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Coming Clean

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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.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published June 18, 2013

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About the author

Kimberly Rae Miller

2 books318 followers
Kimberly Rae Miller is a writer and actress living in New York City. Her writing on healthy living has been published on Conde Nast’s blog network, Social Workout, Yahoo’s women’s network Shine, and in various magazines. She also contributes entertainment news to CBS Radio and CBS New York. In 2010, Kim was featured in Katharine Sise’s breakthrough career guide Creative Girl: The Ultimate Guide for Turning Talent and Creativity into a Real Career. You can read her personal blog at TheKimChallenge.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,459 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly Butcher .
264 reviews60 followers
February 4, 2019
I snatched this book up at the library yesterday, hoping to finally read a book that I could relate to. I have never really told anyone- except my husband and his family (and they will never know how bad it really was), but I grew up in the house of a hoarder. In the eighties, we didn't have a name for it as Kimberly writes. In the eighties, it was just the way we were. I could relate viscerally to her descriptions of her life in her filthy house. This book brought back my experiences vividly- gut wrenchingly. Children of hoarders suffer their own brand of post traumatic stress disorder and this book triggered it for me.

My experiences were very much like hers- not being able to eat because the kitchen was full of rotting food, covered in maggots and sludge. Kim never mentioned roaches at her house- and I don't know how she didn't have them. (we did and it was mortifying) We also had mice- who got very brave and would climb into bed with me at night so I had to sleep with a hood up and blankets around my face. I too never had sleepovers and knew just how to open the front door so people wouldn't see in. We had to be good in school so nobody ever came to our house to check on us. I know our neighbors all hated us- we got anonymous notes telling us to clean our yard and garage- as well as offers to help. We had our share of pipe and plumbing disrepair that we couldn't let anyone in to fix- but her plumbing situation was more dire than mine, I always had clean water and a toilet to use. In high school, I bought my own mini fridge and microwave so I could have access to clean food (which I also bought). I started going to a laundromat so I could have clean clothes too. Like Kim, my father had health issues and had to be brought home to the house. My siblings and I would clean for his homecoming and it would be back to filth in weeks. We always threw away the wrong thing, did it wrong, didn't do it right, didn't do enough... so we eventually gave up trying to help.
If it weren't for a few close friends in high school who let me spend weeks at their house (Denise R is at the top!) I don't know what I would have done. Once I started dating my boyfriend, (now husband) I had a place to escape but my mother never understood why I didn't want to be at home and she made me feel so guilty about it. Hoarders don't see their mess like healthy people do. They are either use to it, they are blind to it, or it comforts them. Kim was a much better daughter than I was- I got the hell out of there as soon as I could and I never went back- ever. Not to the people or the place. I have also suffered nightmares like Kim- I haven't had one for a long, long time, but last night after finishing this book, I couldn't sleep as I was replaying my experiences.
I may go back and delete this entire review- but it feels good to finally get it off my chest.


February 3, 2019 update:
It has been 5 years since my review of this book. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me with their support.
My mother passed away in July. (I haven't spoken to her since 1996) Someone reported not seeing her for a week and called the police. When they arrived, they discovered that she had died of a heart attack. The house was so full that they couldn't enter. There was a path from the kitchen to her chair where she obviously ate, sat and slept. The basement was full of junk and sewage had backed up about 4 feet. The floor was caving in from the weight of the hoard. There was no working plumbing or water. My siblings had to hire someone to empty the house and a sanitation crew to make it livable for the next family. Hoarding is a sad and lonely way to live and an even lonelier way to die. I can't imagine what a person has to go through to get to that point in their lives- and to not get help.
December 4, 2013
3.5 stars

This review had to wait because I had to disinfect my house. Serious Lysol action, people, because this:



Is NOT OK.

I'm the flipside of a hoarder. I scrub my tile with a toothbrush. I've probably traumatized my children forever by saving only their best school/craft projects (and only then in digital format) and throwing out the rest. I can't abide knick-knacks. I threw away my high school year books (who needs those as a reminder of claw bangs and bad perms?). I don't have a particular attachment to stuff. It's just that: stuff, objects, not important.

But hoarders don't see it that way, and thanks to reality TV, people can feed their sick fascination with those who hoard.

Kimberly Miller survived a childhood with two hoarding parents. Her dad, the child of two alcoholics, is the main culprit, stocking away piles of paper, gadgets, broken electronics, random parts. But Miller's mom is no help; suffering from severe scoliosis and often bedridden, her mom is a compulsive shopper, stashing box after unopened box of crap from QVC in the hallway, living room, and every other available surface. As a child, Kimberly was so ashamed of living the way she did, she has a "decoy" house that she used as a drop-off spot.

This book is not an expose of hoarders, nor is it a clinical analysis of the disease. It's simply a story of one girl and her hoarding parents. The hoarding at the Miller house got so bad, Kim slept with fleas and rats, a squatter in her attic (there was so much shit up there, no one knew it was occupied). One of her childhood houses burned down thanks to all the broken electrical appliances (killing all the family pets), and another was basically condemned. At one point, the furnace broke, but the family couldn't let anyone see how they lived, so it went unfixed all winter long, leaving young Kim without heat or hot showers. She would crawl through feces to get from room to room. Mold and bugs took over.

But despite all this, Miller spends much of the book defending her parents and bailing them out time and time again. As a child, she was powerless, but as an adult she becomes an enabler, spending all her free time cleaning the multiple apartments her parents trash, helping them move over and over, making excuses for them, and roping her friends into days of clean-up duty. She cleans up their mess (literally and figuratively) without ever saying, Enough, you need to get some help (she sort of says this at the end, but you can tell she doesn't mean it).

I was so incredibly frustrated with Miller's parents AND Miller herself by the end of the book, I wanted to pound my head against a hard surface. I get that they're her parents and she loves them, but saying that they were good parents just messier than most is like saying that Kim Il-Sung was a good leader, only more controlling.



