May 23, 2011

Pack Rat or Hoarder.....When to Worry

We have a small, antique table that sits next to our front door in our entry foyer. Except for displaying a canister of eucalyptus branches and being a dropping off point for mail, it's largely unused.

For the past couple of weeks, the stool that normally lives in the downstairs powder room has instead been placed next to the little table. I'd never given it a second thought; with five kids, things are rarely where they're supposed to be. I just always moved it back to the bathroom. This table has deep storage compartments on either side. Since they're rather awkward, we've never used them to store anything.

Over the weekend, I noticed our XiXi, standing on the stool at the little table, with the side lid up, rummaging through the storage compartment. I went to take a look and gasped. It was filled to the brim with food and water. Bananas, oranges, apples, carrots, chips, peanuts, and no fewer than eight mini bottles of water. There were also a smattering of Hot Wheels cars and some chess pieces.

I felt like the Jennifer Connolly character in the movie, "A Beautiful Mind", when she discovers her husband's secret shed, filled floor to ceiling with newspaper clippings, circled with his "secret codes". She'd previously thought everything was fine, but then knew that it wasn't.

And yet, things do seem fine. At the end of the week, we'll mark two months since we met our son in China. He's a complete and total joy. He gives and accepts affection freely. He's kind and considerate and one of the most self-sufficient three-year olds I've ever met. We love him dearly. He lived in an orphanage for the first 3 years of his life, then with a foster family for about 8 months, and then was back in the orphanage the week before we came. When we met him, my initial thought when I first saw him was, "He's so big!" He's just above the 75th percentile in weight on the U.S. growth charts and he doesn't look malnourished in the least. He also doesn't seem frantic at meals and doesn't typically over-eat. In China, the very biggest tantrums we saw came when someone touched his water or his noodles, but that was the case with toys and other possessions as well.

Our daughter was 11 months old at the time of adoption. When she first came home, she could never seem to eat enough. She'd out-eat her father, which is quite a feat. I honestly think she would have eaten anything offered to her on a spoon--mud, weeds, garbage--you name it, I think she would have eaten it. In just a few months, she went from somewhere below the 5th percentile in weight up to the 50th. We spoke to our International Adoption doctor about her eating and she said that it was very common behavior in a child who'd known hunger and that we should continue to offer her as much healthy food as she wanted and that she'd eventually learn that there was always going to be more. She didn't have to stockpile it all in her bulging tummy. If she'd been mobile, I'm sure she would have been a food hoarder.

So, back to our son. I showed my husband his stash and he just kind of shrugged. Our oldest biological daughter had been a pack-rat at that age. We'd find little stashes of toys and papers and "Lucy junk" in locations all over the house. Was this any different? my husband wanted to know. Well, I think that it is. And yet, I don't want to over-think it either. He's doing fantastic.

I took the perishable items out of the table and dumped them in our compost pile. I kept his chips and crackers and water bottles where they were. Is that the right move? Should I put a stop to it completely and tell him that his days of food storage are over? I'm sure this is something the rest of you have dealt with.

I'd love some advice.


  1. Hmmm, an interesting dilemma.

    I would definitely discuss it with him, and share that you had to throw out the things that went bad, and how those are not good things to save.

    Maybe you could support him in this, for a time, and possibly even help him choose things that would be appropriate to store there, like small containers of goldfish, pretzels, etc. Maybe let him choose some things at the grocery store? I wouldn't want to put my foot down yet, I know 2 months seems like a long time, but I think I'd give it a few more months at least, before deciding if you want to insist he stop hoarding... I bet he'll stop on his own.

    If you support him, and he knows you're willing to actually help him stock it, it might not be such a big deal after a while. Eventually maybe you could move his 'things' - have a XiXi shelf in your pantry (maybe a basket all his own?), and maybe soon he'd realize his stuff is really safe in your family, it all belongs to everyone :)

    Just my .02!

    Keep us posted on how it goes.

  2. I would make a basket or a drawer of full of healthy snacks, and show this to my child. We'll keep this right here, and it will always have food in it. You can have some whenever you want (or except within one hour before dinner). I would let the child choose healthy snacks at the store and let me know what he/she'd like in the snack basket/drawer. I would explain that we don't want food tucked away where mice/ants/cockroaches might get to it.

  3. i would talk to him about it and let him continue to do it if he wants to. i would also make a drawer for him in the kitchen with snacks available for him for whenever he wants them. i know two months seems like awhile, but it is a blink of an eye. if he is still doing it in a year, then re-evaluate and maybe set some boundaries with it. also, he starts to become obese. otherwise, i think it is totally normal/expected what he is doing and he is exerting control in an area where he is able to have control (which is a big deal for all kids, but especially those who have come from insecure environments)...just my two cents! (((hugs)))

  4. i meant to say "also, set some boundaries if he starts to become overweight or obese." just wanted to clear that up! :-)

  5. Morning dear lady - this isn't just an "adopted thing" - one of our bio kids was also a food hoarder.

    The readers digest version is - he's scared.

    He's also happy - happier than he's probably ever been in his life.

    And he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    So he's got a stash for when things 'run out' - and that's a pretty reasonable response - maybe even a response far beyond his tender age.

    And all of this is survivable! In fact - it's been our experience that it will resolve itself over time. As a rule of thumb we think (unsupported by the all knowing 'them' that know all these things) that our adopted kids need at least as long in their forever family as they had in the 'before time' until they really start to feel comfortable and trust that they will be there forever.

    I'll bet that you'll find the more he starts to disobey and rebel a little bit - the less he'll hoard! Think of that rebellion as trust - it makes it easier!

    So - talk to him - let him continue to hoard - give him things he can hoard (that won't spoil etc) - and reassure him every time you talk about it that you love him enough to let him do this - and that regardless of what he does he'll continue to be your son - forever - and then forget about it. Maybe docuement it a little bit - when he's older I doubt he'll remember it - but it is an important part of his past that he may one day need or want to know about.

    Eileen - sounds to me like he's doing great - and is wise beyond his years - good for him and good for you!

    hugs - aus and co.

  6. I had an "A-Ha" moment of sorts. XiXi sees me sending the family off for their day with food. I make lunches for everyone. In XiXi's stash, he had everything in little plastic baggies or brown paper lunch bags. Maybe he's wondering why I'm not giving him food for the day like everyone else?

  7. You may have it figured out Eileen! Maggie doesn't hide food (that I know of--ha), but she will still carry food around with her. Sometimes all day. It might be a bag of almonds, a granola bar, whatever she happens to find, and she will pack it with her where ever she goes. She loves to stuff her backpack full of stuff and carry it around. She crams her grocery cart full of things and pushes her junk around the house. Tonight she found an empty grocery bag and took all of the stuff out of her grocery cart and filled that plastic bag. Then she wanted to take it to bed! The bag is not in the bed with her, and I consider it an accomplishment! I'm thinking they will outgrow their tendencies to keep things close eventually. I'm glad to know our girl isn't the only one! :-) By the way, I love your little table. It is so cute! XiXi was very smart to find such a good hiding place!

  8. I'm so relieved to reread that and find that the water was in bottles.
    I'm with the "talk and let it happen" group. My 5-year-old still kind of hoards candy and toys, and we gave her a place to do it (a rarity in a house where 4 kids share a room). It lets her hold onto her things, and be generous: when SHE chooses to be. She was about the same age as your XiXi when we adopted her (almost two years ago now).