Guest Post: Can Children be Hoarders?

Janine Adams

I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing. A fellow professional writer, Janine has a great deal of passion for organization, helping others and exploring that ghastly clutter habit that takes over so many homes and apartments. In this post Janine digs deeper into early hoarding tendencies. Ironically, I was watching Hoarders on A & E online when I received her post via email!


As a professional organizer, I’m privileged to be a member (and board member) of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, an educational group for professional organizers and other professionals who work with clients challenged with chronic disorganization. I recently took an ICD teleclass on helping children with hoarding tendencies, presented by Kim Anker-Paddon and Leslie Josel.  The content was illuminating.

The research on children who hoard is limited, but according to the research explored in the class, nearly half (44 percent) adult hoarders first started showing hoarding behavior by the time they were 15 years old.  According to the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation’s website, the typical age of onset of hoarding behavior is 13.  It typically progresses to becoming a moderate problem in the 20s and 30s and a severe problem later in life. Clearly, children can be display hoarding behavior.

Hoarding in children is more about difficulty letting go, rather than acquisition, since kids don’t usually have the access to money and transportation that would allow them to shop easily. They tend to anthropomorphize their objects and want to maintain control over them. Compared with adults, clutter may or may not be such a significant factor with these children. Kids with hoarding tendencies tend to be perfectionistic about their objects.

It’s important to note that many children are collectors. If your child likes to hang on to certain items, that doesn’t mean he or she is displaying hoarding tendencies. Hoarding behavior is more extreme and problematic–it can interfere with social interactions and school, and can result in intensely emotional reactions to others touching their belongings.

So what’s to be done for a child with hoarding tendencies? The class explored three case studies in which three young people were helped with varying combinations of techniques such as collaborative therapy between therapists and organizers, journaling, picture drawing/storytelling, motivational interviewing and containerizing and labeling.

The younger the hoarding patient is, the more effective treatment will be, so if your child is exhibiting hoarding behavior, seeking help may be wise. Unfortunately, information on children who display hoarding behaviors isn’t abundant. The International OCD Federation’s web page on hoarding and families is a good starting point, however.

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing LLC in St. Louis, Missouri, is a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®) and a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization (CPO-CD®). She is the Marketing Director of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.

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10 responses to “Guest Post: Can Children be Hoarders?

  1. Fascinating! I never even thought about children as being hoarders. Good information here. Thanks!

  2. ppers, even toilet paper, and keeps it in containers in his room (mostly). He says he’s constantly “missing” things, and can’t stop thinking about stuff that he no longer has.
    I talk to him about it, and that helps, but he’s not getting better…
    Can you suggest any resources, or techniques?

    feeling desperate,

    Debbie

  3. Thanks for your help & your suggestions..so far, we’re making some progress with daily talks. We talk about how some things are more worth keeping than others to gain perspective. I will try my local health unit/doctor (I’m in Canada) to see what’s out there..

    thanks again.
    Debbie

  4. My daughter is almost 4years old. She recently (within the last 3 months) started keeping every scrap of paper she comes in contact with. Whether it is a candy wrapper, “gummy” wrappers, popsicle sticks, etc… She gets very upset if you try to clean out her hiding area. I have explained to her that those things are trash and she will argue that they are not that they are her special wrapping papers. I am a little worried. I am thinking about calling her pediatrician to see if there is something she feels like we should do or if she thinks that my baby girl will grow out of this. I do not want to wait until it is too late.

    Thanks,
    Tessa

  5. hello again,
    I sympathize with you Tessa- it’s very stressfull sometimes. Also awkward – my son insists on taking out his garbage with us when we leave Mcdonald’s…
    He is getting better, but still needs to “hang on” to stuff. His behaviour was triggered by the loss of his Nana – they were very close. This is his way of controlling loss – so I humour him. Has your daughter suffered a loss, or drastic change? I discussed this with a bereavement councelor and been told it’s quite common. In the meantime, we put all of his garbage in his bin, and I gradually empty it. And we talk alot about loss, and feelings. hope this helps..good luck.
    Debbie

  6. Just found this post as my son also hoards and has done for over a year now. For a while we coudn’t pin down why the problem started but it has slowly become apparent that the loss of his great grandmother was the beginning. Debbie i found your post really interesting as this is clearly the same issue as you. My son when asks says he doesn’t like to throw things away because he will never see it again!! Have you tried anything that works? Any chance he will grow out of it? i have seen a dr and they will refer him if pushed but they didn’t see much of an issue and my so really doesn’t want to see anyone.

  7. Pingback: A Cluttered House is a Cluttered Mind | Kids & Mental Health

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