I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from my post about teaching children about hoarding. I wrote how I felt I am failing my daughter by not coaching her on better organizational habits earlier.
I was delighted to read your comments! Thank you to all who took the time to leave a note on the blog or email me in person. You were all reassuring that I haven’t ruined my kids just yet! Phew! There’s still time to teach them about personal organization!
Knee Jerk Reaction
I suppose I’m being extra cautious. Living so close to someone with a mental illness makes you paranoid (wait, isn’t that a mental condition too??? ). Perhaps it’s similar to those with an alcoholic parent and forbidding their own children to ever toast with wine at holiday dinners. I’m probably being hyper-sensitive, but I know I’ve read in several places that compulsive hoarding can be hereditary. Diabetes also strongly runs in the family…some future I’ve got facing me, huh?
Nature vs Nuture
Genetics aside, I think learned behavior goes a long way. I don’t want to go overboard and insist on unattainable perfection. I can’t maintain that myself anyway. But if I can begin to instill the proper techniques for organizing personal space, encouraging attachment to people instead of objects, and how to begin and finish any project, then I think I’ll be giving my girls some great life skills. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to practice them myself, right? I’m sure Will would agree, as he eyes my creatively chaotic craft room.
Your Suggestions for Teaching Kids About Personal Organization
You had some great ideas for helping kids learn about organizing, and learning how to let go of treasured toys.
- take photos of toys before donating them, and put photos in an album to preserve their memory
- designate a set number of keepers. Let them choose which keepers, but don’t go past the number.
- designate a box for toys and don’t let it go past the top. If it doesn’t fit the box, it can’t stay.
- trim pieces from favourite blankets, clothing, or stuffed animals and sew them into a memory quilt or pillow (careful this doesn’t add to your own long list of projects *cough*)
- Remind them of children less fortunate, and encourage a social conscience.
Feel free to keep sending your ideas, and I’ll add them to this list. I’m sure I’m not the only parent in this boat.
I also just came across the Overindulgence website. It discusses dealing with spoiled children, the feeling of entitlement some kids seem to have, and gives a few ideas about giving chores.
My own purge continues
Going back to my craft room for a minute, I worked on clearing that room out, too. Yes, I’ve been on a purging kick the last 2 months and it’s feeling great. I didn’t realize exactly HOW great until I sat down at my sewing machine and did a quick little project. I mentioned this to another creative kindred spirit, my best friend, and she said “Rae, I think that’s how we feed our soul.”
How we feed our soul. Yes. Yes, I think that’s it.
And because my craft room is the dumping ground for when we don’t know where else to put something, I had crowded out my opportunity to feed my soul. And I was starving. Funny how having too much can make you feel so empty.
Have you carved out a space all your own? How do you keep it clear for spontaneous use? I’d love to hear about it!
In case you’re wondering, Mom is still without a phone. We’ve not spoken since I saw her about 3 weeks ago. That seems like a long time to go without hearing from your mother, doesn’t it?
My eldest daughter, Maddie, has been sneezing up a storm. I figured this was a good time to give her bedroom a good deep clean and clear out the dust. When I gently suggested she give away some of her stuffed animals, I was met with great resistance. It’s time I start teaching my children about compulsive hoarding.
How To Start
It started by clearing out all the random stuff that’s been shoved under her bed. It brought up a lot of dust but also helped us find some little toys we thought were lost forever. The pile was a real mixture of things…board games, doll clothes, books, trinkets, and so on. I explained we needed to organize these into piles and put them away. Then I left Maddie to it while I worked on Quinn’s outgrown baby clothes in the next room.
After a few minutes, Maddie called out “Mom, I don’t know what to do with all this.”
It hit me that she probably had no idea how to sort through this random pile and make general categories. It’s one thing to sort by colour, or by size, but when you’re only 7, sorting by purpose is a little confusing.
So, we sat together and I pointed out how board games don’t get stored with books, and doll clothes have their own container. It was starting to make sense when I showed her we actually DO HAVE a place for everything…it’s just that I’d always done the sorting for her in the past. What a disservice I’ve done for her!
