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.


16 Comments

  1. Lynn
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rae,

    You could take photos of Maddie with her valued possessions and then put them in a photo album for her……She will be able to look back on them but it will take up less space in her room. I think all kids at that age don’t want to let go of their toys, I would think this is normal for her age.

    Lynn

    • Rae
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I think I’ll have to try that. She loves going through our photo albums, so one of her toys might really suit her. She’s oddly sentimental sometimes, though…there have been times where she’ll say “I wish I didn’t see that because now I’m sad.” And what she saw was a photo of me smiling.

  2. Katherine
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think your failing at all to be able to teach your child at 7 how to properly sort, organize and store her things is a huge in the categorie of not failing. My mom cleaned my room till I moved to college then I had no concept of what to do.

    • Rae
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Katherine. It’s hard not to have this fear I’m not doing enough soon enough, you know?

      When I was a kid and toys overtook my room, my Mom actually gave me some advice for cleaning up. She said “Be ruthless!”

      That’s right. A compulsive hoarder told ME to be ruthless with my own belongings. And while I DO follow those words as a grown woman clearing out my basement and garage, but they’re harsh words for a child. I want to do better by her, so that she’s prepared when she moves out on her own. I remember being frustrated at not really knowing the proper way to scrub a tub, or clean up spattered cooking grease, and had to learn through guessing.

      I guess I’m afraid of being sandwiched between hoarders!

      And you know what? Most of my old toys are still at Mom’s house. She couldn’t bear to part with them when I moved out.

  3. Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I find that a set number of keepers makes the choice easier and if she can select the number than its her rule keeping her accountable. Also, if a new toy is brought in an old one has to go. For myself, I cut a few pieces of the fabric from my favorite childhood lovies. I intend to make a quilt or pillows, haven’t decided. My rule for saving something just because its a very special memory item…you have to display it it in some way. Show it’s special. That favorite rock band tshirt from high school can’t sit in the drawer with the other shirts. Frame it. Do something that shows its worth saving. Good luck. You are not a failure. She is very young still.

    • Rae
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Some great ideas. I might have to give her a number limit, or maybe even a box and say if it doesn’t fit, it needs to move on.

      Similar to your pieces of fabric from childhood lovies…I’ve saved a number of onesies and t-shirts from when my girls were babies. I keep meaning to cut them up and sew them into quilts for each of them. There just never seems to be time to get to these projects, and then they start to pile up!

      Let us know if you make your memory quilt or pillow! I’d love to see the finished outcome!

  4. Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Don’t panic ! She’s only 7. I can remember not wanting to part with any of my toys at that age either. But my mum persuaded me to give some of them away to some little kids that didn’t have the fortunate life I did. So giving them away to other children as a present or sharing worked as a logic that was ok for me at the time.

    Part of being scarred by an event or the long term consequences of living with a mentally ill person, is that it’s easy to become overly sensitised to everyday events, or see them as a slippery slope.

    So far there are no genetic links showing that the descendants of people with hoarding disorder will also have the problem. But environmental links means that living with a hoarder or what is in some ways worse, being the child of a hoarder, can have all sorts of influences.

    There are some suggestions that all our ancestors were hoaders! From a bioevolutionary perspective, it was only our distant ancestors that like squirrels, bears or wolves, hoarded their surplus food in summer for the harsh winter month, that survived.

    It was also important for our ancient ancestors to look after their hunting, gathering and food processing tools, as in many cases they were hard to find or make, and time consuming.

    All the ancient storytelling cultures have some sort of morality lesson about storing a surplus for the hard times. So now we have a society where we can accumulate “tools” and surplus gatherings too easily. Just as we now have an obesity epidemic as our food is too processed and we do not have to work hard to hunt and gather it.

    We think we are modern people, but we are just another animal, with as many primitive hard-wired instincts as the rest of the animal world. We have brains that basically have not changed in ~200,000 years. But we have changed our environment and how we lived. So it is little wonder, that given a few pushes in the wrong direction, our primitive instincts hard-wired for survival in a very different and dangerous world, overcome our social programming and come back to bite us.

    hope this helps a bit Rae

    cheers David
    http://twitter.com/SacredEarthWork
    http://linkd.in/DavidMB
    http://on.fb.me/DavidM-B

    • Rae
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Some very very interesting thoughts here, David. We, as a modern society, have too much of a “good thing.” (Although the “goodness” of processed foods is certainly questionable.) The difference between now and our ancestors is they saved the bare essentials need to live. In our current lifestyles, we bring so much into the house that’s for pleasure, vs necessity. And that’s ok. It’s nice to have some comfort about us. It’s a cruel thing to have your brain get mis-wired and turn that instinct into the extreme. Something beyond our control, and yet we suffer for it (and others, too).

