Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
The only thing I could feel when I finished Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean was a sense of profound gratitude and awe. Really and truly, this brought home to me the resilience of children and humans in general in a way that books about outright abuse and violence often don’t.
Miller’s work, which was released to much fanfare, is a memoir about her childhood as the offspring of a hoarder. She describes in great detail how her father collected papers, electronics, odds and ends, surrounded himself with news and information in a way that, if all of this information had been electronic, might have been a precursor to the Internet. As it was, it just created a ton of clutter. To the point where Kim felt, sometimes, like she was living in a dumpster.
The memoir is quite short, but packed full of experiences; Kim recounts moving from an apartment to a house to another house to college, recounting each time her attempts to try to make her parents shape up and her parents’ further decline into hoarding. She has dogs that died because of her father’s hoarding.
This is pretty much my worst nightmare. You’d know this if you had ever been in the house where I grew up, any of my “single person” bedrooms or if you’ve seen any of my workplace desks. Everything is aggressively uncluttered. I get unreasonably angry looking at magazines sloppily placed on a coffee table; clothes on the floor get a pass, but if they’re there longer than 24 hours, I start to get irritable. Dirty dishes are the worst. The worst.
Every time Kim discussed how the family had to join a gym to take showers or the texture of the damp detritus on the floor of the family’s house, I got what is known as “the boke” — the feeling you get in the back of your throat right as you’re about to throw up. Whenever she referenced the piles of paper and receipts and whatever else, I started getting a little panicky.
However, it is important to note that Kim has come out of this experience surprisingly well-adapted. She said it influenced her acting, that she had to make up a character for herself and pretend everything was normal; she is in therapy; she throws out all of her stuff when she gets stressed out. It’s really a testament to humanity, and to children, that she was able to endure during her childhood and now thrive in spite of — maybe even because of? — her experiences.