Friday, August 2, 2013

Cleaning Out a Kid's Room~ Is my kid a hoarder?

“Memories of childhood were the dreams that stayed with you after you woke.”
―Julian Barnes England, England

This evening I read The Elves and the Shoemaker to my younger daughter before bed.  I'm very much taken with fairy tales, something I've passed on to both my daughters. Meghan (Dear Daughter Number One) and I buy each other copies of collections.  Meghan and I have individually been collecting the DVDs of the current re-told fairy tale movies that have recently come out (and a few older ones like Snow White: Tale of Terror--NOT for kids).  Mirror, Mirror and Jack the Giant Killer (both absolutely kid friendly!!) and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (also NOT for kids), etc...  We love fairy tales. We love to read them. We love to watch them.  If Meghan, at 21 years old, asked me to sit down and read a fairy tale to her I would.

Maddie asked to read from a fairy tale compilation that my grandparents gave to her sister, and subsequently her sister passed on to her. Tonight I wanted to read the original Jack the Giant Slayer.  She didn't want to hear that story and insisted on The Elves and the Shoemaker.  Something extraordinary happened as I read the story: a cherished memory of a cherished book swept into me.  I could almost remember the illustrations. I could almost see the cover.  What I could remember was how much I adored that book.  It occurred once the story was refreshed in my mind that I have thought about that particular book many times over the last 35 years or so, but never really consciously enough to look for it.  Tonight I looked for it online.  Tonight I found it.  It will be in my hands again, after some 35 years, by Wednesday afternoon at the latest. 

I wish that book hadn't disappeared when I was a kid. Heck, there are a lot of things I wished hadn't disappeared; however, it's impossible to keep everything, so picking and choosing is important.  There are two schools of thought on cleaning and purging your child's room: involve your child, or do it while they are away.  Which one?
Pretty much, yeah.
The Toss it Method

"Toss it when they aren't there." This is the route taken by most parents.  Wait until the kids are at school, at a parent or grandparent's house, away on vacation.  It seems like the best solution to that messy, overstuffed room. A simple solution.  But is it the best solution?  What happens when the kids come home and find that book they love gone because you think they've outgrown it?  They might not ask you to read it to them any more, but they might love to look at it before bed, unbeknownst to you.
I just can't advocate throwing things or giving things away without your child present.

A Special Note

If at any time your child becomes unusually distressed or agitated (beyond what would be considered normal kid behavior), consider contacting a professional for an assessment.  I am not a licensed anything. These are simply tips that work for me.

The Inclusive Method

Making good decisions involve having your child in the room with you when you clean.  It probably will take three times as long as if you were to blow through like a tornado and toss almost indiscriminately.  Kids move slow, are ambivalent, and lollygag.  That's a fact.  But you are the parent. It's your job to keep your kid on task but keep up a pace. Remember, if you are starting to use more and more space for storage, you need to get rid of stuff. 

"Potential" value

The first thing you need to teach your child is what is garbage and what is not. It seems like a reasonably easy choice for the average person. "I've finished that bottle of soda. Toss the bottle into the recycling bin."  No fuss, no muss.  But sometimes you might have a creative kid who can see "potential" in all things.  They see the spinny wind chime out of the 2 liter soda bottle.  They see the motion ocean of oil and water out of the soda bottle.  They see a mosaic out of bits of torn up construction paper bits.  They see candles in old crayons.  And THIS IS GOOD.  Never extinguish that creativity. But you have to teach your child to consider just how many projects they can do at once or over a short period of time such as a week or a month. I think the best solution to this is to make a chart of the things your child wants to do.  No time table. Just a list.  Your child might want to hold on to that soda bottle.  Say, "well, we can get a soda bottle any time you're ready so we don't have to keep this one. Let's throw this one away because this one is garbage right now."


Teach your child to throw out unusable items.  One half of a pair of flip flops is broken, or one is missing. Throw it out.  It can't be fixed.  One sock is good, one has a hole. Throw the pair out...even if it's a loved pair of socks. They are unusable.  If your child seems attached to them, let them put them on and take a picture of your child in the socks (or a close up of the socks).  A full digital camera is a lot better than a full drawer.


Teach your child to recognize things that are unhealthy or unsanitary.  Let your child help you clean out the refrigerator.  Point out expiration dates and explain that after an expiration date the food is unsafe and can't be eaten without the possibility of making someone sick. Hand it out and let them throw it out for you. When a child drops a toothbrush on the bathroom floor, tell them to throw it out and use a new one.  While I'm sure you could boil the toothbrush to kill the germs (I'd just a soon throw it out personally), don't let your child get into the habit of rationalizing incorrect decisions.  "I can just boil it and it will be good as new."  "No, honey. It's really dirty now. It goes into your mouth and germs from the bathroom that go into your body can hurt you. We need to get a new clean one." 


