Are You Raising Your Kids to be Hoarders?

This is a guest post from Lorilee Lippincott from Loving Simple Living.

Commercial society has done a great job filling up kids lives. Couple that with the fact that houses keep getting bigger and most kids are now getting their own rooms. Kids have room for more and more stuff. Retail has done a great job of translating love to equal gifts and often it is kids that get the brunt of this lie. Kids collect gifts at birthday, Christmas, every other holiday, when they get a good grade, when they behave in the store, as a reward for doing a chore, as a apology or a way of making up for parenting mistakes, and sometimes for no reason at all. Kids get gifts from parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, friends, and more. There is a constant flow of stuff into our kids life and space.

In my home, and probably in yours, my kids have more stuff to process and sort coming in that I do. Pair that with the fact that minimalism can be seen by some as cutting back, almost depriving, it is the last thing we want to inflict on our kids. We want to show them that every gift is special, ever art project is valuable, and that nothing should be wasted. However, in doing this we are further telling them that stuff is tied to love, experiences, and value.

As a parent it is our job to teach the opposite. To teach our kids that love is shown in many ways and that a person is not more or less because of the stuff that they own or have given as gifts. At the same time we need to guard against our kids being overwhelmed and stressed out because of their amount of stuff. We are responsible from birth on up (in different degrees to match ages) to create a living space that will inspire, relax, and grow them as ‘little’ people. I want my kids to love their room and have no trouble maintaining, playing, or cleaning it up. I want them to have time and space for lots of creative play.

Minimalist living, for us and for our kids, is about the benefits and environment we are creating and giving, not about depriving or anything we are taking away. Because that is the focus lets look at what kids should have access too: (not every kid at every age needs these, but this is the list I use for my kids)

  1. Art supplies – a few good quality ones not a whole pile of broken crayons, dried markers and half finished projects.
  2. Building/Structural Toys – blocks, legos, or something similar but only one or maybe two sets. They don’t need a bunch of pieces that get mixed up and don’t fit together.
  3. Relational/Nurture Toys – Dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals. Same with above, they don’t need all of them. There are dolls of so many sizes with cloths and accessories to match. A nice set of one or two types of dolls is all that is needed.
  4. Active Toys – Proper equipment for a few sports or activities that they enjoy.
  5. Puzzles and group games – A few age appropriate and quality options.
  6. Dress up – Probably more applicable for younger kids. A few quality, none character specific options that can fit many roles for creative play.
  7. Books – more books don’t equal more reading. Having a few age appropriate books and a clean spot to read them equals more reading. Kids go through books fast so it is always good to have new and interesting books, but they don’t need to keep the ones they have read. Libraries or other book sharing options are amazing for this.
  8. A few more child specific pieces can fit in as well.

Once we know what they need to have, it is very easy to see everything else as stuff that they shouldn’t have.

I first started to understand this when I noticed that my kids played the best after I had cleaned and organized their rooms for them. They were too overwhelmed to clean it themselves. They were crowded and overstimulated. They suffer from the same clutter stress and are overwhelmed just like we are.

We cut back on almost all of our kids toys a year ago (when they were 7 and 4). They now share a room and it is still mostly manageable for them to keep clean on their own. Their clothes and toys all can be put in their closet and they have lots of floor space to play. It was a huge change for us, but I wish we had done it sooner.

Lorilee writes about her family’s pursuit of less stuff and more living at Loving Simple Living. You can read more about how they downsized from a 2000 sq ft home to a 900 sq ft apartment here.

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  • I just wanted to say that there is a big difference between collecting a lot of stuff and “hoarding”. People who hoard usually have intense psychological trauma attached to the behaviour. There is a lot of anxiety, paranoia, and distress. Its an extreme OCD behaviour. It is not the opposite of minimalism, which involves logical and normal thought processes.

  • Just realised that my comment was a bit aggressive. Sorry about that. Other than my qualm with the title I completely agree. Less stuff, that’s well organized, completely changes the way my daughter plays, for the better. She remembers where toys are, and will sit and play with them more intensively, instead of wandering around a messy room throwing them because she cant figure out their function. Plus the fact that she’d rather be at the park than play with any toys inside.