Once that pile got sorted out, it was time to look at all the stuffed animals she keeps on her bed. There’s about a dozen stuffies, and she wants them ALL on her bed. I’m thinking they’re a treasure trove of dust and it’s time to simplify.
I held up a stuffed cat. “What do you think about this? Can we give to charity?” With wide eyes, Maddie grabbed the cat and clutched it to her chest. “But I love this!”
Everything Can’t be special
We went back and forth like that with a few other stuffies, and I finally said “You can’t love all of these the same. Surely some are more important than others!” And I think deep down she knows that too, but when faced with the scary thought of parting with any of them, they were elevated to Must Haves.
I was at a loss. I tried to explain that sometimes we have to make tough decisions. That the memories we have can be kept in our heads and we don’t need to keep every thing just to remember. That if everything is special, it really means nothing is.
So far, I’ve been keeping the family’s dirty little secret from my children. Maddie doesn’t know the reason we never visit her grandmothers house is because there’s no room. She has no idea that compulsive hoarding even exists! But I needed to show her, so…
I grabbed the laptop, launched notjustclutter.com and called up the photos from my Visiting a Compulsive Hoarders Home post. I didn’t tell her I took the photos. I didn’t tell her it was Meema’s house. I didn’t even call it compulsive hoarding. But I showed her how little space there was to move around. How you couldn’t see the couch. I pointed out the piles were taller than her head, and there was no room at the dining table for eating. I showed her how food was piled on the kitchen floor with no sense of organized categories.
And everything I pointed out, she met with a rationalization. She had a modified action for everything I said that would allow her to cope with that appalling environment. In short, she didn’t think it was that bad.
Will My daughter become a hoarder, too?
Obviously, I’m failing. Not only have I lost my mother behind her hoard, but I’ve not done enough to develop the right skills for my first daughter. I can see this will be an on-going attempt to teach her how to organize, how to detach emotion from objects, how to truly value certain things and treat them with greater respect, and how to actually clean a home. I’m open to your ideas, so please share your tips for guiding my children away from a future in hoarding.
Well, that didn’t last long. Time for an update on the Case of the Silent Phone. Mom has already lost her new cell phone. She got it at the end of April, and now it’s lost in her pile of possessions. Apparently, it’s been lost for 2 weeks already, AND it’s the second time she’s lost it. I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew from the start it was going to be difficult for her. She’s got hoarded piles on every surface and no where to create a dedicated space for it.
I didn’t hear from her for our regular Sunday chat, but thought maybe she was just sleeping. Then I called on the anniversary of Dad’s death to let her know I was thinking of her, and figured maybe she was just feeling low and wanted to be alone with her grief. It makes a whole lotta sense now that I know the cell phone is lost.
At least, I got to see her today. She told me she just can’t imagine how she lost the phone. And how she lost another important piece of paperwork she’d filled out and promptly lost.
Then we got to chatting about the carpet in her house and how much she’d LOVE to replace it with hardwood. Uh huh. I know the carpet IS hideous. I lived with it, too. It was great when I accidentally smushed Play-Doh into it as a child and no one was ever able to tell; maybe you’re familiar with it, too, if you remember the 70s. But now, there’s probably only 1% of the carpet showing in all the house.
She did admit her house needs a lot of work. Ha. Let me repeat that. HA! And that the best thing to happen would be for the house to be struck by lightning. Yup. That’s what she wishes for. For her house and home of 33 years to go up in a big ball of flames. Can you imagine? My childhood memories in a pile of ash.
Lynn said to her “You’d never make it out in time.”
Mom got that thin smile she effects on when conversation takes this kind of turn, and smugly insisted “Oh yes I would. No problem at all. I’d just tuck the dog under my arm and away I’d go.”
Sigh. How do you answer that when you know it simply isn’t true?
And, how would I even know, when she has no way of calling to tell me?
It’s been about 5 years since I last visited my childhood home. It’s a compulsive hoarders home now, thanks to Mom’s mental disorder. Lynn and I snuck in while Mom was out and did a tiny purge of her hoard. You’d never even be able to tell we’d spent 2 hours working on a 4×4 foot area just putting spare papers in recycling bins. We removed 4 bags of trash and yet, it didn’t make a dent in her hoard.
