July 01, 2009
Looking into the Abyss on ‘Clean House: Messiest Home in the Country 3’
If you’ve been a fan of Style Network’s “Clean House” since its premiere in the fall of 2003, and especially if you’ve watched the previous two “Messiest Home in the Country” specials, the “Dirty Little Awards Show” and the just-completed “Search for the Messiest Home in the Country,” you may think you’ve seen the worst of what host Niecy Nash calls “mayhem and foolishness.”
I beg to differ.
Tonight, July 1, at 9 p.m. ET/PT (with repeats at that same hour on Thursday and Friday), Style premieres the two-hour special “Messiest Home in the Country 3,” which visits the Cincinnati, Ohio, residence of Sharon Baglien, 57, a recently retired police detective, and her 20-year-old daughter, Brigitte, who made the desperate call to “Clean House” to get the junk out and transform their home.
Somehow the women got up every day and navigated around piles of stuff and expired food everywhere — the result of 30 years of shopping and hoarding — while also dealing with a non-working kitchen sink, a dripping bathroom shower with a bucket in it (in, by the way, the only bathroom) and a broken stove, dishwasher, and washer and dryer.
Oh, and the washer had overflowed at some point, soaking the giant mounds of stuff in the basement, which were still in place, along with long-expired food. At least the mice were happy.
The only thing greater than the sheer tonnage of junk stuffed into every corner of the house, from groaning attic to packed garage to long-neglected storage unit to the basement — where, as designer Mark Brunetz pointed out, eyes wide, “You can’t even see the walls” — is the depth and breadth of Sharon’s denial.
“I don’t believe,” says Brunetz, “at any point, Sharon and especially her daughter Brigitte ever lived in a house that was orderly. It’s like speaking to someone in English, but they’re hearing it in Greek, and that’s what makes it so difficult.
‘In many ways, while we were there, we were trying to invent a new language in which to communicate with her.”
Sharon Bagliens’ response to questions about the state of her home usually involved a smile and the use of the word “overwhelmed” (along with a few words that will be bleeped at airtime).
“She definitely has a way of dealing with perhaps not understanding what’s going on,” Brunetz says. “Her veneer was just, ‘I’ll smile and look like everything’s great.’
“The thing about Sharon, she told her own story. We really didn’t have to do much. We just opened the doors and turned the cameras on and asked her some basically relevant questions, and her story was just told by virtue of how she communicated — or lack of communication — and then really what he house looked like.
“Oftentimes, you really want to dig deep into a story, but we tried, and we could only get to far. But I think, a picture speaks a thousand words. In this case, it did.”
Nash — who, with Brunetz, has been with the show since the beginning — is usually firm and unflappable in the face of the most mind-boggling heaps of junk, but was reduced to tears in the basement.
“That was very real,” Brunetz says. “I’ll tell you what was interesting about doing that. Niecy never really gets (very far) into the house, especially the basement.
“So when she walked into it, it was her first walk into that basement.”
The junk there was even deep enough to entirely hide “go-to guy” Matt Iseman, and he’s not exactly small.
In the end, “yard-sale diva” Trish Suhr had to use a 7,000-square-foot empty department store to house the Bagliens’ stuff for the yard sale.
(By the way, while yard-sale proceeds usually go to financing the redecorating, in the case of the “Messiest Home,” the money goes to the residents’ charity, and the show picks up the tab for a total-house makeover.)
But between the beginning of the sale and the final reveal, both women, at different times, stormed off the location.
“We closed the show without (Sharon),” says Brunetz. “It speaks to this idea that, in many ways, ‘Clean House’ stays fresh because, although the main themes of the show are the same — that being the clutter and the people — how the story gets told and the outcome and all that, constantly changes.
“The show will follow up with her, but that will be ‘To Be Continued.’ For now, this is how this played out.”
Nash often says that clutter is an outward manifestation of something going on inside, and that’s a consistent theme of the show. Every junk-laden house contains stories of a life or a relationship gone awry.
Brunetz is even working on a book about the psychology of clutter and our consumer culture, which should come out about this time next year.
“Clutter,” he says, “keeps people from being present to their lives. It’s a principle of the show — when you have all this stuff, and you create a life around this stuff, it keeps you anchored in the past. It doesn’t allow you to be present in the very moment you’re living in.”
For example, Sharon Baglien refused to let Brigitte discard any of her childhood possessions and spoke of her daughter in nostalgic terms — even though she was standing a few feet away.
“She was so torn up,” says Brunetz, “around missing her daughter that she didn’t realize her daughter was standing right there.”
In the end, “Clean House” tries to organize lives, not just houses. Asked if the show might, in some small way, be doing work on behalf of the Almighty, Brunetz laughs.
“You know,” he says, “I’m going to actually take that compliment in, because normally I would slough it off. I’d like to think that one of the things I do, and we’re doing it as a show, is walking in the truth of what it is to be human.
“So I consider that high praise, and thank you very much.”
After all, no matter how silly or benign or frivolous TV reality shows may start out to be, they still have, at their core, human beings with real, human feelings.
“The cool thing about reality is,” Brunetz says, “sooner or later, you’re going to run into real people, and we definitely ran into some real people at ‘Messiest Home 3.'”
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