Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: The Hoarding-Meltdown Problem

“Toys he’s outgrown, pieces of paper he’s written on, things he doesn’t play with but mentally catalogs — these are the things my son refuses to get rid of.” Our organizing coach addresses the touchy topic of childhood hoarding, and explains how parents can start to set appropriate — but respectful — boundaries.

Q: “Toys and board books he’s far outgrown, any piece of paper that he has drawn or written a story on, many things he doesn’t even play with but mentally catalogs — these are the things my son refuses to get rid of. He will pull things out of the garbage, too — wrappers that are pretty colors, the slip of paper that comes with a McDonald’s toy. Most people say, ‘Just get rid of it and he will get over it,’ but they don’t understand the very long meltdown that would follow. I would appreciate any suggestions you may have. I feel like I have tried all of the obvious ones.” —Kim J

Hi Kim J:

I applaud you for being so sensitive to your child’s needs. You are correct that “just getting rid of stuff and hoping he gets over it” is not only unhelpful; it can be harmful as well. 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 you son build decision-making skills and learn how to prioritize, organize, and set limits. Most importantly, your child feels in control of his stuff, and you feel in control of the clutter.

And if you are looking for more tips and tools to help your son, please check out my website at We have tons of FREE resources, videos, and materials on this sensitive subject.

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