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Our 9 year old girl has a rather annoying habit. She tends to hoard things of emotional significance to her. Note that the wrapper from an ice-cream she has just had for the first time is considered emotionally significant. A friend gave her a chocolate rabbit for Easter, needless to say that she wont eat it because "it's special". If a cheap and disposable toy goes missing, she is just crushed.

She is a very intelligent girl who is generally pretty happy. but it seems that everything is turned up to 11 - very smart but very emotional.

Has anyone had experience like this?

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I have a 5yo that is showing hoarding tendencies. Love the question, look forward to answers. –  Fatmuemoo May 13 '11 at 22:04
    
My nephew is pretty much in the same spot. He was recently crushed to learn of the loss of some of his 4-yo-age toys that were lost in a fire of a year ago. He hadn't even known that the toys were lost, but now that he dos, he feels crushed. Granted he doesn't dwell on it, but the conversation around that took like 30 minutes –  jcolebrand Jun 3 '11 at 18:23
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Letting go of things can be difficult, even for adults. Culling possessions is a necessary part of consumerism. This particular scenario sounds extreme and I agree with Bill's comment that medical advice is required.

That being said, this is how I encourage my kids to get rid of things:

  1. foundation of generosity - What can they share? What don't they need anymore that would make someone else happy? We do this by "finding good homes" for things - Clothing and toys area reasonable place to start. Knowing that possessions will give someone else enjoyment can make parting with things that have true emotional significance much easier.

  2. link "weeding" with goals - We go garage-saling before we buy new things so that we can save money. We had a garage sale and designated for sale a few loved toys that they had outgrown. They negotiated the sale and got to keep the money which contributed to something they wanted to buy. Also, seeing how excited the other children were to play with their toys really made them feel good (this surprised me)!

  3. set rules for accumulation - If there is no space on the shelf, then they have to get rid of things and make room before they can get more toys/books/clothes/etc. This includes birthdays and Christmas. The toys stay virtually untouched until there is room for them. This has had the effect of them making space before the event in anticipation of their presents. In some cases they have asked grandparents for gift certificates, memberships, and magazine subscriptions instead of toys so that they don't have to part with things.

In addition to this, I would also suggest:

  1. taking pictures of things and using a photo album to keep memories. The memory is special. People are special. What objets represent is special. Objects are not special. As a guest, I once broke a glass and my host reacted by saying "that was its destiny". This thought was liberating.

  2. displaying special things prominently. Make art projects and frame things that are truly memorable so that they can be displayed on the wall. If they don't have a specific purpose (eg. clothes get worn; toys get played with), or wouldn't be displayed, then they find a new home or get recycled (reincarnated into something else that is useful).

  3. enlisting their assistance with culling your things. Be a role model. Talk about how you feel and how you cope with your sadness at parting with treasures.

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Ask her to tell you the stories of some of them, and listen to the emotional significance she gives them. It probably won't cure her of hoarding but it may make her and you feel better about it. Also, help her organise or figure out a special place to keep them, so they don't go missing so easily.

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Fair point, our concerns are not the hoarding as this has not become a major issue - it is why she feels the need. She generally says it is so that she can remember the day. We went to a wildlife sanctuary recently (took lots of photos) then had an ice cream on the way out. She wanted to keep the wrapper for the ice-cream to "remember the day". We negotiated down to taking a photo with her and the wrapper. So far, we have been attacking this by trying to be more emotionally supporting of her and doing more special activities with her. –  dave May 15 '11 at 18:48
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You don't provide much background information (and if you're just looking for a general answer then you don't really need to get that personal anyway, especially on a public website) but this could range anywhere from normal attachment to compensation for an unstable home life to an outright disorder on the scale of "object sexualism" like this woman has:

http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/sunday-review/living/i-married-the-eiffel-tower-832519.html

As is mentioned in that article, it could also be a sign of Asperger syndrome.

If you can think of reasons that your daughter might feel insecure (recent move, change of schools, parental separation, loss of a family member, etc.) then her fears about that might be manifesting themselves in the hoarding behavior. If you suspect that she might have Asperger syndrome, you might want to speak to a specialist for a proper diagnosis and advice on how to prevent it from becoming a problem (children with Asperger syndrome are often highly intelligent and as long as the situation is identified early then some of the problems with social adjustment can be avoided altogether.)

It might also simply be a mild form of compulsion that can be dealt with using techniques like extinction therapy -- basically, you'd condition your daughter to accept the loss of these "special" objects by working up gradually from the least important of them and eventually exposing her to the (possibly just temporary) loss of things like toys or favorite stuffed animals.

Without knowing more about the situation, it's hard to tell if this is just a minor issue or is seriously compromising her ability to function (such as freaking out if a candy wrapper is thrown away, or being unwilling to leave the house for fear of losing some of the items) and the route you decide to take greatly depends on the severity, since an approach like gradual conditioning using extinction therapy could be greatly harmful to the psychological well-being of a child with Asperger syndrome, for example.

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My daughter is highly sociable and intellectually mature, so I doubt Asperger. I have not seen any other signs of OCD but I have little experience with this so I could be missing something. She has had a lot of changes in the past three years - we had a second child (depriving her of attention), we spend two years renovating our house (changing everything she loved plus taking up all of our free time). Things have been settling down a bit and we've been able to give her more attention but she still holds onto stuff we'd consider rubbish. –  dave May 14 '11 at 2:37
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I'm no psychologist but with this many changes in her life maybe your daughter is looking for some stability, if you have a child counselor it may be worth checking into. Or check and see if your school has a psychologist you can talk to and see if she exhibits these symptoms in school. –  MichaelF May 14 '11 at 10:08
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I agree that sounds like significant changes. Good call, Bill! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 14 '11 at 20:02
    
Your answer would be much better if you took out the plentiful references to psychiatric disorders and simply presented the workable advice (2nd half of the answer). You said "Asperger" 4 times in this answer. –  bobobobo Jul 19 '12 at 17:58
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