    • I bet the chosen title will get more link love than “Are you Raising your Children to Want More Stuff?”

      • Sara – FYI it was the guest author’s title. I agree, it is harsh and could be considered sensationalistic, but Lori has a different take on family minimalism that I wanted to share.

        • I thought it was a good article and didn’t have a problem with the title. You want to catch the reader’s attention and get them to click your link! I understand that hoarding is a serious psychological disorder, but I am used to people using psychological terms as descriptors. How many people have I heard categorize themselves as OCD when they aren’t even close?

          Enjoyed the article and I wasn’t trying to stir up anything by my comment!

    • I agree, the title really bothers me. Hoarding is a psychological issue that is not caused by the amount of stuff a child grows up with. However, your claims that minimalism requires a deeper thought process is incorrect for some. To be a hoarder takes a very intense un/subconscious thought process. The difference with most minimalists is that their thought process on decluttering v. collecting is more on a conscious level. Yet there are people like me who are obsessive declutterers who are minimalists for similar reasons that a person hoards. Both extremes often come with disordered thinking. Just wanted to clear that up!

      • I read the post because of the title and I agree with the content. It certainly caught my attention.

      • Love the article and title. I have a little hoarder of my own and I feel like we both get lost in the clutter at times. It takes a lot of time and energy to manage so much stuff. It is so freeing to sweep through the house and get rid of it, keeping only the basics.

      • FYI I love the title, and may actually pass along to some family members who keep buying us unwanted stuff, after being asked not to!

  • I’ve always been a fan of giving our kids the gift of less. They still have way more than I think that they need, but so much less than any other kid in our neighborhood. We live in a duplex right now and a few months ago a really nice family moved in next door, so much better than the group of parting college kids we previously had! The children next door have so many toys not just in their room but filling a large portion of the 2 car garage. When they drag it out to play with my kids in the front yard I find it overwhelming at times, I can’t imagine what their Mom feels like having it around her all the time.

  • I agree that less is more when it comes to toys. I’m searching for a way to incorporate this principle into my lifestyle. Most of my children’s stuff comes from loving and generous family and friends. We donate a good portion of the gifts (often unopened), but our small condo is still overflowing!

  • I don’t know if Lori is responding to comments here, but I would like some perspectives on kids and their “treasures”. We’ve cut toys and kid supplies down to minimal-ish quantities, but those darned treasures abound. You know, the wrist-slap bracelets from the safety officer’s visit at school, the rubber balls saved from party loot bags, the junk jewellery, the medal from the library’s summer reading club, the ceramic toucan from Grandma and Grandpa’s trip to Mexico…. My eight-year-old daughter is very co-operative when it comes to getting rid of toys, books, excess art supplies, etc., but her stash of personal artefacts seems untouchable, and also uncontainable. These are the things that make the girls’ bedroom floor a minefield and closet disorganized. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a separate category…I just don’t know when to allow there to be a line I don’t cross in decluttering, even though these are kids we’re talking about. I guess I don’t want to turn my kids INTO hoarders by striking fear into their hearts that nothing they own will be spared from the giveaway box. Thoughts??

      • Elin,
        I was going to say what KT just said below. My kids have a ‘treasure’ box where they put their memory toys. Lots of the stuff is little things they pick up on vacations that help them remember.

        I also did an art box for Lily for quite a while when she was little. They do so many projects at school/church/home and they don’t want to throw away any of it so we just put it in the art box. Every once and a while when it filled up I let her go through and keep her favorite stuff. Some stuff she would decide she didn’t like as much and would throw away and some stuff she would gift to friends and family (lots to Grandma). It made a great place for her to go through around Christmas when she wanted to give gifts to everyone.

        Hope that helps some. Every kid is different and you definitely don’t want them to feel like their stuff is in danger or that you don’t value what is special to them. With my kids, they were way more open after my husband and I started living it out with our own belongings.

        Giving to others, and making the room easier to clean up are what work the best with my kids.

