My wife likes to save everything and it’s driving me crazy. She always has an excuse never to throw anything away. Anytime I bring up the issue with her, she tries to laugh it off. It is anything but funny to me. Why does she need to save everything, and what can I do to get her to change?

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I had a friend years ago who saved so much stuff he deemed valuable that he had a narrow pathway from the door of his apartment to his bedroom. While at the time I teased him about his “junk collection,” I now realize he had a significant disorder.

Something called Hoarding Disorder actually exists; its symptoms range from mild to severe. Unfortunately, those with this disorder rarely see the severity of their problem. They hang onto possessions for a variety of reasons. They experience anxiety at the thought of getting rid of anything, regardless of any actual value.

I must confess I too have a tendency to save things. Thankfully, my wife and I have made the decision to go through our belongings periodically and rid ourselves of things we don’t use or that have no significant value to us. The mild anxiety I experience—which those with Hoarding Disorder experience more acutely—is that I may someday have a use for said items. This is the struggle many people face. My brother-in-law offers the following counsel: “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Specialists in this field—yes, there are experts who teach us how to declutter our lives—tell us that keeping this stuff not only clutters our home, but our minds and our relationships. These experts also have determined that saving and the fear of letting something go also can be associated with other obsessive-compulsive rituals, though not necessarily so.

Getting someone such as your wife to change a well-established behavior is admittedly a challenge. Here are my thoughts:

Start by having a serious talk with your wife. Ensure you have her attention. Make it clear her behavior causes you significant distress. Don’t argue with your wife; that only increases her defensiveness and resolve. Rather, let her know you want to begin the practice of toss, donate, or keep—keeping only objects you love or will use.

If your wife feels incapable of decluttering, suggest a specialist comes to assist. Many who compulsively collect things secretly want to “clear out the clutter.” They simply are unaware of how to do it. The task seems overwhelming so they give up before they begin. See if your wife is willing to receive outside help. If so, then find a professional who helps people declutter their lives. He or she understands this task is often far harder than it should be.

Talk with your wife about the spiritual aspect of the matter. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). We are told to store our treasures in heaven instead. Did Jesus know something about the detrimental effect of “things” cluttering our lives? While you certainly must not “preach” to your wife, you can remind her that decluttering isn’t simply a practical matter, but a spiritual matter as well.

Should your wife fail to respond to the above ideas, stronger intervention may be necessary. Compulsive behaviors have an addictive component to them and may require stronger strategies. This could involve taking a friend/pastor to confront your wife, all the way to sterner conversations that suggest your relationship (fellowship with her) are in jeopardy if her behavior doesn’t change.

Hoarding is no laughing matter. It causes no end of emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational consequences. It is time you and your mate have a “heart to heart” about “stuff”—and what you’re going to do about it.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. Read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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