Kim, honey, forcing you to live in a rat- and flea-infested house where you could see maybe a square inch of the floor, having to throw out your clothes because you couldn't find them to wash them, and eating fast food for every meal because there was no space in the kitchen to cook isn't just kooky parenting.

It's fucking CHILD ABUSE.

There, ok, I feel better now.

I got really tired of Kim defending her parents (even as she suffers from debilitating nightmares and starts breaking out in hives) instead of forcing them to get real help. I know it's not easy, but there's therapy, meds, behavior modification - SOMETHING. I'm glad you wrote a book about your life, Kim. Now call a psychiatrist and cut your parents off pronto.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,049 reviews1,803 followers
March 29, 2016
As a little girl, I used to lie in bed, thinking Maybe if I endure all my pain now, I could be happy when I am older. Emerson felt like my reward for the years of shame I'd logged.

This is a memoir about a woman whose father was a hoarder. It is relatively light, uplifting, and loving - which can sometimes be missing from hoarding memoirs.

Miller loves her parents deeply. Her parents are funny, sweet, attentive, encouraging, and kind. This really shows in the novel and is something Miller stresses hard in order to not make the whole book a focus on what misery she was put through being the daughter of a hoarder.

And things were really bad. No hot water, their pipes were busted. The house was full of wet garbage. Fleas, rats, someone living in their attic for YEARS that no one had ever noticed - Miller now suffers from PTSD because of her childhood.

Another interesting thing to note is Miller's obsession about cleanliness. She lives in a spotless and minimal apartment. Sometimes she does stuff like sprays her (perfectly clean) mattress with bug spray and disinfectant before she goes to sleep. She throws away even stuff that is important to her because she's so terrified of clutter.


MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
The backlash against hoarding can be almost as damaging as the hoarding. I'm convinced that in 20 years we are going to read "My mom/dad was a child of a hoarder" memoirs in which children describe growing up with parents so obsessed with cleanliness that it is damaging. A woman I know whose mom was a hoarder throws everything away. She sneaks into her child's room at night and throws her toys and dolls into the trash. She can't stand having a surface that is not clean (desks, tables - clean as in "completely clear of any items on the surface"). I seriously think she's damaging her kid to some extent with her obsession with minimalism.

I also want to mention that if you are the kind of person to self-diagnose, this is NOT the book for you. I actually know IRL people who have read this book and then done massive purges on their house. Is this a bad thing? Um, you decide. I'm just saying, this book is going to make you itch to give your house a thorough deep cleaning.

The last thing I want to mention is a note on class differences. It's easy for richer people to have zero clutter and to live a minimalist lifestyle. It's harder for poor people to let things go. This isn't hoarding, it's a legitimate response to not wanting to throw away something useful because you can't afford new stuff. Save it because you might need it. There's a difference between hoarding and being frugal and cautious. Signs of hoarding are stuff like:
- can't bear to throw anything away, attachment to worthless items
- saves garbage
- your home is unlivable
- you can't walk in certain rooms or parts of your house
- old food, rot, mildew, dirty dishes
- social isolation due to shame

So please don't think you are a hoarder or accuse people of hoarding if they are just frugal, poor, or have lived through the Depression. This is NOT the same thing. Everyone has clutter in their lives, everyone accumulates stuff. I think the "hoarding" term is thrown around a lot lately, but there's a huge difference (HUGE) between having a messy house

As Roseanne would say, "Excuse the mess, but we live here."

and someone who has the disease, the mental illness, of hoarding. Your house with your spouse and your four kids is NOT going to look like Martha Stewart's Living magazine. Nor should it.


Miller refuses to watch hoarding shows because they are exploitative. I also cannot stomach them, especially when animals are involved.

When I came across the many shows about hoarders, I would promptly change the channel. I couldn't even stand to watch commercials for them. I imagined casting directors scouring piles of applications from those so desperate for help they would willingly exploit themselves and their families, for those they believed would have the most outrageous stash or spectacular nervous breakdown on the front lawn.

There IS animal hoarding in this book and animals DO die. Please be advised if this is something that upsets you.


Tl;dr - This book is great. Warm, loving, affectionate - Miller makes sure to show her parents as people first and her dad's mental illness as second. We are not our diagnoses. It's important to remember that.

And Miller can be genuinely funny, as when she relates the tale of how her parents were called in because she was frequently excusing herself from kindergarten to masturbate in the bathroom. Her mom is quick to set the teacher straight.

"She's not masturbating. She's robbing you."
...
My logic was simple. If I put something that I wanted in my underpants, even if I was caught, I'd be allowed to keep it. It had my vagina germs on it.


Miller's warm and funny attitude helps to offset the very real horrors of her childhood and the current problems of dealing with her PTSD and trying to deal with her aging parents who are extra endangered due to their living environment.

This is not a research-based book like Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, it's more of a personal memoir. I enjoyed reading it and I enjoyed the human face Miller puts on hoarding, instead of focusing on "this is disgusting, how can people live like this," etc. etc. that is usually emphasized. A satisfying and down-to-earth book.
Profile Image for Julie G .
858 reviews2,638 followers
February 11, 2018
This book contains 254 pages of some of the most blatant self-aggrandizement I've ever read. It's a memoir, supposedly, about one woman's experience of growing up with a hoarder father and a compulsive shopper mother, but, really it's a story about Kimberly Rae Miller, her exceptional beauty, her career as an actress, and her amazing website.

At 254 pages, the book is approximately 100 pages too long, and, though Ms. Miller tells her readers that she's “a comedienne and a writer,” her story is not the least bit humorous, and the unedited minutiae contained within this tedious read is almost staggering to me.

Throughout the entire book I kept asking myself two questions: Why am I still reading this? And, How did this get published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt??

“K-Rae,” or “Kimmie,” as her parents call her (still, in her 30s, by her Mamala and Daddy) tells us, fairly early on, that “we weren't the kind of people that good things happened to.”

