IT looks as though many of us will have time on our hands this festive period – time when we’ll be stuck looking at the same four walls instead of being out eating, drinking and being merry as we’d tentatively planned. But what if those walls could ultimately be transformed with some bespoke shelving, jazzy stick-on wallpaper, or stylish panelling? And what if ten days in isolation, hopefully with no or mild symptoms, could be the perfect opportunity for those with a consumption problem to address it? I’m not talking about pulmonary tuberculosis, thankfully, but the act of buying too much stuff.

Yes, we’ve had plenty of weeks stuck indoors in the past two years, but what we didn’t have was Stacey Solomon for company. Her BBC series Sort Your Life Out is the heartwarming, inspiring and enlightening antidote to gloom the UK didn’t know it needed (and arguably didn’t strictly need, given Nick Knowles’s (below) Big House Clearout on Channel 5 is almost identical in format).

The National: Nick Knowles

The idea is simple: a family drowning in clutter submit to having the contents of their home packed up and sent to a giant warehouse, where every individual item – every toothbrush, tumbler and teddy – is laid out on the floor. The challenge is to bin, recycle or donate at least 50% of these possessions, so that what’s left can fit into a newly revamped home, given fresh new decor, where everything has a place.

Good cop Solomon gently probes the family members about why they might have, for example, 100 knitting needles and 81 fondue forks, or 1011 bangles and more than 2000 toys, and then she sends in no-nonsense professional organiser Dilly Carter to crack the whip. Cleaning expert Iwan Carrington and master carpenter Robert Bent complete the team and – just to add to the drama – they have only seven days to turn things around (or at least that’s what the editing would have us believe).

Solomon found fame as a singer on The X Factor when she was a 19-year-old single mum, and just as that show was only partly about singing and dancing, this one is only partly about decluttering, cleaning, tidying and DIY.

It’s easy to tut and gasp at the opening scenes of chaos when you haven’t met the family responsible. All but the messiest viewers can tune out any low-level disorder in their own living rooms while smugly thinking “I’d never let things get to that state.” But then you hear the back stories. A serious accident or illness, a divorce or a bereavement. A point at which being house-proud tumbled down the list of priorities, followed by a period in which the prospect of starting the tidy-up felt increasingly overwhelming.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Boris Johnson has dropped any pretence of governing

It was Tidying Up with Marie Kondo that really kicked off the decluttering trend when it launched on Netflix in 2019, with the calm, softly spoken Japanese host instantly becoming a popular gif (grinning as she declares “I love mess!”) and her guiding principle (keeping only those items that “spark joy”) entering into the public consciousness.

By contrast, Solomon – who entertains nearly five million Instagram followers with snapshots of her own life, including decorating and crafting projects – brings wit, belly laughs and a big dose of sentimentality to what is essentially the role of support worker. She referees when couples try to blame each other for the state of their homes, cheers on children as they ruthlessly cull their toy collections, and sobs along with people sorting through a lifetime’s worth of carefully stored mementoes.

Plenty of think-pieces have complained that decluttering is a middle-class preoccupation, and certainly it’s a privilege to have so much more than you need, but it’s debatable whether some of these families actually buy or acquire a lot more stuff than everyone else – the main difference might be that they simply don’t let any of it go (OK, the fondue forks family may be in a different category).

Still, many are understandably appalled when confronted with their possessions in the warehouse, horrified not just by how much they’ve held on to but how much they’ve spent (and wasted). The one thing that’s missing from both the BBC and Channel 5 shows is any sense of perspective about the environmental cost of producing all of these items to begin with. Yes, much can be reused or recycled, but the satisfaction families may feel about throwing piles of plastic into a skip should not be guilt-free. Perhaps they could be required to sign some kind of contract stating that for the next year they must report any non-consumable purchases to Carter, and risk receiving her best withering looks in response.

It’s maybe no bad thing that so many people in the UK will be denied one last dash around the shops this coming week, due to Covid isolation rules. The best way to avoid the wrench of parting with belongings is to simply not acquire them to begin with, and it’s notable that some parents on Sort Your Life Out will try to wrestle toys back from the recycling piles because they were given as gifts, even though the recipients have already moved on to new favourites.

It might be cheesy to say, but this year the greatest gift will be gathering together. As memories of COP26 start to fade, hopefully our retail habits will reflect that.