Hoarding is characterised by a person acquiring objects in great excess, and then being unable to part with them without significant distress. Hoarding is unique in this manner, as its symptoms are material and tangible.
Hoarding in children
Hoarding can appear in children as young as 6 or 7 years old, and is typically alongside Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or some other anxiety disorder. For those who develop hoarding independent of other issues, the disorder appears in early adolescence or later. In over 50% of cases these children also have a hoarding parent.
Hoarding in children looks different than in adults. Children rarely organize their possessions as adult hoarders often do. Children also do not have the same resources (money, credit cards, payment apps) or opportunities (going out alone, access to shopping) to add to their hoard, and their trove is restricted to one area of the home, such as the bedroom or playroom.
Hoarded items are typically those that can be found for free (collectible cards from friends, ticket stubs, toilet paper rolls), those that are easily found (rocks, leaves, trash), or already in their possession (old toys or clothes, old school projects).
Signs of hoarding
Because children can not accumulate items on the scale that is often associated with the Disorder, the primary sign that hoarding is occurring is the inability to discard items.
When parents try to throw out hoarded items, children will melt down or have a temper tantrum, crying, screaming and yelling. The child’s distress may escalate into rage, and they may kick or hit parents, and/or break items in the home after learning a piece of their hoard has been discarded.
Other signs that a child may be hoarder include (from childmind.org):
Having a messy room isn’t unusual for children. But while most children don’t get upset if someone occasionally cleans up and throws things away, children who hoard do. They have an overpowering emotional attachment to their possessions that interferes with their functioning.
Hoarding is not collecting
Children who hoard may claim that they are collecting items. Collecting, however, involves seeking out specific items and adding them to the collection in an organised fashion. Collecting often has an additional layer of meaning. For example collectors may collect rocks from holiday locations, stamps from a list of countries, or all the cards in set.
Children are often proud of their collections and will gladly show them and talk about them. Hoarders acquire items at random and often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable letting others see or touch their things.
Do you suspect that your child may be hoarding? Contact the BDC, we can help.