A stunning memoir about a childhood spent growing up in a family of extreme hoarders and hiding squalor behind the veneer of a perfect family. Kim Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a beautifully tidy apartment in Brooklyn. You would never guess that she spent her childhood hiding behind the closed doors of her family’s idyllic Long Island house, navigating between teetering stacks of aging newspaper, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room—the product of her father’s painful and unending struggle with hoarding. In this coming-of-age story, Kim brings to life her experience of growing up in a rat-infested home, concealing her father’s shameful secret from friends for years, and of the emotional burden that ultimately led to an attempt to take her own life. And in beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents that has thrived in spite of the odds.Coming Clean is a story about recognizing where we come from and the relationships that define us—and about finding peace in the homes we make for ourselves.
My take on the story:
As someone who loves a person who “collects things”, I was very interested to read this story. Kim is the product of this situation to the extreme. My heart ached for the girl walking on a floor that was no longer identifiable, whose family resorted to gym memberships in order to shower. Reading about the family’s ability to hack the situation, to present themselves outwardly as normal, impressed me. Kim’s love for her parents, in spite of a deteriorating situation was touching.
I found Kim’s parents to be very interesting as characters. Her father, obviously intelligent, was the person responsible for most of the hoard. His battles with injury and depression that accelerated the situation, ultimately leading to the destruction of one of their homes. Kim’s mother started out as a person who seemed to overcome weakness, having a mother who didn’t love her, and having many physical defects due to neglect in her own childhood. She later develops health issues due to a botched surgery and her strength wanes until, like her husband, she becomes a hoarder.
An adult Kim is called on to step in on multiple occasions to clean up for her parents. She enlists the help of her friends too often an she tires of this cycle of bailing them out. She becomes the antithesis of her parents and is the definition of organized, to the point where she is tearing apart her bed’s box spring, convinced there are bed bugs living inside.
The effect of her parent’s problem colors every aspect of Kim’s life. That is what I took away from this book, in spite of the household conditions during Kim’s childhood, her love for her parents endures, her faith that they can lead a semi-normal life inspires. I would recommend this book, especially if you have someone in your life who has an obsessive compulsion to save things. It shows the effect of compulsion on the people who love you most.
In the end, I’ve also discovered that the collecting that I am experiencing is much more manageable than I thought. I also understand the importance of continually reinforcing structure in our daily lives for the sake of my son.