Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Coming Clean



For the first time in a long time, I finally had a chance to read a book purely for pleasure this past week. I stumbled upon an ad for a book on one of my favorite recipe blogs and, since I really like the author of the blog, I thought I'd take a chance on the book. Even though the blog is about food, this particular book is about hoarding. Most people would probably not be drawn to a memoir on growing up with parents who were hoarders as a means for "pleasure" reading, however, this topic fascinates me. I devoured the book in two days.

In Coming Clean: A Memoir, author Kimberly Rae Miller offers a behind-the-sceens glimpse in the daily lives of a family headed by hoarding parents - from the child's perspective. Forget what you may assume about hoarders by watching TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive" - that they are all "crazy cat ladies" or people who are somehow physically or mentally incapacitated. The people in Miller's family are real people with real thoughts and feelings and interactions. It is clear that she had a close relationship with both of her parents growing up - and continues to as an adult, but it is also clear that this way of life that she had absolutely no control over left a lasting residue of a deeply determined drive to avoid their legacy of loving and collecting stuff at all costs.

Unlike children of alcoholics, children of hoarders have no support groups or common lingo to help them identify themselves or the dysfunction that they live in, in a legitimized way. Rarely do people hold interventions when a close friend or family member "bottoms out" as their dwelling bursts at the seams with too many objects obsessively (if not stealthy) obtained. When a publicly recovering alcoholic is in social settings, others usually refrain from encouraging them off the wagon - hoarders, on the other hand, are usually the ones everyone else happily gives their cast-offs to, thus feeding their addiction!

Miller's is the first book I have read that exclusively focuses on the acts and ramifications of her parents' hoarding. Coming Clean is reminiscent of Glass Castle: A Memoir by Janet Walls in that the author's family is rife with dysfunction and non-conformity, but in Coming Clean the reader will gain a visceral sense of a household governed by hoarding and the author's desperation to escape a suffocating (literally - she had asthma while living at home) prison built not of bars and cement, but of newspapers, bags of random items, mildew, dust and clutter with its accompanying 24/7 soundtrack of her father's constant companion, NPR.

Through research as an adult, Miller discovered that hoarding is common among people who grow up in alcoholic households as well as those who grow up in families where emotional connections are non-existant. Her emotional connection with her own parents prove that although she is deeply affected by her childhood experiences, she is able to see beyond her parents' dysfunction and love them for who they are capable of being: her parents. I was especially impressed with Miller's account of her communication with her parents as she researched and wrote this book. Unlike an expected response of defensiveness and excuses, her parents were able to acknowledge the effects that their lifestyle had on Miller - allowing for some fantastic dialogue and processing of past experiences for all of them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has been fascinated by the various TV shows on the subject, or for anyone who has lived through this (or is currently), or knows someone who might be. It can open up some great opportunities for dialogue on the subject.

Elly Haddad is a certified holistic health coach and owner/founder of Elemental Fit based in Nashville, TN. She coaches individuals and groups throughout the US, helping people understand the relationship between diet/lifestyle and health, happiness and overall wellbeing. She is also a freelance writer and public speaker.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Very insightful. I for one find that the consumer mentality of the times we live in only exacerbates the ability to collect stuff.