The Trauma Cleaner

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Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of Sarah Krasnostein’s biography, The Trauma Cleaner, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Sarah Krasnostein explores the life of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman who beat the odds by surviving an abusive childhood in Australia to lead an extraordinary life, including running her own trauma cleaning business.

LIKEThe Trauma Cleaner was not what I expected, but was a wonderful surprise. Krasnostein alternates chapters, exploring Sandra’s life in the past and present. In the present chapters, we see Sandra’s current life and specifically, how her professionalism and empathy impacts the lives of her clients. Some of her clients are the families of the deceased, homes that Sandra’s team is hired to clean after a tragic death. Other clients include the living, people who are hoarders and need help cleaning up their environment. Sandra has a very special touch with people who are in pain and need her help. She is firm, yet compassionate. What’s interesting about the present chapters is how Sandra is equally impacted by the clients she serves. Part of the reason for her success is that she lets those in need into her life and is deeply touched.

The past chapters take us through Sandra’s life. Sandra, born male and named Peter, was adopted as an infant, becoming the second oldest son in a large family. From an early age, Peter/Sandra, was emotionally and physically abused, eventually being made to sleep in a shed in the backyard. He was isolated from his family, a family that he desperately wanted to please and be shown inclusion. It’s heartbreaking.

In his late teens, Peter moved out and got married. He had two children and ended up abandoning his family just a few years later. The guilt over abandoning his family would stay with Peter for his entire life. He never had a proper reconciliation. Krasnostein interviews Peter’s wife, adding another layer to this biography. As Peter grew comfortable in his own skin, he began to take hormones and prepare to undergo a sex change operation, eventually leading to his new identity as Sandra. The road was very bumpy, including substance abuse, prostitution, and many other dangerous situations. Quite frankly, it’s surprising that Sandra survived.

Later in life, Sandra found love and married again. Although the relationship ended in divorce, she found her true calling with her trauma cleaning business. A big theme of The Trauma Cleaner, is Sandra’s life-long quest to find herself accepted, needed, and loved. The people whom she helps are often those who also feel lonely and abandoned. Sandra helps in a way that goes beyond a professional transaction; she treats all of her clients with tenderness and respect. She makes them feel valued, even when they don’t have the same feelings about themselves.

Sandra was born in the 1950’s, when the world was a far less accepting place for those who are different. It was shocking to read about how Sandra’s job options as a transsexual in her early adulthood were limited to prostitution and drag shows. It was something of a miracle that she was able to transition to living an open life with a traditional marriage and conventional job: first working at a mortuary, then with her husband, and eventually building her cleaning company. She’s is an inspiration.

DISLIKE– Not much. The only negative is that the chapters dealing with the present day were uneven with maintaining my interest. I’m not sure that we needed quite as many examples of the present day to truly grasp Sandra’s resilient spirit and empathy. The biography feels too long.

RECOMMEND– Yes! I was expecting more of a book about the business of trauma cleaning, but I’m thrilled that this was actually a story about an amazing woman overcoming adversity. The Trauma Cleaner is the type of story people should read to be reminded that everyone has their own troubles and that we should show compassion to everyone that we encounter. The world should be a kinder place.

Year of No Clutter

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Thank You to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advanced copy of Eve O. Schaub’s memoir, Year of No Clutter, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Having previously written a book where her family eliminated added sugar for a year, Schaub is back, with a challenge to give herself a year to master the clutter in her home. It’s more than just clutter, Schaub has one room in particular, that has been dubbed the “Hell Room”, which has turned into something out of an episode of Hoarders. Can Schaub and her family fix the “Hell Room” and get to the root of their clutter problem? In modern society, is it possible to live clutter-free?

LIKE – My mom was a highly organized person, who did not keep more than was necessary, however, after she died, I found some unusual examples of hoarding. She was a single woman, who didn’t cook, yet she had about thirty boxes of Saran wrap in a pantry. In the pantry, I found stock-piles of tin foil, AA batteries, and unopened boxes of playing cards. No clue why she amassed such quantities of these specific items. I wish I could have asked her! None of this of course was a huge deal, but it was weird. Schaub mentions dealing with death, and wondering what your possessions will say about you, when you’re gone. Thinking about this topic fascinates and worries me.

Year of No Clutter does not contain photographic evidence, however, Schaub’s home in no-way sounds like a hoarding situation. She does visit the house of a deceased hoarder, who was a friend of a friend. Schaub wore a mask, as she carefully waded through the mounds of trash, accumulated over many years. This made me think of an experience I had a decade ago, cleaning out the apartment of the daughter of my mom’s friend, who had died. This apartment was just on the edge of hoarder status, certainly a situation where the clutter was out of control. The job was so massive, that we ended up searching for anything of value, and then calling a company to do the clearing out. I was stunned by the enormity of it all.

Schaub writes about the accumulation of clutter, and how things as innocent as a birthday present, contribute to a growing mess. Schaub has a friend who sent out an email asking her friends and family to stop giving her gifts. She had everything she need. Schaub’s friend quickly learned that this was easier said than done; our culture shows love and appreciation through gifts. Her loved ones could not comply. I connected with this sentiment and I imagine most readers would agree that the own stuff that they simply don’t need or even want. The stuff is a burden and because it was a gift, they are even more torn over removing it from their home. Schaub makes many references to organization guru, Marie Kondo, who has a rule about only keeping objects that bring you joy. Unfortunately in Schaub’s case, she manages to “find joy” in what most people would consider to be junk. Junk, or maybe just gross, like when she decides to keep a dead mouse in a box.

DISLIKE– Although I found Year of No Clutter to be relatable and even inspirational, it lacked a sense of intensity or urgency. A year is a long time to spread out this type of project and there were no consequences for failure, other than a home with clutter. To this end, I found myself losing interest and wondering if the concept warranted a full book treatment. I think a more appropriate venue for her story would have been a lengthy magazine feature, hitting the highlights of her experiment. In book form, it lost steam.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. Schaub is funny and likable, as is her family, and Year of No Clutter is going to be relatable for many readers. Although I found myself skimming her memoir I think it would provide inspiration to many readers. Clutter is certainly a problem that plagues many people.