Causes of Hoarding and How to Prevent It

Hoarding is not a psychological disease. Our reptilian brain and childhood experiences drive us to hoard. All species hoard.

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Our reptilian brains are about survival and continuation of the species. These two functions are beyond control and override everything else we do.  Scarcity and it’s companion fear, drive us. This is true for every living thing.

We are not all the same.  We are molded by our experiences and adapted by our drives.

From childhood, females build the nest and males build the support system.  Little girls play with dolls and boys with building.  Watch them playing… a boy may drive a plastic truck through the dirt, silently for hours and adults tend to see it as mindless pastime.  It’s not and if you watch long enough you will see the purpose.  Girls nurture and boys support.  The reptilian brain at work, busy, focused and with intense purpose.  Serious stuff.

Part of that drive includes amassing a collection of ‘things’.  Everyone does it.  Sports hero memorabelia for boys, pretty things for girls and most of the time it remains orderly and within control.

Hoarding is when it becomes out of control and the hoarder is not crazy, bad or low class.  The hoarder is trying to fix something damaged in childhood.

When a parent throws away or gives away a child’s toys, or more importantly the little things the child brings home, a stick or rock or flower…  when they pack up the child’s clothes and some favorite thing is lost forever.

Make a shelf for the child’s very favorite things.  Assure him that his shelf is off-limits to everyone but him.  When he outgrows his clothes, ask him if there is a favorite he would like to save.  Cleaning out the toys?  Ask him if there is anything he’s not finished playing with yet.  This implies that he will be finished with it eventually, a normal occurrence.

Children will look for things they loved and that have vanished and it continues into old age.  A terrible thing to do to someone.  They will have a lifetime of feeling unstable, vulnerable and certainly unsafe.  Remember that someone else’s things are important to them for reasons we will never know and the repercussions never end.

Adults need to remember also that leaving behind a room of childhood /teenage treasures when they leave home is absolutely not fair and reflects another problem.  They never wanted to leave mom and dad’s house and need an excuse to come back .  There is a bumper sticker that says ‘They haven’t left home until their stuff is out of the basement.’

So, the hoarder is keeping everything close to home, safely protected around him.  It may be a pile of newspapers but something happened to cause that.  Maybe someone interrupted a statement he made to arrogantly say:  “What is your source of information?”

Be kind to the hoarder.  Anything else is just another case of blaming the victim.

Start a Baby Sitting Co-op

The Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op has been working for 50 years.  

During the Kennedy years, we lived in Washington, D.C., just behind the capitol dome, an area of old row houses, some restored and known as Capitol Hill.  Scattered about were  young eager professionals in the new Administration, and someone began a baby sitting co-op which is now famous.

Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is how it worked:

People joining the co-op were friends of those already in it.  No money was exchanged.  Instead we used theater thickets (script), each one representing 15 minutes.  So for a six hour evening, you left with 24 tickets, giving you 6 hours worth of sitting from someone else in the co-op.  There was a phone list and when you wanted a sitter, you began calling.  Within months the group of parents grew into two groups, four by the end of the year.

Returning to Portland and living near our beloved Reed College, I began the co-op.  Sometimes the dad would be the sitter, sometimes the mom.  I remember every one of the houses.  How lovely to sit in a different house, listening to their music, quiet hours of reading.  occasionally new friendships were made but most often the social exchange was business-like and polite.

Would you worry about becoming stuck with children who won’t go to bed?  Take your copy of the PACIFE Music to Calm CD.  They will fall asleep.  Quickly.

Rules of the co-op can be expanded to taking your children to someone elses house during the day. This probably needs a bonus such as double or triple scripts depending on the number of children.

Add another twist.  Include grandmotherly types who can exchange their script for some garden help for example.  Or for cat sitting.

Co-ops need a set of rules, a board and one person for oversight. All paid by script.

Watch a Child’s School Experience Carefully

You may never find out what happened to change your child’s behavior… here are some examples.

Several years ago, in a Portland middle school, a little girl did not have a food voucher at the end of the lunch line.  Her mother forgot to renew them.  The cashier scolded, berated and humiliated the child, took her food tray and threw the food into the trash.  The nightly news reported it and interviewed the principal who defended the cashier.

A similar experience of public humiliation from a kindergarten teacher, has left me with a lifetime of horrible consequences.  And because children are cheerfully sent off to school by parents, they believe that the parents are in agreement with everything that happens to them.

Parents need to keep an open, clear conversation with children, every day, about what happened in school that day.  Pay full attention, careful to not blame the child for anything or become overly agitated as the story unfolds.  You don’t want to shut this communication off, children are literal, they only learn embellishment and lying later, embellishment if they are not listened to and lying to avoid bad consequences to what they are saying.  Then go to that school and raise hell!

One of my children did not bring an expected drawing home from her small religious school that day. When asked she said the teacher threw her drawing into the garbage. I took the book Picasso’s World of Children,  went to see the teacher and told her she would have thrown away Picasso’s work and that she had no business being anywhere near a child. Then I joined the Board of Director’s of this school and fired her. As an adult, this child of mine was blessed with the entire gene pool of generations of portrait painters, she could draw as a photograph looks. This could bring hours of delightful magic to her life but she will not draw or paint.

Teachers, nurses and police are professions that appeal to the same segments of society, the supporters and the controllers.  Because exchanges between them and client patients, students and the public are essentially private, the controllers can be as nasty as they wish.  Watch out!

With Children, Our Goals Change

Our child’s life outside of home is not what you think it is. Here is an important book about boys.

