Our youngest daughter loves to have all of her favorite things beside her on the love seat. She will get her favorite clothes out of the dirty laundry pile, her favorite toys, and the magazines and catalogs she loves to flip through and put them on the love seat. It's often piled as high as the back of the furniture itself, and it never leaves room for anyone else to sit. For that matter, it leaves no room for her to sit comfortably, either. She usually sits on the front three inches of the cushion or on top of her favorite things.
In the mornings, we dig through everything to find her shoes and her favorite bracelets and necklaces that she wants to wear to school. We've tried repeatedly to find a solution, but we always seem to fail. The last basket we got at the dollar store wasn't big enough to hold anything but her six red bandannas, her jewelry, a favorite lavender scarf that she likes to sling around her neck at all times of the year, and her broken necklaces that she can't seem to let go, because she likes the way they feel in her hand and the way they dangle and sway when she flicks her wrist. Not only was the basket not large enough to hold her most precious of belongings, but the handles were constantly coming off, and we'd have to look through her pile to find the handles and reattach them before she carried the basket to her bed to keep watch over her while she slept.
This morning, things changed.
I happened to notice our daughter's basket, now empty, sitting atop all her favorite things on the love seat. One of the little slats that helped to hold things in was broken. It didn't surprise me. We weren't expecting quality. After all, we got it at the dollar store. One particular basket that we've used for the last decade to hold mittens, gloves and scarves kept breaking into my thoughts. It's about the size of a basket a person grabs to carry their groceries at the grocery store when they have only a few items to buy and want to make a hasty trip through the store. It's a pretty blue and made of very durable plastic. It's also probably four times the size of the little yellow one whose slats betrayed it this morning.
I grabbed the basket, wiped it out and notice the slow grin creeping onto her face as she eyed the basket. She knew I was going to ask, if she wanted to have it for her own, and she trembled with excitement at the thought. I told her that she could have it, but if she wanted the basket, that she had to help clean off the love seat, and that she could not pile all her things up around her anymore. That the love seat needs to be cleaned off, so other people can sit with her, if they want. When I asked, if she wanted the basket enough to keep the love seat cleaned off, her little fist shook up and down, saying 'YES!' instead of just 'yes'.
We started by gathering up the dirty clothes and tossing them downstairs to be laundered. Then, we put her to work. We used the yellow basket for trash and the blue basket for things that she really wanted to keep. The first thing in her new basket was a musical dome she had when she was a baby. She spent hours listening to the soothing lullaby it played as it cast it's rotating pictures on the ceiling when she was little, and in spite of the fact that it no longer works, she can't bring herself to let go just yet.
I had her make all the decisions on what was to be thrown in the garbage and what was to be saved, and it was fascinating to watch her. It was very obvious that there was anxiety involved with many of the decisions. She had the hardest time deciding what to do with catalogs, magazines, and little pieces of paper that had been torn from the pages. When she struggled with what to do, I simply asked her, if she really wanted to keep it or whether or not it made her happy. It got easier and easier for her to make the decisions she made, and we cheered her on every step of the way telling her we were proud of her for doing it by herself. Within thirty minutes or so, the love seat was cleared, vacuumed and ready for company.
She was so excited! She proudly hoisted her new basket full of her favorite things up on the couch beside her and seemed genuinely satisfied that she could scoot all the way back and not sit on the edge of the cushion. She took a few things out and played with them as the day wore on, but she dutifully put them in their place when she was done. When it was time for bed, she lugged the basket down the hallway to her bedroom with a satisfied little smile on her face.
I think we may have made a break through today.
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.