The hoard squad: How decluttering and making over this woman's house for a new TV show turned into all-out war

Last November, Channel 4 received a
phone call out of the blue from a widow who wanted to appear on a new TV
makeover show. Sylvia Stewart sobbed in despair as she begged the
makers of Get Your House In Order to take her on.

‘I was desperate,’ says Sylvia, 59.
‘When I saw an ad for a new show helping hoarders de-junk their homes, I
realised it was my last hope. I rang up and broke down in tears,
saying, “I’m not living any more – I’m just existing.”’

Sylvia’s problem was a shopping
addiction so severe that 100,000 of untouched and unopened ‘bargains’
filled every corner of her home and blocked the view from her windows.

Sylvia Stewart says her shopping addiction was so severe that her purchases filled every corner of her home

Sylvia Stewart says her shopping addiction was so severe that her purchases filled every corner of her home

Her luxurious seven-bedroom home in Blandford Forum, Dorset, was crammed
so high with clutter – from fake flowers to fabric swatches and
children’s games – her own grandchildren couldn’t even play there.

‘It was too dangerous for my three-year-old granddaughter to wander around the house, in case an avalanche of junk fell on her. My breakfast room and dining room were so full, if I ever had people round we had to eat on our laps.

‘I bought the house after my husband Andrew died in 2008. My belongings had been stored in a vast loft, but this new home had a loft extension, and little storage. The removal men dumped everything inside the house, and it never moved. I felt so miserable I bought more stuff to try and cheer myself up. It was a spiral of addiction.’

Enter TV’s newest – and perhaps bravest – makeover team. Get Your House In Order’s resident dealer Nick Allen clears out houses and sells off anything of value. Then, armed with the cash Nick’s made, interior designer Abigail Ahern transforms the newly cleared home into a vastly different living space. But persuading Sylvia to part with her possessions was just the start.

Abigail recalls, ‘When Nick and I walked
into her home we were stunned. You couldn’t even see into the garden,
because the clutter went from floor to ceiling and blocked the windows.
She had enough ribbons, fabric and material to fill a warehouse. There
were about 40 unopened packets of Daz, and dozens of bleach bottles. But
when I discovered numerous cheap plastic flowers, and told her she had
to get rid of them, Sylvia flipped. She hit back, saying she didn’t like
any of my interior design work and from that moment there was terrible

When I saw how much junk I’d collected, I wept. I was just so relieved I was finally facing my problems.

Next, Nick had the entire contents of the house removed and transferred to a warehouse so Sylvia could view her goods and decide what to sell. ‘When I saw how much junk I’d collected, I wept,’ says Sylvia. ‘I was just so relieved I was finally facing my problems.’

The sale of much of Sylvia’s belongings – including two stools and a coffee table by sought-after designer Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson from the Arts and Crafts movement – raised 3,200 for her makeover. The two women, however, immediately locked horns over the design.

‘I told Abigail I loved light colours,’ says Sylvia, ‘but she said she liked dark. I liked harmony, but she said she liked clashing colours. I loved shades of rust, but the mention of it made her shudder. I thought, “What have I done” I moved out of my house for three days while Abigail and her team moved in for the makeover – and I dreaded walking back in.’

Meanwhile, the pressure was on for Abigail to create a look so sensational Sylvia wouldn’t be tempted to fall back into her compulsive ways. ‘Sylvia wrote me a long list of her likes and dislikes, but she contradicted herself. She liked Arts and Crafts, but not William Morris. She hated blue, but she was wearing it from top to toe.

'The stress gave me eczema and sleepless nights for the first time in my life. I knew she was quirky, so I had to hope I could capture her personality. I chose dark flooring through the breakfast room, conservatory and family room, painted panels in a dark grey and added bright, funky furniture. Then I held my breath and hoped she’d like what I’d done.’

Sylvia says, ‘I stood outside the house feeling physically sick. But when I went in, I couldn’t believe how wonderful Abigail had made the place look. I hugged her and thanked her over and over again. I hated the way I was living. Now I love walking through my front door. I have my grandchildren round to play and I have plans for a future. My hoarding is over – and my new life’s begun.’

Get Your House In Order begins on Thursday 22 March at 8pm on Channel 4