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Can a Recovering Hoarder survive The School Years?

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Deep down, I’m a hoarder. Yes, it’s true. I know I come by this naturally. In fact, I daresay these tendencies are genetic. The polite observers would describe those in my family tree to be “pack-rats” or “sentimentalists.”

But, the truth? We’re hoarders.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think some mementos from the past are perfectly acceptable to keep. I have some things on display in a cabinet or tucked neatly into a box of treasures that doesn’t take up too much space. I’m also not trying to belittle those who suffer from truly debilitating cases of hoarding. I realize there are degrees of this disease…

…but, it is a sickness that I battle every day.

It physically pains me to throw things away. I become emotionally distraught at the thought of ripping pieces out of the fabric of my past and tossing them in the trash. The memories of a special time attach themselves to objects. I assign worth to things that really should have none.

I know this.

I’ve been able to keep my hoarding in check, and I’ve come a long way. I’ve thrown so many things away that I’ve become numb. I know what needs to happen, and I do it. I can sigh with relief when it’s over, but it’s very hard for me to get to that point.

My husband knows about my condition, and together we’ve been able to keep the Hoarding Monster at bay. (There are times when I’ve relied on him to throw things away for me, and he’s done it.)

We’ve succeeded, and if you were to walk into my home, you’d have no idea that I battle hoarding.

Because I’m so hyper-sensitive to such things, I can see these tendencies in my daughter. She has gotten a double dose of this gene, as the branches of my husband’s family tree are laden with a familiar fruit. We’ve done a great job of curbing this behavior in her.

Hearing myself teach her that objects and memories are two different things is surreal. I know how hard it is for her. I’ve been there. I’m there now.

Everything was very manageable for me until she started school. Now, I’m at a loss. I’ve met my match.

Can a Recovering Hoarder survive The School Years?

It started with Preschool. I kept every single paper and piece of artwork she did. I put it all in a file. See? It’s not hoarding if it’s neat and out of sight, right? In fact, I’ll just call it “filing” and “organization.” See? It’s NOT a problem, and certainly NOT hoarding. Then, Kindergarten started. The amount of paperwork that comes home weekly in her backpack is daunting. The file expanded into an entire section, which soon migrated to a cardboard box. (Yes, that’s a photo of it above…)

This weekend, I realized I had a problem. At this rate, we’ll need another whole room by the time she’s in 3rd Grade.

I know what I need to do. I need to just throw it all away. The really cool art pieces have either been photographed or framed, but the other stuff? We don’t need it. It’s just taking up space.

But, I’m paralyzed by the cuteness of the handwriting and matching drawings. If I throw them away, it’s like I’m throwing away my memories of her when she would make her e’s like that, and look at how she drew people! How can I possible throw that away? I’m powerless against this.

I know this is so silly and makes no sense to someone who doesn’t battle hoarding. To someone who can look at a piece of paper and see it for what it really is, the answer is clear: “When is Garbage Day? Thursday? Great. You have until then.”

I know what needs to happen; I just need to summon the strength.

Do you battle hoarding? What do you do with all your kid’s schoolwork?

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 4, 2012

    I couldn’t be more surprised that someone as organized as you would be a recovering hoarder. 🙂 During the school year, I immediately recycle the kids’ homework assignments, keep the spelling tests and if it’s a memorable art/writing project, it goes in a big laundry basket in the den. At the end of the year, we went through everything and they each selected a folder full of assignments they wanted to keep.

