarding, collecting, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies, you will appreciate this. I asked my little hoarder if we could please get rid of this “monkey box” (which is referenced in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day at the very end of the section on ADHD, so it’s special to me too) today because we needed to clear out some things. He didn’t deliberate, perseverate, complain, or bargain. He just. Let. Go. “Okay!” HUGE VICTORY over here! Thank You, God! We are making progress. (We are photo documenting so we can purge in freedom.)
I have Little Man home sick with me for the fourth day in a row. He found something on Cartoon Network, and I was going to finish some expense reports (yawn), but then Little Man rediscovered his love for his NERF gun and wanted to build some structures with Magna-Tiles® and knock them down in his room. I’m good with that. So, as he headed up to pursue that for a while, he said these magic words: “Mom, I want to play in my room, but it’s too cluttered.”
Okay, first step to healing is admitting there is a problem. Well done, Little Man.
So, then I dropped the expense report and went upstairs with him, asking: “How would you like me to help you de-clutter your room?” And he told me exactly what he wanted moved out of the way.
More progress. He had the executive functioning skill to know where things needed tidying.
And then I saw it: The monkey box. The one that Chickie (his big sister) helped him make one cold, winter day when the rest of us were outside shoveling 20 inches of snow. She helped him plan, execute, and clean up this project. At the time, monkeys were the latest obsession, and we decided art would be more therapeutic and cheaper than allowing the pile-up of ten different species of monkey in plush form playing zoo in his toy hammock.
It’s been a journey realizing that we have more than just a collector in our house. I can actually measure his anxiety levels based on how strongly he fights throwing something out or giving it away. Over the years, we have hoarded pirate toys (that part is my fault, as discussed in “The Pirate Who Saves Good People“), superheroes, Rescue Heroes, Pokémon toys, art projects, drawings, stuffed animals (particularly bats), etc. I recently learned from his child therapist that I need to stop letting him collect so obsessively. It’s not that we spend a lot or even on the spot. We make him wait for a special occasion and save up his money. But it’s apparently allowing him to order his world around things he can control, and it’s spinning his thoughts into perseveration—a no-no for OCD folks. So, we are learning to limit our collections, expand our interests, and purge our toy and art closets. I love this because we can all think more clearly when we clear our personal space, rooms, desk, and environment.
Anyway, I took a minute to ask him if we could get rid of the monkey box. I held my breath, completely prepared for the buckle-down, inflexible, anxious response. The past few days his mind had swirled about tornadoes and other such concerns (even though they rarely happen here in New England). He had fallen ill with a fever, and I think that all kicked in the anxiety this week. I’m learning to anticipate the triggers and ride the wave. So, I just about danced out of the room when he told me: “Okay, sure.” There wasn’t much of a pause, no second-guessing, no take-backs, no decision remorse. He was busy with NERF target creation. Beautiful!
I grabbed that lovely box and ran out of the room, with the few recyclables inside of it (yes, he hoards those too…right out of my recycle bin), not looking back. I even tested the waters by having him walk by it in the kitchen before I had a chance to bury it in Big Bad Recycling Tote outside into which no eight year old would care to dive. He walked by it a trip or two.
Still no comment.
So I finally took it out.
I’m not sure why I tempted him. I guess I wanted to know how far we had progressed, and I was willing to face the fallout.
Maybe I’ve progressed too.
Matthew 6:19-23, Jesus speaking, ESV
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Most days, I strive to give him a choice of what to purge. That is empowering and teaches him how to manage the clutter independently. I’ll admit that on school days when I’m in a spring cleaning frenzy, I will toss some artwork and no-longer-touched projects out without permission. Most of the time, those don’t get asked about. Toys, on the other hand, do (reference “Dolly in a Stinky Sack of Potatoes” in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day). Today we celebrate freedom, decreased anxiety, and getting healthier. Monkey boxes have their purposes. This one definitely saw him through a tough time, as did Chickie, when he was climbing his way out of a depressive episode.
But like anything else, we can’t “lay treasures up for ourselves” and think they help us control life. They serve a purpose, and most times, we move on—or we should. Holding onto our clutter makes us and everyone else around us anxious. It reflects our inner turmoil and our sometimes desperate grasp for control. It becomes a crutch when we lean on it too much. If we cannot part with something, it keeps our focus from being clear and on what can really be trusted.
For our family, that is our Father in heaven. As Jesus described in the Gospel of Matthew, our stored-up treasure reflects our heart, and what we see with our eye (the “lamp of the body”) can either shine light and clarity or cloud our thinking and ability to see. He is referring here to sin, but I think the analogy also works well for anything we are cluttering our lives with that we mistakenly feel we can’t part with.
Today was a victory. I’m so proud of Little Man. Each step toward not being controlled by or trying to control and hold onto things is a step toward the amazing freedom Christ bought for us when hanging on that cross, dying, and rising again. Little Man is already free. He just needs to learn to see those chains as gone as they really are.
We’ll get there.
By the way, I came downstairs and decided to make pumpkin muffins instead. Expense report can wait. 🙂
This was shared at Grace & Truth.