How bad could it be?
I took photos while we were there of the general state of things. Given so many years have passed without anyone else stepping inside, I can only imagine how high the stacks are. Oddly enough, I found the CD of photos as I cleared out my basement decluttering my own junk.
I knew the photos were going to be bad, but they still took me by surprise when I loaded them up on my computer. If you’ve never seen photos from inside a compulsive hoarders house before, brace yourself. I know you’ll probably wonder how could anyone live like this? I don’t know if you can call it “living”, actually. I think having to survive in such a space is reducing to merely “existing.”
This was my home once. I lived here with my sister through all my childhood, and only left when I went away to college. I have good memories of birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and watching Sunday morning classic movies on PBS. And I’m willing to bet there are physical remnants of all my memories still left inside that hoard.
Now, we stay with Lynn when we visit my hometown. Mom comes over to Lynn’s house to sit with us for a while and we make thin small talk. I’m curious to try to get over to my old home while Mom is out again. I probably won’t get in because neither Lynn nor I have a spare key. But I want to see how the old place is holding up…or quite likely, falling apart. On the other hand, do I want an even worse mental image of my home if I should see it in such disrepair? It’s like when you visit an ailing relative in the hospital right before they die, and they’re frail and forgetful…they’re not the vibrant and fascinating person you remember anymore.
I do want to know how my Mom is existing, though. It’s important to me to understand what her daily life is like. No matter the mental disorder, it pains me to think of her living in such conditions. I wish I knew how to make it better…and I wish she actually wanted it better, too.
I have so much. Too much.
I write on this blog about my problems with excess. About how much of a struggle it is to control the amount of stuff in my life. The challenges of clearing out my basement. The woes of a mother who shops too much.
Due to a senseless, random act of violence, there are countless people facing the aftermath of the Colorado shooting. Children and adults alike became victim to a madman. It’s sickening, and there are no words to heal the pain caused by this incident.
Meanwhile, I woke up this morning with all my loved ones. My health. My life continues as expected. I have everything and everyone I need; and more. It’s shameful that I should consider having too much clutter a real problem in light of the news. I’m reminded what it is to be vulnerable, and grateful.
I send my prayers to anyone affected by the Colorado theatre shooting. My heart weeps for you.
I’m a Virgo. Most of the time, I’m ok with my home looking well lived in. Children leave toys out mid-game. Craft projects are in progress. And there’s always a DIY home improvement going on somewhere in the house. But when the perfectionist, pragmatic Virgo in me rears her head, I go on major cleaning streaks. I’m talking get-out-the-toothbrush-to-scrub-the-corners Virgo Clean Streak.
Virgo Clean Streak
Every once in a while this happens. Probably not often enough. And by now, Will knows enough to stand back and let me charge full speed ahead. It happened this weekend. I just couldn’t stand the state of our basement any longer. Since I use our 4th bedroom as a craft room/office, we don’t have any where pleasant for guests to stay. And Will doesn’t really have office space of his own, either, which impedes the launch of his new business.
How to decide what to keep and what to toss
We have a whole basement and it was uselessly filled with stuff. So I rolled up my sleeves, put on some tunes, and started working my way through everything as realistically and unemotionally as I could. And you know what? It was easier than expected. I must be at some sort of threshold because what I processed over the weekend had proven too difficult to deal with in earlier attempts to clear the basement. I allowed myself to be honest about whether I really needed or wanted all this stuff. Anything I really wanted to keep went into ONE laundry basket, and everything else went into boxes for donation or garbage bags.
There were a few moments where I wavered and wanted to keep some things. Like my Mom, I can see the “potential” of future projects. But I kept reminding myself that reclaiming this space was more important than vintage sheet music for decoupage, or a stacks of plastic party drinking cups left over from our wedding…9 years ago. I want to transform this space into a place to build memories and experiences. That has more value to me now than dusty boxes of trinkets packed up from our old house and never reopened when we moved here.
