ASK MOM: Mom concerned that teenage daughter is a hoarderJun 09, 2023 01:27AM ● By Mary Follin & Erika Guerrero
Drawing by Suzanne Johnson
THE PROBLEM: I’m very worried about my 17 yo daughter who calls herself a ‘collector.’ I’m pretty certain she has an issue with hoarding. Here’s a short list of what she ‘collects’: old school papers from 1st grade (so she can see her progress), brown paper bags (she might need to carry something), old stuffed animals that she finds discarded (someone needs to rescue them)— the list goes on. Her room is piled high with what I hesitate to call ‘junk’ to her face, but it is. There’s barely a path to get to her bed! I’ve seen this in adults (including my mom), and I’m terrified my daughter is following in her footsteps, which turned into a pretty dark place to be for my mom. What can I do?
MARY SAYS: Parenting comes with its fair share of challenges, and what you’re facing is one of the toughest. Why? Because it’s difficult for a teenager to grasp the level of dysfunction a hoarding habit creates in one’s life.
After all, what teenager doesn’t like stuff?
Start by having a heart-to-heart and let your daughter know you're concerned. Don’t resort to lectures or blaming. Rather, try to understand where she’s coming from. What you might learn is that the situation isn’t as serious as you thought. Teenagers can get awfully distracted—believe it or not, your daughter may not have even noticed the piles growing in her room. If this is the case, the solution might be a simple a ‘clean-up’ day with you by her side.
But it sounds like you have enough familiarity with hoarding to assess the situation pretty well. If you do believe your daughter is suffering from a tendency toward hoarding, here are some things you can do about it:
1. Get a Pro on Your Side: Hoarding is a complex issue; it's often tied to deeper emotions. Consider getting a therapist or counselor involved who deals with teenagers and hoarding. They can help you both figure out the root causes and how to tackle them together.
2. Baby Steps for Decluttering: Don't even think about going all Marie Kondo on your daughter from day one. Start small and work together to sort through her things. Make separate piles for what to keep, what to donate, and what to toss. While this step sounds easy, it’s one of the hardest. You may be shocked to find out how difficult it is for your daughter to let go of her third-grade report card or too-small tennis shoes she no longer wears.
3. Letting Go: Explain why it's essential to let go of things—actual things and the harder, less tangible emotional things. Assure your daughter that a clutter-free space will boost her mood, give her more energy, and reduce stress. People with hoarding issues often have moderate to severe anxiety. While their ‘stuff’ brings appears to bring them comfort, it's most likely making them feel much, much worse.
Once you’ve gotten your daughter’s room into reasonable shape, keep it going. Hoarding tendencies can sneak up on you, so don't slack off. Never stop pointing out how decluttering is making your daughter’s life easier—and better—one step at a time.
Overcoming hoarding is a long distance run, not a sprint. With your support, some understanding, and a few baby steps, you and your daughter can conquer the clutter and create a happier, more relaxed home.
ERIKA SAYS: I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s struggle with hoarding. I can imagine how triggered you must be, watching your daughter deal with the same thing. It sounds as if you’ve already talked to her about it—and she doesn’t think it’s an issue—but after hearing what she’s hanging on to, I have some concerns myself.
The reason for my concern is that she isn’t holding onto anything of value—sentimental or otherwise.
I wonder if your daughter is struggling with a mental health condition, which is expressing itself through hoarding. Please seek professional help so you can both get to the root of what’s going on.
In the meantime, perhaps you can offer to help clean her room. Suggest that she might want to narrow down her collections, and that you're going to start small and let her be in charge so she doesn't need to feel nervous about it.
Divide your daughter’s room into sections and work on one section—or collection—at a time. Proceed at a slow but steady pace, one that’s comfortable for her. For example, tackle the stuffed animals first and make it a goal to donate 10.
Reward yourselves afterwards with an outing like dinner or dessert, and be sure to applaud your daughter for her hard work.
I’m learning that our children learn best from us. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity for you to declutter an area of your belongings and ask her to help. Pitching your ‘stuff’ first could help ease her anxiety about cleaning up her own space. To navigate this, it’s going to take creativity, lots of patience, but most of all grace and compassion. Throw in some therapy and I think you’ll be on your way to the much-needed healing you’re looking for.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.