Kimberly Rae Miller
4 / 5
"I have a box where I keep all of the holiday and birthday and just-because cards that my friends and family send me."
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.
I read this book in a day. I couldn't put it down! I found it to be a fascinating read about a girl's experience growing up with hoarders - especially since, back then, the word and its associated psychological issues were not nearly as commonplace as they are today. Kimberly Rae Miller didn't know that there were others out there like her, who had to live among the unbelievable levels of filth and squalor that she dealt with on a daily basis. I was constantly shocked by the things the author went through as a child - and how, despite everything, she was able to maintain a "normal girl" veneer. I mean, there were times when the family went without heat or running water during Long Island winters!
But, don't read this book for the shock value - this isn't a TLC show where you can gawp at the horrific situations ill people have gotten themselves into. Rather, read this book for the humanity. Miller writes about how it was to grow up alternately loving and almost hating her parents, and how it was to watch her parents struggle to maintain a normal lifestyle. I felt terribly for these people who just could not manage to contain their clutter, despite all their best efforts and many fresh starts. As Miller regularly points out in her book, she simply became used to living a life where nothing really went right. Even when fortune shined down on her, even when her hard work paid off, she would constantly be looking for the cloud that would come to pass in front of the sun - or the piles her father had collected to burst from their containment and begin to take over the house again.
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I'm glad that it was written; it certainly humanizes a very real and all too maligned disease, one which clearly needs more light shed upon it. If you'd like to get a better understanding of the struggles that hoarders face, or simply want to read a really very good memoir, pick this one up.
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