As I thought of that, it got easier and easier to move items into the donation boxes and wish them well in their future homes. And the more I let go, the lighter my heart felt. My mood improved. My skin cleared. Well, maybe not, but I certainly felt a glow of accomplishment to see the stack of boxes by the door growing.
What Did I Find?
In the clear out, I found a number of things to give to friends of mine. A book about dogs goes to a co-worker who just got a Huskie puppy. The bassinet that cradled my babies the first few months of their lives is going to a friend expecting his first child next month. And for myself, I found the CD of images I took about 5 years ago at Moms house when Lynn and I snuck in to do a quick “tidy.” I’ll share those in a future post.
In the end, Will and I loaded 11 donation boxes into the car. I filled 2 large bags of trash. I reorganized 7 mishmashed plastic and cardboard boxes of hand-me-down clothes for my little Quinn into 3 locking Rubbermaid containers, and found a whole bunch of baby clothes I didn’t even know we had. That gets shared with another co-worker having a baby girl in October.
There’s still some stuff to shuffle around and reorganize. I’m sure I could purge even more if I get another Virgo Clean Streak. Will needs to pack up all his wine-making supplies for a while. There’s a cold cellar to rip out and move to a different area. And if we can clean enough open space, we’ll frame in new walls to make new office space and accommodations for guests. Put up shelves to get what’s left up off the floor. Wall off the furnace. Ultimately, make this a warm and inviting space to spend quality time. And as much potential all that stuff had, the potential of the space is even greater.
Getting rid of all that stuff was SO liberating. I feel like I lost 100 pounds. In fact, I put on my skinny jeans to celebrate!
Thrift Store Shopping
Do you like to shop at thrift stores? Do you love the thrill of the hunt? How much is too much thrift store shopping? One of the hallmarks of a compulsive hoarder is that they lack insight to the severity of their hoarding problem. I’d say Mom lacks insight, for sure! She likes to tell me all about the people she meets and chats with while shopping at her favourite thrift store. I’ve unwillingly learned:
- She sees the “regulars.” They greet each other like old home week, and call it their “social hour.”
- She can identify the antique dealers.
- Other people sidle up to her and compliment her on the items in her own cart.
- There’s an elderly Irish lady who follows Mom around the store, and comments on everything she picks up. This lady is obviously well-off…after all she owns a B & B. Uh huh.
- There was a man who seemed to take a shine to Mom, until Mom mentioned she “was married to the best man whom ever lived and she didn’t think anyone could ever live up to his memory.” “That took care of him hanging around me pretty quick” she quipped.
There’s an elderly married couple in there often, and the gentleman likes to chat with Mom while the wife shops. Mom told me, and I quote “You think I’m a collector, THIS guy is the worst! You name it, he collects it! They told me they own 4 houses just to hold all his collections!”
I’m afraid this is the level to which Mom compares herself. Maybe she’s rationalizing that since she only has ONE stuffed house and not four then everything is still under control.
Don’t want to hear it anymore
I’m so tired of all our conversations circling back to the hijinx of thrift store shoppers. I just don’t want to hear it anymore. The world is bigger than this store! I donate the stuff I don’t want anymore to this chain of stores, and I can only wonder if she’s ever unwittingly bought back something I’ve donated. I understand that there are great deals and you can find some real gems…one man’s treasure and all that. I’m not immune to that either, but I might visit a thrift store once every few months whereas Mom goes a few times a week. She’s always loved the thrill of the hunt. Can’t find something? Just tell her and she’ll squeal with delight at the challenge. And she insists that everything she’s ever wanted has turned up at the thrift store if she was just patient enough.
I wonder if she’ll ever realize our mother/daughter bond can’t be found on those shelves.
Ever wonder about a compulsive hoarders vehicle? Is everything packed away in the house, or does it spill out? When the hoarding reaches a higher degree, it can’t be contained. Here is Mom’s van. Her compulsive hoarding follows her every where she goes.
