Trash TV: Vicariously making the <I>Clean Sweep

I should have a trash TV– literally.

About 10 hours each week, I watch a program called Clean Sweep on the Learning Channel. I'm endlessly enthralled by this repetitious tale of people getting their clutter cleaned up.

The premise is simple and never varies. If there are kids in the household, they are never seen on this program. The remaining adults explain to the cameras why their lives are out of control. We are shown two rooms of their house, piled with trash and possessions. The Clean Sweep team carries everything out to the yard.

The adults are forced to sort out their clutter in 30 minutes into "keep," "sell," and "trash" piles. Then an organizational therapist makes them sort their keep pile into a "really keep" pile, making them declare a true and real emotional or practical need for every item they want to keep. If un-persuaded, the organizer takes it away. The couple spend the night in a hotel, their car packed with photos and files they have yet to sort while the Clean Sweep team works through the night like Santa's elves to remodel their rooms.

There's a yard sale, and then the adults re-enter their house where they cry tears of joy at seeing their rooms painted, refurnished, and organized so extraordinarily that I can only weep right along with them with joy and awe. I cry more during this show than I've cried over any melodrama.

I never get tired of this. Even now, the memories of photos in labeled boxes (Before Kids, After Kids), files in color-coordinated folders, and toys in slide-away bins causes me to break into sobs. I have seen grown men cry on this show, so moved are they at the sight of their ties hung on tie racks, their clothes on hangers– and sorted by color!

Messy people have many things in common. Inevitably, one of the couple–and often both of them–work from home. There's always a computer station and a home business that is in such disarray that you wonder how they manage to make enough money to pay for their cluttered house. When it's the woman working at home, she's either selling things on eBay or making gift baskets. People who make gift baskets for a living live in clutter.

Women who are into scrap-booking– that bizarre new hobby that requires designer scissors and colored paper you can buy at scrapbook parties– are also mess-aholics. And I'm amazed at how many people keep vast caches of wrapping paper, ribbon, and cards on hand, as well as stockpiles of gifts.

There's always a gigantic stuffed animal that has to be ripped out of the arms of some woman who swears there's an emotional attachment. It's quickly bought at the yard sale and becomes someone else's decorating disaster. I am wildly curious about the yard sale shoppers and what their houses must look like. The Clean Sweep team could follow any of them home.

Men cling to old trophies and ratty soccer shirts. Women refuse to part with sewing machines they haven't used in years. Everyone has a treadmill taking up space. Even if they convince the organizer therapist to let them keep the treadmill, I never see it in the finished rooms. It must get relegated to the garage or secretly carted off to charity. The poor have so many opportunities to buy bargain treadmills.

I am amazed at the number of people who stockpile receipts and bills from years past, and even more amazed at the many people who don't open their mail. One couple was confronted with a shoebox full of unopened overdue bills. No doubt as soon as the Clean Sweep people left them with their beautiful newly redecorated rooms, the foreclosure people arrived to take the whole house.

I love the organizer therapist. The new one is an Australian named Peter who tells us that memories are in our mind, not in our possessions. And if you don't value an item enough to display it, dust it, or even know where it is, then you don't value it, no matter how much you claim you do. And you don't need it.

I've yet to see a couple, after gazing at their organized new rooms, cry out for any of the items they were desperately clinging to the day before. Out of sight, out of mind, a good rule of thumb. The tranquility of space is liberating.

I feel energized after a Clean Sweep marathon, ready to go through my own files and toss out papers, ready to clean out bookshelves. I'm ready to pick apart bulky photo albums, toss out most of the yellowing photos, and move the few precious ones to a box. I'm ready to get a label maker!

Although I'm not quite ready to admit to myself that I will never ever use that stationary bicycle taking up half of my bedroom, I'm moving in that direction. I really am. But don't even ask about that gigantic white bear I've had so long that it's now a gray bear. Maybe after 20 more hours of Clean Sweep, I'll get there.