When Things Disappear in the Dark of Night

Posted: Monday, April 19th, 2010



I’m raising hoarders.

Hoarding Happens

Hoarding Happens

It’s not their fault.  Their father is a hoarder.  When we moved last year, it took all I had to convince him to have a yard sale.  And then when we had that yard sale I ended up having to banish him from the front yard because he was intimidating the customers.  (“You’re going to buy that TABLE?!?  That was my great grandmother’s table!  She loved that table!  How could you buy that table?!?”)



Items not allowed in the yard sale included the bench my husband made in sixth grade shop (it’s neither attractive nor functional).  Also the bench his grandfather made out of some piece of wood that my father-in-law swears came over on the Mayflower II.  (Not the Mayflower mind you, the Mayflower II)  See where I’m going here?

While it’s more fun to point out my husband’s flaws than my own, I have to admit I probably hold on to too much stuff too.  I’m pretty good about keeping the “public” parts of our house tidy.  When you live in smallish house you get good at “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” pretty quick or before you know it you’re living in piles.  So while you can usually walk from one end of our house to the other without tripping, I definitely contribute to the fact that we’ll never get a car in our two car garage.  I’ve got a few boxes in there dedicated to holding every letter I’ve ever received in my 37 years of life.  I marked them “Presidential Library” and I justify keeping them because I believe hand written letters are endangered species that should be protected.

So my children come about it honestly.  And now they’re hoarding.  Ok, maybe not “candidates for the show Hoarders” hoarding, but definitely “there’s WAY too much stuff in their closets, shelves, playroom, and backpacks” hoarding.  They can’t bear to part with anything they’ve ever made, played with, read, found on a hike, won at Chuck E Cheese’s, or been giving in a birthday party goodie bag.  Speed recently had a full body melt down when he found a broken spider ring in the garbage can.  And Whiz cried when we sold our couch in the above mentioned yard sale.  “But that’s the only couch I’ve ever had!  I love that couch!”  A six year old boy with an emotional attachment to a couch.   Dear God.

I’ve tried to show them the value of clearing out – showing them how good it feels to have clean and uncluttered space to live in.  They really don’t care.  I’ve invited them to sell unwanted things so they get money to buy new things.  I’ve tried showing them how good it feels to give things we don’t use anymore to people who need them.  I’ve tried bribery systems in which I offered to get them one new thing for every 10 old things they get rid of.

All total failures.

The only way anything ever leaves my house is when I sneak it out to the trash cans, recycling bins, or donation drop-off sites under the cover of darkness.  My husband’s on to that strategy now and has taken to poking through the trash bins a little before he takes them out to the street on Sunday night.  I think this is unhealthy on a number of levels.

These clandestine missions are also breaking my children’s hearts.  They’re old enough now to be able to think about stuff they can’t see.  When they first developed that pesky object permanence and they’d ask about something I’d tossed, I could get away with “Hmmm…I don’t know where that could be.  I’m sure it will turn up”.  But now their memories are getting better and they keep thinking about missing things and asking about them and then I finally have to confess and they feel betrayed, and angry, and heartbroken.

So I don’t know what to do!  I’m committed to keeping our home free of clutter – healthy for our bodies and minds.  And while I believe I have a right to keep “my” house clean, I also know my kids are people too and they have a right to not worry about their stuff disappearing in the dark of night.  (And I worry a little about what kinds of therapy bills my anti-hoarding tactics might end up generating when the boys are older).  I know their behavior is “normal” for kids their ages but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…right?

That’s where you come in!  How do you keep your kids hoarding behavior in check?  How do you get them to part with the “treasures” they no longer need or use?  Or have you somehow embraced their hoarding in a way that works for all of you?  Leave a comment to share your experience with kid clutter.  Our favorite comment will receive a box of children’s books or other prize from our overflowing closet of goodies.  Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

6 Responses to “When Things Disappear in the Dark of Night”

  1. Lisa Says:

    My son is nearly 5. He doesn’t particularly WANT to get rid of anything, however I’ve had pretty good luck with explaining that some kids don’t have many toys, and God wants us to share things. He doesn’t love it, but he deals with it. I also don’t get rid of things he’s actively playing with.
    My daughter is 2, and still young enough that I can just bag it up when she’s not around, and freecycle it, or whatever.

  2. Denise Graab Says:

    Hi Kat, Great questions!

    I added this discussion to JustAsk: http://www.education.com/question/kids-hoard-stuff/

    My family struggles with this challenge too, and I shared about our experience/approach on the JustAsk page linked above.

  3. Steph H Says:

    So this is probably unconventional — but I was watching the show Hoarders on TV and noticed my daughter was interested in it and had a lot of questions. So — I said when you keep all that clutter in your room, you could be hoarding. Within a week or so, she had gone through a bunch of old stuff and out they went. She has stuff in her room now but it’s not cluttered and she really thinks about what she wants to keep.

    steph h

  4. Denise Graab Says:

    Hi Kat,

    JustAsk Expert and licensed psychologist, Dr. Susan Bartell has also provided some insights on this topic here: http://www.education.com/question/kids-hoard-stuff/

  5. SharaPCS Says:

    Okay – it sort of depends on the child’s age and stage. That said, I nannied for over 16 years, I’ve worked in classrooms with numerous ages and I have three children of my own now. I have found that the best way to deal with “too much stuff” is this: when they go away (to school, a friend’s home, out with their father, etc) I grab a box and put items into that – that I KNOW they don’t even play with or use. I drive down to the thrift shop and donate.

    DONE. HA! :-)

    I can tell you this: in 11 years, my kids have not had a meltdown over anything I gave away. After a few weeks they might ask, “Hey…hmm…where did ____ go?” I will reply, “I was cleaning things up and donated those items to children who will use them. Good thinking, right?”

    “Yeah – I guess so. Other kids need stuff, too.”

    It works.

    Of course, it also helps to keep the rooms organized and tidy. It you have boxes for balls, a bookshelf for books, etc, then you can say, “Your room can only have what it’s capable of holding. If your shelves are full and your boxes are stuffed, you must give something away before anything new comes in. Period.”

    Stick to that rule and the ebb & flow will begin…

  6. Kat Says:

    Thanks so much for all the great comments everyone. I appreciate all the great advice! Congratulations to SharaPCS for posting my fav. I love the bit about making them get rid of something old when something new comes so that there’s always enough space for everything in their rooms…brilliant! Shara, I’ll be in touch by email to coordinate sending you a box-o-books for your muchkins. Thanks again! Kat

Leave a Reply

Submit Comment