NEW YORK — Sure, having a perfectly organized house sounds nice, but you know what really sparks joy? Taking a hammer to your ex’s ugly stuff.
HGTV’s new show, “Unspouse My House” puts a new spin on the typical post-breakup glow-up. Instead of pulling the trigger on some crisis hair or a revenge body, host Orlando Soria helps recently uncoupled people get buzzed on rosé and remodel their house. Part home improvement show, part therapy session, the show is the latest entry in the enduring trend of reorganizing your way to inner peace.
However, whereas the Marie Kondos of the world invite us to reexamine emotional connections through mindful minimalism, HGTV’s Soria (whose first name is pronounced “Or-lahndo”) wants you to destroy them. Kind of.
In the first episode, which premiered Thursday, Soria asks a recently-divorced mother of two to confront one of the most cursed objects in her post-breakup house: The frayed recliner where her ex lounged as she cooked dinner and took care of their kids.
“We could get it reupholstered and put it somewhere else in the house. We can do something nice and donate it,” he explains. Then, he gestures expectantly to a collection of blowtorches and hammers arranged on a bright picnic table. “Or, my favorite, we could completely destroy it.”
You don’t thank objects on “Unspouse My House.” You exorcise them.
The perfect house is like the perfect relationship…imaginary
There’s an unspoken virtue to a well-organized abode. Such a house, the reasoning goes, is the house of someone who has their life together. A Komari-ed bedroom, closet or (gasp) pantry is the result of willpower and patient scrutiny; a space free of emotionally stifling clutter whispers the possibilities of an easier, neater life to come.
This is not often the reality — breakup or otherwise.
Interior designer Rachel Oliver of Rachel Oliver Designs in Atlanta says people come to her wanting a “fresh start” and a hyper-organized living space, but once things start getting rearranged or — gasp — removed, they can change their tune. And it can get even worse when they’re separated, going through a divorce or surrounded by stuff from their past.
“People are very attached to things, and one challenge is, designers don’t see your house the way you do,” she says. “Designers don’t know, off the bat, what holds emotional value. So you end up designing around someone’s unicorn collection or a chicken lamp their grandmother gave them.”
There’s nothing wrong with a little sentimentality, of course, but emotions can get messy and that can translate to a real mess.
“People don’t like change,” Oliver says, “So it can be challenging to tell what people are actually attached to, and what they just think they are attached to, but really are just afraid to throw away.”
That kind of element is definitely at play in Soria’s “Unspouse My House” mission.
“There’s so much history and baggage that goes into the things that surround us,” Soria said in a recent VOGUE interview. “But one of the main reasons for this show is that when people are going through breakups, logistically, it’s a nightmare…Houses are in disarray. When your house is not settled, it’s very hard to feel settled yourself.”
Being imperfect doesn’t mean you can’t feel good
Life isn’t perfect. It’s even less perfect when you’re going through a breakup. So it’s no secret that Instagram-perfect living room spreads and the pressure of having your life “just so” can leave you feeling, well, less so.
It’s also no secret that programming on HGTV can have the same effect. Home makeover shows make for a delicious evening of binge watching, but there are only so many hours of open concepts and granite countertops and designers urns you can stuff in your eyeballs before you start feeling like your whole house should be condemned and set on fire.
On the other hand, Soria, a professional designer with the mandatory impeccable Instagram account and rolodex of celebrity clients, swigs wine, calls his contractor “dad” and sticks his entire head into the craggy maw of a newly destroyed fireplace ledge. On the alignment chart of the HGTV universe, he is most definitely chaotic good. And for people still reeling from the mess of heartbreak, that probably resonates.
“We hope to take a lighthearted but fun approach to giving people who have been through a break up the chance to have a place that is all their own,” Loren Ruch, HGTV’s senior vice president for programming, projects and specials tells CNN. “For some, it’s the first time they’ve been able to design a space without compromise, which in turn empowers them to take back their lives and get things back on track.”
Oliver says that’s what most clients communicate to her — they want to be able to live their best lives.
Oddly enough, she says, people seem to carry the most emotion when it comes to their kitchen.
“The kitchen is often the center of people’s lives,” she says. “People say they want something bright and airy. They want a place they can entertain and be with their kids. And often, they have very strong feelings about what they do and do not want there.”
Sure enough, Soria’s premiere project involved completely redoing a dark, dated kitchen with bright whites and deep navy blues. The client sheds a few tears when she sees the finished product, but you get the sense it isn’t because she finally secured some deeply-held desire for quartz countertops.
“We have tears of joy in almost every episode,” Ruch says. “Honestly, we think this show will appeal to anyone who has ever felt the need to get their ‘groove’ back in their life.”
Balancing the reality of life with the dream of a spotless, virtue-imbued living space is a tough task, even for the professionals. But the goal is ultimately simple: “People just want to feel good in their house,” Oliver says. “You can have a perfect house, but then life will happen. You have children, you have grandchildren. The mail has to go somewhere, your computer has to go somewhere. So you do the best with what you have, and you learn to accommodate what you can.”
Even if some days the best you can muster is not, you know, crying into your glass of rosé, it’s still a win.