The Clutter Problem

We convinced three readers to examine the emotions behind their pack-rat tendencies -- and got them expert help.
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Finders Keepers

I Have Kept Every Toy My Son Has Ever Gotten. And He's 9!

"I started saving Sam's toys when he was a baby," says Carina Yervasi, 48, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. "Then, when Sam was 7, my mom passed away and I became even more fixated on saving all the presents she'd given him over the years, because I worried he'd forget her. I wanted to make sure his whole childhood -- and the evidence that he'd been loved by all the people who'd given him presents over the years -- was right there for him to see. But when Sam's friends come over, their eyes practically bug out at the sight of his playroom! It's clearly gotten out of control. I'm caught between wanting to preserve everything and knowing that I need to start making decisions about what to keep -- if only to set a good example for Sam. I worry that he'll become a little hoarder himself."

The Experts Step In

Toy buildup isn't unusual, says Matt Paxton, author of The Secret Lives of Hoarders. Still, you have to get real about how many is too much. "Use math," he says. "A kid can only play so many hours a day." Paxton suggests getting the child himself to help pare down the toys by giving him a specific limit of how many he can keep. And keep your focus on your child. "We adults are the ones who tend to have emotions around these things. The kid's not likely to be as attached as you are," he says.

Be more discriminating, advises hoarding specialist Gail Steketee, PhD, a dean at Boston University. "If you're saving something as a memento of a particular person, ask yourself, 'Do I have other mementos of that person, like a photo or a letter, that would serve that purpose better?'"

"If the toys are just collecting dust, you're not honoring your relatives," Paxton says. Donate them to a church nursery or women's shelter, where they'll get immediate use.

Carina's Spring-Cleaning Success

"I realized it would be much healthier to build family closeness in the present and future instead of clinging to the past. Last year my brother and his wife had twin boys so Sam and I played one last time with the toys from his first year, then we boxed them all up and gave them to his new cousins. I watched as Sam cuddled the infants and talked about how much fun they'd have playing with his old toys. He even pointed out which ones their grandmother had given him. He really does remember her. Since then we've passed along other toys. Sam hasn't really missed them, which makes me realize the issue was mine, not his. I never saw it before, but the toys aren't the link to anything important, really. The link is Sam."

Continued on page 2:  Storing Memories


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