Um. . . Not true. Not true at all. It was her parents who had the heavy-duty stories, lives filled with abuse, alcoholism, head injuries, extremely challenging medical problems and embarrassing obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

“Kimmie,” at least from where I sat while reading this, had the misfortune of living in a grotesquely unhealthy house and weird parents, but beyond that, she also possessed the obsessive love and interest of her mother and father and almost breathtaking opportunities throughout her young life that most of us will never have in an entire lifetime.

The book starts with a very flattering photo of 9-year-old Kimmie, and ends with a glamour shot photo of Kimmie from the current day. And, even though the book is dedicated to her parents and ends with gratitude expressed toward her parents in the Acknowledgments, believe me, this book is all about Kim.

Her name, in some form: Kimberly, Kim, Kimmie, K-Rae and Kiddo appears on approximately every second page. Kimmie confides in us that:

I was lucky: Instead of acne, puberty had brought with it dry skin and dry hair. I could go a week without washing my hair and still look presentable. Rubbing alcohol and cotton balls sufficed for spot hygiene maintenance to keep body odor under control.

And:

My mother always told me how lucky I was to have black eyelashes. Hers were blond and took a great deal of mascara to become visible. I wouldn't need makeup like she did—she had ordered all my parts before I was born, she said. Her skin, Daddy's hair and straight back, Grandma's nose, and Grandpa's cleft chin. I turned out almost exactly as she'd planned, except for my legs--

I honestly don't know how I finished the book. I have bronchitis, so I think it was just an old fashioned lack of ambition to go through the trouble of abandoning it and finding another.

You may wonder. . . did you learn anything new about brain injuries, hoarding or compulsive shopping? Er, no.
Did you crack up laughing, David Sedaris style, at this read? Er, no.
Did you feel like this made you a better person or did you connect to the material?
No and no.
To be honest, the only thing that makes this a 3 star read (and not lower) for me is the mother, Nora. Though she is not well-developed as a “character,” she has some fantastic one-liners in this read.

Some examples of Mom's quick quips:

“Listen to what people mean, not what they say.”

“We don't have to talk about everything that's true.”

“I've settled for so much in my life because I didn't think I was worth anything.”

What I kept wondering was. . . where's Mom's book? And, if there is one, can I trade?
Profile Image for Julia Roller.
Author 6 books91 followers
July 31, 2013
I'm sure many other reviewers will also compare this book to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, for its portrayal of a resilient daughter growing up with intelligent but troubled parents. Both books are great reads. Kimberly Rae Miller's book is so easy to read that you can almost forget at times how troubling her story is--born to loving parents who were also chronic hoarders. Her dad collected paper and broken parts of just about everything, and her mom, who seemed to become a hoarder as a kind of reaction to her husband's habits, collected newly purchased and rarely opened items.

I found one early scene particularly poignant, when Miller's father responded to his young daughter's request to watch TV while she ate breakfast at the kitchen table by getting a pile of mirrors from his garage stash and carefully placing them throughout the kitchen and living room to create a reflection of the TV set for her. Through little glimpses like these, Miller offers some true insight into why some people collect things others consider junk, and their firm belief that each item has some potential use.

But despite the love and intentions of her parents, the conditions the author had to live in were truly terrible. The most heart-breaking part was the tremendous responsibility placed on her shoulders. Even as an adult she had to return home regularly to keep her parents' living space under control.

The fact that she spent so much of her life trying to hide the situation makes it clear it took a lot of courage for the author to write this book. And it is a worthwhile read, for the compelling insights she offers into a behavior that is very hard to understand and for the inspiring story of her own resiliency.
Profile Image for Jay Warner.
73 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2013
This book was recommended to me by the Children of Hoarders group. Since I am the child of a hoarder, I was interested to see how Miller's experiences compared to mine and how she dealt with growing up in a hoarded home. I found her style easy to read and finished the book quickly. Her descriptions of walking on stacks of slick papers and not wanting her friends to know where she lived were particularly vivid. Sometimes I felt she tried to rationalize and justify her parents' behavior but I also found that rationalization a very familiar trait with children of hoarders. I would highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with this issue or wanting to understand. It's not all like the television show and the perspective of the child is different than the perspective of an outsider or the hoarder. Miller is very brave to tackle this very personal issue in a book that is at once comforting and disturbing at the same time. Sadly, I relate very well to her statement that she felt her parents loved their stuff more than they loved her, and growing up with that feeling left her to struggle with self worth issues all her life.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,373 followers
November 16, 2017
Coming Clean was fascinating in exactly the way I'm always going to find hoarding stories fascinating. However, the writing was nothing special—generally competent, but with more than its fair share of awkward sentences. I also can't say that I felt anything while reading except for shock at some of the details about the hoarding, so the overall emotional impact was low. It gets three stars from me instead of two because it was a genuine page-turner, but if you're not particularly interested in the topic of hoarding there's really no other reason to pick this up.
Profile Image for Dawn Edgar.
31 reviews6 followers
December 4, 2013
This book offers a factual account of what it is like as a child growing up with parents who are hoarders. Made me very interested in the topic of hoarding and why people do it; I actually researched it a little while reading this book. My conclusions are mostly because they are a little bit ADHD, OCD, easily overwhelmed, messed up in the head and...lazy? The editors of the DSM are looking to include hoarding as a personality disorder. The way Miller writes her parents, there is definitely something disturbing going on, and while her parents demonstrate varying levels of awareness, it does not seem to be bothering them much or rendering them uncomfortable.

Growing up like this is, on the other hand, extremely disturbing to our author and she shares very detailed struggles she faces as she tries to compensate and care for her parents. While her love for her parents is ever-present and magnanimous (almost to the point of sugar-coating the deeper, more disturbing issues of raising their only child in squalor), she wishes they would just tidy up and stop depending on her to do it for them, even after she has left home. This made me question how far I would go to appease parents that don't seem to care for themselves or, really,for me. While Miller is angry, she still meets their beck and call, and keeps getting angrier...which leads me to to the thought that there could be a rest of the story later on as they all grow older.

