My big, broken mansion
I lived in a large mansion in Quezon City.
At the house’s exterior, you’d be greeted by a tall, three-story home that blocks your view of the sun. The walls are almost entirely made of glass, purposely slanted at an angle to add a unique and modern touch. A large, solid gate securing the house opens automatically with a click of a button, doing away with maids and helpers manually opening the entrance. The building in the middle of Plymouth Street almost looked like a modern art installation. However, its interior was a significant contrast to its pristine exterior. If you look hard enough through the glass windows, you’d see mounds of garbage, dilapidated counters, peeling paint, broken furniture, and an occasional scurrying mouse that came out of its hiding.
The house began construction in 2009. My family of six was then still living in a three-bedroom townhouse near Katipunan Avenue. One thing I always thought of as standard growing up was sharing a small bedroom with my entire family, while the other spare bedrooms were used to store things, boxes and boxes of things. Old clothes, toys, broken furniture, random household items, and even expired food filled my house up to the ceiling. Whatever object my parents brought in would seemingly never leave, even if it had long overstayed its welcome. Most of them were stored in big Duraboxes, while others were stacked haphazardly in the room’s corners, collecting dust and cobwebs. I always dreaded entering one of these bedrooms whenever I had to fetch something I stored, because it was cramped, humid, and had a faint smell of mildew. The random objects turned the space into an unpleasant maze I was forced to navigate daily as a child.
When our new “forever home” was finally built, my parents were relieved we didn’t have to keep renting anymore. I was excited to live in a shiny, new place that wasn’t filled to the brim with piles of junk. As we settled in, my parents added new furniture, appliances, decor, and basic necessities needed to make our new house feel like a home. However, while my parents kept adding new things inside, nothing was ever brought out.
After 12 years of living in the mansion, it now looks similar to the cramped townhouse we lived in prior. Unused junk fills the corner of each room, and the once white pristine walls are now a dirty cream, stained with smoke, ash, and dirt. A broken oven and microwave sit unused beside our kitchen counter. Instead of reupholstering the leather sofa torn from wear and tear, a blanket placed over it will have to do for now. My little sister’s various plastic toys that she has outgrown still sit in a chest in the corner of our bedroom.
I regret that I’ve only learned recently that the messes in my family’s house are not typical clutter in most households. I’ve realized that my parent’s inability to discard objects, no matter how useful (or un-useful) they might be in the future, may have resulted from undiagnosed trauma.
The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding disorder as a persistent difficulty in letting go of material possessions. It’s often caused by stressful life events. In the case of my parents, who grew up in poverty, they feel the need to collect and hoard objects because of their trauma from having little during their childhoods. Like me, some people aren’t aware that hoarding is a real psychological problem; however, hoarding causes distress, limited quality of life, and exposure to danger for themselves and their loved ones. Additionally, people who live in a cluttered environment have an increased chance of depression, anxiety, low motivation, and low self-worth, symptoms I’ve seen within myself growing up.
My feelings toward my upbringing are complex. I feel a mix of anger, resentment, disgust, understanding, and sadness. Although I’m frustrated at my parents for letting their children live in horrid conditions, I still understand that their past trauma and current mental state made it extremely difficult for them to lead a better lifestyle. I also feel disappointed with myself for not realizing their need for help sooner. I was unaware that my parents were suffering from a disorder due to the lack of available resources in the Philippines.
Now that I live in my own apartment a hundred kilometers away from my family’s suffocating clutter, the legacy of my upbringing still haunts me. Everything I put down must immediately be put away. Something I haven’t used in at least a year must be sold or donated. I obsessively clean and wipe my counters every few hours, as the site of food remnants irk me. In fear of becoming like my parents, I’ve tried so hard to be neat to the point of obsession; however, I’m unlearning my unnecessary behaviors and habits. Still, it’s a massive victory not having to move piles of clothes from a chair just to sit, having a clean sink free from dirty dishes, and not being embarrassed when inviting people to my home.
I am not perfect at managing my own place yet—I still get overwhelmed easily by messes—but as long as I continue my path toward acceptance and learning, then I’ll eventually be free from the prison of clutter and cleaning.
Jana D. Gusilatar, 20, is a writing major at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. When she’s not writing essays about events in her life, she writes marketing copies for several businesses.