Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Coming Clean

Kimberly Rae Miller's memoir, Coming Clean, is all that a memoir should be. As Jeannette Walls, author of the memoir, The Glass Castle, puts it:

“Memoir is about handing over your life to someone and saying, This is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it. It’s honestly sharing what you think, feel, and have gone through. If you can do that effectively, then somebody gets the wisdom and benefit of your experience without having to live it.” (

By reading of Miller's experiences with growing up in a hoarding household, we get the chance to explore the ideas of how our backgrounds shape us, sometimes shame us, but ultimately force us to accept our shortcomings and love who we are regardless of where we may have come from. It is a story of the resilience of family relationships, despite personal neuroses, and a story of love in the midst of tragic squalor and embarrassment.

Miller's brilliant father suffers from hoarding, a pathological need to have endless papers surrounding him, while her mother suffers from a compulsive tendency to shop, an emotional tool for responding to the limitations her diseased body has placed on her. Yet, as a devoted daughter, Kimberly never gives up on her parents, even when their behaviors anger her and require her to somehow find a way to manage the family and keep them from the consequences of their tendencies. She tirelessly comes to their assistance to purge their dwellings from their interminable stuff. It isn't easy. Goodness knows, she resents being put in that position, but after all, these are her parents and she is able to see the good in them and their value, despite the illnesses that plague them.

The story was heart-tugging and real. It provided, as all good memoirs do, the chance to step into the author's shoes and walk around a little. I found myself wanting to do a purge of my own home. I recognize that I have my own hoarding tendencies - a desire to keep too many papers because they may come in handy someday or I may wish to revisit the words again, a thrill in finding a clearance bargain even if it is something I don't need at the moment, the inability to get rid of the over-abundance of clothes my sons have, when they tend to wear the same shirts and pants over and over again - tendencies which could and should be curbed. While my home doesn't present the squalor or floor-to-ceiling stacks of Miller's childhood, I do wish my home could be a more clutter-free zone for my children and spouse to live in. It almost made me want to join the 40 Bags in 40 Days campaign ... almost. I'm not there yet. I'd rather spend the time writing than whittling down my stuff. Ha!

But I still found much to take away from her story: A person can rise above the challenges placed before them and carve out a new life. The love we feel for our family won't be compromised by the emotional and mental baggage we carry. We can forgive our parents for mistakes they've made and still come out the other side to be productive, well-balanced individuals (a blessing, since I'm making my own share of parental mistakes, for sure).


Sheila said...

Your final paragraph is an excellent take-away from the book.

Wendy said...

Sheila - I know you adore memoir, too. This is one I highly recommend.