      Thanks for bringing your thoughts to my blog. And I’ll try to soften my knee-jerk reaction when it comes to my children. :)

  5. Sanna
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I agree that there’s no need to be worried at that age. I couldn’t bear parting with possessions either and am doing very well now. I think, it’s important to assure her that it’s ultimately her choice what she gives away. Maybe she just loves the stuffies but doesn’t care about the doll’s clothes etc. “Always start with the easy stuff” applies for children as well. On the other hand, don’t fuss too much about the monetary value or YOUR likings of some of her possessions. If she wants to get rid of them and you don’t, let HER get rid of them and store them yourself, as it is you who wants to keep them (for other children or whatelse).

    What my Mom did was encouraging us to pass things on to other children and to sell things ourselves. There was a “children’s flea market” at our church back then which took place once a year and where children could sell their things themselves. At the age of 10 or 11 I sold almost all my barbie doll equipment as well as lots of childrens books etc. there. I was allowed to keep the money I made, which made me more eager to get rid of things. After all, being able to treat myself with ice cream and a ticket to the movies later was more appealing than those outgrown toys.

    • Rae
      Posted August 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      A Children’s Flea Market…that’s an interesting idea. Maybe I’ll have to consider organizing something like that within my community. I’m sure it’s a great chance to show kids the value of money and to see their possessions going off to another loving home.

      I like your point about worrying about MY likings. There are some things that I wish she’d keep and there have been a few times my heart twinged when she said goodbye to something I loved from her baby-hood. If I feel we really do need to keep it, I’ll tuck it away myself. That said, it’s been a HUGE relief to see some of the baby items get outgrown by my littlest one so we can start reclaiming our space.

  6. Gia Hemmen
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    My 5 year old has those same hoarding tendencies. My son did when he was young and he outgrew it. But anyway she more severe. I liked all these suggestions. It got me thinking about one more. My daughter will even get in the way when I sweep or throw out trash. It really scared me until I heard her say “I could use this for something”. She is actually thinking creatively about how to reuse garbage items. I think I will make a box for her to organize these things in. Maybe a sewing box.

    • Rae
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I hear the very same statement from my Mom.
      “I could use that for something”
      “It has so much potential”
      “I don’t know what to do with it yet, but it’ll come to me”

      The potential to make something from anything is great, but sometimes, garbage is just garbage. Try to help her see the difference. Walk her through the process of evaluating the quality of the item she wants to save, and if she has an action plan to use it within a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it gets added to the pile of other “useful” things that don’t amount to anything other than a safety hazard.

      Believe me, I struggle with the creative aspect. My Mom is HIGHLY creative, and extremely skilled in all sorts of arts, crafts, and hobbies. The fact that she is so interested in so many things means she can’t focus on finishing anything but must have the supplies for everything. I inherited my Mom’s creative mind, and I have a full craft room of “potential”, too. It quickly gets out of control.

      Being supportive of your daughter is great. Encourage her to reduce or reuse items if it makes immediate sense. For example, a pretty glass pasta sauce jar could be a nice vase or a collector for pocket change. But you don’t need every pasta jar.
      If she does make something really great, be sure to take a photo and share it with me so we can celebrate a completed project!!

  7. mm
    Posted August 4, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I am also the child of a hoarder raising three girls. My oldest struggles with holding onto things and emotional attachment to her belongings. I have read all the comments that say ” When I was that age I felt the same way aboit my stuffed animals”, but as the child of a hoarder when I was that age I was living with a hoarder and I do not know what a normal attachment to stuffed animals in a nine year old girl should look like. As a child of a hoarder trying to raise children your first thought is “Oh no is she like her granmother” I have found that I have been most sucessful in suggesting that she can give away her things to chairty or to a younger cousin. I take her with me to the Salvation Army or let her give the clothes and toys to her cousins. Good Luck!

    • Rae
      Posted August 18, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment. It’s true…what’s normal to a child from a non-hoarding home is very different from our perspective. I know I still struggle with parting with some things occasionally. Things are getting better with my daughter. I think maturity has a lot to do with it…I’m starting to see that she doesn’t “need” her favourite stuffed bear to sleep every night. At one time, the disappearance of that bear would have sent the whole house into a panic!

      I think what I’ve found most valuable is not projecting my baggage onto my daughter. I took a long break from this blog to put a lot into perspective, and so it doesn’t fill me as much worry as it did months ago.

  8. jaki
    Posted January 11, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    My 13 year old daughters room looks worse than your Mother’s house. For years I’ve put it down to normal childhood untidyness but in the last six months it’s taken a severe turn for the worse. For the last ten days her room has been a two foot pile of everything she owns. I seriously worry about what she will be like as an adult.

    • Rae
      Posted January 15, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Oh my goodness, to see something like this develop so early must be frightening. Was it always this way, or did it start accelerating after a specific event? Does your daughter show any discomfort with her clutter, or does it seem like a safe place for her? Is she creative? Does she accumulate things to add to the pile, or does she just have trouble organizing and putting anything away?

      One thing you might try is encouraging her to have friends over often. The more visitors she has, the more motivated she might be to keep things under better control (although will probably not be perfect).

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