I was working with my client today and we had a chat that I think you might want to hear too.

She’s a single mum – her tween son is her whole world. She adores him (he is pretty darn adorable).

She and her son are both autistic and both sentimentally attached to their stuff – they find it really hard to let go. And that’s normal for many people, of course, but can also be really unhelpful because it results in rather full houses.

She has been working hard on her clutter and is discarding and organising well. We have worked on her son’s room a few times (and she has done it herself many times before I came along) and it always descends again into chaos. He’s very busy and creative, easily distracted and gets overwhelmed with a lot of stuff to put away.

She is also stressed out by his bedroom, and they end up fighting. He resists tidying up because he’s overwhelmed, she shouts because she’s overwhelmed, then he gets upset and then she feels guilty. And repeat.

Here’s the kicker, though – he keeps getting more stuff to add to his room. His mum’s love language is gift giving. She LOVES giving gifts to people she cares for – it’s her favourite thing to do.

So today after working with him, and him telling me about what his mum bought him yesterday, I went in for a chat with his mum. I said to her that the only way things are going to change is if he has half the stuff (or less). It’s the only way he’s going to be capable of staying on top of it, and both of them to be comfortable with his room. I said that I know she loves giving him hings, but he can’t handle it and he can’t let go. So she’s essentially giving them both long-term stress for a short-term kick (to both of them).

I suggested that maybe he might have to “buy” new tings she’s bought for him with a donation of another toy. She said that would distress him too much as he can’t let go easily.

So my next suggestion was to spare him the distress of parting with things, and just have nothing new come into the house from now on.

I know her quite well by now, and her face clearly showed her dismay. She said “But he’s my son, I want to give him things to make him happy”.

I said “Would you give him heroin? That would make him happy. Of course then he’s addicted and brain-addled and it ruins his life. But you’d both be happy for a moment. Because that’s what you’re doing – you’re getting a high from giving him something that makes you both happy in the moment, but you’re both in conflict and absolutely miserable in the long term. And it’s even worse if you then also have to deal with withdrawal later on”.

She’s smart, she gets it. She smiled sadly and said “Yeah, I know. And I have cupboards full of heroin just waiting to give him”.

Are you filling your kids’ lives with stuff that causes long-term issues? Are you getting a high from buying them stuff? And is the fallout making you all miserable?

If so, maybe it’s time for a detox.

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