How to Prevent Hoarding In Children

Once in awhile I do something just right.  The Mom job has left me with a steady drip, drip, drip of ‘what were you thinking, anyway?!’, so when I happen upon the rare ‘atta-boy’ for my parenting, I accept it.  Today as my 7 year old loaded toy after special toy into a Trader Joe’s paper bag, to the top and overflowing, it dawned on me that Butterfly is the last of our 4 kids to have passed the “am a share-er of nice and special things, am not a hoarder’ test.  As hoarding seems to run in parts of the family, it was one test I hoped they all would pass.  The kids have been natural savers of every little thing.  Ticket stubs from a special play, a glass bottle from an unusual soda, shells and stones and really cool pieces of wood. 

When trying to think through what might bring on hoarding, I had a couple questions: 

Might hoarding take root when I force my child to get rid of a thing?

If I discard my kids things when they aren’t looking,

might I create fear and an unhealthy protection over his or her things? 

Would it help to have my child pack up some items temporarily (for the attic), as a way to teach them to practice parting with something special for good?

With these questions in mind, when it came time to clean a bedroom or toy room heaped high with too much stuff, I’d ask the kids which toys they wanted to keep in their rooms, which they wanted to pack away for another time, and which toys they wanted to give away. 

First time around always took more time, they were little and putting a special toy into a box to be put away worried them… but I let them do this choosing and packing while supporting them.  Packing for the attic became familiar over time.  As each child learned that the things they had chosen to store in the attic could be retrieved again, the fear of packing up treasures faded. 

There are drawbacks. 

I had to release my need for an instant minimalist home and attic.

Release my desire for instant personal relief in exchange for

hopes that my kids would mature into open-handed individuals. 

The ideas above were important, but most importantly, when son or daughter wanted to give something away, I tried to never argue about what he or she wanted to part with.  I didn’t always do this perfectly.  Sometimes I didn’t like the idea of losing an expensive toy or book, special for whatever reason.  But I decided if I couldn’t bear to see a thing parted with, how would I ever expect my kids to learn what I was trying to teach.

Hoarders aren’t just junk collectors who don’t like to clean.  They sometimes extend kindness to an unwanted object, as if the thing were were a person.  Finding value in something that is about to be tossed.  Finding value and thinking themselves clever for having rescued it.  They also self sooth their own anxiety by saving an object, experience a feeling of relief and security holding onto a thing.  Difficulty with decision making can be part of the equation.  The more hoarding that takes place, the more difficult decision making becomes.  Some hoarders have a bit of maverick in them.  A bit of ‘ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do.  I ain’t beholden to nobody.’  Owning things, a way to avoid buying or borrowing from another person, living in the fantasy of complete independence. 

Hoarding is no worse a break from the best than overeating or yelling at my kids.  It is, however, very debilitating and very isolating.  And is also somewhat socially acceptable.  We Americans in 2016 love our junk.  I don’t want that for my life, and don’t want that for my kids.  Objects are not able to provide what we really need.  We spend time dreaming and saving and buying the most recent really cool thing, telling our friends what we hope to buy one day, telling them what we have. And while we are consumed with our things, we miss it all.  Miss another catching our eye.  Stop reaching for the hand beside us, there to hold.  The hair for tousling.  I want my kids to realize that some of the nastiest thieves in life are really cool things.  Things are not people, do not carry feeling, and can not meet our deepest needs.  Surrounded by excess I forget to ask, am I comfortable?  My family, are they comfortable?

We long for vacation

surrounded mostly by air and dirt, mountain, river and each other 

Very few trappings. 

If we were to quiet our souls back home

ask what can be done to experience vacation inside our own four walls

much of what is special to us would have to go.

When a thing takes away from living life, it’s time to give it away to someone who will experience more blessing than curse.  I want my children to realize that even a thing with possible future value, something that might be used one day, if taking space in heart and home is a thing that holds more power than it should.

As I’m coming off of three years of being sick, house budging to the brim, finally able to load up bag after bag, Butterfly and Mr. All Business at my side, I’m thankful for what I part with.  Husband, children, Lincoln the dog and myself in this house, all more valuable than its contents.  Extra items, they gasp and choke out a full breath of life. 

Out! 

Away, you choking items of ownership! 

Come near, hands to hold, blond curls, happy paws. 

And together we carve out spaces of togetherness. 

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5 Comments

  1. Fantastic insights into our over-the-top American culture. In an amazing moment of insight, my daughter told me once that when a woman realizes that she can’t have the relationship she truly wants, she will settle for money. And a man, even when he is not aware of his need for honest, comforting relationship, will settle for looks–arm candy.

    Thanks so much for this excellent and challenging post, Amelia Ponder!

    Like

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