Parenting Lessons Learned from Hoarders (or, How Not to Raise a Little Hoarder)

6 years ago

Hoarders. Do you watch that show?

Please tell me you watch that show. The fact that I (a) watch reality TV at all, and (b) watch the most spectacular oh-my-god-i-can't-avert-my-eyes kind of car accident primetime television has ever provided, makes me feel a little (okay, A LOT) embarrassed. I'm not alone, guys. Right? Please?

I mean, I'm an educated woman. Shouldn't I be watching NOVA and participating in global chat forums on improving the happiness of humanity?

Well, I don't.

I get my kids to bed, finish the end-of-day clean-up, park my ass on the couch -- Harmony remote in hand -- and watch, slackjawed, while a group of profoundly patient people try to rid a house of all manner of disgustingness and/or improve the life of the person who had accumulated all of that, well, shit.


Sometime between the end of high school and the beginning of university, I prided myself on being able to fit all of my belongings in a single tomato crate. Now, my house gets purged regularly of all that is too small, too worn out, too unused, or too useless. I do keep file boxes of my kids' crafts. I do have my old hope chest full of mementos, unfinished novels, and photos from way-back-when. We have a few memory albums, cupboards of project supplies, and tens of thousands of digital photos that need to be edited for processing. For me, anyway, life with kids has equaled life with more stuff. And I'm good with that. As long as it's clean.

BeforeMy daughter? Ohmygod, my daughter loves stuff. Tiny toys, bits of paper, notebooks, stuffies, stickers, stick-on tattoos, activity books, silk flowers, birthday cake decorations, and hundreds of other pretty little things. She also has a tiny bedroom, which makes storing all of this stuff impossible a special kind of challenge. By her fifth birthday, the volume of stuff in her room had surpassed the ridiculous. And vacuuming her bedroom carpet put her into a state of supreme anxiety for fear that one of her useless miniscule precious items would get sucked up into the dust bin.


So, here's where I made the error. Since we have a firm no-hitting policy in my house, spanking is just not an option for us. My daughter has been smacked twice in her life, both times at the end of class-five temper tantrums that resulted in me losing my cool after she screamed and then spit in my face. My kids get strong verbal reprimands (sometimes at, ahem, volume). They get time-outs. They get privileges revoked. And last fall, I decided that one of those privileges would be toys.

You can see where I went wrong, here.

Danica would get the 1-2-3 count for escalating incidents of bad behavior. At "3", a toy would be confiscated and either donated or thrown in the garbage. I can't adequately describe for you the state of pain and fury this brought upon my girl. We progressed between losing the toy forever, to losing the toy for a week, to having her choose the toy to get rid of, and so on. It wasn't working. Her behavior improved marginally. Her resentment improved exponentially. But she was going through such a rough time handling her own attitude and impulse control that I honestly didn't know what else to do.

And then, one night this summer, I looked up from my bowl of greasy popcorn at the horrors unfolding on Hoarders. I saw an adult standing in the one remaining square foot of carpet in a room packed full of filth and TOYS, and very nearly vomited. He said, "My parents always took my toys away. Now I can have as many as I want."

Oh. My. God.

The next weekend, I made plans to clean up Danica's room. All of her toys, papers, art supplies, birthday party favors, cards, pens, her spinny chair, a side-table, everything. I sorted it into piles of things that I wanted to store for later, move to other parts of the house, keep in her room, or throw away. And then she and I spent that morning going through those piles so she could make the final decision about what she wanted done with it. We talked about how small her room was, how she really couldn't use this many toys, and about how much fun other kids might have with them. She told me she wanted more space for playing in her room, since her brother makes her CRAAAYZY (accompanied by jazz hands and head wobbling).


We talked about her behavior and how she's a big enough girl now to control herself when she's angry or frustrated. How we can discuss it and find a solution before she gets furious about something. And about how I would not take her things from her anymore. Even if I got really, really mad. But that it was up to her to put them all away before bedtime.

Progress? I hope so.

She has had a few timeouts since then, though she seems to be using that time to cool off, instead of wind up, these days. I have really high expectations for my kids' behavior, and have proudly declared myself a total hardass more than once. I always do what I say I'm going to do, all the time, no matter what. My kids will never have a reason to doubt their trust in me. I am a mostly confident parent. But with Danica? Every time I feel like I've got the hang of this whole child-rearing thing, that kid teaches me something new.

So, really, the title of this post should be "Parenting Lessons Learned from Danica." Though, I'm sure I've written about a hundred of those, already.

Thanks, kiddo :)

Photo Credit: gemsling.

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