The book/writing itself has troubles. The tenses change often. I don't think that should be allowed just because of its genre. There is one major part that appears completely unedited, with Miller's rambling thoughts (perhaps after a few glasses of sangria), that she has difficulty shaping into some semblance of her true beliefs. Moreover, Miller holds back. Because her parents are both still alive and relatively well, she tries to be as honest as possible, but we do not get the darker side of the picture because she is still annoyingly trying to please them and demonstrate her hard story with a light touch that doesn't work. Her early descriptions of herself being precious and precocious as a child hit the reader way too hard over the head--okay, we get it, you were cute and smart. The list fashion her story is told..." and then we and then I and then they..." helps us know she was not sure what to leave out and keep in. This makes the book rather ineffective as a memoir into the true depths of hoarding hell. I don't understand what was going through her mind as she tried taking her life and I am not sure she does either. She knows it is bad, though. I don't understand why her parents do what they do. I know it is bad, though. Because she said so.

While this memoir (which seems almost self-published/edited) touches on important issues, it gives us little to go on, revealing a startling lack of insight on behalf of the author, who never notably received any therapeutic help, herself, as part of being a victim in a hoarding household. Part contrived as a fact-based expose, the writing is simply going through the motions. It may have been better to keep it under wraps as her personal story/journal than to expose it to the world without more emotive depth, until there is a deeper, even more painful (but honest) story to tell.

Incidentally, there is a creepy, creepy part that sticks with one after finding it out. If it were me, I would have started there and built my story around it with some added drama and tension...maybe in novel form. For what it's worth.
9 reviews2 followers
July 26, 2013
I'm not the type of reviewer that gives a "book report" synopsis of a book that you might be about to read; I/you can get that in the publisher's comments. What I would like to tell you, however, is that Coming Clean is one of the most honest books I've ever read. While reading, I never felt that Kim was trying too hard to steer her story to include more drama or to shock you into feeling sorry for her. Her story was real; heartbreaking at times, heartwarming at other times and true to the title, it just felt like it was time to let it all out. I feel a little honored to have read this book, I feel like I may, in some way, be a part of someone's healing process. Kim spent so many years growing up worrying what others may think of her life that she concocted new personas that she felt would be more accepted. Now she's opened the world up to who she really is, who and where she came from, and how she came to be the woman that she is today; not in spite of it all, but because of it all, and more importantly with no regrets. I can't imagine the courage it must have taken to put pen to paper and essentially rub raw old wounds. I think that anyone who reads this book, whether having known/lived with a hoarder, or even, like me, an alcoholic, will identify with Kim or her story at some level.
Profile Image for Laurel-Rain.
Author 6 books229 followers
June 12, 2013
Growing up as the child of severe hoarders, the author of "Coming Clean: A Memoir" describes in great detail what that was like for her.

In her narrative voice that felt like a conversation, she revealed how her home was not just an embarrassment that she had to keep secret, but that sometimes the house was festering with the detritus of the clutter until pipes burst, mold grew, rats proliferated throughout, and at one time, a homeless person was living in their attic, unbeknownst to them.

One side effect for the author was how socially isolated she was....and I felt such compassion as I read about how she found a way to role play the kind of person she wanted to be through acting, and even by emulating those whose behavior she wanted to incorporate into her own.

Health problems made it imperative for long term changes in the living conditions, but after cleaning up repeatedly over the years, moving her parents to new places, and even hiring people to clean....none of these actions solved the problem permanently. At that point, Miller began researching the condition of hoarding and learned a lot about the childhoods of those with the condition.

Now a successful writer and actress living in Manhattan, Miller describes honestly and with great understanding of herself and her parents the small changes that have occurred over the years...perhaps because she finally detached. She was also able to create her own nest and develop a relationship that was satisfying for her. One point she emphasized: no matter how frustrated and angry she occasionally got with her parents, she always loved them and knew that they loved her. In many ways, the bond between them grew despite the horrific events of their lives together. Five stars.
Profile Image for Babs.
12 reviews9 followers
August 31, 2020
Hmmm.
I really wanted to like this book because the topic of extreme hoarding fascinates me. How does one grow up in a filthy, dangerous environment and survive intact? Unfortunately, the writing and tone felt inconsistent and, therefore confusing. Here's an example: The author states clearly that her family cannot afford the tuition increase at her college and will need to drop out. In the next chapter her mother is sending her to the college's summer program abroad(!).
No explanation.
At many points throughout the book, the author seems to be apologizing for her parent's hoarding behavior, backpedaling on her anger towards her dad's abuse and detachment and giving a multitude of excuses. This leads me to question the point of the book. If this is a form of therapy for the author, I don't think she's finished examining the situation and her complex feelings about it. It was also infuriating to read how she continued to clean up her parent's house...over and over...even though each time they promised to keep it neat and then failed. IMO, the author is just as screwed up as her parents in terms of her deluded perceptions of people and situations. But...maybe that's the whole point?
Profile Image for Tom.
223 reviews33 followers
July 29, 2013
This book was simultaneously hard to read and hard to put down.

Hard to read because the author's depiction of the filth and neglect she grew up in is rendered in agonizing detail. The family's trials and tribulations are also quite harrowing - and all the more-so when you realize that this book is non-fiction. Kimberly Rae Miller lived through this.

Sometimes I had to put the book down and walk away.

But I would quickly come back. Miller tells her story with simplicity, poise and humor, and she has quite a story to tell. Some of my favorite parts of the book were the ones where she recounts her exploits as a precocious little girl. Her interactions with her father are touching and endearing.

