A Review of Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

I found out about this wonderful book through a Kindle offer but ended up checking it out of my local library. I like to read memoirs and this one did not disappoint.

I have great respect for the author, Kimberly Rae Miller, as she told the poignant tale of growing up with two parents who had a compulsive hoarding problem. It was not just a case of a cluttered house, but filth and shame as she tried to keep others from knowing her secret. The thing about it is that her love for her parents shines the whole way through the book. Miller adhered to a Biblical principle, “honor thy father and mother,” and her outcome was blessed because she did so.

Kim grew up in the New York City area as an only child. Her mother was Jewish and her Dad was Catholic. Trauma in his own childhood with alcoholic parents led her Dad into an insatiable need to hang onto all kinds of papers. He loved to gather information as well and constantly listened to NPR. Though the papers were mostly not going to be used or needed, nevertheless he felt a compunction to hang onto them, along with all kinds of other junk. Her mother did not have a happy childhood either, and ended up cut off by her mother, who always favored her sister. In spite of her anger over her husband’s hoarding, Kim’s Mom comforted her pain by ordering lots and lots of things online. It grew to the point that her mother only had just a tiny space for where she slept on her mattress each night.

Kim told of how they got burned out of one house and ended up moving from one apartment to another as she grew up, running from chaos and filth. She made some great friends in school in spite of it. These friends helped and did not abandon her when her “secret” got out. In spite of the mess and confusion, Kim was a go-getter and pushed herself to make it to prestigious Emerson College in New England. After her freshman year, she lost her financial aid package through a technicality and became desperate. During Kim’s own lowest point, her Mom sacrificed in helping her find a way to continue there.

Once she left her parents’ home, Kim was overcome by the horror of what she had gone through as a child. But she never abandoned her parents. Instead, she came time and time again to help them clean out, and try to make a fresh start. Each time she did it drained her, but she pushed through it anyway. Her mother suffered severe health problems and nearly died, but Kim let her mother know that she must keep on fighting to get well because she needed her. Her mother needed a clean place to come home to recuperate. Kim realized her parents needed help, and in compassion she shelved her pride and secret to even more people in asking help from them to clean her parents home.

The hoarding lifestyle she was surrounded by gave Miller an almost obsessive need to keep her own home neat and tidy. Part of her own therapy was writing down her story, and it was one which her parents fully supported. When her Dad read the manuscript, he tearfully apologized for all she suffered growing up in utter chaos. The best part of this memoir is that she still loves and supports her parents. At the end, they made tremendous strides in cleaning up their act. Kim found happiness also, but I won’t say more on that.

It was like a breath of fresh air to find someone who was not willing to jump on the wagon to blame someone else for their problems, to find someone who actually was grateful for their parents even if her parents were not perfect people. I commend the author for her bravery in telling this story in a way that could make the reader feel good about honoring and respecting their parents. I really enjoyed this book and maybe now you will also. You can find out more about Kimberly Rae Miller at her blog: http://thekimchallenge.com/

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Filed under character-building books, family relationships, honoring your parents, memoir, parenting, Uncategorized

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