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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.

I have always been a fan of shows like Hoarders. At first it was a “OMG” moment, and later grew to a “on no” moment. But even after years of watching the show it didn’t feel complete. Great, so they cleaned two rooms of the house, but what about the PERSON?

Dirty Secret covers this by placing the spotlight on one family as it tries to deal with this. The mother has cancer and the daughter tries her best to clean out the house before chemo recovery begins. You would think it would be easy! Here we learn what goes through the minds of some hoarders and how in fact it affects everyone around them. It’s not that easy to shut them out of your life and ignore the issue. In this case, the mother isn’t just a hoarder, but cruel to Jessie (the daughter) who is trying to do nothing but help her mother get her life together.

I loved this book.

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