I think I have a functional hoarding issue. I’m struggling to get rid of toys that my deceased mom gave her grandkids. My poor 9-year-old’s room still looks like that of a 4-year-old. I’m finally biting the bullet on the Thomas & Friends train table and tons of tracks/trains and feel sick about it. I have offered it all free to a family I love, so that helps. But not a lot. What if my own kids want them for their kids someday? Or am I going too deep into the thought abyss?
Someone once told me it was hard to identify problematic drinking in college because everyone’s drinking is so far from the norm. That’s how I feel about hoarding as the parents of small children: It’s hard to figure out who really has a problem when everyone has a stash (or 10) of onesies and stuffed animals and artwork. And the impulse to hold onto things can naturally be exacerbated by losing the person who gave them to your kids. Who wants to feel like they’re losing their parent and their kids’ childhood at the same time? It’s too much.
I could give you a list of resources: decluttering books and blog pages, places to donate, strategies for how to manage all the stuff. But that doesn’t really help when you aren’t struggling with the mechanics of getting rid of things, you’re struggling with the emotions around it.
Are you “going too deep into the thought abyss”? Just your asking makes me think that you already suspect that you are. But maybe instead of wondering if you deserve a scarlet “H” to wear, ask yourself: Am I modeling for my kids a healthy relationship to stuff? If your answer is no, I would suggest getting out of the house (so you’re not surrounded by all your things) and making a list with your kids of the things they love best, and/or most remind you of your mom. Those are the things you keep.
Get rid of the rest. It’s nice if you can get your kids to get involved and help decide where things should go but it’s not mandatory. You’re already struggling with getting rid of things, I wouldn’t advise buying into an attempt to find the worthiest possible place for those things to go. Frankly, whether you give it to a beloved family friend or donate it to a charity or even leave it at the curb, it will more than likely wind up in good hands without any extra effort on your part.
Should your kids have kids one day, even with your best efforts at responsible curatorship, you will almost undoubtedly not have saved something that they do want, and you will have saved between 50 and 10,000 things they don’t want. And everything will still be fine. But, if you can help your kids learn early on to separate the physical gifts from the memories of the people that gave them, that really will be something worth holding on to.
Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org (subject: Ask ML).
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