HGTV Decluttering Tips May Ruin Your Marriage


Week #2 of decluttering is finally over. This week, the goal was to follow advice from the Decluttering and Organizing sections of HGTV's website.

Let's talk about HGTV for a second. There is not one person reading this who can say they've never been sucked into an episode of House Hunters, Tiny House Hunters, House Hunters InternationalProperty Brothers, Flip or FlopLove It or List It, etc., etc., etc. Even if you don't have cable, you've been subjected to these shows somewhere—a gym, your friend's house, a waiting room. HGTV has infiltrated every corner of society. (And I secretly love it. I guess now it's not so secret.) I have a personal weakness for home renovation shows. But I hate them. After I watch an episode, I feel a deep, intense need to whitewash something. Suddenly, the room I'm sitting needs to be transformed. All I can see is what isn't in my home. Full disclosure: HGTV has inspired some awesome (but totally unnecessary) projects that made our house feel like our home (e.g., these indoor shutters. Do they have a purpose? No. Do I love them? Yes.)

Our completely unnecessary, decorative interior shutters 

Our completely unnecessary, decorative interior shutters 

However, HGTV has also led to prolific angst about my living spaces, both inside and outside. I imagine some of you have had similar experiences and feelings. So I felt it was important to bring HGTV into the You've Got Fail experiments.

As much as I love HGTV shows, I've never spent time on the website. (Except that one time I entered to win the HGTV Dream House. Okay, it was twice. Okay, okay, I entered three years in a row. Stop judging me!) But other than that, I have resisted the HGTV archives of perfectly manicured lawns, alphabetized spice racks, and spotless children's play rooms. And that turned out to be a wise decision because HGTV's website is just one gigantic advertisement for stuff—stuff most of us don't need and can't afford. Please tell me who can drop $79 on a hand-woven, bamboo magazine rack that will literally end up next to the shitter. 

It took hours of clicking through HGTV articles before we found decluttering/organizing tips that weren't just gadgets to buy. After much searching, we picked these three:

  1. Organizing Mistakes that Make Your House Look Messy
  2. 15 Things to Get Rid of RIGHT NOW!
  3. Feng Shui Your Bedroom

Every article is accompanied by a series of over-produced photo galleries that make you hate yourself. Everything in every photo is bright, sparkly, and oh-so-clean. I imagine these articles produce an especially intense level of anxiety if you live in a house with tiny, dirt-covered tornados of chaos (aka: children or pets). In fact, I hated all of these articles so much, that I resisted starting any of these experiments until Thursday night.

Here's a summary of the advise from these articles:

  • Hide every cord in your house. ( Things are so far away from outlets. Do I wrap the cords in camouflage duct tape? Do I punch holes in the baseboards and shove them under?)
  • Take everything off your fridge. (But we love our BB King and Dalai Lama photos with their magnetic mustaches. Marie Kondo told us last week to keep things that "spark joy." These stay.)
  • Label every container and sorter with a very specific label. (Mmm, okay...FORKS. SPOONS. SMALL SPOONS. JUST IN CASE YOU ARE A TOTALLY INCAPABLE HUMAN. In protest, I'm labeling everything in a new language so at least there's a point to this madness.)
  • Group similar items on your shelves. (I like this one. It makes me happy. One point for HGTV.)
  • Don't display any paperback books. ( we only have 6 books on our shelves. And they aren't even ones that we like. Marie Kondo would be very angry.)
  • Organize your entryway. (This was surprisingly helpful. Two points to HGTV.)
  • Only keep things on the counter if you use them every day. (Guess we're having toast every day.)
  • Get rid of all wire hangers. (Fine, but I don't understand why!)
  • Store everything in glass—no cardboard! (Do you know how much it costs to buy glass storage containers for EVERYTHING? This would cost hundreds of dollars. Again, I return to the question of the shitter magazine rack.)
  • Get rid of movies you don't love. (Who wants a copy of the disturbing non-classic One Hour Photo?)
  • Your bedroom should have red in it, but not too much red, but definitely little pops of red, but not overwhelming red. (I'm confused about the red. Does that mean our bedroom has bad juju if we keep our bright red flannel curtains? It's part of our classy lumberjack vibe. Are we doing it wrong?)
  • Build a "love shrine" in the far-right corner of your bedroom. (We did have fun digging through old photos for our love shrine. I begrudgingly award another point to HGTV.)

Then there was some truly puzzling advise splattered throughout these articles, which made me question the target audience for this writing:

  • Get rid of last year's calendar. (Also, see a specialist if you think it's 2015. That's dementia.) 
  • Throw out unidentifiable food items in the fridge or freezer. (I don't think college boys are reading this article, HGTV.)
  • Replace your toothbrush. (How is this decluttering? Isn't this basic personal hygiene?)
  • Get rid of shoes if they are falling apart. (If you don't have whole shoes, you may be homeless. Why are you on a HOME and garden website?)
  • Make sure your feet aren't facing out the door when you are in bed, but you should also be able to see the door from your bed, but you should also be in the back right "power corner" of your room. (I'm lost. Our furniture can't follow all these rules. What kind of people have this much space to correctly position their furniture?)
  • Get rid of any "pointy" energy in your bedroom by covering sharp corners with cloth. (What if you got rid of all your cloth last week because it didn't bring you joy, and now all you have are cleaning rags. I feel like that's not very feng shui-y. Which is worse? The smell of Pine Sol or "pointy" energy?)
  • Have your partner serve you fresh-brewed tea and buttery croissants in bed in the morning and wine and chocolate-dipped strawberries at night. (I asked for both. He laughed. I tried to negotiate for one or the other. He laughed harder. Now what?)



WARNING: This level of cleaning and organizing will likely lead to a serious marital meltdown.

This week taught us that the process of decluttering and cleaning is deeply personal. It's personal because our relationship to all our stuff is deeply personal. So when we have to sort through literally every single object we own, it's bound to bring up some serious emotions. We have to confront every terrible decision we've made (cough, cough, bright yellow plaid golf pants, Chuck). It also gets tricky when we know we should get rid of something but we aren't ready to part with it (but our spouse is telling us, no, you really should let it go.) Tensions rise. Then your wife adorns every basket, drawer, and sorter in the house with annoying Italian-language sticky notes. Tensions reach peak intensity.

As my friend Kate astutely observed, decluttering also brings up all sorts of childhood baggage because our relationship to stuff is often connected to our parents' relationship to stuff. Whether your parents were hoarders, or they kept plastic sheeting draped on all the furniture to avoid skin tainting the pristine fabric, everyone has issues. Be prepared to shell out some dough for counseling as part of the decluttering process.

The good news is that after a lot of yelling about laundry baskets and crumbs on countertops, we got to the other side of the mountain. And we both agreed that we do like some of our spaces better. The bedroom feels welcoming. My office is a little sanctuary of clean surfaces. We finally have a place to put our bags when we come in the door. All of these are good things. But we have a few lingering questions: Was it worth two straight weeks of unhappiness to get clean counters? How much longer will it take to clean the REST of our spaces? Will our marriage survive that? Who are we going to pay to keep our spaces this clean (because I'm exhausted and never want to touch another sponge)?

Good thing building a "love shrine" was a part of this week. It made us like each other again.

Good thing building a "love shrine" was a part of this week. It made us like each other again.

Actually, there was another up-side to this week. I learned that the Italian word for socks sounds a lot like calzone. And whose life isn't richer when empowered with that kind of knowledge?


For the third week of April, we're going to try Project 333, which is, "the minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months." If we thought The KonMari method of organizing our closet was crazy, I don't know how we are going to handle this.