Growing up, my parents had two separate houses, one on Long Island and the other on Staten Island.
Most of the mornings that we were on Staten Island, my grandparents brought bagels for breakfast, and I spent my days with my cousins or with the other kids on my street.
After moving to New Jersey when I was seven, my mom didn’t want to spend as much time on Staten Island because she saw it as overcrowded and difficult to drive around in compared to our new home. Because we spent little time on Staten Island, my grandmother moved into our old house.
Once my grandma was settled, we rarely went into the house because of the state of my grandma’s hoarding. I sometimes peered into the house and saw clothes on the couch, unused boxes and plastic bags beside the TV, piles of old VCR tapes beside the front door among other useless things.
Whenever my mom went inside, she was often distraught at the sight of the house. She hated seeing what her mom had done to the house, and was always upset when we left because of the damage.
Hoarders, like my grandmother, have persistent difficulty parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save the items. Oftentimes the resulting clutter disrupts the ability to use living spaces, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
When I was 15, my grandma moved in with us for a few months due to health complications. While she stayed with us, my mom confronted her about the state of our house on Staten Island and her hoarding.
That night, my mom finally told me why she was always upset after leaving Staten Island, because she felt my grandma was destroying our house.
I stepped foot into our house for the first time since I was seven this past winter break. Unlike before, I wasn’t just peering in, I actually walked through the destruction from the hoarding.
I was shocked, it wasn’t the childhood home I remembered. There was junk everywhere, and the dining room table where my grandma brought over bagels was covered in a strangely organized mass of letters.
Because my grandma didn’t actually need my room for anything, my room became her personal storage room.
Everything was piled on top of each other, practically to the height of the ceiling. My old bed was covered by her things and barely visible.
It felt like my childhood was shattering right in front of my eyes. Up until this day, I held hope that beneath the garbage, my childhood home was still there.
I couldn’t stay in the house for more than 30 minutes before I felt I was going to throw up. Becoming a hoarder has been one of my biggest fears since I first saw the signs of hoarding when I was in elementary school. Seeing my grandmother’s junk sit there, collecting dust and her refusal to throw anything away disgusted me.
Walking into her house only solidified this fear, and I had the urge to throw out everything I owned.
Once we got home to New Jersey, I immediately cleared out my room. I impulsively purged my clothes and anything else I felt wasn’t needed.
I thought about my apartment at school, and became fearful as to how much I could’ve accumulated during the fall semester. It killed me knowing I’d have to wait until I could purge my apartment too.
As I walked away from the house, I realized it was officially time to let go of what this house meant to me and close that chapter of my life. It was difficult for me, because I never thought I’d see the house I loved so much be completely destroyed.
In the days after my visit, I knew I had to come to terms with the state of my house. It was important to me because I had so many vivid childhood memories there, but I had to acknowledge that my grandmother had an illness that she couldn’t control.
After years of denying the effects I knew hoarding would have on the house, I now know it’s okay to say goodbye to the house, because I’ll be able to take all of my good memories with me.