It’s packed to the gills. If she were ever in a car accident, even a minor one, I’m sure she’d be crushed by the projectiles. And be projectiles, I mean the following (but not limited to):
- at least 9 packs of Bounty dryer bars
- an open box of laundry detergent powder
- a dog crate (with dog)
- a domed cake carrier with uneaten cupcakes from last year (I SO wish I was exaggerating)
- case of bottled water
- a multitude of junk food boxes, bags, and wrappers
- full bags of laundry
- lots of shopping bags from thrift stores
- gifts given to Mom destined to never make it into the house
- boxes of stuff given to her by other people clearing out their clutter
I snuck out and took these photos with my phone while she visited this past weekend. Mom would be SO furious if she knew I did that, but I wanted to show you how extensive her compulsive hoarding, fueled by compulsive shopping, really goes. She drives around like this alllll the time. I can only imagine the impact it has on her gas mileage, and wear & tear on her brakes, tires, and shocks.
Is it stuffy in here?
Then there’s the air quality. Lynn refuses drive in the van with Mom any more. There’s no leg room. Debris has to be swept off the seat. I’m sure even finding the seat belt is difficult. How does Mom see out her windows? Carpooling? Forget it! And, what’s that smell?
I helped Mom put the dogs crate back in the van. The wall of stuff is so tightly packed it held its shape when we slide open the door. There was a niche carved out for the dog crate and I really had to put my shoulder to it to get it in. We closed the door and it didn’t latch, so we opened it up again and if there was ever a use for an industrial sized shoehorn, this was it. Finally, we wedged the crate in another inch, and got the door to fully close.
A final kiss, a last minute scramble for scrap paper to write directions, a missed moment of hesitation if I should say “something”, and then off she goes. A jumbled tonne lumbering down the street on the way home. To her nest. To her comfort zone. And to my dismay.
There are some things that become very predictable when your mother is a compulsive hoarder with compulsive shopping tendencies.
- if you phone her cell between 9am to 9pm, chances are good she’ll answer your call while browsing a store.
- there will be misplaced and forgotten items she’ll have meant to bring when coming to visit (usually birthday or Christmas gifts).
- and most predictably, every conversation you have with her will include the statement “I don’t know if you need or want this or not, but I picked it up for you anyway…”
Out of Touch
This statement has become such a regular thing I can silently mouth it when she says it. The item in question varies, but hasn’t been relevant to me in a long time. Like, a craft book about molding characters out of clay (something I did in Grade 9), or a figurine of an angel playing the violin (I play violin, but not really as actively as I did while living at home…15 years ago!). It’s a great example of how truly out of touch Mom & I have become.
A few weeks ago, she called me while Lynn was visiting my home. The conversation went something like this:
Mom: Oh, while you’ve got your sister there with you, I wanted to see if either of you could make use of something I bought today. It’s a kitchen vacuum sealer.
Mom: It’s a really good one, better than the one I got from your father years ago (note, she used it once). This would be at least worth $200 and I got it for ten dollars!!!
Me: Well, it’s not something Will & I would use. Lynn, do you want a kitchen vacuum sealer? Mom says it’s a really good one.
Lynn is shaking her head before I even finish the sentence.
Me: Lynn says no thank you. It’s very kind of you to think of us but we’re both going to pass.
Mom: No problem! It was such a good deal I just couldn’t risk passing it up, but I can return it and get my money back!
Uh huh. Anyone wanna take the bet it’s still at her house? Didn’t think so.
The first time I called her cell, Mom was at her favourite thrift store. She was delighted to be able to talk and shop at the same time. She was telling me about all the wonderful deals she was finding, and about how she gets along with all the employees at the store. It was also after 8:30 pm, nearly closing time.
She told me about a couple of things she had put in her cart for me. After she described them, I thanked her but said no. She promised she’d put them back. Then just the other day, she confessed she had actually bought one of the items because it was ONLY 2 bucks and she KNOWS it’s worth a LOT more than that. Worth it to whom I’m not sure…it ain’t me.
I’m pretty tired of hearing about the shopping trips to the thrift shops. She has a circuit of them, and not only do I hear about the stuff she bought or almost bought, but also about the other shoppers she’s met, like the antique dealers and “the lonely sorts.” I know it’s terrible of me, but I have a hard time concentrating when she starts chattering about this, and we have those awkward moments that reveal I haven’t been listening more often that I’d wish. I’m sad about this. I don’t see my Mom very often. Even talking once a week seems like too much and not enough at the same time. One day she’ll be gone, and I’ll miss the chance just the hear her voice.
