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The Telefile

Broken Hoarders

by Wing Chun November 16, 2007 10:56 am
Oh my God, you guys, did you see yesterday's Oprah?! If you didn't, don't worry: it's a two-parter that's wrapping up today, and I'm sure they'll do an extensive recap of Thursday's episode at the top of Friday's. It's one of my favourite talk-show topics: compulsive hoarders. Yesterday, Oprah did a little disclaimer about how the point of the episode was to offer help to viewers who might have hoarders in their own families and need help in how to confront them, and not just to give everyone a voyeuristic peek into strangers' embarrassing problems. But come on, Oprah. That's why 99% of us were watching -- to feel superior that we just might be a few months behind in shredding our old bills.
Right now, we're living in a golden age of packrat television. For one, there's TLC's Clean Sweep (which stars organizer Peter Walsh, who is also on this week's Oprahs). It's fine as far as it goes -- we get a look at the participants' messy rooms, they go through all their crap and throw stuff out or sell it at a garage sale, and then they get made-over rooms and everyone's happy. Except me! These people are pigs! They shouldn't get rewarded with new, free furniture and paint jobs on rooms that you know they're just going to fill up with more flotsam as soon as the producers leave (flotsam purchased with the proceeds from the garage sale, which they get to keep), doing nothing in exchange except being disgusting in the first place, and exposing that to a national cable audience. Before anyone puts new built-in shelves and rods into their closets, the packrats should at least submit to being paraded through the town, big scarlet "P"s on their chests.

Clean House, on the Style Network, is better, not just for the presence of host Niecy Nash and sardonic decorator Mark Brunetz. Unlike Sweep, House requires the pigs...I mean "participants" to make real sacrifices in what they give up, because the budget the show works with to give them their new rooms is determined by how much they make off their garage sale (which the show matches up to $1000). If they don't give up anything good enough to make decent cash at the garage sale, then their rooms end up looking kind of underdone. It's not punitive, quite, but at least it holds the participants accountable for the results.

Clean Sweep and Clean House both generally feature garden-variety slobs rather than people who have real psychological problems with hoarding. (Exception: this summer's Clean House special: The Messiest House In America, in which the participants were so unprepared to part with any of their useless crap that they ended up with their basement completely full of Rubbermaid bins containing random detritus that, now that it's been sealed into containers and entombed out of sight, they will seriously never touch again.) On Oprah this week, we're dealing with Sharyn, who needs a LOT of therapy to address not just her hoarding but its associated issue, compulsive shopping. How much? Well, here's an idea: it took Walsh and his team six weeks to clean out her home, it was so full of crap. I mean, she referred to a contributing cause of her depression (which she was self-medicating by buying stuff she didn't need to try to cheer herself up) as having recently lost a brother and sister, and Glark and I, practically in unison, shouted back, "Are they under a pile of old newspapers?" Admittedly, it's not as great an episode as the ones about Carol, the California depressive who had so given up on keeping her house clean that she didn't even clean up weeks-rotten food or dog shit. But it's still pretty good if, like me, you enjoy judging strangers.

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