Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder that is just beginning to be understood. As a hoarder, I have acquired things over the years with a specific purpose in mind at the time of the acquisition, used some of those items for their intended purposes, forgotten the goal for different objects, but now that I find that they have outlived their purpose in my life I am struggling to rid myself of those same things.

You can read the start of my journey here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The color of love.

Yesterday, I wrote about our adventures with our youngest daughter and cleaning off her mess on the love seat. Today, I'll tell you how things went with her older sister...

Our middle daughter has a severe anxiety disorder. It's severe enough that she'll likely never be able to hold a job or live on her own. In a way this is a good thing. We will not have to endure that empty nest syndrome that devastates so many parents when their children fly the coop. We will not have to worry that someone is taking advantage of them. We will have them in our daily lives for the rest of ours. That right there is some good stuff!

On a bad note, our daughter has a lot of anxiety over things that people normally just don't stress about. Seeing family for the first time after a long break is incredibly difficult for her. We live several hundred miles from 'home' and as a result don't get to visit nearly often enough. She has been known to sit in the car for a good 30 minutes before she's comfortable with going in to see everyone. People who she adores. People who adore her. It's something she just can't help.

One of the things that helps with that stress is her strings. She has had a love for strings, especially shoe strings, from the time that she was tiny. She likes to pull them through her fingers, to flick them around as they dangle from her hand, and in general just to have them near her. For years we had to tie our shoe laces into our shoes between grommets, or we'd wake up with no shoe laces - in any shoe in the house!

She's never really cared for stuffed animals or toys. Give her a string, and she's happy beyond happy! And she is devastated, if one goes missing! Her strings usually just look the same to us. She has several white ones, (or maybe more of a shade of gray born out of much love for the string), some red, some pink, and some multi-colored ones. But the ones she likes the most are the skinny white ones that usually come in athletic shoes. And they are her babies! If one goes missing, she will not rest until the car has been thoroughly searched and the sidewalk scanned for her missing prized possession.

She has a similar obsession with markers, pens and pencils. She has so many we ended up buying her one of those totes that you often see used to carry cleaning supplies. One half is full of pencils, colored pencils, and pens. The other half holds her markers. And yesterday she needed to cull the dry markers and throw them away. It was not an easy task for her.

She was already a bit anxious from watching her sister work on the couch. She was very proud and supportive of her younger sister and even cheered her on and told her "good job!" But we heard a lot of "NO!"s yelled in a panicked voice when it came time to sort the instruments of her affection.

We started by grabbing a notebook that had the front and back covers torn from it for her on which to test her markers, and she grabbed a grocery bag to use for her trash. I explained that I was going to just sort the pens and pencils into one side of the tote, because they would be easier for her to sort, if they were presorted. Wrong answer. Noting that the anxiety was increasing, I changed tactics.

I told her we were just going to take them all out of the basket and put them on the floor for her to sort. We were again met with vocal protests. But once the pens, pencils and markers were all on the ground, she was ready to get busy. She started by sorting all the pencils into one side of the tote. She made the decision to throw the few crayons in her stash in the garbage bag. I think it was partly because the crayons didn't fit into either category. They were neither pens or pencils nor were they markers. So it made it easy for her to toss them.

The markers were a bit of a different story. I explained to her that I see her take all of her markers out to use every day, but every day she has to sort through which ones still work and which ones are dry. That if she could sort them, she'd know that all of them were good, and she'd have more fun using them. Wouldn't you know it, but the first one she sorted was really quite difficult for her to let go. It was a vibrant blue marker that wrote like it was brand new, but the lid had been put on cockeyed enough that the plastic on the marker itself was bent and wouldn't allow for a tight fit.

I realized I needed to get on the floor with her and help her remember what she was doing with each marker. She was getting confused and often throwing the good ones and keeping the dried markers, which would have sent her into an entirely different sort of frustration and meltdowns. I was not making the decisions for her. She made them all on her own with a 'yes', if she was keeping one or a 'no', if it was dried out. I just helped her remember where the yes ones went and where she was putting the no's.

All told, it took her a good 30 minutes just to sort through her markers. Something that would typically take about 5 minutes to do. But there was so much thought put into each and every decision she made.

When she had finally tossed the final dried up marker in her trash bag and tied it shut, she was so relieved! I think the relief was as much from being finished as from what she had done. She was quick to remind me to tell her oldest sister, her daddy and her grandma what she and our youngest had accomplished. She was proud of herself. We were proud of her, too, and let her know throughout the day.

It was eye opening. She's always stressed about her things when anyone even comes near them. We've even heard her yelling from the shower, in a very terse voice, at her little sister to stay out of her things. It's always comical, because her sister is never anywhere near her things, but it's evident that she lives in a near constant state of anxiety.

This dehoarding thing has been stressful for her. She knows that eventually we'll make it to her things, and we'll have to do some purging. Hopefully, though, this will help her realize that she can and will have a say in what goes and what stays.


  1. You are such a patient, kind mother! Your girls are lucky to have you! ( ;

  2. You're sooo tuned in to your kids.
    I second what MBSAH said.

    ha ha.. mbsah sounds funny.

  3. Good work for both of you . What a great step for her ,and how lucky she is to have a mom , who "gets her "and is able to help her to do the things she needs to at her own pace

  4. How exhausting that must be for all, but what a HUGE accomplishment - for all!

    I agree, it takes an inordinate amount of patience to do some things, and you must have it :)


  5. As trying as it might have been you have taught her a good lesson. I sure commend your patience and being so sensitive to your daughters needs. I know it can't be easy.

    I just wanted to drop in and thank you for hoppin' on my blog, I sure hope ya'll enjoy the ride!

    God bless your sweet family and have a marvelous Monday!!!


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