Friday, January 10, 2014

How I'm Trying to Keep My Kid Off "Hoarders"

My kid likes stuff. I'm not talking normal, kid-like excitement around Christmas or her birthday...I'm talking a full-blown, crying-her-eyes-out-when-a-pencil-with-a-dolphin-eraser-breaks obsession with things.

One time she got this teeny little stuffed dog thing. I can't remember if it was from a goody bag or a reward from school or what, but she was crazy about it for a good fifteen seconds. I found it in a pile of dust under her bed one day, almost a year after she brought it home. The thing was creepy to begin with, but smothered with dust and death? Horrific. It had to go. I can barely match socks, let alone muster up the effort required to clean teeny vending machine stuffed creeper dogs. No way. Sayonara, freaky dust dog.

And then, she came out of nowhere, appearing like some sort of insane, wide-eyed little jackrabbit.

Whatca doin' with my doggy, Mama?

.........Uhhh, well, I found the doggy under your bed....nasty, full of dust and who even knows what else. Doggy is going in the trash.

***lip quiver***You're going to throw him away? The puppy I got that looks like Zeus? You're just going to throw him away?

Uhhh...... yea. You kinda left him under your bed for A YEAR. If he were that important I wouldn't be carrying him between two fingers like a toxic, rabid carcass someone ran over with their car.


And this, folks, is where it gets tricky. I love my big girl. She is the sweetest, most sensitive, most compassionate and loving little thing in the world. I truly believe she loved the disgusting little toy. Didn't doubt her for a second.

But that is the problem.

I don't want my kid to love things. I've loved things. I still love things. It makes me miserable, because you know what? There's always more things. There's always more things I want. That feeling of "yay new stuff" never gets old and neither does the desire for more, better, faster, stronger.....

Why has my kid has lost sight of what's important?

When babies are born they don't care about things, right? They care about people (Mama, Dada), experiences (breastfeeding, going outside), feelings (I'm pissed off, I'm really happy). Somewhere down the road, something happens. They start to play with things. They start to prioritize....this is important, this is not, this needs attention, this does not. For a while all is good - the carpet is cool, curtains and wooden spoons are like the Holy Grail of infanthood.

But then the focus shifts. Kids get bigger and before you know it, you're looking at a three page list of things they want from Santa.

I mean, I get it. America has some incredible marketing geniuses. They know what kids like. They get paid to know what kids like. But commercials and ads aside, how did my kid develop this attachment to things?

Well, to begin, when Momma was preggers, she was literally showered with toys for her baby. Not only was I up to my super massive tatas chest in presents for my unborn child, I was constantly blasted in the face by BabiesRUs "sale fliers" telling me I needed coordinating bedding sets, strollers, play mats, wall decals, and about 1000 other things. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I didn't want those things. I wanted those things. I wanted them real bad.....

....because we all want what's best for our kid. For some reason, in this country, what's best for our kid often equates to what can be purchased for our kid.

From the day she was born, my big girl was surrounded by stuff. Once her eyesight really kicked into gear she began to notice how excited Mommy would get when MY BABY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO?? OOOO MOMMY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO TOO!!!

No wonder my kid learned to love stuff. I encouraged it. I'm not saying my encouragement was wrong. Heck no. Toys help kids learn and my kids are both fortunate to live in a place where they have access to such resources. And there's nothing wrong with getting excited about a dancing pizza. Nothing. 

But then you need to add in the fact we spent the first four years of her life overseas. She didn't see her grandparents, she received presents from her grandparents.... boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. She received more mail than I did. The kid was constantly opening presents and, in part because I encouraged her, associating the gifts with those who loved her. She didn't get hugs, she got things. Nobody's fault. It was just the way things were.