There comes a time when you think it might be time to make some donations.  Instead of throwing things away (that are clearly not garbage and might confuse your child after you explain what garbage is), consider explaining donation. Many kids have too much stuff and many kids don't have enough.  This is a wonderful opportunity to instill some social responsibility in your child. When they no longer play with a toy but still seem reluctant to let it go, ask your child if they think another child that doesn't have toys might play with it more than he does now.

The Box Method

What if the toy or object truly is something your child wants to keep, but she isn't sure.  This is a great tip that even I use when I'm trying to decide if I'm on the fence about giving or throwing something away.  It's the box method.

Find a cardboard box and fill it with the objects.  Make sure your child fills it herself and looks at everything inside.  Make sure what goes in the box is an "on the fence" object.  Seal up the box, designate it "throw away" or "give away,"  put a date on it, and put it somewhere out of the way, a closet, the basement, the attic...a place where it will be forgotten. Start slow.  Go back to the box in six months.  IF and only IF the box has not been opened during that time to find something, toss it out if it is designated garbage or put it right in the car for Goodwill.  Do NOT open the box and look.  If in six months you really don't remember what was in the box, the objects weren't that important. Eventually, you might feel comfortable enough to put it away for a month, or a week.  Use your discretion for your child. Give her a wide berth to start.

This is not a perfect technique. My copy of The Elves and the Shoemaker was in a box in our storage room. I don't know how long it was there.  My step father threw the box away without consulting anyone. Other than that one book, I don't remember any other book that was in that box. This was an almost perfect application, accidentally of course, of the box method.  Yet there was a mistake.  And this will happen.  Be patient and understanding if after the box is removed and given/thrown away, your child looks for something that was inside the box.  I have used the box method for my daughter's room and she's never asked for anything that was put in the box, thrown or given away.

Who exactly is attached?

Oh dear. This happens a lot.  I encourage Maddie to keep things that I'm attached to emotionally.  She wants to throw away a ratty bunny that she hasn't touched in two years. "But that's Honey Bunny! You loved her when you were a baby!"  "But mom...I don't play with it anymore. I haven't in a long time. And it's yucky now."  So...who is hoarding?  You are.  Be choosey what you yourself keep.  It is tempting to keep every single thing that reminds you of your child.  You can't keep everything.  Maybe Honey Bunny is the best thing to keep because it was beloved, but the outfit you loved that no longer fits might not be a good choice. Do not use your child's space to hoard your things by using them as an excuse.  It's hers, not mine, so it belongs in here.

Always remember to listen to your child. If she says she wants something and is adamant, let her keep it.  Better to be safe than sorry.  If you give your child the tools to make good decisions about possessions, she will begin to be able to make her own choices and recognize which are good and which are bad.  The next clean up might result in an easier time letting go, and less time trying to hold on to things that don't really matter in the long run.  (And yeah, Honey Bunny shouldn't go in the garbage box.)

Some additional suggestions
Here are some additional tools and techniques.  These are designed for people who are having serious difficulty with clutter behavior, but also work well if you keep those questions in mind when you clean with your child.
Tools & Techniques

Questions to ask yourself while de-cluttering:

By: Elaine Birchall, MSW RSW, Social Worker, Ottawa Public Health; Coordinator :Ottawa Community Response to Hoarding Coalition, March 2006

Questions About Acquiring

• Do I have an immediate use for it?
• Do I need it? How many do I already have?
• Can I get by without it?
• Do I feel compelled to have it?
• Can I afford it comfortably?
• Do I have time to deal with it appropriately i.e? maintain it?

Questions About Discarding

• Do I need it?
• Do I have a plan to use this?
• Have I used this in the last year?
• Can I get it elsewhere i.e.. the library?
• Do I have enough space for it already clear and available?
• Do I love it?

Questions About How to Organize & Let Go

• Start with one area; spend as many future work periods as needed to complete your goal for this area.

• If entrances, exits or areas near heat and ignition sources for example, (furnaces, stoves, portable heaters, baseboard heaters, water heaters or uncovered light bulbs, are a cluttered, start with them first for safety reasons and continue working in that area until clear. The 1st fire safety priority is clear routes into and out of the residence. The 2nd priority is entrance and exits from each room.
caution: Extension cords should not be used for permanent wiring purposes i.e.. instead of adequate electrical outlets connected to the electrical panel. Make sure smoke detectors are functioning.

• Begin by creating categories for possessions

• Sort into discard, recycle/giveaway & keep piles

• Use questions provided in “Acquiring & Discarding” Sections to decide.

• Continue until chosen area is clear

• Imagine and plan and a more pleasing use for the cleared area