Friday, June 16, 2006

Foster Children and Hoarding

I would like to start this blog entry with an embarassing - but, in retrospect, rather funny - story... When the man who is now my husband and I were dating, he looked in my kitchen cupboards and noticed something strange.

I did not own dishes, nor glasses. Rather, I had shelves filled with plastic cups; the kind you get at fast food establishments. I also had a huge assortment of empty cottage cheese containers. Lots of cups. Many, many empty cottage cheese containers. This was what I ate and drank from, every day.

The man who would one day become my husband looked at me and said, "Lisa, you are hoarding."

I said, "What are you talking about? What is that?"

The clinical definition of 'hoarding' is: "the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or of limited value."

Why Would People Hoard?
- Because the items are perceived as valuable
- The items provide a source of security
- Fear of forgetting or losing items
- Constant need to collect and keep things
- Obtaining love not found from people
- Fear others will obtain their personal information
- Inability to organize
- Self neglect
- Stressful life events

Children often communicate needs through behavior. A foster child might hoard food, for example, due to early neglect and a fear of being hungry.

The fictional book "Money Hungry" by Sharon Flake tells the story of a young girl who is obsessed by earning and accummulating money. What first appears as greed begins to make sense when the reader learns that the protagonist and her mother were once homeless. By hoarding money, this young lady is making certain that she can provide for her mother, if the situation ever arises again.

How to Deal With Hoarding
This behavior does not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it is an adaptive response to deprivation.

For a foster parent, who has just taken in a child who hoards good, a plastic bowl with a tight fitting lid may be the answer. As the child adjusts to the new placement, this will allow him to regulate his supply of food and assure him that food is available. The lid will keep out odor and insects.

As trust increases, the need to cling to an alternative food source might decrease.

Don't Overreact
Above all, I would encourage people not to "pathologize" the hoarding. I am a firm believer that there is a reason for behavior - it might not make sense to outsiders, but in some way it seems logical to the person displaying that behavior.

Do not rush to a diagnosis. Don't assume that hoarding indicates that the person in question has OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Try not to afix a label on a child, teenager or adult too quickly.

After all, compulsive hoarding was originally diagnosed as a psychological disorder that most frequently affects the elderly. It was described as "accumulation of useless possessions that clutter the person’s living space, often creates complex legal and social problems for the hoarder."

Think about it from the elderly person's point of view: What were they doing? Trying to hold onto memories. Attempting to relive the past. Treasuring momentos. Is that behavior pathological? Or normal?

Viewing behavior within the context of the person who is displaying it is vitally important. Empathy has been defined as "understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives."

If you were to visit my house today, you would see dishes and glasses. I no longer collect plastic containers. Yet I am as sane now as I was when my husband met me. What has changed is the fact that I am assured that I am financially secure enough that I can afford normal household items.

Hoarding fact sheet. Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

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Thank you for this!
Our foster daughter doesn't "hoard" food, per se, but she does have a habit of wanting to keep can of Pringles in her room, "in case" she needs them. Although I'd rather the food stay in the kitchen/dining room, I figure her feeling comfortable in our home is more important.
Did my reply to your last entry inspire this post? Was it my comment on ziplock bags?

I don't think I had *that* much of a hoarding problem. (I did a little bit, though- now, it's the opposite, I have decluttered to create a peaceful home).
But I had this obsessive mentality with rent paying. If I got a paycheck that was enough for three months' rent, I would pay three months rent. If I got a check enough for two, I would pay two.... no matter how far ahead with the rent I was. Even if the amount left over was beans, I would still do it this way. I would do it until the lease was completely paid off. Only then would I save extra money. I did it with my car note, too... If I could pay three months or two months, I would send the money order for that amount, with two slips from the payment book. (I unexpectedly paid my car of way soon, so this proved well for me).

Nope - you didn't hoard. Just your plastic bag comments reminded me of my plastic cup collection. That's all.

Sorry for the confusion!
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