    This worked for us because neither of my kids are hoarders. Slobs, yes. But hoarders, no and they were able to part rather easily with most of it.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      See, that’s the thing, Amber…a lot of hoarders (especially recovering ones) AREN’T slobs or disorganized. We’re not all like the people they showcase on that show. 😉

      If I had Claire “help me” sort through it, none of it would be thrown away without a fight. *sigh*

  • comment avatar Mary-Frances Main January 4, 2012

    Joann, I’ve battled the school paper issue for years – I’ve come up with several systems and none of them worked. When they were little they refused to throw ANYTHING out and then I wanted to keep the rest. Yes, it’s horrible.
    What I will tell you is it gets better with time. I have a HUGE box where I put it all and it’s amazing how 5 years in a box makes anything look like junk.
    Stuff I thought I could never toss doesn’t even have a memory attached.
    My kids feel the same way.
    It’s NOT a perfect system, but I know my daughter now throws 90% of her stuff out on her own – my son is another matter, but I have at least gotten him to start parting with things.
    Time? is that a system?

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      I’m glad I’m not alone, Mary-Frances! I thought Time was a system until I realized it wasn’t a very GOOD system. Not yet anyway. 😉

  • comment avatar Melissa January 4, 2012

    I’m no hoarder, but I do have an overflowing box of school art that I need to sort through. When I do go through it, I try to save the best sampling of their age. I also try to frame some of the art, for us, and for the grandparents.

    I can’t let the kids be involved, because they think everything they do is worth saving. 🙂

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      Art is even harder for me to sort. We’ve framed some pieces and taken photos of other pieces. Because Art is in the eye of the beholder, and Recovering Hoarders have REALLY GOOD EYES, it’s hard. 😉

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 4, 2012

    So, what’s better: slobs or hoarders? 😉

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      Far be it for me to judge… but hoarding can be curbed (I’m a good example of that…the box of school papers is my weakness). Slob? Can that be fixed? 😉

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 4, 2012

    I’m dooooooomed! 🙂

  • comment avatar Nathan Pralle (@npralle) January 4, 2012

    I hear you on saving the artwork! My solution? SCANNING. I’ve started scanning everything he makes — that way, I still can see it, I still can savor it, I just don’t have to STORE it. 🙂

    Highly recommended, then you can horde to your heart’s content!

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      Yeah, the scanner we have is a bit restrictive to size and shape. I’ve taken digital photos of things, and that seems to help.

  • comment avatar rockymountainbigcat January 4, 2012

    I hear a lot of judgement hear and as some one who has dealt with this in my own life, I can attest to how hard it is. Unless someone has walked in those shoes, they have NO idea. Please be gentle, people-and thankful if it is not something that you have to deal with in your world.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      Thank you for your comment! It’s so nice to know we’re not alone!

  • comment avatar Susan January 4, 2012

    JoAnn – Really well written piece. I am also a recovering hoarder with a family history of “pack rats” that has a hard time letting go of the school work. I have begun to take pictures or scan it into the computer so I have a digital file that is smaller, that can be easily inserted into a scrapbook. I say that while I have a large box full of papers ready to be scanned in. I’m here for you…I completely understand how hard it is to get rid of items that have history attached.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      Thanks, Susan! I think I’ll be okay as long as I’m addressing it early in the game…I hope.

  • comment avatar Anne-Marie @ This Mama Cooks! January 4, 2012

    Everything gets thrown into a filing tray. When it gets full (usually once a semester) I go through everything and keep only the reports, stories and cool artwork. However, what I’ve noticed is that the older the kids get, the less paperwork you receive. My son’s in middle school now and he rarely brings anything home since much of their work is done either in notebooks or in Google Docs. I’m all for schools going as electronic as possible as it saves paper and it’s a bit harder to use the “my dog ate my homework” excuse!

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      It sounds like you (and the school) have a great system in place!

  • comment avatar meghann @ midgetinvasion January 4, 2012

    I just wanted to comment to say you’re not alone. I fight it, and so does my husband (and I see my kids having to fight it, too). I was raised by a hoarder, and the house I grew up in could have been on that show. Every day I wake up that our house doesn’t look like that, is a small victory for me.

    But out of everything, it’s the kids’ stuff that I have the hardest time getting rid of. I see how fast they are growing, and it’s awful because it’s like having all those things helps to hold on to them while they are still little.

