Hoarding vs. Collecting: When does it become a problem?


When hoarding comes to mind, it’s hard to not think of reality TV shows depicting people’s homes flooded with stuff. If your child starts to hoard or collect items you might be worried and anxious that this will become your child. This is actually a very common, developmental stage for children. 

Hoarding vs. collecting

Collecting toys or items around the home is very common for young children, as they learn independence and want to feel like they have a sense of ownership. 

When children collect items it can be great for their development, helping them to understand skills just as how to categorise, differentiate, organise and so on. It can also build their independence and sense of self, they may like to show off their findings and talk about what they have.

However, when children are hoarding they will often try and hide it, they may be embarrassed about it and don’t want to talk about it. They may not understand why they are doing it but cannot stop.

When does hoarding become a problem?

Some kids may develop hoarding disorder as a result of anxiety or stress, and become upset and distressed if the items are taken away from them. They may suffer tantrums, crying, physical violence or panic attacks. The hoarding may start to occur outside the home as well, taking items that do not belong to them or bringing items into the home without you knowing about them.

What can you do?

Sit with them and talk about what they have collected and ask them questions about it. Don’t just go in and throw things away, they will often feel a connection to the items, no matter how irrational that may seem to us, it can feel very real to them. Sit with them and help them understand why the items need to go back where they found it or why it needs to be thrown in the bin. 

Never shame your child for what they have collected and be patient with them as they navigate this stage.

Many children grow out of this phase, however if you are worried or if it appears to be getting worse – or putting them or anyone else at harm – you should always speak with your doctor. If your child has not outgrown it by the age of eight your doctor might recommend your child undergo further treatment. 

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