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False-Fill Up: What Over-Eating, Hoarding and Shopping Have in Common


In a previous post I wrote about the benefits of gently detoxing our body each spring by eating nourishing foods that places less stress on our digestive system and that also supports detoxification. The increase in energy, stable mood, improved sleep and overall feeling of vitality are all indications that a cleanse is working. But what about the benefits of detoxing our home? Can discarding and re-organizing be as therapeutic and transformational as a spring cleanse?

Hoarding, Over-Eating and Shopping Addiction – Different Names, the Same Beast

As I work more closely with individuals and my knowledge of the mind-body connection grows, I have been noticing that many of the same people who struggle with dysfunctional eating also struggle with hoarding and excess spending. This is known as ‘cross addiction’. Is it an ‘addictive personality’ or that the inner is driving the behavior?

Since our dysfunctional eating is mostly a behavior that is emotionally based then it would only make sense that this emotionally driven behavior will also spill over into other areas of our life. When we are detached from ourselves, denying what we want, burying, running and keeping busy to distract from our pain, it’s no surprise that we will be drawn to any kind of distraction that will keep the feelings at bay: eating, shopping, hoarding-it’s all the same. The first step in the 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is acknowledging that you have a problem. Recovery and the process of letting go is impossible if we deny that which needs to be examined. We can’t let go of our suffering until we stay with our suffering and allow it to process. Not letting go can translate to our body as not being able to let go of our weight, it can translate to our home as not being able to let go of needless possessions and ultimately the inability to let go of our dysfunctional behaviors.

Running on Empty – ‘Filling up’ on Hoarding and Shopping

In my 8 week Mind-Body Eating Program I talk about the importance of learning to trust your body’s wisdom so that you can learn to recognize your body’s unique cues and discover an eating style that works for your needs, your preferences and your wants. We also must learn to trust that in life we know what we need, what we want and that we can let go. Hoarding or being unable to get rid of anything is an inability to trust that we can make a sound decision, that we know what we need and want and most importantly that we can cope with the vulnerability of change and growth.

Likewise, shopping addiction is not simply an immediate ‘upper’ to a bad day or bad life. Shopping addiction represents a disconnect from ourselves. We buy everything because we don’t really know what we want or what we truly need (psst-it might not be material!) We buy and hoard because our possessions make us feel bigger and more than we believe we already are. We buy, buy, buy because we are searching to fill ourselves up just the way we hope a box of cookies will when we overeat. Certainly, these things do ‘fill us up’-but it’s artificial and temporary. The high is short-lived; the consequences last longer. We cannot fill the internal with the external-whether that is new shoes, clothes, a bag of chips, a win at a casino or a new fling. We need to go within. And yes, it can get uncomfortable in there until we clean up our mess.

Are You Owned?

Hanging onto objects because we cannot imagine parting with them is as much a crutch as sugar or alcohol. The First Nations traditionally gave away objects to which they felt too strongly attached. An Elder, I once heard speak, explained that an object that one is too attached to weakens the individual because it now has power over them-it owns the ‘owner’.

I admit, I can’t imagine willingly giving away my favorite book, pair of shoes never mind my phone, but there is something to reflect on in the wisdom of this practice. The simple recognition that possessions do have the power to make us believe we are less without them is powerful on its own. Why do we feel so destroyed when an object is lost? Sometimes it’s not even expensive. We’ve simply convinced ourselves that it’s a part of us, that we need it.

Learning to let go of objects that no longer serve us is important. However, before you take on the task of discarding, begin first by asking yourself why you are buying or accepting a certain object. Does it make you feel more valuable? More worthy? Or does it bring you genuine joy?

Let It Go, Let it Go… to Someone who Appreciates it!

In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo requests us to work by category (clothes, books, papers and then miscellaneous) rather than by room and to ask the question, “Does this bring me joy?” to each object. She suggests we see discarding as a ‘gratitude and farewell celebration’ for the joy and purpose those objects once served. This reminds me of another First Nations practice that was misunderstood and is now inappropriately referred to as ‘Indian giving’.

The First Nations believed that each object had a sacred purpose. Each object was created with someone’s energy and with the resources of Mother Earth. If a First Nations person gifted an object and then found that the person was hanging onto it, but not using it, they would take it back to give to someone else who would use the object for its sacred purpose.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe possessions are sacred (though it is important to note that they are still made by someone, somewhere, and still use the limited resources on this Earth). Acknowledging that your boxed up clutter would be better appreciated by someone who buys it at a thrift store is a more graceful way of bringing yourself to let go of something you once cherished.

While Kondo doesn’t come right out and say it, the insight that I gathered from her book is that the more we hang onto that which does not serve us, the more we are weighed down by that which we do not love. Kondo writes about how often clients tell her that once they have completed their discarding and tidying process, they find out what they really love, what they want to do, as well as which people they truly value in their life.

Make Your Space Sacred

I have experienced this in my own life. The more I let go of attachments and outcomes the more I can recognize what I have and what I truly need.  As my mindfulness practice evolves I find that it spills over into every aspect of my life: my eating, my emotions, my relationships, my work, my shopping and even my home.

Mindful living involves not only the internal, but the external. It means being conscious of how we live in the world, our spaces, our home – not simply our inner world. Our home is our sacred space; it is where we recharge and build our energy. This might sound flaky, but think back to the time you had to share your home with company that you were less than thrilled to have. How drained were you by the end of the visit compared to someone you adore being around? What about when you were away on an exotic vacation, but yet were so grateful to be home? And having to share a dorm or a bedroom?

If we shudder at sharing space with people who do not bring us joy then what makes us think that a home filled with objects that do not bring us joy is any different? In my next post I will talk more about our attachment to possessions and the process of letting go of what no longer serves us.

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