    So anyway: not alone. It’s great to see some discussion about it that doesn’t revolve around that show. So people can see that it’s a real thing, and a lot more common than they think.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 4, 2012

      We take refuge in the small victories, don’t we? Thanks for your comment!

  • comment avatar Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey January 4, 2012

    Awesome post, girl. Since I am the thrower-outer, it is good for me to see the other perspective – especially since Dex is a hoarder at heart. Would be nice if we all made it to middle ground, huh???

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      Thanks, Aimee! I think it’s awesome that Dex has someone like you to help reel him in!

  • comment avatar Jenny - Monkey Toes January 4, 2012

    I think I’m the opposite (not that either is better), but I throw EVERY THING AWAY. I feel bad, because I know my kids see it, but I cannot manage the amount of papers that come home and causing our walls to close in one art project at a time. They now throw it in my face by saving it to take to their Dad’s house. Apparently, he saves every thing from their school. I’m not sure which is better – but they’re getting extreme opposites here.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Jenny! It sounds like you have another whole dimension of challenges with your kids, due to the two households… Good luck!!

  • comment avatar kia January 4, 2012

    I am scared for when my babe hits school age. With my nieces I generally take a pic and make sure to keep it on a drive. With my toddler he is already drawing and so far I am taking pictures. Le sigh. Thanks for a glimpse of things to come.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      I had a feeling it would be a challenge for me, but I was shocked at how quickly it got out of control! 🙂

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz January 4, 2012

    “I become emotionally distraught at the thought of ripping pieces out of the fabric of my past and tossing them in the trash. The memories of a special time attach themselves to objects. I assign worth to things that really should have none.”

    Get out of my head!!

    Great post. I carry both the hoarding and the tossing genes. Unfortunately, I also carry the lazy gene so it takes me awhile to get the courage to toss.

    But once I do…

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      Thanks, Lori! By the way, you hide your Lazy Gene quite well! 😉

  • comment avatar Ratna January 4, 2012

    I am the same way with the kids’ stuff- we are having construction in our offices and I threw out a tiny water colored leaf today and almost threw up — I later threw up from the fumes of the paint and carpet glue but I am still thinking of that beautiful water colored, tiny little leaf that my eldest made for me. I am a hoarder only when it comes to the kids. And it is turning ugly.

    I get it. I totally get it. Take your time. Pick out your favorites and put them in a folder and cherish forever. It’s okay… til she makes something else super cute that is. 🙂

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      There is just something intoxicating about their work, right!? I know in my case, it’s NOT the paint fumes… 😉

  • comment avatar Daria January 5, 2012

    I am probably a thrower outer – but I tend to keep all the art work. I also keep the stories they write or their writing journal, but the day to day stuff gets tossed. Something that works for me is keeping something from the beginning of the school year – random writing or paper and then one from the end of the year – helps me to capture the growth that school year and then (theoretically) I’d have them organized by grade and could look back and capture beginning and end of xyz grade. But, the organization gene definitely skipped me – slob? Yes, I’m right there with Amber. 🙂

    Hubs on the other hand is a hoarder – he has boxes of bills from the 1990’s. That is when I just put things in the trash…

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      Daria, I like your idea of choosing a beginning and an end (which is just another beginning). If only it were that simple. *sigh* 🙂

  • comment avatar heidi January 5, 2012

    I think that since we do a virtual academy, we have to scan in their work for “Portfolio assignments” and so it has really cut down on the amount of paperwork and art, since it is digitally preserved. I just need to remember to back it up somewhere. Though it does allow my to put a particularly nice piece on our family blog and then we can look back on it (you can publish them in a book too) and family and friends can enjoy them too. Perhaps that could work for traditional schooling families too. Then we recycle the papers, display a few and keep some of the larger pieces too big to scan in or we photograph them.

    • comment avatar JoAnn January 6, 2012

      I can see where scanning would work if you’re already doing that. As it stands now, a scanning project of this magnitude would put me over the edge. Maybe that’s something to do going forward? Thanks for your comment, Heidi!

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