My First Hand Experience With Hoarding

On Thursday I drove up to Virginia to meet up with my aunt to begin packing up my grandmother’s house.  When I last visited a couple months ago, her house was messy, but reasonable.  Sometime in the past few months it has gone from cluttered to a pure hoarding household.

I drove straight to GGma’s house and figured I’d check in at the hotel later.  My aunt was already there and they were already going through GGMa’s third bedroom.  The bedroom was previously used by a boy that my grandmother sort-of adopted.  He was actually an adult at the time, but was not being treated well by his actual adoptive family, and so she invited him to live with her when he reached adulthood.  He said yes, and became a de facto part of our family over the past 10-15 years.  My aunt had spoken to him on the phone about the packing up of the house, and he said that he didn’t need to keep anything from his bedroom and that everything could go.

But it wasn’t as simple as that, as my grandmother also had things in that room.  So BK (my aunt) had been holding things up for my grandmother to say “take” or “toss,” but the problem was that she wanted to take everything.  And I do mean everything.  That scrap of wrapping paper that couldn’t cover anything?  Take it.  The bit of velcro that was tucked in the back of a drawer?  Take it.  A dried flower arrangement with an inch of dust on it that hadn’t seen daylight in 15 years?  Take it.

I stayed for a couple hours, and then opted to go check into the hotel and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for Friday.  We got started about 8:30 a.m.  Once I truly took stock of the house, I had no idea where to begin.  I opted to pack up some of her Blue Willow in the kitchen, as well as some knick knacks she had on the shelves.  Once I got that done, I decided to do some work in her second bedroom.  When I opened the door to the room, this is what I saw:

Yeah. The left side of each picture is the bed I slept in last time I visited, about 2-3 months ago. Last time I was at the house, I actually had floor space and could sleep on the bed. Not so, this time. There was barely enough room for me to open the door. These pictures were taken about an hour into my work, when I realized I needed to document just how bad it was in there.

Anyway, it was upon opening this door that I wished I had volunteered to participate in the OTHER half of the move: the unpacking. Because that is going to be a picnic compared to what those of us packing her house will have had to go through. And those folks can never tell me otherwise. Everyone knows that unpacking is infinitely easier than packing, and that’s even more the case when you are dealing with someone who hasn’t cleaned their house in 20 years and is a borderline hoarder.

I got to work, alternating between tossing trash, organizing stuff for her friends to take off our hands, and packing things worth taking. The problem is that most of the stuff in that room is what my grandmother bought to be used as bridge prizes. She plays in a couple weekly bridge games with her gal pals, and the hostess usually gives prizes to the women who win. My grandmother hasn’t hosted a game in a while, but this hasn’t stopped her from buying prizes. There’s a small closet in the pictured room that was stuffed to the rafters with cheap, dollar store “prizes.” I packed up five very large bags and a box of stuff for her friend to take that first afternoon. Then yesterday morning I had another friend take another 3-4 bags. Then in the afternoon yet another friend took ANOTHER 3-4 bags. The rest all went into the goodwill pile or into a pile meant for a friend of my grandmother’s who was doing a fundraising yard sale.

But what was crazy was that my grandmother wanted to keep all those prizes because she might use them at her new place. All 250-300 of them. I did find some interesting stuff in there. I found this can of Pringles:

Notice it says “newfangled.” Yep, this is an ORIGINAL can of Pringles from the 1970s! Had it NOT been rusted and filled with mouse droppings, I’d have brought it home for Denis, who loves kitschy things like this.

While I was working on that room and finding interesting things, my aunt was helping my grandmother decide on what clothes to take with her. My grandmother is a clothes horse. This was evidenced by the fact that my aunt told her she could “only” take 56 pairs of pants with her to the new place, and this represented almost half of the number of pants she owned. Same went for shirts. And shoes. I kept telling my grandmother that I have about seven pairs of pants that I wear – five for work, and 2 pairs of jeans. She didn’t seem to think her count was excessive. She wanted to take EVERYTHING. She had things that still had TAGS on them that had obviously been bought years ago.

At some point on Friday my uncle (JR) showed up and took my grandmother out to do some business related to the move, and my aunt quickly began tossing out junk. You know, stuff that was broken, moldy, useless, duplicates of other things, etc. She had mail laying around dating back to the 1990s.

By Friday night my throat hurt from all the dust I’d been inhaling, and I felt as though I needed a Karen Silkwood shower due to the over-exposure to mouse droppings all over the place.

Come Saturday morning, this was what the bedroom that I had been working on looked like:

I had made a path to the bookcase and began packing up her books! Victory! I made it my goal to finish that room before I had to leave on Saturday evening. And once my other aunt (NR) and cousin (AL) showed up, NR and I got to work completing the bedroom. I was all set to take a picture – bed cleared off, shelves bare, floor completely visible), when I got caught up helping GGma sort through even MORE old mail that she had discovered in her room. While I was doing that, NR got to work on the other closet in the bedroom and when I came back to snap a pic it was cluttered again because her closets had a LOT of stuff in it.

I felt bad leaving on Saturday evening – had I been able to stay one more day, I would have. Especially since NR and I had made such amazing progress in such a short amount of time and were on the verge of being able to help clear out the other bedroom with AL.

All in all, this brief trip to my grandmother’s made me realize many things. First, we should have moved her years ago. She wasn’t ready to make a move, but we should have started laying the foundation to get her prepared.

Secondly, hoarding is a VERY serious problem. Yes, I know we’ve all seen the TV show, and I don’t believe my grandmother was as bad as those portrayed on the TV show. But she was close. The woman had 105 decks of playing cards, after all. She had a room designated to hold ONLY prizes for bridge games. She had more clothes than my entire household combined. She had enough chocolate stashed around her house to feed a village. And all of her reactions to the idea of us getting rid of stuff was exactly what the folks on “Hoarders” say to the cleaners. “I may need that,” was the statement du jour on Friday and Saturday while BK and I were trying to help her determine what to give away and what to keep.

Yet another thing I realized? I don’t want to go through that EVER again. And I don’t want my kids to go through that. And so as we begin to pack up this house I plan on being very cut-throat in deciding what to keep and what to take. As much as I love books, I think I’ve decided to go through them and take at least half to the local used book store. I’ll keep only those that I truly love and would love for my children to read when they get older. I have a closet of clothes that I never wear – and I do mean NEVER. Those will all get donated to Goodwill. I have about 100 VHS movies I can watch on Netflix anytime I want – time to get rid of those and donate them to hospitals, nursing homes, libraries. I have a bunch of old LPs in the attic – I will probably move them to the new house, but then I will make digital recordings of all the good ones and give them away (I don’t have time to do that BEFORE the move).

I hope my 98-year-old grandmother, whom I love and adore, likes her new, uncluttered, clean house. But if she junks it up like she did her old place, I’m going to be REALLY REALLY upset. And I am NOT going to clean it up when she passes away in 10-15 years.

My Signature


  1. I love the Pringles container.

    Funny you wrote this post – I donated 4 huge bags of kids clothing to goodwill yesterday, I never knew kids could have so much clothing.

  2. I am sorry you had to see all that, but thank you for your help! You will be happy to know, I managed to get rid of a few more things when she arrived to Winchester. For example, the vest that looked like Alladin’s and the underwear with holes in it.

  3. Sara – that’s great that you were able to get rid of a few more things she didn’t need! Shocked she let you get rid of the magic vest though! *lol*

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