Can I fix this?
Is it something I can or should fix? Part of having a relationship with compulsive hoarders to forgive them, forgive yourself, and focus on the positive. It means clenching my jaw and biting my tongue. It means making a conscious effort not to sigh when I hear a compulsive hoarding shopaholic regale me AGAIN with the money she saved buying stuff she didn’t need.
You can go broke being cheap
I’m wondering where all the money comes from. I know she stressed about the oil bill and property tax. Any car issue empties her wallet.
If you’ve visited Not Just Clutter today, you might have noticed
some lots of changes today, and they’re still on going. I’ve changed themes to hopefully improve the reader experience, and to fix some issues I had with links not working in various browsers, etc.
I’d love it if you could comment on anything that’s not working for you OR if you’re loving something new that I’ve done. That will help me focus on what adjustments to make with the blog.
My little blog about compulsive hoarding is a pretty niche topic. It’s not likely to have a lot of people stumble across Not Just Clutter, but I’d sure like to think I’m writing for humans.
I’ve noticed a get a lot of comments, especially after posting Our Ikea Kitchen Renovation Experience. I hope some are really from people who’ve read my posts and been moved enough to leave a few genuine words of their own. But I thought I’d share a few that amused me in their obviousness. Turns out, Louis Vuitton loves to read about compulsive hoarders! Who knew!?
Anyway, these have been clogging up my comments queue waiting to be sorted through. I decided to deal with this digital kind of clutter in a big batch today and thought I’d share some of the ones I didn’t approve but just made me chuckle anyway.
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- Thanks for the insighful post, i will bookmark it for potential reading i hope you dont get disappointed if I take some of the details for my personal website. Many thanks! – Beats by Dre Headphones (ed: again, you almost got me there, Dr. Dre. Let me know if you’d like to guest post.)
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Oh, Internet, how you slay me! To the spambot programmers, I implore you to improve your grammer and spelling. Basic sentence structure wouldn’t hurt either.
To those who actually read Not Just Clutter because you’re interested in compulsive hoarding, hoarders, or basic home organization, feel free to send me your thoughts! This is a safe place and I’m happy to answer any questions about life with a hoarder as best I can.
Thanks to the Kings College London Institute of Psychiatry (the same people doing the Hoarding Study I recently participated in), I’ve learned compulsive hoarding is likely to be included as a new mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-5. DSM-5 is due to be published in 2013. I’m hoping this means more research and attention being devoted to treating compulsive hoarding. I also hope it means less people thinking hoarders are just lazy deadbeats who just need to throw a garage sale. There’s something about this being made “official” that gives me some hope.
Below are the proposed diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder. All criteria A-F must be met to qualify for the diagnosis.
A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.
B. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.
C. The symptoms result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).
D. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
E. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome).
F. The hoarding is not better accounted for by the symptoms of another DSM-5 disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, decreased energy in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder).
For people meeting all diagnostic criteria A-F, the following ‘specifiers’ can be noted as well:
With Excessive Acquisition: If symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.
Indicate whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by:
Good or fair insight: The individual recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.
Poor insight: The individual is mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.
*I believe this is where my Mother is, leaning towards Absent insight.
Absent insight (i.e. delusional beliefs about hoarding): The individual is completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.
You can find more information in the DSM-5 website.
My eldest daughter, Maddie, turns 7. We’re having a cooking party at a grocery store. The store facilitates everything from set up to clean up, and I think that’s AWESOME!
Last year, we did a cereal themed party at home, and it was also awesome, but much more exhausting for me! LOL
No matter how we do the party, I always struggle with lootbags. I guess I feel like they’re a waste. An obligation. And I don’t like them. There, I said it. Yup, I’m a bit of a grinch like that.
I don’t think they’re necessary and I wish they weren’t the social norm. I don’t want to buy more plastic bags, and fill them with little plastic trinkets, tiny erasers and pencils, and the ever present Ring Pop only to have them tossed in the trash or add to the clutter at someone elses home. I know people who give out loot bags mean well. I get that some kids are totally thrilled to get that extra treat as they leave a party. But I come from a home where over-consumerism is an issue and I don’t want to continue the trend for my daughters.
