Lately I have been watching the A & E series, Hoarders. At first, having a type A personality, I found it hard to understand how anyone can live in such clutter and sometimes filth to the point of alienating their family and friends, not to mention putting their own health in danger because they are unable to stop collecting meaningless items. However, after watching several episodes, the show has helped me understand why people hoard and why it is so hard for them to stop. According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. This one definition describes my 11-year old grandson, Peyton, who is a hoarder.
Most people become hoarders because of some traumatic event that happened in their life, such as the death of a loved one. I believe Peyton’s hoarding started at the age of four soon after his great grandmother Ruth died. Peyton and his mother lived with Ruth, who was like a mother to him. Ruth took care of Peyton while Peyton’s mother worked. Ruth was his constant, day and night.
It is hard to pinpoint an exact time when Peyton’s hoarding started, or when we recognized it as a problem, but after Ruth’s death, Peyton started kindergarten and would bring home papers he did in class. Like any child, he was proud of his work and wanted to keep the papers. Some he would allow to be displayed on the refrigerator, but most he would keep in a box under his bed. None of us knew these could be the first signs of a hoarder. We all thought he was just “collecting things.”
As the years went by and Peyton progressed from one grade to another, the papers and boxes increased and new objects started entering the hoarding realm. The next objects I noticed were VHS cassettes, and then there were trading cards, then DVDs, and pencils. The area under his bed soon became overrun and Peyton needed to find a new place for his “things.’ In the living room was a corner end table that had a shelf. Under the shelf is where Peyton started keeping his papers and cards. He needed a place for his ever-growing DVDs so he commandeered an old suitcase, filled it with the DVDs and placed it wherever he could find space.
When Peyton was asked or told he needed to throw some of the papers away, he would become anxious, cry and scream, that he “needed those things.” Nothing anyone could say could convince him that torn up pieces of paper has no value, because they held great value to him. These valueless, inanimate items brought him comfort. Over the years, his mom or I have been able to go through some of the boxes and throw away a few of the papers, while Peyton was not around, and he never seemed to miss any of them.
From watching the show, Hoarders, I have learned that the objects hoarders collect do give them comfort and the hoarder is the one that needs to be able to make the decision of what needs to be thrown away in order to help them recognize and deal with their hoarding problem. I have learned to appreciate the anxiety Peyton goes through when confronted by having to make decisions about throwing his “things” away.
When I am at Peyton’s house, I will open his book bag and find bunches of marked on and/or torn papers that he does not need. I go through each one with him, asking him if he really needs to keep these things. With him making the decisions, he is able to throw away many of the papers. I bought him a case for his DVDs, so they are not stacked precariously on his dresser. The next step is to tackle the boxes under his bed. I know this will cause him some anxiety, but with some coaxing, I think he will be able to throw some objects away. I have also told him that if he wants to put the Christmas tree up, he is going to have clean off the end table and keep it cleaned off or there will be no room for a tree or presents. He is working on that.