It’s not easy to write a good booklet. There are indeed some really excellent ones out there, but for the most parts booklets can tend to either over simplify the problem and the treatment, or they can fail to say anything substantial about the issue. The limited space makes it difficult to write a good booklet. Unfortunately, that’s how I feel about Todd Sorrell’s booklet on hoarding. Sorrell over simplifies the issue and fails to provide any substantive help for treatment.
Help! Someone I Love Is A Hoarder is a part of the Lifeline Mini book series, published by Shepherd press. This series has some excellent volumes and I have some personal favorites. The booklets generally provide a brief intro to the topic, a concise analysis of secular views on the subject, and a Biblical response. They usually end, then, with a few practical suggestions on change. This particular volume follows suit. He starts his book with a brief intro to the cultural situation. He states that the world offers no cure for the hoarder (4), which I find particularly strange. There are numerous books that commend the possibility of change and offer treatment strategies. Perhaps, Sorrell means that these approaches offer a less than thorough model of change or perhaps he means that because the emphases is not on pleasing God these are not God-honoring approaches to change, or something like this. Whatever his thinking, however, he makes a statement that at face value is simply false. We might challenge other approaches but to say that they don’t believe change is possible is inaccurate.
Sorrell explains that this booklet will attempt to address the issue of hoarding as it relates to “a common desire for security and control” (5). This is a good starting place and, I think, gives us some hopeful places to start in developing a treatment strategy. He notes, immediately, that God’s Word speaks to that desire and offers us nothing less than God Himself! In the following chapters, however, he seems to leave that etiology behind and shifts to a focus on discontentment and greed, without explanation. So, in chapter three he gives us the “Scriptural Diagnosis and Labels.”He references Jesus’ parable of the rich man who built bigger barns to store all his excess crops. He explains:
From a worldly perspective, the man in Jesus’ parable seemed to lack nothing. But did this stop him from accumulating more stuff? No. Instead, he held on tightly to his possessions and sought even more.
He considers next the Rich Young Ruler, who would not give up his possessions in order to follow Jesus. According to Sorrell, then, the “hoarding heart” is simply a greedy heart. He mentions fears again later in describing the technical definition of the issue, noting even several particular manifestations of fear that lie at the root of hoarding (25). The Scriptural responses he offers to such fear are passages like Mark 8:36 – what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul. Again, he seems focused on issues of greed and discontentment not fear. Those are very different heart issues, and Scripture speaks to each but does so in different ways.
Owing to a misunderstanding of the struggle with hoarding, and the heart behind it, Sorrell then offers a rather simplistic treatment plan. He goes to the basic principle of “putt off” and “put on.” This is certainly a valid piece of counsel, but he offers no exploration of the detailed way in which to do this. He asserts that the hoarder will need to think more about Jesus. This is, of course, true enough, but it is offered up as a simple task without any exploration of the process of shifting those thoughts and practicing a different way of living. His counsel ends up sounding trite: trust God more than possessions; treasure God more than treasures. It’s all true at a very basic level but the habituated patterns of hoarding need more than just simple theology or psychoeducation. Counselors will need to help hoarders develop responses to distressing emotions, action plans for resisting temptation, and alternate ways of living. Giving theological truths, however true and important, will not be sufficient to undo patterns of behavior. Scripture itself acknowledges that change requires more than knowing truths (for more on this idea I commend Identifying Heart Transformation by Nate Brooks).
Sorrell does offer a guided plan to use in counseling. It has some good questions for individuals to wrestle with, but when it comes to the practical decluttering he offers nothing. So, one assignment for each day of his “five-day intensive discipleship” plan simply states: remove one bag of items and throw it away. Bring nothing new into the house (51). This is the very thing that the hoarder struggles to do. If they could accomplish this task they would not have come to counseling. The theological truths are meaningful, but to suggest that they simply learn or remember these truths about God and they will not struggle anymore is to misunderstand both the process of change and the nature of hoarding.
I don’t doubt that Todd Sorrell has helped many people, and perhaps he has even helped several hoarders through this strategy. I am not convinced, however, that this is a very robust strategy. It seems to misunderstand the issue, misunderstand the nature of change, and offers trite and simplistic ideas for treatment. Biblical Counseling can be more robust than this booklet, because of course the Bible is robust. Perhaps the booklet format simply isn’t conducive to addressing this issue. Perhaps, Todd Sorrell has a fantastic approach to counseling hoarders that simply can’t be captured well in this format. Either way, I would not recommend this work. The Biblical Counseling community needs more substantive help than this booklet provides.