Joanna and I had just finished helping a friend by spending about one hour cleaning as much as we could in their place. We retired to my car (affectionately known as Darlene the Dale-mobile) and took a deep breath. Though we worked steadily, it was easy to feel like just a minuscule dent had been made. The reality for this person, along with so many others that we know, is that the hoarding of stuff has become a serious issue, and one that quite often threatens their ability to remain housed.

I am regularly witness to the traumatic effects of this kind of hoarding. Reflecting on this, I have been reminded that in a sense, hoarding is something that touches us all. For some, like our friend, it is characterized by a constant procurement of things. For others, it might be the cluttering of a schedule with too much work, or social engagements, or activities for children. For me, my mind can be filled with too many to-do lists and what-ifs. I suspect that for all of us what might accompany the hoarding is a fear of letting any of those things go.

When I studied art, we talked a lot about the importance of white space. Too much white or negative space and a drawing can appear incomplete; used properly it can bring balance to the overall composition. I wonder what it looks like to create similar space in my own life? What if I were to not fill up all the voids with busyness? What if I let go of the what ifs and remain more firmly in the present? It’s not so much about purging everything, it’s about carefully choosing what can remain and appreciating the new-found space between things.

Which is what began to happen with our friend. When anyone allows us in to their space it is an act of vulnerability, and this time was no different. Together we got to work. Before departing, we all marvelled at the counter cleared of dishes and the small path of floor finally exposed. A few cherished belongings now stood out, no longer hidden at the bottom of piles. In many ways it felt like small, slow progress, but I suppose that is how it goes for most of us. Again, and again we are invited to loosen the grip we have on the things that produce clutter in our lives. One little step at a time.