When you’re visiting a house with kids, it is very common to find yourself in a cluttered room. Parents, though at least they try to clean up, always end up organizing again and again. Children are just all around tossing everything they run into and parents don’t have the time to follow them around all the time. Though some parents are mastering the skill to keep the house decent enough, some days they find it hard to keep up.

Children having a messy room is no way unusual. But while most children don’t mind if someone occasionally cleans up their room and throw unnecessary things, children who are developing with hoarding behaviors do. In order to fully understand and deal with hoarding behavior in kids, let us learn first what hoarding behavior is about.

Hoarding is a disorder recognized by a person’s not only acquiring things in huge excess but also being unable to be apart from these things. This dilemma sometimes causes great distress in the family and even personally. Children developing hoarding behavior has an overpowering emotional attachment to their things. This results in cluttered rooms and family tensions when parents try to clean away some mess in their rooms. They are overly worried about their things. Hoarding appears in children as early as 6 or 7 years old. It is usually alongside Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or other anxiety disorder. Children who develop hoarding disorder alone- without underlying other disorder- are usually tweens or older.

Here are the signs that your child might be developing a hoarding behavior:

  1. You notice that the bed is used more for storage than for sleeping.
  2. Your child’s desk has so much stuff in it that it’s almost impossible to use for making homework.
  3. His bedroom floor is all covered with cluttered stuff.
  4. His closet is packed with so many clothes that it’s very hard to put in new clothes or even get one out.

Children hoarders tend to acquire objects that for most people are considered useless and random. These may include random objects like paper, meal boxes, and rocks. Hoarders tend to keep and hold onto this stuff though they may or may not have any sentimental value. Unlike normal collectors who take pride in their collections and organize them, hoarders, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable when others see their possessions or if they touch them. Since children’s rooms are usually cluttered, it might be less obvious to recognize this behavior in children. Thus, the most obvious sign that you can look for is the child’s emotional reaction towards his belongings. When these items are taken away from them, kids may become overly anxious. They may have tantrums, break things or hit their parents. Children who are hoarders tend to think that things have feelings. For instance, they worry that if they put their things in the drawer, they will forget about them or that might upset the things. 

Surprisingly, according to studies, 50% of children who hoards have a relative who also hoards. It is common for children who hoards to be children of hoarders. Thus, when clinicians often find that even though parents were not diagnosed as hoarders, they meet the criteria for hoarding. That’s why sometimes, clinicians suggest that to help the kids, parents should be treated. 

How to deal with hoarding behavior in kids?


Treating hoarding behavior in kids requires a lot of effort and patience. It is important that parents get involved in this. The treatment generally depends on the child’s age. For children ages 8 and below, psychologists often suggest for parents to first stop the child from acquiring new possessions. Later on, parents will work on gradually getting rid of some of the child’s things. For older children, it is helpful to find a therapist who has experience in treating hoarding. Their therapy will help children to understand why they feel inclined to hoard things and teaches them to decide whether an item is worth keeping or should be thrown away. One important aspect of dealing with hoarding behavior in kids is not to judge the value of the objects he collects and shaming them is not going to help.

One common treatment that therapists use for hoarding behavior is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The treatment includes the following:

  1. The child will learn to control himself and resist his urge to acquire more possessions.
  2. The child will learn to organize and classify his hoarded objects to help him decide whether the item is worth keeping or should be discarded.
  3. The child will learn to identify and think about his beliefs as to why he’s acquiring or saving the items.
  4. The child will improve his decision-making and learn to cope with changes.
  5. The child will learn to increase his social skills with more meaningful activities than isolating himself.
  6. Declutter his room during in-home visits by a therapist
  7. The child can attend to family and group therapy
  8. You will have periodic visits to help your child  keep up healthy habits
  9. Help your child learn more ways to enhance more motivation to change.

This therapy will help weaken the child’s belief that he can’t live without his possessions. You can create a reward system where your child can enjoy a particular activity that he loves when he’s able to discard a number of things a day. The main goal is to gradually slow down the acquisition of things and to help kids realized that an object can be attractive but not necessarily needs to be kept. The final goal of the therapy is for the child’s urge to hoard to diminish and for him to be able to throw unnecessary things away. And later on, for him to limit the new things he acquires and keeps his room livable. In these ways, parents help their children who are developing hoarding behavior.

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