Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder is not the kind of programme I’d usually choose to watch. Reality shows trying to out-do each other in the hunt for the grimmest, most miserable lifestyles in our great nation are generally not the way in which I choose to edify myself or improve my mind. But my flat mate turned it on, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I’m glad I did.
The Channel4 documentary (available to watch here till 19 Jan) profiles Richard Wallace, who has been saving newspapers in his home, his parents’ former home, and five garages for the last 40 years. His house is so full that he only has a few small areas of standing room – a spot in front of the cooker in the kitchen, a space by the bathroom sink, and an area around the chair where he spends most of his time, working (on a manual type writer), eating, watching TV, and sleeping.
To move from room to room he crawls and slithers over the tops of the piles – they are carefully arranged to leave a space at the top of each doorway which is just deep enough for him to slide through.
His garden is equally filled, with piles of newspapers, old boots, broken umbrellas, oh, and his collection of classic cars, rusting and rotting under the weeds.
Other residents of the picture-perfect village where he lives have tried to get him to clean up several times. They’re a strong community, proud of their village, and don’t like him letting the side down. But all was to no avail, until one man looked past the rubbish, saw the human being, and was moved to reach out.
Andy is a landscape gardener who helped the village prepare for its entry into the Britain in Bloom competition. Villagers clubbed together to pay for a fence around Richard’s property, to hide the worst of it from the view of Britain in Bloom judges, and Andy helped to erect the fence. As he did so, he began to strike up a friendship with Richard.
The documentary-makers arranged for a clinical psychologist to visit Richard to assess whether he has a psychological problem or not. At first Richard denied it. He refused to accept that he was being anything but frugal, reacting against the ‘throw-away society’.
But something struck a chord, and he began to at least clear the jungle of weeds in the garden.
Re-enter Andy. Seeing the mammoth task, and the inability of one man ever to complete it, Andy gently offered to help. After slowly and patiently building a level of trust, he suggested that they ask some of the villagers to help, and organised a clean up day.
The group that came cleared over 3 tonnes of rubbish from the garden – Richard and Andy had a few gentle discussions about what was actually rubbish and what was not, but for the most part, Richard allowed the team to throw out the piles of newspapers and other items that were so sodden even he had to admit they were no use any more.
Having cleared the garden, Andy turned his focus to the house, and started gently nudging Richard to clear it.
Then came the turning point. Richard finally, and as far as I could tell from the programme more-or-less spontaneously, twigged that he did have a psychological problem. This isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy, he realised, and his mother would have been absolutely horrified.
The programme ended with Andy suggesting another conversation with the psychologist, and you just know that whatever comes up, this gentle, kind landscape gardener is going to be there beside his friend, helping, supporting and encouraging him every step of the way.
It was amazing to me to see the transformation in Richard, brought about almost entirely because of one man’s refusal to write him off as a crank, and his determination to love Richard and give of his time, energy and expertise.
I’m sure Andy would say he’s ‘just’ a landscape gardener. Looking at his life, he’d say he had very little to offer, beyond a few power tools and a bit of time, but through being willing to selflessly use those gifts, he transformed a life from the brink of collapse, and brought it to a place of restoration and wholeness.
No mention was made of whether or not Andy is a Christian, but his example is certainly a Godly one. I hope you’ll be inspired and encouraged as I was, that the small gifts, generously shared, can make the most enormous difference.
If you have been working hard this year, using your gifts for God, and maybe are feeling discouraged and wondering if it is worth it, I hope you’ll read this and/or watch the programme and be encouraged.
If you’ve been hearing stories of need and wanting to help, but thinking you have nothing to offer, or that your contribution would be too small to make a difference, I hope you’ll be encouraged and inspired that no gift is too small: Your gift + a willing heart is immensely powerful.
As we go into the new year, and make our resolutions, let’s see what we can achieve for God by all being a bit more like Andy.