But now we have a little problem. You see, we've been stateside since 2010. Almost four years. My big girl no longer gets boxes, but is still showered with gifts on a regular basis. She is blessed to have one set of grandparents living very closeby. We visit often and, like most grandparents, they love to give her things. At one point, to my absolute dismay, I watched her walk right into their house and ask to go "into the closet"  where they keep the random little presents they pick up for her. No, "So happy to see you!" or "GRAMMIE!" or even "Hi!"....just right into, "what do you have for me?"

Now some people may not take issue with this.

I am not some people.

I was mortified. I don't want my kid to treat people like that, especially people who love her as much as her grandparents do. Do I think her grandparents buy her too much stuff? Heck yes. But they also buy her things she needs, like boots and coats and clothes. Who am I to tell them not to buy her things? That is their choice, it's their money and Lord knows they earned the right to spend it the way they want to.

So the problem remains. She is turning 8 in a few weeks. She still gets all crazy if we throw something out. She still, like me, develops strong attachments to things. She'll associate the object with something real, like when she said the dust dog reminded her of our dog Zeus. The association creates this super-sensitive bond... and then she doesn't want to give up the object because in a way, she feels like she is losing a part of the real-life love she's associated the object to. Like she's throwing away a part of Zeus. I know this, people. I know this because I do it myself. All the time. It's no way to live. You can't take stuff with you when you go. I need to invest my time in the actual, real-life loves...not the objects associated with those loves. And I want that for my kids.

So we're making a change. I'm not going to take credit for the idea. It wasn't mine. I read this blog post and thought - huh! Now here is a woman who struggled with something similar and look, she was able to make it work. Maybe it will work for us.

We didn't do it exactly the same way as Ruth. We didn't get rid of every toy. We cut back.

Not super impressive from these angles but I swear, it was a nice overhaul.

We removed anything that didn't add educational or creative value, like old baby toys and pointless checkout-line toys. Vending machine bouncy balls and about three-hundred random bookmarks. Those terrible plastic stencils that don't even work. A mousepad. Old, used-up coloring books. Contrary to how it might look, we got rid of a ton of stuffed animals. We made a "toy library" (another idea swiped from Living Well, Spending Less and a comment thread on her Facebook). The toys we kept were boxed up and stored. To get one out you need to return the toy you've got.

Luckily, both my girls are obsessed with books. We kept every single one of them....and wanna hear the best part? With all the space we gained in their closet, I was able to rig up this little reading nook:

It's been six days since we went through their toys. So far, so good. Each kid is allowed one toy out at a time. To get another toy down is a huge pain in the ass, so if they want to change toys, they need to wait until Mommy or Daddy has a minute. More often than not, they'll get distracted doing something else and they forget all about wanting another toy. Their room stays clean. They are entertained for a longer period of time. I think *gasp!* it might be working.

We haven't tackled the playroom yet. That's this weekend. I'm nervous. Tossing toys is much harder than I thought it would be. I see the toys and I think of them when they were babies, or I think of my own childhood. I get all weepy and the roots of my attachment issues really start to shine through. Luckily, Aaron is pretty cutthroat and balances me out. That and maybe one or two cocktails. No big deal.

I will fill you in on what happens this weekend. Here's to a happier, healthier home! :)



  1. I love this idea. I was surrounded by things as a kid and was raised by someone who hates to throw away. I am so the opposite. I give everything away. I would rather have love from people than a ton of stuff but now I have the same problem with grand parents and certainly don't want my child obsessed with things. So I scaled down her toys similar to your system. It has worked out remarkable. She is slowly learning to play with her toys and not just dump everything out.

    Thank you for this and all your many suggestions.

    1. I think that's one of my favorite things about you....your separation between things and real life. You've got it down, that's for sure! And yes, grandparents can be crazy and spoil the crap out of kids. I guess in a way it's their right, but when it gets out of control, something needs to be done. Hopefully this trick of mine will work!

