Making a 'House' call

The Baltimore Sun

James Buechler and Jennifer "Jiffy" Boehles married in August, but she hadn't been able to move into his Sparrows Point house. There wasn't room among the clutter.

They planned date nights, and she would come over on the weekends and stay "only as long as I could stand the mess."

The last straw came on the day she couldn't find the coffee in his kitchen. She threatened to call the Style Network's show Clean House, which brings a team to shame, cajole and otherwise make disordered souls deal with their "foolishness." Fearing what she would tell them, he called first.

And about two weeks ago, hostess Niecy Nash knocked on the door of his modern, two-story home in the Baltimore suburbs. Buechler had made such a mess that his family had been chosen as one of six to vie for dishonor in this season's "Search for the Messiest Home in the Country," which begins airing in May.

"Some people have shame, and some people should," said Nash, after surveying the house. "I probably would have more people calling me if they weren't so worried about what people would think of their houses."

The process works the same way every episode. Nash and her crew come into people's houses, wrest away old stuff, sell it at a yard sale and use the proceeds to redecorate. The new and improved household is revealed a week later. Along the way, they hope the messy people face the wreckage of their lives spent collecting, piling and stuffing, and will change their ways.

And at Buechler's, there was plenty to face.

Among the mounds of stuff the show's crew found at the house was a vast NASCAR model car collection belonging to Buechler's ex-wife, baby gifts never gifted and what appeared to be an empty hamster cage. Turns out there was an animal sleeping under the clutter.

There were six cases of shiny glass ornaments competing for space on the kitchen counter and a set of oversized sofas failing to mask stacks of boxes behind them. And the mother lode keeping Boehles out of Buechler's bedroom: nearly 300 of Buechler's shirts.

That stuff lived in his house, but his wife of six months mostly hung her clothes and lay her head in her Halethorpe house 15 miles away. Far from shamed, Buechler, an engineer, offered that "some of my co-workers thought I was a god."

Cue the eye-rolling and mouth-gaping among the veterans of the eight-year-old, top-rated Style show. And let the tug of war begin.

In the end, Buechler lost about half his beloved shirts to the yard sale. He said he did it for his wife, though Nash said she offered some new living room furniture.

Nash likened the process to giving birth: "There's some labor, some painful parts, but at the end, there is this beautiful baby."

Indeed. Of selling the shirts, Buechler said, "It was hard. The shirts weren't hurting anyone." If you don't count his wife.

The polos and button-downs, more than 100 of them, were sold along with tables and tables of knickknacks, VHS tapes, kitchen appliances, fake flowers and the bed he shared with his ex-wife. The model cars went and so did those sofas that tried to hide the mess.

More than 1,800 people mobbed an area firehouse for the yard sale, making it the largest in Clean House history. Many came to snap cell phone photos of the TV people. But others said they were there to help. They didn't haggle down prices, unlike their bargain-hunting counterparts in Los Angeles, where the show is normally filmed.

One woman offered $100 for an "I (heart) my husband" mug, said Kim McCoy, the show's co-executive producer. Another woman said she'd pay $15 rather than the asking price of $8 for a set of Scrubbing Bubbles coin banks if the show's stars autographed them.

"I don't know them, but I live on the same circle. We can all relate to the clutter," said Lynn Haage, politely minimizing the extent of the problem displayed in front of her.

In total, the sale raised $4,200. Along with an extra $1,000 from the show, the expert designers got well over the $4,600 they said they needed to clear the house for the couple and Buechler's two kids: Ally, 15, and Jay, 23 (both co-conspirators and enablers of the untidiness).

Mark Brunetz, the show's star interior designer, was thrilled with the money. But, he warned, clearing the clutter is only half the battle. And public shaming can only go so far.

"You need to be comfortable in your skin and your space," he said. "I'm not sure he's made the emotional journey like she has. For him, the house is probably a place to lay his head, and for her, it's a place to thrive."

When the blindfolds came off on "reveal" day, Buechler did declare it "fantastic." Though, he maintained that his problem had been nothing more than a lack of "storage."

For Boehles' part, she loved that the paintings she had done years before are hanging in the living room above fresh yellow sofas. And the coffee, sugar and mugs are in neat rows in a kitchen cabinet. With anticipation in her voice, she said, "I'm hoping my clothes are in the closet upstairs."

And outside the house, Nash, who was getting ready for her next "hot mess" in St. Louis, said, "She lives here now."

on tv

Episodes of Clean House's "Search for the Messiest Home in the Country" begin airing at 10 p.m. Wednesdays in May on the Style Network. The Baltimore show is slated to run June 3, and the finale will air July 1.

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