I found a note tucked into the slats of the picket fence around our front yard. A film production company wanted to advise our neighborhood that they would be filming on Saturday. They politely explained that extra crew trucks and vehicles would be using our street parking, and provided a permission slip for us to check off. There was contact information for the film company and the relevant city office. Essentially, we were being informed that this was happening, like it or not, and they had the legal right to be here. The next morning, a surfer-looking guy knocked on my door and asked for the form. I signed it and gave it to him.
We have no reason to be concerned about our house being in a movie. We also have no concerns about street parking. We only have one vehicle, and there’s room for at least two in our driveway. We rent this house. The two owners of our house live next door, and they send a yard service once a week. It comes out of our rent. That’s standard in suburban SoCal. This is all a roundabout way of explaining that we don’t identify with the way our house looks from the street. It’s fine; it’s a nice place to live, but we don’t expect it to reflect our personalities or anything. I’d be surprised if we still live here in four years.
It made me think, though. I work with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization. Most of my people would freak if they knew someone might capture their house or yard on film. The idea that someone would knock on the front door and potentially see inside the house for a moment would be a very creepy thought. Picturing their home displayed on a big screen in front of a national audience would be depressing and overwhelming.
There’s one like it in every neighborhood, and often more than one. Sometimes when I walk around my ambit I wish I could leave a business card in the mailbox. I know my crowd, though, and such a gesture would more likely catalyze a shame spiral than anything productive. “People can see! They are JUDGING ME!” It’s hard not to notice that some houses are different, even if they don’t have a feature like a waist-high wall of rubber tubs of clutter under a tarp. Nothing about one of these yards actually says “home.” All that shows is lack of love, neglect, trouble, or even danger.
It’s not a judgment on the occupants if the house doesn’t look so great from the outside. Passersby are generally going to guess that someone elderly, ill, or financially strained lives there. Maybe they just moved in and are working through a long list of repairs and remodeling before they tackle the landscaping. Who knows? New roofs are expensive. Painting an exterior is a lot of work. The drought (here at least) is affecting everyone, and there’s a wait list for lawn removal and drought-tolerant landscaping. The nearest neighbors may impatiently be waiting for a makeover on the least-attractive house in the neighborhood, but nobody else really cares. They’ll only notice after something starts happening to make it prettier.
When the tubs and piles and stacks start showing up, then people do start judging. It’s one thing if the bags are going out to the street and getting hauled away on a regular basis. It’s another thing if a dead couch or recliner or mattress or television suddenly appears on the curb and sits there for weeks or months. Every single person who sees something like that there on the second day starts muttering, “It only costs $20 to drop that off at the dump.”
The nightmare is really on the other side of the door. Almost everyone who lives in a troubled house would fix it, if only it were that easy. We don’t always know what to do. We often have some kind of mobility or health issue that makes the physical aspects of space clearing too difficult to do alone. Usually the financial situation does not allow for repairs, remodeling, or hiring people to help. In every case, we’re in such a bad emotional space that we can’t even imagine what “better” or “good” would feel like. My people try hard, but when I assign them a visualization exercise about a perfect day or a fantasy outcome, they can’t do it. They don’t have a dream of something better, and trying to come up with one is one of the hardest things I ask of them. That’s why having their house in a movie would be a horror scenario, not a romantic comedy.
Everything is simple at my house. It’s only 728 square feet, but we downsized until we fit. There’s a tiny front porch, and we brought out two of the metal patio chairs from the back. We had a couple of decorative pots, and we spent a few dollars on rosemary and lavender. Then we really went nuts and bought a rosebush for $16. That’s it. We sit out there sometimes and watch our dog roll on his back in the grass. We bring out the parrot and watch as she learns to climb the steps all by herself. (That’s tough when you’re only nine inches tall). The only maintenance we have to do is to bring in the mail and NOT ADD any physical objects. As a result, if our house appears fleetingly in someone’s movie, it’ll be nothing more than a smooth backdrop. Nobody would ever remember seeing it. That’s a good thing. If my home is going to be in a movie, I’d prefer that the house and yard be the least interesting part of it.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.