When our children begin to venture beyond home, our goals are that they have wonderful experiences and remain happy always. Then in school the goal changes to ‘may their quest for knowledge not be harmed.’, then as middle school rears it’s ugly head the goal is singular… that they come through it without a drug or alcohol addiction.  In high school, black parents goal is that their child live through it.

Parents however have no idea what is happening to their child’s self esteem, his confidence and his view of the world. In his very special book, Real Boy’s Voices, William Pollack interviewed boys from ages 10 to 20 around America asking them about their lives and learning they’re being taught a formula of secret angst and fears which evolve to rule their behavior and preoccupy them constantly.  Who is saying these things to boys? Who cultivates these fears?  Teachers.  Women teachers! Why?

Clues to How the Family is Doing

Some tricks to tell what’s going on behind the scenes in your family.

There is an entire subtext evolving behind the scenes in families with children… how they are interacting together, what they think of their parents, how it’s going with neighbors and friends and then there is school.  For much of it you have no way of knowing but there are clues.

  • DRAWINGS:  Pencil and paper will give you an amazing glimpse into your child’s life, worries and solvable problems. When they are still in the stick figure drawing mode, ask them to draw their family, to “draw you and Billy”, draw themselves with someone they like a lot, someone they don’t like a lot and the playground at school. Family drawings can be a mom with no ears which means she does not listen, the dad with a huge round mouth means he shouts, one sibling bigger than mom or dad means he’s a bully.  Drawings showing the child drawing as very small means he sees himself as powerless in his family, drawing a parent without arms means he gets no hugs.  When my children were young, I’d have them make these drawings every few months, snatch them up and seriously begin working on the problems.  One of my children, an extremely talented artist in adult life, drew me (a single parent with 4 little children.) with a smile on my face and tears running down my cheeks.
  • PHOTOGRAPHS:  There has been much written about reading faces and it’s deadly accurate stuff.  Choose a picture showing a smile for example.  Take 2 white pieces of paper (this gives no distraction) and cover one half of the face, then the other.  What seems to be a smile can become a grimace! The face may be smiling but the eyes are crying!  Then cover everything but one eye, then the other, then both eyes, then the mouth. As you do this, give one word to the emotion you are seeing in that one eye.  fear, worry, imp…  this is how the child is feeling generally.  It may also reflect how he’s feeling about the photographer.  Information from posed photos is somewhat different than from snapshots.  It’s very interesting to do this with old posed photos where the photographer was busy setting the camera.  The subject would hold the pose and begin to adjust it to be what he considered his ‘best look’  and fatigue or boredom would degenerate his pose to reflect the reality of his personality.Then there are those photos of the married couple, each leaning away from each other.  Remember, there were probably other photos in the series but this was the one chosen!  In group photos, watch if someone is consistently tilting the head away or leaning away from another.
  • THE MIRROR:  If you want to know how someone felt with a certain expression in a photograph or in conversation, go to the mirror and arrange your face in the same way.  Then hold that pose a minute.  Your body will feel what that person was feeling.  Arrange your face with a frown, a straight across mouth and a straight head for example.  you feel one way. Then keeping the same expression, cock your head and you feel another way.  Anther good exercise is to watch a talk show with the sound off and you will be seeing something very different than with the sound on.

Preemies are Overprotected

They are made of tough stuff and fearless.  Here’s a story.

The mother of one of our smallest, in NICU for a year (20 years ago, with new technology that never happens any more) and trached at home for two years more called into NICU one night and said she felt awful.   Ryan  was jumping on the sofa, fell off and broke his arm.  I told the nurses working nearby and they cheered!  The mother on the phone asked what that was about.

I told her they were cheering her because preemies are so tenderly overprotected as they’re growing up that they can never experience life.

Your preemie as a toddler will climb on a chair and jump to the sofa. Again and again.  Even falling does not stop him.  I wondered why this was so common.  Maybe because he has learned to trust.  He trusts people because everyone in this NICU experience was essentially kind to him, and gentle.  But he also has learned to trust space!  Infants understand perspective and there are studies where a deep floor of black and white squares was painted on the bottom of a large sheet of glass.  The mother was on the far edge and the newly crawling baby near the opposite edge.  The mother called him to her and he crawled to the part of the glass painted with his edge, saw what appeared to be a drop-off and would go no further.  So why do preemie infants seem to not react to the drop-off?  It may be because he has lived in a glass house, perceived that it was high and was not worried about the consequences of falling.

The truth about preemies growing up is that they are made of strong stuff, happy, brave, daring, smart.  Enjoy them.

Some Arguing Tricks

Have an off-site Partner Meeting with your mate once a month to discuss how it’s going, how each child is doing, what you would like to change and to make new goals.  Keys to success …

  • Prepare for the meeting.  Make a list and notes.
  • Stay positive and avoid anger.
  • Go with the foundation belief that everything is just a mechanical problem, everyone is good and everything is fixable.
  • Meet in a restaurant with booths for private conversation.
  • Mom can’t cry.
  • Dad can’t shout.
  • The conversation should be about circumstances and not about each other (ad hominum)
  • Have no alcohol before and only coffee or tea during the meeting.  Eating is too complicated and distracting  and may cause stomach ache.  This is a serious meeting.
  • Define the problem.  Devise and problem solve solutions.   Make a plan and a secret signal between you to remind each other of your new goals.

A plan of this sort reduces daily argument.  One tends to save an issue for Partner Meeting and add more thoughts about it, calm thoughts, problem solving thoughts throughout the month.

Ignoring parenting problems is embedding the consequences forever and probably for generations.

What you accept, you teach.