The house is a block from the ocean in Richmond, B.C. But inside it is dark and has the faint smell of ... stuff. Wall-to-wall tables in the living room are piled with one family's collection of what can only be described – at least to an outsider – as junk: bunny salt and pepper shakers, a porcelain polar bear, Viking figurines, unused Christmas crackers, some sort of mushroom and broccoli knick-knack that resembles a manta ray, and so very much more. These could be the makings of a great garage sale.
Or, Paperny Films hopes, great television.
Consumed, which premieres on HGTV Canada on Tuesday, is a series the creators hope will capitalize on the current fascination with people who cram their homes full of too much junk – as evidenced by the popularity of A&E's Emmy-nominated Hoarders. But unlike the hit American series, you will not find horribly messed-up childhoods or severe mental illness under the piles of dishes and dolls. Nor are child welfare authorities knocking on these Vancouver-area doors.
"It's not a criticism of Hoarders, but Hoarders is deep and dark," says Consumed series producer Barry Gray during a break in shooting. "HGTV is obviously not A&E and they're not going to go dark."
You won't find the "gratuitous clutter porn" either, says host Jill Pollack.
Jokingly referred to as Hoarders Lite during its development, Consumed is indeed a more lighthearted take on the paradoxical North American obsessions with consumption and de-cluttering.
The tone of Consumed is completely different from Hoarders – more inspiring than nauseating. And this is reflected, says Gray, in how the families are portrayed. "We don't embarrass people. We respect people's situations."
In each episode, the viewer is introduced to a home filled with too much stuff and the pack-rat families living with it. Then the house is emptied: movers take everything (except for the bare essentials) out in large shipping crates and store it in a warehouse. Thirty days later, the family visits the warehouse and decides what they can part with. Meanwhile, a handyman transforms their home with storage solutions.
At the heart of the show is Pollack, a dynamic professional organizer-to-the-stars (she counts Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman and Jennifer Tilly among her clients). A former TV producer, she worked on shows such as The Sally Jessy Raphael Show and Extra before ending her career with the wedding of The Bachelorette's Trista and Ryan Sutter. She says she then left the business because she couldn't stomach it any more.
"Honestly, I don't want this to sound grandiose," says Pollack, but the reality is, what's called 'reality' now is so manipulative, and I wanted to use my powers for good."
An American, Pollack studied psychology and journalism in college before beginning a career in television. She says Consumed appealed to her because it was more than just an organizational how-to challenge; it was about getting to the issues behind the clutter.
"If organizing were about where do you put your lipstick, I would just not be interested," says Pollack, on set. "I'm really interested in humans and why we are, what we do."
Pollack spends hours going through box after box, tchotchke after tchotchke with families that have become so over-burdened with possessions, they can't eat together at the dining room table (piled with stuff), or use the shower (filled with stuff) or sleep in their own beds (more stuff).
At the same time, the issues are nowhere near as grave as what you'd see on Hoarders. In fact, potential families have been rejected from Consumed because their problems were considered too serious.
"I'm not professionally qualified to handle someone who's a hoarder," Pollack says. "That's someone who needs medication, usually. That's someone who's really mentally ill. These are quote-unquote normal people and their situation has gotten out of control for one reason or another: they moved, someone died, stuff came in, there's no room, there's no time, there are kids. And it's sort of like the 10 pounds have become 60 pounds and it's kind of gotten out of control."
At the end of each episode, Pollack checks in with the family three months after the big purge. Are they collecting again? Or have they used the clean slate to launch them into a new kind of life?
"It's not just TV organization. It's not TV purging. I can't do that any more," she says. "If I'm going to help, I'm going to be there the whole way."
Consumed premieres Aug. 30 on HGTV Canada at 10 p.m.