Jessie Sholl has a dirty secret. Her mother is a hoarder. After years of trying to hide the fact that her mother has this disorder, Sholl has finally come out of the closet, so to speak. Her memoir, Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding comes at a time when shows such as TLC's Hoarders has piqued our interest in this little talked about disorder.
I received this book a few months ago for a blog tour and several times I picked it up to read prior to this month's tour. Each time I sadly put it down, knowing that if I read it too soon I would forget the details of this memoir. Finally, finally as we turned the calendar to 2011 I knew I could begin reading. Sholl, a writer by trade, provides an inside look at this lifestyle. Once I started reading, it was almost impossible to stop. Her story begins when her mother is diagnosed with colon cancer and Sholl must return to her Minneapolis home to help out. Upon her arrival she is greeted by the clutter she knows so well. From there, the book chronicles Sholl's childhood as well as the present day, alternating between them seamlessly. While her mother's hoarding didn't begin until the death of her boyfriend, Sholl can recount strange behaviors from back in her childhood. One incident Sholl shares occurred while she was in kindergarten. Her mother was so intent on making a shopping trip to Savers that she told Jessie to tell her kindergarten teacher that she needed to stay all day at school since her mom wouldn't be there to greet her when she got home. Unable to make herself give this message to her teacher, Jessie comes home to an empty house she is locked out of. She spends the freezing winter afternoon trying to shut herself between the screen door and door to her house in an effort to keep warm. When her mother comes home, she is not concerned for Jessie, just excited by the bargains she found. Even years before her hoarding came out, her focus on gaining possessions caused her to ignore her own children. And, Jessie's own father (the two divorced when Jessie was young) worried enough for his children's safety that he purchased a home near his ex-wife so that he could keep an eye on his children.
Now an adult, Sholl tries to be helpful to her mother who is aging, and appears much older than her actual age would indicate. She takes turns being frustrated by her behavior and wanting to help and protect her. However, when Sholl develops scabies from being in her mother's house and has a difficult time getting rid of them, her patience is stretched to its limit.
While it would be wonderful to say that Sholl cleaned her mother's house and it is now neat and tidy, that is not how hoarding works. This illness is ongoing, it is the way in which Sholl now reacts to her mother's continued hoarding that has shifted a bit.
While this is a memoir, Sholl includes different facts about hoarding, so that I was able to learn a great deal. Her personal story gives this book credibility and makes it difficult to put down. Sholl's own skills as a writer shine through as well. Dirty Secret was quickly devoured -after which I spent an entire day cleaning my daughters' bedroom, alternating between my belief that I have a hoarder-in-the-making, and relief that my mess does not compare to a true hoarder's.
To read more from Sholl, visit her blog.