Hoarding ( sometimes called collecting) is a common PWS behavior. The act of gathering items usually related to a single theme is a behavior that can start very young and can progress to a problematic behavior over time. The longer the person has been allowed to hoard items, the harder it is to stop the behavior. Hoarding gives people a false sense of security which is why removing items or attempting to organize them can be met with strong reactions. The threat of losing items in their collection makes the person feel out of control and can cause an exaggerated response. You may see it as cleaning or rearranging but the person with PWS sees it as a direct threat to their sense of safety and security.
So what do we do? You see a fire hazard, they see comfort. You see piles of old toys, pieces of paper, empty shampoo bottles (insert any item here) and they see their bounty. It is a fine line because we want to encourage interests and hobbies but want to discourage acquisitions that they will not let go of at any cost. One day you are innocently buying your child a toy fire truck and a few short years later your child's room looks like the warehouse exploded in your child's room. If you are already one step beyond wondering if your child has a hoarding problem, don't fret. There are ways to get your house back from the depths of the hoard.
- Set a standard for cleanliness. Take a picture of their room in a tolerable condition, if the collection goes beyond what you consider acceptable then items need to be discarded or donated. Doing this will still allow for some collecting but the expectations are clear and predictable as to what you will allow and not allow.
- Put it to good use. I have known individuals to make jobs out of their hoarding tendencies. One woman collected coupons and made a job out of clipping and sorting for her neighbors. Another woman had a small business recycling cans and bottles.
- Appeal to their sensitive side. Children will be more willing to part with their hoard if they know that it will be put to good use by people in need. Local libraries will usually accept donations of magazines, local shelters will take clothing, recycling centers will accept newspapers. Doing a good deed for the community or environment could be just the motivation needed to clear out collected items.
- Online collection sites. There are several web sites that allow for " electronic collecting"- Pintrest, Image Spark, We Heart It ( and dozens more). Encourage this form of collecting. It doesn't take up any space and still allows the person to keep images of the subject that they love.
Hoarding takes on many forms but is almost always connected to a lack of control over ones life and a need to feel more secure. Look at what areas of your child's life could be lacking in these areas and you will be well on your way to getting a handle on this problematic behavior.
Manager of PWS Services