        • My daughter (6 years old) will voluntarily part with NOTHING. Ever. We’ve tried the treasure box, with no success. It filled up and we tried to talk her into getting rid of some of the old stuff – she got very worked up and refused to part with anything. She collects meaningful things, small objects like shells to remind her of a particular trip, and also junk like shredded papper and dryer lint (I am not even kidding). No one else in the family is much of a collector, so I’m not really sure where the behavior is coming from, but I hate clutter and it’s making me nuts.

          Luckily she has so much stuff she doesn’t generally realize when it’s gone, so I’ve been able to do a fair amount of clearing out when she’s not home. (I mean, dryer lint? Really??) She pretty much never remembers stuff or asks for it, so it’s really ok to get rid of things, just not in her presence. I’m actually ever so slightly worried that this is genuinely hoarding behavior, in the diagnostic sense, although there’s been no major trauma in her life. (Aside from my taking away rusty bottle caps she found on the beach, of course.)

          Ironically, she has always been a kid who is much happier in a calm, minimalist space. When she was a baby she would nap much more easily if the room was straightened up and there weren’t toys lying all over the floor. And all of my kids are much more likely to find something to play with in a room where the toys are put away than where everything is flung all over the room in plain sight.

          Sigh. Maybe it’s a phase and she’ll outgrow it, right?

    • How about a large clear plastic bin, the kind that can be stored under a bed? (The ONLY item that can be allowed under the bed.) All the treasures that can fit can be stored in this bin, for the child to look at when the mood strikes them. If they are given a set space for such items, eventually they will come to realize only so much will fit and may be able to realize over time, out of sight out of mind. Or if you have a digital camera, maybe asking them to take a picture of a “treasure”, maybe with the person that gave it to them or the memory associated with it. Then they will always have the memory reminder of the picture. With the hope that as they mature emotionally, they won’t need these “treasures” over time….

      Good luck!

    • How about a small treasure box for each child? They can keep it filled with the treasures they want, but just that one box. If it becomes filled, then go through it with the child and decide what stays and goes. My boys are stating to collect things too, and that’s my plan so far! I had something similar as a girl, and still do!

    • My 8 year old has a treasure box and all of her favorite things go in there. She goes through it herself and sometimes decides to get rid of an item. It’s the size of a large shoebox and nothing new can go in if it’s filled up. That helps her think about what really is a treasure.

    • Can you give her 1 or 2 decorative boxes that she can use to store / display her ‘treasures’ and ask her that anything not contained within / on top be thought about for give away. You could ask her to edit her collection and then store it for a pre arranged time, and then review to see if she still wants anything. I used this for my 8 yr old when we we moving and she really eliminated lots.

    • I have the same struggle. Everything is not priceless, but my daughter can’t seem to distinguish between what she really wants and what she just doesn’t want to toss. It’s important that we give our children choices. Providing a bin or limited space for certain categories of toys might help them choose. Whatever trinkets, Barbies, etc. that they want to fit in that space is what we keep, and the rest is donated to a local charity thrift store. They get a choice while creating a clean room, and we aren’t the bad guys disrespecting their stuff.

  • This couldn’t have been more timely. We are getting ready to do a big, church garage sale/fundraiser and donate all the proceeds to an organization that gives 100% of the money (not just profits, everything–all staff is volunteer!!) to an orphanage to allow their food budget to increase for the increase of orphans residing.

    That being said, I have a 2.5 year old and an almost 7 month old, both girls. We’re transitioning our baby into the older ones room VERY soon and I am struggling about giving up this room as the guest bedroom, making it into their room. We have a small, two-bedroom home and love to host company, so if we move out the double bed, dressers, storage, etc., then were limited in sharing our small space to family that comes into town. BUT, we could still eliminate stuff that isn’t necessary.

    Any suggestions on how to make a kid’s room a kid’s room with flexibility? Also, with two little ones, how does anyone get away with only one small, three-drawer dresser and half of a closet? Any toy suggestions, other than the ones above?


