Betsy Boyd

Excerpt from The History of Reality TV

Not long after the wave of home organization shows came the gentler wave of learning-to-sit-with-your-mess shows. The public’s fatigue with how-to-organize books helped cause the tidy tide to turn, so to speak, circa 2023. Neat freak contestants were taught to stop deep cleaning and color-coding, to forget about tossing the clothing that didn’t spark emotion.  

Free writing helped some achieve success or “freedom from tidying.”

“Dear books, I want to place you in a rainbow array, but that would only shorten my reading time, and my life,” wrote Melody Kingsley of Cleveland, OH, competing on Piles (Bravo).

“Organization addicts” on Piles learned to sew expressive flags out of old t-shirts and towels. Winners sat calmly with themselves and their mistakes, dust motes floating through the air of their newly claimed “kingdoms.”

One widely publicized contestant on Filthy Planet (NBC), Jack Thomason (Tenafly, NJ), found comfort in sweeping up household crumbs with his own hands, eventually building a crumb-and-honey mountain he molded to resemble his difficult mother.

“Would she be proud?” Thomason said. “Doubtful. She seriously vacuumed twice a day. But I am.”

Thomason later fed his mother to his dog, intending to subvert the notion that making art means making any kind of lasting order.

Clutter to Think (BBC) contestant Heather Fiero of Leeds UK was arrested and jailed for breaking and entering—and spilling—after lugging garbage bags of cat litter into the houses of neighbors and co-workers, “sand” which she poured willy-nilly into desk drawers, alphabetized snack containers, and more. Her destructive pièce de resistance: she stripped down and urinated all over the litter. “I took a piss, didn’t I?” Fiero said, “to take a stand against the soul-destroying illusion of bloody home organization once and for all!”

© Betsy Boyd

Betsy Boyd directs the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program at the University of Baltimore and is the recipient of two Maryland State Arts Council awards, an Elliot Coleman Writing Fellowship, a James A. Michener Fellowship, and residencies through Fundación Valparaíso, the Alfred and Trafford Klots International Program for Artists, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Her fiction has been published in Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, Shenandoah, and at Eclectica, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Her short story “Scarecrow” received a Pushcart Prize.

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