I am utterly fascinated by people. The minute I meet a person, I want to know their whole life story. What led them up to this point? Why are they here? How did their personality develop? What significant events have occurred in their life? What pain have they been through? What joy? How did they become who they are? What are they passionate about? What is their greatest fear? Greatest accomplishment? Who do they wish to be? Are they where they want to be? And so on. These questions run through my mind even as I talk to them and get to know them. I consider it a great privilege when a person chooses to tell me something about their past or even their present. People are fascinating. Their lives, interests, habits, hobbies, likes, dislikes, trials, triumphs, joys, sorrows, religion, and politics all interest me. I love figuring out why people do what they do and what makes them tick. My counseling/psychology degree was definitely not wasted on me.
It may surprise you to know, then, that I have not read very many biographies. And until now, I don’t believe I had ever read a memoir. I am trying to read more biographies because I do love them. Like I said, I’m interested in people. Their life stories, their secrets, their dreams, what has brought them pain, what has caused them to rejoice, the people they’ve known, the places they’ve been, and the things they’ve seen. Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller is an incredibly well-written memoir that answers these questions about her life quite beautifully.
Kimberly’s dad was a hoarder.
She grew up surrounded by trash, paper, and more trash. Her father’s favorite thing to collect and acquire was paper. Newspapers, magazines, flyers, brochures, you name it, he collected it. In addition to all the paper and garbage in her home, there were the knick-knacks, broken electronics, and anything else you can imagine. She was the girl who grew up in trash.
Ms. Miller’s memoir takes all the way from the beginning, to when she was born two months early on Christmas Eve. From her time in the NICU, you get to walk through her childhood alongside her as she relieves her pathological lying phase, her routine as her parents navigated full time jobs and raising a child, and her relationship with both her parents. Her life is fascinating, but not merely because she grew up the child of a hoarder. No, it’s more than that. Seeing the way her perspective grew and changed throughout her life, based on where she was at in life was fascinating. How she felt about each of her parents, her situation, and her own responsibility were amazing to see. From her determination to “keep this house clean” after her childhood home burned and her family was forced to move to her realization that she had no control over her parents’ decision, Coming Clean was compelling and riveting. I could barely put it down.
What stands out to me the most, is not the ebb and flow of her father’s (and eventually, her mother’s) hoarding habits, nor is it Kimberly’s own meticulous cleanliness. What stands out is her response to her upbringing. Her telling of her own story contains absolutely no hint of bitterness, and neither does it contain excuses for their behavior. She simply presents it, as is. She shows a great respect for her parents and does not ignore the beautiful way in which they loved and raised her. The good times she recounts are nearly idyllic, something you’d expect to see in a movie about a perfect family. But she does not sugar coat things. The bad times were very bad. From the house that burned down (because of the mess) to the home they abandoned (because it was literally falling apart) to Kimberly’s realization that she could no longer stand living at home, Coming Clean is filled to the brim with brutal honesty. In summary, Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir is very well-rounded and beautifully written.
If you are able, I would greatly encourage you to read this book through the audiobook. Kimberly herself narrates the audio version (something more authors should consider doing) and I could tell it was her without even checking. There’s just something about the way an author reads their own book that is beautiful and incredibly special. One of my new favorite quotes in literature comes from this book. It is from the introduction, and it speaks volumes to who her parents were as people: But my mother is wrong about one thing: I do not hate her or my father. Sure, I remember the dirt and the rats and the squalor, but I also remember parents who loved me. Doting, fallible people who gave me everything they had, and a whole lot more.
Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller gets 5/5 stars.
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