'Coming Clean' About Growing Up In A Hoarding Household | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : Tell Me More

'Coming Clean' About Growing Up In A Hoarding Household

Play associated audio

Kimberly Rae Miller grew up among piles of junk. Doors wouldn't close, stacks of paper turned to sludge, and the pool was filled with brown muck. Her father was an extreme hoarder, a condition that threatened her safety and even her life.

In her new memoir, Coming Clean, Miller writes candidly about the chaos in her home: "Between my father's love of paper (and just about everything else he could get his hands on) and my mother's depression-fueled shopping, our house had started to resemble the remnants at the bottom of a garbage can. Soggy junk filled our living space. When I was 14, the boiler broke in the middle of winter, but we could never allow a repairman into our mess, and so we lived without heat, without showers."

In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Miller discusses her book, and how she coped.

Interview Highlights

On a stranger living amid the mess

"When I was 18, my parents abandoned their home and moved to an apartment. And they sold it 'as is.' So the company that bought it, bought it at a very, very discounted price for what the property was worth under the guise that they needed to do the cleaning themselves. And they reported back to my mom that in the attic they had found someone's clothing, hundreds of beer cans, a cot — somebody had been living in our attic."

On why people hoard

"From the research that I've done, many hoarders start hoarding as a form of connecting to other people. And so when they see something that reminds them of someone they love, they hold on to it. If it reminds them of a way they felt good, or a positive memory in their life, they hold on to it. A lot of hoarders are incredibly intelligent people, and they're able to see things in ordinary objects that we wouldn't necessarily see. And so, getting rid of those items is incredibly hard for them."

On the worst part of living in a hoarding household

"I think in the end, all of it culminated in this innate feeling of shame because where I came from was something to be ashamed of, and it's nothing I could share with anyone. And that definitely affected me throughout my life, of feeling I am not worthy of being noticed, and that it was important for me to hide."

On watching herself for signs of hoarding

"It's a constant fear in my life. ... My mom always jokes that I'm going to end up throwing my children away 'cause I can't stand having junk around. ... It's absolutely a fear, and a lot of times hoarding is triggered in people who don't show those signs by a trauma, and the hoarding turns on, so to speak. And I'm always afraid that I'm like one trauma away from becoming a hoarder."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Awarded MacArthur Fellowship

She is one of the first cartoonists to be recognized. Besides her graphic novels and memoirs, Bechdel developed a simple three-question test for how women are represented in films.
NPR

Sweet: Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme Pump Up Pledge On Palm Oil

Two major doughnut chains have bowed to consumer pressure to better police their palm oil purchases. Environmentalists say it's a win for consumers, trees and animals.
NPR

Congress Quietly Extends The Budget — Past Election Day, Anyway

Since the GOP retook the House, the chamber once brought the country to the brink of a debt default and once shut down the government. But in election years, including this one, there's no such drama.
NPR

Look, Mom, I Finally Made It To Broadway!

NPR's Michel Martin will sit down with a panel of award-winning playwrights to ask about diversity in theater. Follow here or join us on Twitter on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, using #NPRMichel.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.