I’ve got a new favourite TV show. It’s called Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, but the name really doesn’t do it justice because the genius thing is it’s not just about the cleaners (fascinating though they are).
What makes the show so great is that it brings the OCD cleaners into the homes of chronic hoarders to help them sort out their towering piles of cack – thereby combining several of my favourite reality genres in one. Cleaning, hoarding and house transformation.
It’s such a satisfying watch it makes me want to purr like a cat.
I’m so fascinated by the process of clutter clearing and how it can transform lives, I wrote a whole book about it. Amelia, the heroine of my novel How To Break Your Own Heart, becomes a professional clutter clearer, after helping a friend sort out her chaotic flat.
That theme was inspired entirely by another TV show, which I do wish was still on, called Life Laundry.
The presenter on that was a very nice lady called Dawna Walter, who acted as much as a therapist as a tidier up, gently guiding the owners of the terrifyingly cluttered, untidy and filthy houses through the process.
Every week, as the show unfolded, a trauma of some kind would be unearthed as the trigger for the start of the hoarding. The poor souls were all trapped in the past, terrified to move on.
There were always tears – usually after denial, anger etc, the usual journey – and it was inspiring to watch them start to let go. Even more uplifting was to see the transformed house at the end and the look of relief and release on the subjects’ faces.
I would quite like Dawna Walter to come round to my house.
Because that is, of course, why I love those shows. I’ve got tendencies that make me relate to those people at a visceral level. I’m not a hoarder, in the gross sense, like those very unfortunate and properly ill people whose houses are crammed with old newspapers and filthy old food cartons – and attendant rats, shudder – so they have to crawl through deadly crevasses to move from room to room, but I do have way too much stuff.
Even though I’m very organised, with a place for everything and everything in it’s place – there’s simply too much everything. There are various reasons for this.
One of the things I really recognise in the hoarders is the feeling that it’s morally wrong to chuck stuff out that could be re-used. In an increasingly polluted and throwaway world, they can’t bear the idea of waste. Neither can I.
So padded envelopes, relatively unscathed tissue paper, plastic take away cartons, rubber bands… I just can’t sling them and I do re-use them, so I feel justified, but until the moment of re-use comes, they sure do clog up the arteries of my house and, ergo, my life.
Then there’s another level of clutter. Nice things. The books, the carefully curated T shirts, the vintage scarves and other lifelong collections of accessories. The endless lovely old bits of china from junk shops and antique bed linen from markets. All of it has worth, but there’s too much all of it.
That will be hard to cull, but in the meantime I have at least stopped buying any more of it, which is tough enough. Walking past a table of mixed blue and white china outside my favourite junk shop, not just once, but many times, was my equivalent of a junkie refusing a hit.
But I’ve got enough unmatched blue and white plates to serve dinner to twenty people. And a few spares in case of breakages. I don’t need any more.
Then there’s the stuff that isn’t useful at all, but has sentimental value. All my daughter’s drawings – just about every one she’s ever done – all her school exercise books since she started school and until recently every birthday card she’d ever been sent. Yes, I know, that was going too far. I’ve flung them.
Which was a start and I’ve kept going. After consulting fellow novelists on Twitter I finally threw out all my old manuscripts and marked-up proofs.
With that and a lot of other paper I didn’t need (twelve years of bank statements FFS…) I sent 30 bags of paper to recycling.
There’s still a long way to go though and one of the problems with clutter clearing is that the clutter gets in the way of clearing it. I think that’s why those really chronic hoarders get into such a downwardly spiralling funk.
You can’t clear the stuff for the stuff and the stuff clogs your head, so you can’t think straight to do anything. So it’s much easier to have another cup of tea and absorb yourself in a nice distraction. (Twitter.)
There’s a basket of stuff in my home office which makes me freeze up like that every time I try to sort it out. About five times now, I’ve spent a morning sorting it into piles on the bed – Urgent, Less Urgent, Pending, Store – only to run out of time and scrape it all back into the basket again.
That sodding thing lurks in the room accusing me and reminding me of my failure every time I see it. It’s really toxic, but I just can’t make myself do it.
I’m hoping that once I get through the rest of the house – and I’ve already been through the broom cupboard (sacrificing the world rag collection to a charity shop…) and two book cases – it will free my head enough to beat that bastard basket into submission. Or else I’ll have to call in some help.
I did once have a professional organiser – the lovely Carol Posener, who you can find here – http://www.getorganised.com.au/team.html – to help me sort out one room of my house in Sydney, which was out of control. It was the room version of that basket.
Out of sheer terror over a late tax return, I’d started to open the door of my home office, throw in scary looking official envelopes and shut it again quick. (I have a character in How To Break Your Own Heart, with a very similar scenario. Write about what you know and all that…)
Carol sorted it all out for me and I’ve never got in a muddle with my tax since, sticking to her system – so I know proper clutter clearing and organising is life changing.
Now I’ve got to find the energy and commitment to finish my whole house – and that rotten basket – and Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners is my current inspiration.
Along with this brilliant IKEA commercial.
And if you want to read my fictional treatment of clutter clearing, here’s the link to Penguin’s website