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The Messiest House in America

This past Saturday was an atypically slow day. Stephanie was off on an errand that I cannot now remember. I was home with the boys after a long and taxing week. There wasn’t much to do, or much that I wanted to do, so I did something rare: I turned on the TV and sat in front of it.

The show that was on immediately sucked me in. It was one of those shows where a charasmatic team of designers enters a typical American home and transforms one or more rooms before the dramatic “reveal” at the end when before and after pictures are compared.

This version, however, focused on clearing out and cleaning up a messy house and setting the family back on the path of using their space and keeping it clean and organized. I imagine those houses are just as messy a year after the program as they were before the program came to their house. But I digress.

This particular episode appeared to be some kind of culmination or special “worst of the worst.” It was billed as the messiest house in America, and I’m thinking it might have been. From the outside, it looked like the typical, suburban, American home. It was maybe a five-bedroom, three bath house with a finished basement. But inside the house, every room was buried under piles and piles of trash, clothes, and other stuff. So much so that every room looked exactly the same, and no individual details of the rooms (the architecture, the furnishings, etc.) were visible.

Each room was progressively worse. The basement was covered in mold and had to be emptied by professionals in hazmat suits. The freezer in the garage hadn’t been opened in five years because the door was blocked with stuff. The wife dropped her wedding ring and immediately lost it among the detritus, and considered it lost forever.

As the team came in to begin clearing out the house, they brought in an army of movers and a convoy of moving vans. As they emptied every room into boxes and into waiting trucks, they began to find loose change. And a few loose bills. In all they found over six thousand dollar in change and small bills that they didn’t know they had. They moved everythign to a huge warehouse where they sorted it and held a garage sale where they generated $16,000 in sales.

It was like watching a train wreck in super slow motion; I was horrified, fascinated, and I couldn’t turn away. I found myself asking, “How could they live like this? (And why are they putting it on national television?)”

At one point, the host of the show sat down for a talk with the couple whose house was being cleaned out. The host said to them directly, “If I saw the two of you out in public, I woud think that you are a success. You have a career, a beautiful family, and a nice house. You look put together. But as I go into your home, I see that your family is not functioning successfully. [The way you run your home] is a broken system.”

And as I heard the host speak these words to the homeowner, I could hear the ring of wisdom and truth. How many individuals and families look completely put-together, with-it, and in control of their lives, when under the neat façade they project, their lives are hurting, broken, failed systems. They struggle with both the brokenness and with keeping up the outward appearance of wholeness.

I am reminded of an maxim told to me by an education data specialist: “Visibility is accountability,” he said. He was talking about money, effort, and results, but the same holds true for a person’s life. Privacy is good; secrets are bad. 

And so I ask myself, what am I projecting to those around me? How can I be more real with my friends? And how do I strike a balance between being the “real me” without being that guy who shares way too much information too soon, making unwitting aquaintences more than a little uncomfortable?   

Posted on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 11:22PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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