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Clips from the "Messiest Home 2" episode of "Clean House." Video courtesy of the Style Network.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29, 2008


The only satisfying thing left to do on television is clean up people's houses.

In a half-baked, slovenly era of sub-accomplishment, organizing closets can feel like God's work. Symbolic outsiders (sassy black women, gay men) swoop in and sort the "keep" from the "toss."

These houses you see on cable makeover shows all seem to have the same kind of blobby Americans living in them -- shopaholic victims helpless in the face of their own affluenza, people you can judge and yell at, while you sit there on your own crummy couch not cleaning your own cluttered house. These are the houses where the bedrooms all look like the closets have vomited. The family rooms all foretell what a Kmart might look like if every third customer were a suicide bomber.

* * *

Phil and Mindy Wheeler had one of those houses, before "Clean House" came and saved them from themselves.

It's a small, white, timeworn Cape Cod on the Allentown Pike, outside Reading. Their home faces a Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart, a diner and a Dunkin' Donuts. It's the perfect stretch of road to become totally disgusted with yourself and others, and also find redemption through the voodoo rituals of reality TV.

In the last year or so, "we've gotten more spiritual," Phil said, and then asked, "Have you seen that DVD called 'The Secret'?" Because that is where he and Mindy got the idea to make "vision boards."

On his vision board, Phil, 37, wished away the work-related back injury that laid him flat three years ago (he was driving a sidewalk sweeper) and had him popping pain pills all day. Mindy, 29, who works off and on as a nanny and home-decor catalogue sales agent, wished for a baby and a check made out to her for $100,000.

More than anything, they wished for a "clean house." Then Mindy saw the ad on TV, for the cable show "Clean House," searching the nation for its annual "Messiest Home in the Country" episode. That's us, Mindy thought.

She wanted to submit a video to the show's Web site.

Phil said no, at first: "Why subject ourselves to that sort of humiliation?"

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