That's a good thing, because Miller's father was a hoarder, in the full on A&E Extreme Hoarding sense. The author depicts him as an intelligent man who nonetheless suffers from mental illness. He can't seem to let go of a single scrap of paper and is blind to the piles of junk he surrounds himself with. And as loving as he is toward his daughter, at times he retreats completely from the world.

The book this most reminds me of is Jeanette Wall's memoir, The Glass Castle - perhaps my all-time favorite memoir. Both stories center around a precocious childhood and brilliant-but-troubled parents.

But while both Miller and Walls suffered greatly from her parents actions, Miller makes it clear from the outset that she still loves and appreciates her parents even as she deals with her anger toward them. There's no estrangement, no alienation. And Miller makes us believe that this is really true, not just something she's saying: she presents her parents as flawed yet still lovable human beings, something which is not easy to do.

Both Miller's parents came from troubled families as well. Her father's parents were alcoholics, which was likely a major contributing factor to his obsessive hoarding. Her mother, meanwhile, had a very fraught relationship with her withholding grandmother. Of course we don't get to know the grandparents in great detail because Miller herself didn't know them very well, but it's clear that the impact of those relationships reverberates down to the present day.

Miller's recounting of her childhood is the most fun part of the book. She does a great job of capturing the unique insights of an oddball little girl with an unusual upbringing. As the story progresses into adolescence and adulthood we lose that unique voice as the narrative focuses mostly on the parts of her life that were affected by her parents' hoarding. There are fewer vignettes that illuminate who she is as a person.

That's okay because it keeps the narrative on track. But it also gives me hope that maybe Kimberly Rae Miller has more stories to tell, and that we'll be hearing from her again in the future.
Profile Image for Allison.
Author 11 books1,673 followers
November 8, 2015
A so-horrifying-it-seems-impossible memoir that has a ton of heart and a heroine you root for with each passing year. Miller grew up in squalor with one, then two, hoarder parents, and does an exceptional job sharing her story with equal parts stoicism, compassion and (eventually) anger, trying to explain her parents to the readers while not quite coming to terms with them herself. Hoarding seem unfathomable to those not acquainted with it (aka, me), and by the last chapter, I was so, so relieved that Miller had found a small dose of stability and peace, all the while understanding that she'd be working through these scars forever. This memoir cut deep, and bravo to Miller for her honesty. It couldn't have come easy.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews130 followers
January 11, 2014
This memoir, written by Kimberly Rae Miller, was a 'mixed bag' for me! Ms.Miller wrote this memoir about growing up with a hoarder.. her father. It seemed to me that writing about her life with her parents was a sort of therapy for her and I could understand her need to do that. Throughout the book, she related her feelings of shame and embarrassment over living in the way she was forced to live. She wrote of almost needing to live two parallel lives while growing up... one life at school, where she pretended she had a 'typical' family and was living the the type of lives her peers were living.In her other life at home with her parents, she lived with stacks of paper, broken electronics, spoiled food and unopened boxes from her mother's obsession with online shopping.. buying things she didn't need or want but never returning them... all of these things were literally stacked to the ceilings and covering nearly every inch of the furniture. Yes, her father was the initial hoarder in the household ... but her mother.. after feeling angry, frustrated and despairing over not being able to change her circumstances... seemed to develop an 'if you can't beat him, join him' attitude. And it really became impossible from that point on to determine which parent was the bigger hoarder.

At the beginning of the book, I felt a great deal of sympathy for Kimberly.. I could feel her mortification... and I was as angry and frustrated with her parents as she seemed to be. These two adults could just not seem to get their acts together and although I understand that this is a genuine mental disorder, it started to feel to me that they were not even attempting to deal with their problems. They seemed to actually be enabling each other. Kimberly's mother blamed her husband for the complete mess and disaster that had been created ; and Kimberly's father often just 'hung his head' as if he were a young child being scolded. Meanwhile, the two of them had created a situation in which their daughter had to hide her entire life from everyone... spending as much time as she could at friends' homes and having to join a gym so she could shower as a plumbing problem could not be addressed because they were unable to allow anyone into the home because he would discover the way they were living. I can usually feel a great deal of compassion for people dealing with problems but in this case, all I could feel was frustration with these two supposed adults and the horrible position they had placed their daughter.

By the latter part of the book, I must have become as used to the mess that had become their lives as Kimberly was . My anger had dissipated and I felt as if I, like Kimberly, was just looking forward to the day she could leave their home and start her own life over. Fortunately, Kimberly DID manage to go to college , get a job and obtain her own apartment. When I read that she needed to read the directions for usage on the backs of cleaning solvents because she had no idea how to clean her apartment, I was very saddened.

Perhaps at this point, you are thinking that life only got better for Kimberly at this point. Or perhaps you are wondering what happened to her parents. The reality is that, although Kimberly was trying to make a new start in her life.. one free of filth and trash, she was constantly pulled back into her parents' messy lives... out of love.. or guilt.. or maybe a combination of the two. I found myself marveling at the number of times her parents just abandoned homes and apartments and moved.. to supposedly start over. I found myself wondering what the total cost of all those moves would be! With each move, Kimberly was manipulated (in my view) by her mother's pleading and her tears to clean out the horrific mess her parents had made so the two of them could supposedly get a fresh start in yet another place. In case you haven't figure it out by now, that fresh start never lasted and the three of them kept repeating the cycle over and over. Kimberly DID have a life of her own now... a job, an apartment and a relationship with a nice guy; but she continued to enable her parents' behavior.. never forcing them to take responsibility for their actions.

This story was frustrating , infuriating and in the end, just completely exhausting for me to read. I suppose some people may come away from it thinking that at least Kimberly has a more stable life. Me.... well, I have a different opinion. Kimberly finally came to the conclusion that her parents have no ability to change; their promises to her are false and she realizes and accepts that she is going to continue to clean up and bail them out.... until the day comes that they pass away.. at which point, she will be cleaning up the mess for the last time. Sadly, i believe she is right... her parents cannot and will not help themselves;they are the children in the relationship and Kimberly has always been the adult.

