Dear Dr. T.,
I have a sweet, adorable five-year-old daughter who is perfect in every way. Well- almost perfect. She has this peculiar habit of saving stuff that is so out of character for her.
You see, each of my kids has a ‘junk drawer’ where they keep all their treasures. Most of the children save stuff like school projects, prizes, coins, anything special. I hardly ever go into the drawers and really don’t care what the kids keep there as long as they follow the rules: no food/drink or paint.
My daughter, however, has invited me many times to explore her treasures with her, so let me share what’s in the drawer. There is a doorknob, some rubber bands, an empty [fancy] tissue box, two D and one AAA battery, and a random bencher from an unknown person’s simcha. Lately, my daughter has added the envelope from our anniversary card, a lead pencil sans lead, and a used-up chapstick.
I find this collection so weird! When I ask my daughter about it, she doesn’t really say much. But, she does refuse all my efforts to toss the junk and replace it with more kid-friendly stock.
A friend suggested that maybe my daughter is a hoarder, but she seems so normal about the collecting. She doesn’t get emotional if she loses or misplaces something- she just enjoys having, looking, and touching.
Should I worry? Do you think this habit means anything?
While this behavior is not typical, it’s not particularly worrisome in and of itself. If your daughter does well with family and friends, seems reasonably happy, and continues to develop and grow- I would suggest ignoring the behavior. Kids do weird stuff- that they often cannot explain. But, with little attention paid to this behavior, I would guess that it will phase out eventually to make room for the next meshagas.
Contrary to your friend’s suggestion, your daughter does not have the classic signs of hoarding. These signs include not only acquiring objects in great excess, but also being unable or unwilling to part with them. Children who hoard develop overpowering emotional attachments to their possessions, resulting in cluttered rooms and contributing to tension in the family, especially when a parent tries to clean away some of the mess. Sometimes these children are so worried about their possessions that it interferes with their functioning. Per your report, your daughter has none of the emotional distress or poor functioning of the hoarder.
However, if you continue to have concerns, you may want to consider whether your daughter’s behavior is generated by anxiety. Could it be that her possessions don’t feel safe and secure to her and so she holds on to her bizarre collection? This sometimes occurs in a family where there are poor boundaries- i.e. everyone is into everyone else’s stuff. Or, perhaps there is a mischievous young sib who makes it a habit of messing with everyone’s things.
Another possible cause is the feeling of ‘not enough.’ Kids today get a lot of stuff, and though your daughter may get far more that you did, she may feel she has less than her peers. In both these instances, the collection serves to comfort and reassure the child. The collection is something to hold on to and provides the comfort of ‘having.’
Though at this point, you may be best off in letting well enough alone, if the issue grows and takes on a life of its own, you may want to do something about it. Here are two strategies that some parents have found helpful.
-Something out/something in
Before adding a new item, something has to be discarded. This trade puts a cap on the random storing and saving.
-Have your daughter start a real collection- like stamps, stickers, stationery, or erasers
There is tremendous value in having a collection. It provides a focal point for the child’s interest and promotes healthy sharing and trading with peers. It anchors the child and creates a sense of ‘having.’ It also can become a source of pride [“What! You have a purple and green eraser?!”] and fosters self esteem.
Children- like adults- have their own quirks. But, as long as these quirks are contained and do not affect mood or functioning, it is the wise parent that can notice them and then look away.