Are you’re looking for better options for “lootbags” for your children’s parties? I have some suggestions, and I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments.
Individual potted plants: small clay pots, a cup of soil, and a flat of little flowers from any garden centre makes a pretty parting gift. The clay pots could be personalized ahead of time, or be part of the activites during the party. Alternatively, include the soil in a little bag and give a pack of seeds so the guest can experience planting themselves and watch a flower grow from scratch.
Bubbles: one container of bubbles per child is enough, and is consumable without taking up much space. Personalize with curly ribbon if you’d like.
Sidewalk Chalk: tie 3 pieces with ribbon
Candy Kebabs: make a skewer per child, with mixed gummy candy from the bulk food section…maybe better for kids older than 5.
Chocolate Suckers: a mold from the candy making section at the bulk food store or craft store, Merken’s chocolate wafers melted in a double boiler, and sucker sticks make a fun treat, and are pretty easy to make and customize. An alternative would be to dip long pretzel sticks or licorice sticks in chocolate, then amp up with colourful candy sprinkles or nonpareils.
Custom Spoons: for Maddie’s cereal themed birthday, I glued letter beads to spoons so each child had one with their name on it. And they got to take home Chinese take out boxes (from a party store) filled with their choice of fun cereal mix.
Gift Cards: one of Maddie’s friends gave out $5 gift cards to Dairy Queen. I thought that was brilliant. A fun treat to enjoy later, and I personally love any excuse to visit Dairy Queen. Gift cards for other places would be great…maybe you have a local treat shop you could help support?
Comic books: These shouldn’t cost more than $5, but give the kids something fun and colourful to read on the ride home.
Colouring Book and Crayons: These are much more useful than a tiny notebook with matching unsharpened pencil. We go through a lot of crayons in our house.
Donations to Charity: Give a donation to a meaningful cause in lieu of lootbags and give a card to the child instead.
Photos: Set up a silly backdrop and some goofy props for kids to dress up. Take their photo and use a printer to make prints on the spot so kids can take a memory home with them. Another good idea is to take a photo of your birthday child with the gift they received from each guest, and send that photo with the thank you card to the guest. What little kid wouldn’t love fun mail addressed to them?
Beaded Bracelets: Make this part of the party activities and kill two birds with one stone.
Playdough: The brand name stuff isn’t that expensive, but you can also make this really cheaply yourself in all sorts of colours with ingredients you probably already have at home.
Baked Goods: This might be harder if there are allergy concerns with your party guests, but there are recipes out there to accommodate this. But what little kid wouldn’t love to have a little stack of homemade cookies to call their own? You could do these with a theme using sugar cookies and cookie cutters.
Labels: Mabel’s Labels do $5 loot bags, and they offer free shipping in Canada.
Mini-Figures: Lego and Playmobil have these little sealed mystery packs you can get with different little figures inside. You assemble them and they fit with your existing Lego or Playmobil sets. They’re cute even if you don’t have more…my girls love to play with “mini” things and stuff like this seems to stay in regular play rotation.
Advent Calendar: This is seasonal, of course, but if you’ve got a party in November, Advent calendars are often available for .99 cents and up. The chocolate in them is usually pretty terrible (I’m a bit of a chocolate snob), but kids love the daily anticipation of opening the doors.
Crazy Carpet: Also seasonal, these in expensive sleds make for a fun outdoor activity. If snow play isn’t your thing, spread these out on table or floor surfaces when doing a messy craft for easy clean up.
Treasure Chest: Decorate a box, suitcase, bin or whatever suit your decor/theme. Fill it with any of the above OR with little toys your child is ready to let go (I’m thinking MacDonalds toys, etc) and let the guest choose something on the way out. Obviously, don’t put anything worn out or broken in there, but this is a way of cycling out things your child is done with to a new home.
Books: Chapters, or other discount department stores often have childrens books on sale for a couple of dollars. Let the guest choose, or wrap it up for a mystery reveal once they get home.
