Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: The Hoarder vs. Purger Tug-of-War

Hoarding can become a serious condition, with ties to anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Or, it can be a sign of child who needs boundaries for his belongings. Purging a stash isn’t a good solution, but this suggestion can help.

Q: My 11-year-old child is a hoarder. He won’t let go of anything. When I ask him why, he responds that he believes everything is alive and it will hurt the object’s feelings to be given or thrown away. I’m to the point that I purge his stash when he is not home to cut down on his clutter. But then he is angry when he finds out what I’ve done. Any suggestions? — TurtleMom

Hi TurtleMom:

I applaud you for being so sensitive to your child’s needs. You are correct in knowing that purging his belongings when he is not home is not only unhelpful; it can be harmful. That being said, I believe it’s a parent’s job to set parameters – and a child’s job to negotiate them. Here’s what I mean.

Determine how much space you will allow your son’s “stuff” to occupy in your home. Perhaps, in addition to his bedroom, you decide on two shelves in the garage or a corner in the basement. In other words, you choose how much space to devote to his stuff and your son decides what goes there. In doing so, you are helping your son build decision-making skills and learn how to prioritize, organize and set limits.  Most importantly, you son will feel in control of his stuff and environment.

I must be honest and say that I grappled with answering this question since I am not a medical professional and do not want to give you advice about child hoarding that is incorrect or, worse, harmful.  However, I have worked with many young children and their families that have hoarding behaviors.  This issue is more prevalent than you think and I hope by shining a spotlight on it in this column, other parents will seek the help they need.  So if you are concerned about taking the right path to help your son, please consider seeking professional help.  This way all your questions and concerns can be fully addressed.

Good Luck!

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Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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