The dark side of living with hoarders and the damage it does to a child is what makes Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir Coming Clean such a great story: she was born into a family that loved her and would do anything for her, but they were hoarders. Her father literally could not get rid of his things, because they were of such importance and he was obsessed by them.
Miller is torn between being angry with her parents for allowing her to live such a life and rationalizing what they do–her mother’s sick and can’t clean; her father just doesn’t realize what he’s doing wrong, even when he’s being dangerous. One day when Kimberly’s friend Carolynn is visiting, her father accuses Kimberly of breaking one of his many radios. She says he “made a fist, and he punched me in the face…I was torn between telling [Carolynn] that my dad wasn’t usually like this, that my parents never hit me, or acting like this sort of thing was no big deal and happened all the time.”
Even after finishing the 250-page book, which was a quick read and extremely hard to put down, it’s hard to admit that there are people who have to deal with hoarding every day. It is a real condition that is often sad, and can have lasting physical and emotional effects. But it is taken lightly by our culture, even to the point of being “funny”. Miller shares her thoughts about the show “Extreme Hoarders”:
“Episode after episode, I cried-not because of what was on the TV, but because I knew that there were people, millions of people, who watched shows like this for fun. People who laughed and feigned gagging, people who would never really understand what it felt like to live like that.”
There is much to be learned about hoarding from Coming Clean, including that one out of every four hoarders is the child of an alcoholic parent, and that hoarding is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. No matter how many times you clean house, whether by discarding all your beloved things or by moving into a new place, you’ll eventually turn around and face the mess all over again. All that cleaning will never amount to anything if you don’t deal with the heart of the problem.
Shame is also a major theme in the book; Miller is embarrassed by the way her parent’s live in filth, and it’s difficult for her to let other people see that:
“‘I’m not doing this alone. Rachel and Tim will be on their honeymoon, and frankly I’m sick of asking her and Anna to clean your apartment. You have no idea how humiliating that is for me.’
‘You don’t think I’m humiliated?’
Apparently not humiliated enough to hire someone to help as opposed to taking advantage of my friends.”
Coming Clean is a darkly comic confession from a woman who has needed to pour her heart out to the world about what she faced as a child living in a “hoarding” environment. Although depressing at times, the author shows us that she has proved strong time and time again, facing the horrific childhood of living in a house full to the brim with objects, rats, no running water, and fleas. When her parents finally sell the house to move into an apartment, and hopefully a smaller space that won’t allow such devastation, they discover that someone has been living in the attic of their house without their knowledge. Their hoarding had become so unmanageable that someone else was living with them, and no one had any idea. Nothing can be more disturbing than that.