    • We also have a 2 bedroom apartment and would love to be able to host family from out of town but haven’t had anyone come up yet. The bed I have for the kids is a trundle daybed that when the bottom pulls out it springs up and can be set next to the day bed portion making a king size bed. (typically we set them up on opposite sides of the room for the kids) Our plan, if we get company to visit, is to move the kids to our floor with their sleeping bags and camping mats and give their room to company. Then company can have 2 single beds or one king size bed.

      Closet space is hard. I just did Project 333 by Courtney of for our whole family. Each family member is down to 33 clothing items including shoes, coats, jewelry and not including underwear, pj’s or workout type cloths. This cut down the kids closet by quite a bit. We just have their other cloths in storage (under our bed). We can rotate as we need to, but it keeps what is in their closet very simple.

      • Visitors in a small home: we do something similar to what you are planning, Lori. We have had quite a few visitors in the Isle of Man and with a little heavy lifting were able to provide them with a comfortable room of their own. We moved one of the mattresses off a twin bed that is in my son’s room and wedged it into our bedroom (tight but it fit). Our son sleeps on the mattress on the floor and our guest has the other twin bed that’s in his room.

  • Even though I am child free by choice, this post really struck a chord. When I was a kid I just felt overwhelmed by stuff. I’m not sure that my mother would qualify as a full blown hoarder, but it was pretty darned close, and we were certainly given the message that getting rid of anything was “dangerous” because you might want it later. Oy!

    At some point both my brother and I had both had enough, and we sort of made a pact. I moved into a spare room in the basement, he took my old bedroom, and his room became the repository for all of our childhood toys and junk that my mother couldn’t let us part with. I think some part of her wanted to hold on to us still being little kids, and refusing to get rid of any of the stuff was her way of doing that.

  • Books are a very big part of our lives but I always cull regularly and recycle them somewhere. When my son was young it meant donating the outgrown (younger) books to daycares.

    But when we were moving and cleaning out the shelves it was very interesting to do it with my then 14 year old. He had books that he wanted to keep for the memories. He said, “I may not read them but I want to keep them”. However it wasn’t a large number and in fact I contributed my ‘memory’ books too (the ones I really enjoyed reading to him).

    We’ve ended up with about 15 books that he will be able to take with him into adulthood.

    Now LEGO is another story entirely as there is a huge collection (all sorted into drawers) and all the instruction books!

  • I have twin boys age 6. I spent a lot of time last summer watching hat they played with. Turned out it was a few matchbox cars, Legos, blocks,and there train set( a very simple one from ikea). That’s it so I got rid of everything else ( stored it for a few weeks and they never missed it). They cont to play with these things everyday. The also are outside a lot climbing trees and riding bikes. As far as books I have a few books that rotate and we use the library a lot. A book that is great reading on this subject is “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. It goes along perfectly with this article and with some of the comments.


  • In our home, we each have an iPad. We each have tons of books and games that we share. Makes cleanup a breeze, traveling simple, movie watching a cinch, and online tourtoring on Kahn Academy convenient too. We don’t have cable but have one tv that we have an apple tv hooked up too. I love our multimedia/ information resource set up. Selling one of our cars made the iPads obtainable and a huge treat. A favorite app the whole family plays is Casey’s Contraptions. The physics are so real that my 6 year old as well as myself struggle putting it down. We also have old standbys like Monopoly,Sorry,Clue,etc. Nothing to pick up, no pieces to lose!

  • I live in an RV with a nearly 4 year old. (Not by choice and not for much longer…) Needless to say, STUFF is not an option. Yet, all of her toys and clothes easily fit into the space in her room and she’s as happy as she can be at this point. When people were giving us books, I culled over 1/2 of them and took them to the used book store to trade in. Outgrown or extra donated clothes were taken to the donation center. Through the course of all of this (guess I should say that we lost our home in a wildfire in September) she has learned that people share with her and that if we don’t need or want it, we need to share it with the many others that do. This has all been a tremendous lesson on generosity, both in giving and receiving, and in what we truly NEED. I plan on continuing down the simplicity path once we move into out new house (in a few weeks) and feel like this disaster has really afforded me an opportunity to choose what we keep in our house – much less than before. I like to call myself a “born again minimalist”… though I am sure that I have a ways to go!

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