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Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding, Jessie Sholl

2011/11/16

As someone with parents who are nudging the line between thrifty and hoarder, this memoir caught my attention. Sholl begins her memoir with her mother’s announcement that she has cancer, and wants to sign over her house to her daughter. Sholl is stunned, not only by the news of her mother’s illness, but also at the thought of having to take care of the house, which she has avoided since her last cleaning purge a few years prior. Upon her visit to her mother, Sholl is horrified at the state of the house, writing a page long description of the clutter and the danger to both the inhabitant and the structural integrity. As she writes, she explains some of the research that has been done regarding hoarding and hoarders, and details some of the ways that her mother’s eccentric behavior affected her as a child, including the rocky relationship between her parents and instillation of the fear of snakes at a young age. She describes the relatively normal relationship she had with her father and step-mother, a realtor who helped provide a tidy home and rules for Jessie and her brother, contrasting it with the chaos that soon overwhelmed her mother’s household. And as Sholl goes through her teen and young adult years, her mother’s condition continues to shadow her, even through Jessie’s graduating, meeting her husband, and establishing her own household. An infestation of mites which Sholl, her father, and husband contract after helping her mother at home after her chemo treatments serve as a physical representation of how this behavior affects the entire family.

This book, while personally interesting, may not have a particularly widespread appeal. The memoir does address the common thread of adult children struggling to find and understand a healthy boundary with their parents; this addresses the switched roles of a child attempting to care for a parent. However, though Sholl is a good writer and does an excellent job of chronicling the emotions and confusion she feels when interacting with her mother, it will be of most interest to those who find themselves in a similar situation.

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