This was a very depressing story but seemed like a pretty realistic depiction of hoarding.
Profile Image for Auntie Raye-Raye.
479 reviews52 followers
February 2, 2018
Full disclosure and to curb possibly attacking comments on this review:

I'm mentally ill. I'm on SSDI, take meds and go to therapy. Hoarding has been one of my minor issues. My father is mentally ill, but refuses to acknowledge it or do anything about it. He also has minor hoarding issues. We're both more of the buy a lot of useless items, collect them and never throw them out. I've gotten better with mine. My father....well, he claims to not be a "collector")

That being said, Ms. Miller's parents absolutely infuriated me with their behaviors. Yes, even with mental illnesses, I don't understand how they could let their daughter grow up in squalor. The house was overran with various types of bugs, they couldn't keep non-packaged food in the home, the water heater broke and wasn't fixed, they couldn't always take showers.

Gawd, and their was a scene where the father straight off punched Ms. Miller in the face, cause he thought she broke one of his 167 radios. He did it in front of one of her friends. Apparently, nothing happened to the father for doing that and/or no one else did anything about it.

I guess Ms. Miller is close-ish in age to me. (I was born in 1977.) I can understand that their wasn't much therapy for hoarding problems back in the 80s-90s. BUT, it also seems like neither one of her parents could even bother to get any sort of help for their problems. Her father went to a mental hospital for a week, got a scrip for prozac, then refused to fill it.

There's help for it now in the 2000s. I guess her parents don't exactly want help. Her father said "he'd try" therapy, but that was at the end of the book. Who knows if he actually did.

Ms. Miller ends up attempting suicide cause of the hoarding. By the end of the book, she has nightmares and PTSD because of it.

I can understand Ms. Miller enabling her parents and continually getting people to clean their hoarded apartments. (I don't condone enabling, though. I personally will not enable your mental illnesses or addictions)

I can also understand her still loving her parents. I don't quite understand her saying that they were good parents. Good parents don't let their kids live in squalor or punch them in the face.

I listened to the audiobook version. I started it at night and had to stop, because it made me so mad, that I couldn't go to sleep. Ms. Miller is the narrator and through the audiobook she sounded sad, tired and defeated because of her parents' behavior.
Profile Image for John.
2,003 reviews197 followers
July 24, 2016
I listened to the audiobook, finding myself neutral as to whether there should've been a professional narrator hired instead of the author reading the book herself; her voice seemed a bit juvenile to me, but for large parts of the story, she was a girl during the episodes.

As for the story itself ... be prepared for a real rollercoaster as just when I thought things were looking up, a crisis would hit! Her father becomes so completely out-of-control with his hoarding that the place goes beyond just bundles (piles) of stuff everywhere: picture a landfill that someone decides to enclose in a house-like structure. Naturally, they can't call in workers when things go wrong (which they do), so the house decays around them, Usher-style. On the outside, they all pretend nothing is wrong. There are also her mother's medical crises. Then, after college, Kim an only child having to face their helplessness on her own. It's grim, people! To her credit, Kim is not self-pitying, though she's honest about how depressed and frustrated she's been at times.

I want to bring up one incident that just didn't seem "right" to me as presented. Kim is notified by her college that her financial aid is being terminated, as they've realized that she was awarded money as a result of an accident years earlier; those funds are being held in trust until her 21st birthday. She and her family meekly accept that and move on, neither making an application to have the funds released for educational purposes (payable directly to the school), nor formally appealing the notification that the accident money not be factored in as the family has no access to it whatsoever. They just totally cave. Moreover, Kim makes a rather offhand comment that when she turned 21, she "cashed in the money at a steep discount." She makes it sound as though she broke a longterm investment early, which isn't the way I understand minor awards work? I truly wish she'd been a bit clearer on that point. I stress the matter as it made her seem as clueless and helpless as her parents.

Would I recommend the book? Yes -- although I can't say I liked it exactly, you may find yourself "bonding" with Kim herself more than I did.
Profile Image for Anne.
239 reviews
May 4, 2015
This book was really, really, really, really, really, really, really hard to read. Not because of the text itself, but because of the similarities of experience. A friend who hadn't yet read the book passed this on to me, because she wasn't going to have time to read it yet. I didn't read the liner notes. The title and the cover made me think it was going to be a romantic fiction of some sort. I opened up to the first page to start reading and, no, not romantic fiction at all. Rather, a book about what it's like to be the child of a hoarder.

I almost set it aside then.

I almost set it aside 4 or 5 times in the course of the book.

Instead, I made myself keep going, and read it in my spare moments over the last 2 days.

It was painful. It brought up memories. My mother is a hoarder. She was raised by Depression-Era-Induced hoarders and never shook the habits she learned from their worries about having to someday do without again. My father, who is obsessively neat, left my mother for her hoarding habits, in the process, abandoning his four children to the mess. My mom's hoard was mostly food and craft projects that she bought obsessively, started, and abandoned at a rate far higher than what she completed. In addition, she had difficulty throwing anything away, be it a 99% empty bottle of cold cream or a free key-chain from the bank.

As I read, I remembered the myriad experiences that could probably fill a book of my own, and felt grateful that I didn't have to write it myself. Reading the experiences of someone else was hard enough, and I'm so grateful to Ms. Miller for sharing and walking into those hard places in her memory.

The guilt and anger and love can and do exist in a twisted symbiosis, though. I'm so glad to know there are others who have been in my place who understand that.
Profile Image for Raquel.
655 reviews
August 26, 2013
This is a memoir by a young woman whose parents are hoarders and who grew up in homes nearly uninhabitable due to all the pile-up. She lived the experience of hoarding before there was really a term for it. The story is harrowing and fascinating.

