When it comes to keeping house, I'm fairly hit or miss. Stop by on a good day, and you'll find that everything is relatively clean and in place. Catch me on a day when writing assignments are due, though, and you'd think a tornado swirling with action figures, early readers, Barbie shoes and cracker crumbs had just ripped through my home.
In general, I veer toward the tidy end of the spectrum — I simply feel better about life when I can walk across my kitchen floor without sticking to it. The problem is that cleaning up after six people takes massive, backbreaking effort, and there are sooo many more interesting things I could be doing with my time. Like playing Farmville, for example. Or watching Dr. Phil. Or writing a column about how much I hate housework.
I've tried lots of motivators over the years, from subscribing to Martha Stewart Living (a magazine that's designed to shame its readers into good housekeeping) to signing up for the FlyLady's daily e-mailed housekeeping directives. But neither of those things were enough. I needed something more drastic. And a few weeks ago, I finally found it: Hoarders.
It's a show on A&E that documents the lives of compulsive hoarders and their inability to throw anything away, whether it's empty toilet paper rolls, used Depends diapers or dead pets. Hoarders hold on to it all, and often, even a trained psychologist, a professional organizer and a team of haulers can't convince the hoarder to give up more than a token amount of what they call their "collection." The show has a huge fan base of suburban housewives, including my friend Jenny, who watches the show religiously. And talking to them, it's easy to understand why.
"Whenever I watch one, every single room in our house gets purged," she told me recently. "In fact, just the other day, my daughter looked at my nightstand, which has all these books on it right now, and she looked up at me with these sad eyes and said in a little voice, 'Mommy? Are you a hoarder?'"
Curious about the series that had turned so many of my girlfriends into Merry Maids, I taped a season on DVR and started watching. Instantly, I was hooked.
The hoarders come from all walks of life. Some live in trailers and public housing, others in massive suburban homes. All of them have stuffed their living quarters with overflowing junk, whether haggled from yard sales, fished out of dumpsters or purchased at the mall. In one house, a mother and young daughter sleep on sofas in the living room and brush their teeth in the kitchen, since they can't get to the any other rooms. In another, a family of six has been sleeping outside in a tent for months because bedbugs have infested their home and they can't bring themselves to clear it out for extermination.
I've been riveted by their stories, and have often felt tears welling up as I watched people who'd clearly reached their psychological breaking point, and in some cases were in danger of having their homes condemned.
And, just like Jenny, I discovered that I couldn't watch an episode without scouring my house like a crazed woman, scrubbing counters, vacuuming floors, sponging down walls and dusting off furniture. The more I watched, the more convinced I became that even I had been just a few Black Fridays away from not being able to get to my toilet. Thank God for Hoarders.
Yes, Hoarders may end up being the best thing that ever happened to American housekeeping — not to mention Goodwill.
"I've donated two truckloads of stuff since I started watching," I told Jenny excitedly last week. "First, I decided that consigning the kids' clothes was too much effort for too little return, so I boxed up everything they'd outgrown and brought it in. Then, I decided I was never going to get around to eBaying all the antiques my mom gave me that have been sitting in the attic for eight years. They went out the door, too." Jenny clucked admiringly and I smiled to myself: I had out-Hoardered her.
Thanks to my new favorite show, I won't be satisfied until I can look around and not see a single stack of bills that need filing. Or children's keepsakes that need organizing. Or holiday decorations that need storing. I dream now of a house that's 100 percent clutter-free. I dream of saying goodbye to my inner Hoarder forever.
And when that happens, my friends have already told me what to do next. I'll DVR the other show everyone's talking about: The OCD Project.
Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.
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