Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding
by Jessie Sholl
To be the child of a compulsive hoarder is to live in a permanent state of unease. Because if my mother is one of those crazy junk-house people, then what does that make me?When her divorced mother was diagnosed with cancer, New York City writer Jessie Sholl returned to her hometown of Minneapolis to help her prepare for her upcoming surgery and get her affairs in order. While a daunting task for any adult dealing with an aging parent, it’s compounded for Sholl by one lifelong, complex, and confounding truth: her mother is a compulsive hoarder. Dirty Secret is a daughter’s powerful memoir of confronting her mother’s disorder, of searching for the normalcy that was never hers as a child, and, finally, cleaning out the clutter of her mother’s home in the hopes of salvaging the true heart of their relationship—before it’s too late.
Growing up, young Jessie knew her mother wasn’t like other mothers: chronically disorganized, she might forgo picking Jessie up from kindergarten to spend the afternoon thrift store shopping. Now, tracing the downward spiral in her mother’s hoarding behavior to the death of a long-time boyfriend, she bravely wades into a pathological sea of stuff: broken appliances, moldy cowboy boots, twenty identical pairs of graying bargain-bin sneakers, abandoned arts and crafts, newspapers, magazines, a dresser drawer crammed with discarded eyeglasses, shovelfuls of junk mail . . . the things that become a hoarder’s “treasures.” With candor, wit, and not a drop of sentimentality, Jessie Sholl explores the many personal and psychological ramifications of hoarding while telling an unforgettable mother-daughter tale.
My Thoughts: I was really excited to read this book, because while I enjoy the show Hoarders, fitting a whole lifetime of hoarding and its affect on a family can’t really be done in an hour. The parts of the book where Sholl talks about her mother, their relationship, and the condition her mom’s house and mind are by far the best parts. Not so much author’s various health struggles and her need to call her Mom and Dad “my mom” and “my dad” all the time (it might not sound annoying, but trust me, if you read the book you will understand). Her anger at “Mean Lesbian Neighbor” and the unfortunate renter that sublets the author’s NY apartment make it difficult to feel empathy for Sholl. At times she is a champion for hoarders, bringing attention to a problem that seems to be growing in our world and the mental illness behind it. But despite knowing her mom’s history and current mental status, Sholl is often sharp tongued and impatient with her. Of course, I imagine it’s a lot easier to have patience with a hoarder you don’t know than the one that plants rubber snakes everywhere to freak you out and gives you scabies that just won’t go away. I admire Sholl for her honesty, hoarding isn’t a mental illness that you can just take a little blue pill for and the author gives lots of information on hoarding behavior. I just wanted more about her mother’s illness and struggle and less about repetitive motion strain and troubles with renters. Although I found the hoarding issues interesting, I didn’t particularly like Sholl herself, which took away some of my enjoyment of this book.
Dirty Secret gets a Midnight Book Rating of: