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.


I follow a blog called Nesting Place.  I read all sorts of fun tips on decorating my home inexpensively, and how to appreciate something for it’s beauty, not it’s perfection.  It’s truly a lovely blog.  Today I read a post by “The Nester” titled Why I’m Not Having a Garage Sale This Year.

It made me consider the state of my basement.  Ahh, yes, the basement.  The graveyard of unwanted, but too good to be thrown out toys/clothes/small appliances/decorations/furniture/et all.  My husband and I are determined to finish it next year.  To do so means having to clear out all the stuff stored there.  I try to go through it somewhat often.  Sometimes it’s easy.  It’s been gratifying to clear out baby items to another family who needed them.  I was glad to share some books I know I’ll never read again.

But other times….

I see the ‘potential.’  There’s a dangerous word, huh?  It means finding a reason to let something go is dang near impossible unless you’re steel-hearted.  I have an armoire of craft supplies in the basement.  Mom’s original sewing machine.  A pristine baby bassinet.  A cappuchino maker, 2 regular coffee makers, and probably soon, a Tassimo.  And, of course, countless other items.  All of this stuff is in such great shape I can’t bear the thought of just throwing it out or shoving it in those parking lot charity bins.  I think “This should be sold at a garage sale…at least get a couple bucks for it.”  Back in the basement it goes, sitting quietly and hoping to go unnoticed the next time I’m in a purging mood.

We’ve had a number of garage sales.  They’re such a pain to run.  You spend days organizing the stuff.  You get out petty cash and save plastic bags.  Then you sit in the baking sun while people sniff through your things and insult you with “Would you take a quarter for this item clearly worth $5?”

We made $70 at our last sale.  And didn’t clear out as much as I wanted.  I mentioned some of the items that didn’t sell in my post about clearing out the garage.  That’s right…the stuff that was formerly of the basement, just got shuffled from the driveway back into the garage.  It’s been there a whole year!

The next time I hit the basement, I’m really going to aim to be ruthless.  It’s got to go if I want to live my life in my house the way I want.  I’m not going to hang on to anything any more with the plan to sell it at a garage sale.  The space is more valuable to me than the money earned from doing so, and in the mean time, like the Nester, I’ll be careful about the little items I bring home that end up in the garage sale pile anyway.