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The TV show that replaces evil clutter with lovely Ikea stuff

'Desperate Houses' is at war with the messy accumulation some of us call ‘life’

'Róisín Murphy must act as an architect, designer and grief counsellor.'

The war on clutter continues with the return of Desperate Houses (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 8.30pm), a home make-over show presented by Róisín Murphy, which will not abide the messy accumulation we otherwise know as life.

In recent years, clutter has been presented as a graver threat to our general wellbeing than global warming or high cholesterol, but there have been some brave proponents for the benefits of disorder. “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind,” offered Laurence J Peter, “of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

An empty room, however, is a fresh start. “Clear house, clear mind,” says one sympathetic neighbour to Annette from Tallaght, a woman who is slow to let go of her archive of stuff for reasons that are both obvious and heart-breaking.

Thirty years ago, her husband died, young and suddenly. Then, just four years ago, so did her adult son. “Life is bloody tough,” she says, “and unfortunately we got a double dose of it.”

This asks Murphy to be more than an architect and a designer, but something of  a grief counsellor too. As a Reiki practitioner, one of Murphy’s hopes is to reclaim one overloaded bedroom for use as “a healing room”. The show is its own model of brisk efficiency, conducted for some unspecified reason over an urgent 24 hours, but it is alive to the poignancy of that metaphor.

Everything ends up looking as minimal and temporary as an Ikea showroom

“It’s not that she’s a hoarder, it’s just that she has so much going on in her head,” says her daughter, Mia. Indeed, among all the trinkets and tchotchkes, photographs and clothing, or an old mobile phone to which she silently mouths the name “Johnny”, Annette is frequently in tears. (At one point she asks a cosmetician for fixing spray, to safeguard against further dissolving.)

It’s almost more than the show can handle, keeping its sprightly voice over to a respectful minimum, while urging Annette to part with her memories with a gentleness that is never sufficient. “They’re being very mean to me today,” Annette only half-jokes.

She is, however, moved by the results; two clean slate spaces upstairs, where sentimental keepsakes have been sealed into a bell jar, and everything looks as minimal and temporary as an Ikea showroom. This is no accident: the show is sponsored by the Swedish furniture giant, which supplies the new furnishings.

Giving Annette the room to heal, you feel, is a sincere and necessary gesture. Filling it up with inexpensive flat pack storage solutions, however, is a strange kind of consolation.