Miller, however, is not a terribly skilled writer. She tells more than showing, her writing is often clumsy and awkward, she breezes past important plot points without offering much detail or insight, leaving the reader unsure why she is reading what she is reading. She inserts critical details out of order, which leads to some confusion in terms of keeping the timeline straight. She is also only in her late 20s and apparently still dealing (emotionally and physically) with the fallout of living with two parents who themselves are still dealing with the psychological difficulties that compel a person to hoard. Because she is still not far enough removed from the situation, I felt as though she could not appraise and comment upon her life in quite the same way that someone "older and wiser" might be able to. I could sort of understand why her parents did what they did and why it was so horrifying and painful for her, but it only skimmed the surface, so I didn't come away knowing much of substance. I did not feel like I really knew the author or her family by the end. Instead it felt somewhat like a therapy catharsis exercise more so than a fully realized memoir.

A fascinating topic that fell flat for me. Had the author waited until she had more time to emotionally process what had happened to her (and had she had a better editor/taken more care with her writing), this could have been stellar.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,172 reviews1,027 followers
August 6, 2016
The writing is engaging enough, but Miller didn't bring anything to the subgenre I haven't read before. Side note: I can't believe memoirs by adult children recovering from the childhood trauma of hoarding parents is a subgenre now.
Profile Image for J.P. Willson.
Author 4 books55 followers
August 8, 2019
This was a difficult read. Not because it was difficult to read, it was very well written. The author should be proud of both what she has produced here, and the self-discipline it took to recount this rather tragic and I would say life-altering account. I could not have come through such a thing unscathed for sure, if at all, and granted neither has the author, that becomes more and more apparent as the book progresses. She herself became an enabler without question but I truly believe anyone faced with this kind of a situation will end up proceeding down that very same road. It becomes very hard not to given the circumstance and from such a young age.
The strength it took to write this is tantamount to the authors own 'healing process' from the entire ordeal. I don't know any other way to describe this...
Certainly worth the read.
Profile Image for Cait Ní Cheallaigh.
34 reviews1 follower
August 28, 2013
At first, I was not enjoying this book at all. I am the descendent of hoarders and a recovering-hoarder myself. I wouldn't even call it hoarding, per se; I have a high tolerance for disorder. But my father is a hoarder, my mother gave up trying to keep it all in order, and I grew up in and around my father's piles. That I've even put this into writing I would think is taboo enough. I couldn't believe Miller could publish a book about this and maintain a relationship with her parents, still. That and the whole sideshow aspect of it. It made me uncomfortable.

The more I read, the more I could identify with everything she felt, particularly the anxiety. This book showed me that it's okay to feel angry about messes. I'm so conditioned to be numb to it, I ignore it in my own home. I'm much better than I've been in the past, having hired a declutterer to help me sort through things I really don't need. But it's been so easy to bounce back to old habits. When I see a mess, I shut down. Reading someone's first hand experience with this, and how Miller herself had to learn it was okay to be thoroughly disgusted by messes, has been cathartic. You can use that disgust as a catalyst for action. It can feel amazing.

If you're not a hoarder, yes, this should fulfill your every wild fantasy. If you are or are related to hoarders, you'll feel a lot less alone and maybe even more okay. Ultimately what I got from this was a new level of compassion, because the source of hoarding is not what you might think. Miller delves into the roots of it, both genetic and psychological. Hoarders deserve some respect!
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,912 reviews727 followers
August 5, 2013
This was quite a revealing book into the life of a child growing up with parents who are hoarders. At times her harrowing experiences of living in filth with rats, bugs, maggots, and other assorted circumstances were enough to turn one's stomach.

Through it all however, the author claims to have and still love her parents. In a way this book is a tribute to how her spirit and that of many others with similar experiences sill managed to grow up and lead productive lives.

The only issue I had was where was all the money coming from? The father held down a somewhat menial job while the mother worked off and on. They seemed to be able to afford lots of things that a family in their earning bracket just could not really afford.

This was definitely an easy quick read.
Profile Image for Angela Risner.
334 reviews14 followers
August 3, 2013
Kimberly Rae Miller writes beautifully about growing up as the only child of hoarders. Her father is the main hoarder, collecting papers, magazines, and other items. They take over all surfaces in the house. Her mother, herself the daughter of a hoarder, is able to overlook this for the most part.

Kimberly, however, knows that her family is different. She is ashamed of their living space and cannot invite friends to come over. She has the carpool parents or friends drop her off at a fake address so that they can't see where she really lives. She decides to become an actress because pretending to be someone else allows her to mimic the people around her who appear to be "normal."

At home, the family literally steps on garbage as they walk from room to room. There is rotting food in the refrigerator. Kimberly's mother acts out by shopping compulsively. She buys and buys from the internet and the home shopping channels, but never opens the packages once they're delivered.

The family is forced to move from time to time, which results in somewhat of a clean slate. But it never lasts. Their possessions are in such disrepair that they typically throw them out before each move, but then begin to accumulate more.

Essentially, Kim experiences a role reversal with her parents. She protects them from being hurt by pretending everything is fine. She cleans when they move. She even has her friends come in and help.

As Kim says in her book, it's easy for folks to watch the show Hoarders on TV and make fun of the people. But the reality is, Kim's parents aren't doing this because they want to. This is a disorder, just as obsessive compulsive behavior is. They can't help themselves, and people like that deserve help, not ridicule.

I related to this in some ways. I went through a depression once when I stopped opening my mail. I was renting a condo, but I lived in the bedroom. I became easily overwhelmed with any normal task. And who hasn't used "retail therapy?" What I found so interesting was that Kim's mom said that she started compulsively ordering items off of the internet to reclaim some of the space in the house.

