Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Attachment

Hoarding and the "Sandwich Generation"

Do you feel overwhelmed by stuff you're saving from both parents and children?

Are you the designated “curator” for your family?

Does your practical side pressure you to hold onto hand-me-downs because the next generation might need them? Have you turned home spaces into a clearinghouse?

Welcome to the Sandwich Generation! And beware of the challenges ahead.

There are two common value-driven ways to inadvertently create a hoarded environment:

1. Accepting, or being appointed, the family’s curator.

When one accepts the obligation to be a curator they often fail to ask, “Does this item meet my needs? Does it reflect me as I am today, moving forward? Do these things use the space that would give my life meaning and joy?

Instead, there is an obligation of love and responsibility for someone else’s well-loved things which become receptacles of memories and symbolic of loved ones who were part of their lives. They struggle with the question: How can I part with this because it meant so much to them?

Working with a hoarding-informed coach, you can come to terms with who you really are and how all these things represent who you are at this point in your life. If there are too many items not to your taste, is living with an over-accumulation the best and only way to honor your loved ones? What would it be like to honor the items and your loved one by offering the excess to people who will appreciate and value these things as their original owners did?

2. Appointing yourself the retainer of family possessions, thereby becoming a clearinghouse.

Items are seen as “too important” to pass on to strangers because they might be needed by the next generation. They are kept and stored “just in case.”

Quite often it comes as a distressing surprise to “clearinghouse” family members that the younger generation does not share their taste and sense of obligation. They don’t want these cherished possessions. A better question is: Before I keep something, should I survey potential inheritors about their willingness to accept "clearinghouse" items?

In both cases, if I find that I am still struggling with letting things go, is it more likely that I am holding onto grief? Are the items simply the outward manifestation of that grief?

Suzanne Cronkwright - co-author photo
Source: Suzanne Cronkwright - co-author photo

Don’t let it progress into or remain a hoarded environment. Refer to the Definition of hoarding in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition and make a plan. Depending on the type, size and condition of items, options for resolution of the excessive accumulation are donate, recycle, and discard.

There are also a few other options, but use them after much consideration because they involve a good deal of time and effort with uncertain benefits.

  1. Sell, although it is unlikely you will get what you believe the items are worth.
  2. Regift items designated and stored in a specific but limited space for specific people when gift-giving is an established pattern.

What people choose to do is based on the meaning they apply to the situation and often is influenced by their values, beliefs ( sometimes limiting beliefs), fears, and vision of what they want out of any situation as well as what they see as being possible. If any of these factors continue to derail your progress, I strongly encourage you to get professional help to guide you past barriers to the life you want.

Attachment Patterns

Finally, there are basically three attachment patterns that influence the relationship we form with our things. Yes, we do have relationships with any object made important enough to keep or allowed to remain in our environment.

Sentimental attachment: We give objects the meaning of representing or replacing the loved person or memory. The hard truth is objects are just that. We can love them, but they cannot love us back or replace what we long for. Attaching this way risks losing track that we have the actual vivid experience within our memory bank and it will be prompted in many other ways when we need it, especially if we don’t make ourselves dependent on things as substitutes.

Intrinsic attachment: We connect with our “engineer’s brain,” seeing possibilities and alternative uses for practically everything. You love projects and feel a need to acquire and keep items for which you see alternative uses. This can become unmanageable. I encourage you to focus on one current project including necessary supplies and only extend that to one more project “in the wings,” gathering only what will be needed.

Aesthetic attachment: We experience an immediate and intense attraction to things with particular characteristics. The brain's reward centers go into overdrive. We find ourselves held hostage to our neural response system.

Consider this in the meantime. It isn’t a deal if you are buying on credit. Shop from a list. If impulse purchases are actually a good idea, they will still be a good idea after sleeping on it.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: trekandshoot/Shutterstock

advertisement
More from Elaine Birchall, MSW, RSW, and Suzanne Cronkwright
More from Psychology Today