Pumpkins: These would be fun from late September to the start of November. They come in mini-sizes and you could decorate them at the party, pre-personalize them with the child’s name, or give them a little packet of something to decorate them at home, like stickers, rhinestones, permanent markers, or a small squeeze bottle of glitter glue.
Sand Toys: A bucket and shovel works in summer or winter. They come in fun shapes, too, like little castles. I see these on sale all the time.
Beach Towels: These come in all sorts of fun colours or themes. Licensed characters like Dora or Spiderman (or even Justin Bieber) are available and would be a fun but useful thing to give a child. Even if you don’t go to the beach, this is the kind of thing you pull out for backyard picnics, living room tents, and after a playdate at the splash pad. Look for these at the end of the season to get deals.
No Plastic Bags: If you need to contain your gift in a bag, skip the plastic and try these options instead. Brown paper lunch bags, mini canvas or nylon bags from the dollar store, or home sewn cloth bags in awesome fabric (easy peasy) are easily customized with stickers, stamps, markers, bingo daubers, glitter glue, or paint. Dollar stores also often carry little boxes or baskets that might work well and are reusable.
Water Bottle: Keep kids hydrated with a bottle in a fun design. Sometimes you can find them with names on them, but there’s a wide range of styles out there. My favourite bottles are Contigo.
Reuseable Sandwich Wraps/Bags: These come in fun fabrics and last long after the party is over. Your guest will be able to enjoy them every time they have sandwiches for lunch, and their parents will appreciate not having to buy and toss plastic zip bags. We have a wrap from this vendor and it’s wonderful. GoSewEco
Hula Hoops and Soccer Balls: I’ve seen these go on sale at Old Navy for just a few dollars. They are fun, and encourage physical activity.
Pack of Playing Cards: I’ve seen multi packs of decks of cards for games like Go Fish, Old Maid, and Snap. I like getting new sets of these because we’re always losing cards from old sets, which makes them useless.
T-Shirts: Using fabric paint pens or tye-dye, make decorating t-shirts part of the activities. It keeps guests focused for a while and gives them a great take-away. Custom t-shirts could also be useful if you’ve got a big crowd and you’re at a public venue…having all the guests in one colour of t-shirt helps you keep visual track of them better. Or do different colours for teams during treasure hunts, or outdoor games.
Sunglasses: Maybe a little more expensive than $5 per child, but they’re appreciated by parents since this item is often lost and repeatedly replaced. Be sure to only get 100% UVB/UVA protective glasses…anything less actually can put sensitive eyes at risk to sun damage.
There’s so many more options. I bet you have great ideas, too. What were your favourite loot bags you ever received as a child? What do you appreciate as an adult?
I am posting this on behalf of the King’s College London where researchers have put together a study about compulsive hoarding. I’ll be participating to help further the awareness of the effects of hoarding on relatives, and I encourage you to get involved if you’re in a similar situation. I’m not eligible for the compensation since there’s no way I can get my Mom to participate, and I’m not being paid to post this for King’s College in any way. I’ve been emailing back and forth with the researchers, though, and find them to be genuinely interested and quick to respond. Here’s hoping they learn something positive towards coping with compulsive hoarding.
Hoarding Study Needs You
Researchers at King’s College London are currently carrying out a project investigating the impact of hoarding across important areas of life (e.g. memory and planning, acquisition, familial and other interpersonal relationships).
Currently, the team is looking for individuals who either identify as a hoarder OR have a relationship with someone who hoards to complete a series of online questionnaires (approximately 25 minutes) and, potentially, a brief telephone interview (approximately 15 minutes). Participation is accompanied by a small financial compensation of £5.
As a central question in this study concerns the impact of hoarding on relationships, the team is asking that all hoarders provide one person (spouse, parent, adult child or other close acquaintance) who would be willing to complete a similar, but separate, online survey. Likewise, if you are the spouse/parent/child/etc of a hoarder, then the research asks that your hoarding relative/friend be willing to complete that portion of the project.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the study website (www.hoardingstudy.com) or contact a member of the research team directly at: email@example.com