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My Son is Obsessed with Possessions

My Son is Obsessed with Possessions

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Dear Rachel,

I have four children, eleven, nine, seven and two. Mostly they are great kids, and they usually get along. However, my seven-year-old son is very into possessions. He can remember everything that he was ever given, who gave it to him and why he got it. He is constantly going around the house asking me about different objects, if they belong to someone, and if not, if he can have them. Also, he wants to keep total junk! You would be amazed at the things that he collects on the way home from school: plastic soda bottles, broken pencil cases, screws, etc. I really need some help with my son to get this situation under control.

S.M.

Dear S.M,

"I want it, and I want it now!!" This is a familiar mantra, and not just for two year olds anymore! Depending on a personality, this could be a lifelong struggle for someone. This is a very tough situation for any parent to handle. It's very good that you are noticing your son's tendencies now, and trying to help him gain control over the situation.

I have found that boys in particular are very into their "things." Many a mother will talk about the treasures they have found in their little boys' pockets, backpacks, and even in their beds! Part of this is developmental, and as he grows up and matures, you may start to see that this tendency to collect things will start to wane. On some level, you have to accept that little kids are very curious about their worlds, and, as they explore, they like to keep things as mementoes.

The need for things is not a new idea, nor is it going to go awayOn a practical level, you can work with him to help him figure out how to manage his stuff in different ways. One way is to give him a special place where he can keep his things. Set it up so that he gets this place on the condition that when it gets too full, then he needs to clean it out. A good place would be either a drawer or a bin of some kind. A contained place will help keep the mess under control.

Another way is to make rules about the category of items he collects. If he is bringing in real garbage, (wrappers, old bottles etc), don't be afraid to put firm rules around these items. Delineate for yourself what you are willing to have him bring in, and then let him know what is off-limits for entry into the house. Or, you can let him have more freedom with the things that he collects and brings home, provided that there is a set, regular time that everything gets cleaned out (i.e. once a week, once a month, depending on his collection proficiency).

I think that you are very wise in trying to get this situation under control now, while your son is so young. The need for things is not a new idea, nor is it going to go away. The Maharal explains that those who lack wholeness try to fill themselves in other ways (think food, things and entertainment, etc.). Now of course, this is a very deep idea for most adults to understand and integrate into their lives, let alone a young seven year old boy! However, you can try and take some opportunities to help him see the joy and happiness he can feel from intangible things. Also explore with him if perhaps he is feeling empty or unfulfilled in some way and if that is why he likes to collect and hold onto objects.

Encourage him to play a game, read books or color pictures with you. During these times mention how nice it is to spend time with him. Perhaps, he may enjoy being given new responsibilities that he has become old enough to do. Praise his abilities, and focus on his accomplishments.

At the same time, let him know that his possessions are important, and that you will try and help him make sure that they stay his. If the object is able to be labeled, then help him label it. Create a space that is off limits to the other members of your household. By, creating these parameters around his things, he may begin to feel less need to claim other things as his own. As he knows what's his, he can focus on those things. His behavior could be stemming from a feeling of being threatened by the other kids, and he needs to feel that he has some of his own things that are sacrosanct for him.

Rest assured, most children do grow up and outgrow this behavior. One day, you may even look back on these times and miss your little boy. For the meantime, this certainly sounds like a challenging situation, but, with patience and forethought, I am sure you will be able to help your son.

Rachel

“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Beryl Tritel.

Beryl Tritel, MSW, is a therapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh. She has been living in Israel for over 10 years with her husband and their 5 kids. She also offers Skype sessions. She can be reached at BerylTritel.com.
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Vicky T Silver Spring, MD January 22, 2012

Please Everyone is so quick to jump to mental health and hoarding (thank's reality TV!). The self esteem damage caused by an unessesary trip to the shrink is also a risk.

He's 7!!!!

It sounds like you have a creative little boy who sees potential in everyday objects. Certainly define parameters but lets not be so quick to say he has problem.

I wonder if hes also trying to find a little identity and control in a four-child home. That would be a natural feeling. Reply

Karen Joyce Kleinman Chaya Fradle Bell Riverside, CA via ocjewish.com August 28, 2011

Your son sounds LIKE HE IS GIFTED! I raised two gifted children and that was one of the qualities they had; however, I helped them hone it down to specific items. One chose Marvel comics and the other DC comics and they each began their collections, complete with special plastic to keep the comic books from yellowing and special boxes for them. They also collected Star Wars figurines, and I got them a special place for them after I found the little figures in my FREEZER (trying to re-create the scene in the movie where there was snow). As they got older, they saw the value of coin collections, etc. One was tested and found to be a super genius, and the other was just gifted in intelligence. Both became excellent in college and then in their careers. So, take heart. It may not be just a desire for THINGS, but a desire to UNDERSTAND and TREASURE the MEANING of things. Reply

Shifra Gellman Bal Harbour, Florida April 6, 2011

Kids collecting various stuff If a child can be focused onto a hobby, such as collecting stamps, his possession can be organized and constructive. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 9, 2011

Possible Future Hoarder It sounds like you son can't let go of anything. It's called HOARDING, and it's very dangerous, since it can also be a fire hazard!

Your son needs immediate help! Reply

M H September 27, 2010

love language by the way, you have an advantage with your son in that you can know very clearly how he most feels loved. More than a hug or calling him sweet names, to him, gifts = I love you. (This is one of five love languages, an idea worth exploring) Reply

Leba SE PA, PA September 17, 2010

Missing something? The urge to bring home junk found on the street...this sounds like the boy could be inclined towards being a hoarder. I wonder if something is missing in this response, since no mental or emotional evaluation by a professional was recommended. I do agree with everything else written, about imposing rules on the type of "collectables" allowed and establishing parameters. These are important to a child's self-worth anyway. Reply