  2. You are not alone in this project! It's a work-in-progress for us, too. I find it's easier for me and my children to find the willingness to give away things if it's for a great cause: children in need, teachers needing items for classrooms, fund-raising rummage sales. Then we can both purge our clutter and practice generosity. The challenge with this approach is treating those we donate to with respect: clearing out quality items that are simply our excess, rather than junk no one really wants. The kids are often more willing to part with large and "good" items than I am!

    1. I love those ideas and am completely on-board with spinning the entire project in a charitable way. One of my big girl's goals is to be grateful and we often take time to sit and learn about the kids in other countries. It makes a huge difference in her perspective, even if it is short-lived. Thank you so much for reading!

  3. This is a GREAT post! I have gone through this with both sons and it is "unpleasant." I have pinned this post to my "parenting" board on Pinterest so other parents can read it!

    1. Thank you so much Bonnie! I think a ton of parents face this problem on a regular basis. It is so overwhelming. I'm really hoping this helps our family. Thank you so much for reading and for the pin! Heading over to your blog :)

  4. I understand. My daughter is 6 and HATES when I get rid of her stuff. "But I love that bear!" she'll shriek even though she hasn't touched the thing for TWO YEARS. It can be aggravating.

    We need to try and keep things neater.

    1. The best you can do is try, right? I'm no parenting expert, but I know my kids and I understand why they act the way they do. Sometimes it can be traced back to my own mistakes while other times it's just a part of their personality. Thanks so much for reading! Good luck with your bear lover! :)

  5. This is interesting. I'm doing the SITS Sharefest and this is the 3rd post in a row about kids who have too much STUFF. I blog a lot about clutter and this is a post I wrote quite a while back about kids and how it affects them - I hope it helps. I also read a book about hoarders a while back as part of my blog research. It was really fascinating - it talked a lot about the emotional ties hoarders have with their stuff and the different way their brains relate to their items. You might check it out - it might give you some insight as to why your daughter is feeling the way she does about her items. If you're interested, leave me a comment and I'll dig around to find the name of the book for you.

    1. Thank you Adrian! I will check out your post! I must say, tho, I'm pretty in-tune with why she feels the way she does about her stuff........because she pretty much learned it from me!!! I feel the exact same way and kinda helped create this little monster. We have attachment issues and are an over-sensitive family. BUT we are taking steps to fix that! Once the kids toys are done, we're doing the kitchen. Then the bathroom. Then the closets and storage areas....we're doing a complete overhaul! It's time! Thanks so much for stopping by :)

  6. Saw you on the post. So honest and so down to earth! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much Shaunell :) I am so glad you came by and THANK YOU for reading!! :)

  7. Jen, Tonight I was scrolling through the 28 bloggers who were giving away a valentine basket. I just kept reading and scrolling. I didn't even want to take the time to fill out the "Win It" button at the end of each post. Frankly I didn't want to stop long enough to make a comment OR even type in my email address. Then I got to the SITS Girls and clicked to read about the blogging header. There I saw you post and for whatever reason I clicked on your post about our Hoarder Child. Loved your writing so I read around your blog. Felt compelled to tell you that you are really a great writer and storyteller. Don't give up. I wanted to follow you except that I am not in G+ and I couldn't find my way to get around that. However, I will be checking back in for sure. Keep writing. You have a gift. :)

    1. Jan, I cannot tell you how much your words mean to me. Today is my birthday. Like many birthdays, I'm reflecting on what I've accomplished thus far. This sometimes depresses me as I always feel like I should be farther along, better, more occasionally leads me to question my abilities and sometimes (shamefully) my passion. I absolutely love to write and I am so honored you took the time to stop here, read my stories, renew my spirit, and pay me the compliment of the century. Thank you so, so much, from the bottom of my heart.

  8. It's a good thing to teach children not to be too attached to stuff! I feel like my parents simply taught it by being practical--we moved every couple years so we never felt like accumulating much! ;P Still, it's amazing how those little ones can be so attached to stuff that you would have thought they forgot they had--I like your "library" system!