Some quotes from the book:

*"What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it." Starhawk
*She has been apologizing for as long as I can remember, but I can never forgive her enough for her to forgive herself.
*My dad wasn't like other people. He didn't follow the rules that seemed to govern other grown-ups, and the priorities that he tethered himself to were ideas and knowledge.
*Anna seemed to feel everything deeply, while I was constantly trying not to feel anything at all.
*The people on the shows like Hoarders weren't my parents, but there was a part of me that wanted to protect them as if they were. Because like my own parents, they were more than their disease.

Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,207 reviews111 followers
July 8, 2017
Kim is an ordinary girl who lives with hoarders. In particular,her dearing Father cannot throw anything away,as a result their house is full of used paper scattered around. Mold on food,rat infestations,furniture ruined,and cluttered places is enough to drive anyone insane. Yet Kim adores her Father,she just wishes that he finds help to cure this problem.

While her mother tries to suffice the hoarded life,she questions if she wants to stay in the marriage if her husband does not change his ways. Meanwhile,she wants Kim to live life normal,despite their living conditions. Tracing her childhood to adulthood,Coming Clean is an enthralling story about the psychological effects of hoarding.

I actually lived down the street from a hoarder. As a child,I never understood how people can live in a place so unkept. Clearing up the misconceptions,I deeply sympathized with the author. Moving from place to place will frustrate me,I don't see how Kim was still able to see past her parent's living arrangements. Despite her bitter feelings towards them,she loved them unconditionally through sickness and health.

This story was so sad,yet pivotal to see it all unfold.

Very inspiring,and highly recommended, whether you know little or nothing about hoarding.
Profile Image for Rebecca McPhedran.
965 reviews59 followers
December 25, 2018
A heartbreaking memoir about the author’s struggle with her parents hoarding. Her descriptions are clear and vivid. You as the reader struggle with her feelings of love toward her parents, as well as her anger at how uninhabitable their living situation is.

She talks about her feelings of guilt and shame whenever her friends wanted a play date when she was growing up. Miller is honest about her own struggles with PTSD from her own childhood. Her voice is refreshing, and she doesn’t pretend to have the answers to “fixing” someone with a hoarding disorder. She gives us her own experience, as she’s lived it. And it is a heartbreaking tale.
Profile Image for Kelsey.
324 reviews24 followers
January 9, 2018
This story was so clearly emotional for the author to write, very upsetting to read at times, and absolutely BANANAS. My heart hurts for this woman's childhood, but I was glad to read of the progress her family has made at the end. Just, whew. It is a ride.
Profile Image for Paula DeBoard.
Author 8 books487 followers
Read
August 31, 2019
Husband: Can we please stop watching TV shows about hoarders?

Me. Fine. *picks up book about hoarders instead*

***

I have a complicated relationship with this topic, as even small amounts of stuff (clutter, lack of purpose or pattern) makes me very anxious. I could feel Miller's anxiety oozing from each page of this memoir as she dealt with her parents' hoarding issues. This book feels like a good antidote to hoarding TV shows, as it illustrates through one family's experience that this isn't an issue that can be solved with some trash bags and a shovel.
Profile Image for Shelli.
359 reviews72 followers
January 6, 2019
I've always been fascinated with hoarding, a disorder that both of my parents have suffered from in different ways and to varying degrees, and one that I see the scary, sprouting potential of within myself. But I've found TV shows like "Hoarders" difficult to watch, as they manage to be both simultaneously sensationalized and sanitized, playing up the drama while not really getting very deep into the psyche of the hoarders themselves. This book goes well beyond that superficial treatment; it delves into the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the only daughter of hoarder parents, and their family dynamics.

The beginning part (the first third to one-half) of Coming Clean was actually a fair bit better than its remainder. Author Kimberly Rae Miller is a great storyteller, and presented her childhood life and self – even with her family's serious dysfunction – with offsetting humor and lightness. As the book progressed though, I found her less endearing and more maddening for the choices she made and her lack of self-reflection, and the way she was seemingly trapped back in all the patterns of her childhood. Which of course she was in many ways, but she never really progressed from that. Shouldn't you wait to write a memoir until you've had some personal growth or at least developed some practical insight on the issues plaguing your life? In this case, it didn't seem that Miller really did before the book just… ended.

And finally, once we started coming out of her teenage years, Miller's recounting of her life became a bit staccato; she's good at introducing people and events, but sometimes important characters or occurrences just pop out of existence by the next chapter, as if they never happened. I also understand that the author has an entire other book about her lifelong struggle with her weight, an issue that was never even mentioned in this book, which seems like a fairly large omission.

Despite my complaints, Coming Clean was a very readable and compelling book. Heartbreaking and even funny by turns, it offers a glimpse into what growing up a child of hoarding can do to a person, and how it leaves wounds that last far beyond the childhood years.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
496 reviews13 followers
December 4, 2013
I found this book fascinating and disturbing as the author gives her insight into what it was like to grow up in a home with a serious hoarder for a father and shopaholic mother. Both of Kim's parents grew up in dysfunctional families and they suffer from serious emotional problems which they seem incapable of addressing in any sincere or consistent manner. There are periods in Kim's young life when the seriousness of the hoarding results in living conditions that are really child abuse despite her parent's protestations of love for her. I found it appalling and it is upsetting to wonder how many other children grow up in such horrible conditions without anyone knowing or caring enough to help them.

Kim learns ways to cope-and even succeed-, but as an adult she spends a great deal of time enabling her parents by cleaning up for them over and over again, without requiring them to go to therapy or do anything else meaningful to at least attempt to break their unhealthy patterns. I wanted to scream every time she accepted her father's answer ("I'll try") to her plea to "do better" when it was clear that neither one of them believed it for one minute. I believe she is trying to be very honest in this memoir, but she is young and I don't think she really has dealt with the pain of her upbringing completely. I suppose his book is an attempt to do that, but her feelings come across as filtered through her need not to make her parents look too bad. Like she almost has to apologize when she expresses her anger. I was not convinced that she has really reached a place of peace and acceptance, but I hope she eventually will.
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