Timing is everything. So it was with Sarah and Ben of Glenn Eden, the first family to appear on the new home-organizing show Sort Your Life Out NZ, on June 22.
“I literally said to my partner, ‘Who am I calling; Sarah says. “I was on the wit end, and I couldn’t believe it, but the next night I saw the ad on TV (looking for people to appear on the show).
“The timing was amazing. I said, ‘That’s exactly what I need right now; we’re applying for this, and I started taking pictures. I didn’t even give him a chance to think about it.’”
The couple and children, Tay, 9, and Lyra, 14 months, opened their messy home to TV cameras, along with host Kanna Lloyd, professional organizer Natalie Jean of Be Organized and builder Sean Brown.
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The cameras showed a house full of objects collected over many years, many on the floor – in every room. “Lyra was about to start walking, and she had nowhere to walk,” Sarah says. “I knew something had to change.
“I was definitely confused. I don’t like to let things go, but there was pretty much a whole lifetime of things – boxes on top of boxes, no space to put anything.”
Sarah says the idea of the potential embarrassment of showing how cluttered the house is was “definitely there”. “But for us, solving it was more important than people think. And we’re not alone. And he made it perfectly clear to us (there are eight episodes in the series).”
Sarah admits that there were obvious reasons for the flooding of the house – there was a longing associated with the children’s clothes she collected, there was a desire to protect the family in the future, to buy clothes and toys in advance when they were needed. She’s always on the lookout for a good deal, and she usually buys several pairs of identical baby shoes in different sizes and colours.
“I would trawl through Facebook and if anything was listed for free I would get it. If I went to The Warehouse and there was something under $2, I would buy it.”
In the show, every item in the couple’s home was laid out in areas of a spacious warehouse, and the family was tasked with moving half into piles for recycling, donation, or sale.
“Among Sarah and Ben’s items are 165 shopping bags, 170 toy cars and planes, 52 baby bibs and 74 pieces of baby linen for a baby bed that has only been slept in once,” Cannes noted.
Ben admitted it was “a kind of conquest, seeing all that space being wasted with bullshit”.
But Sarah says seeing her valuables laid down was “shocking,” even though they knew what to expect. “But it was also a relief to see all our things arranged so well – even the kids were excited to see their toys again.
“I really wanted to get rid of at least half of the stuff. Anything less wouldn’t make a big enough impact. But I struggled a bit with the baby clothes I’ve kept with me and wandered in for nearly nine years.”
At one stage of the show, Son Tai said, “I feel like you’re sad about me.”
“He got rid of a lot of things that I wasn’t ready to get rid of,” Sarah says. “It’s kind of a shock to the system. All the money we put into getting him this stuff. He still feels guilty for me.”
Sarah admits that part of her desire to collect things was a fear that she might not be able to buy them in the future. “I saw my mom struggling. I saw her take her money out of the envelopes to get the things we wanted…As an adult, I now know what she gave up for me.”
The family managed to get rid of more than half the items, and Sarah credits Natalie for giving it the motivation: “Natalie really got into my head. She tried to make sense of where we came from. She was amazing.”
“Some things find their way slowly.”
Now, a few weeks later, Sarah says the house isn’t as tidy as it seems after the makeover at the end of the show. She admits that they don’t keep it as well organized as possible.
“It’s definitely not 100%. But the floor is clear, the lane is clear. Kids can walk around without tripping. We all just need to get off our heels and put things off.”
“We had a lot of clutter under the house as well, which we weren’t ready to get rid of on the show. We’ve looked into this and some have slowly found their way home.
But bulk buying has definitely stopped. And now, when we go to the stores, Tai keeps asking me, “Mom do you really need this?”.
Before the renovation, Ben said the family enjoyed being outside, because it was a frustrating environment that created more stress.
“It’s definitely nicer to be at home, but we still love to go out,” Sarah says. “For those first few days after the show, we loved coming in and seeing everything in place.
“We’ve passed people, and it’s absolutely best if we can invite people over here.”
Sarah gives advice to others in a similar situation: “Get help, if you’re like me. You can’t do it alone. There are people out there who do it for a living.”
“Without help I don’t know where we would be.”
But perhaps the last word should go to the very wise Natalie Jane: “Living in the future often affects the present. It prevents us from feeling joy in that moment, and life is about joy.”
Sort your life on New Zealand screens on three screens at 8:30pm every Wednesday