Stacey Solomon on turning decluttering into a day job with Sort Your Life Out

Stacey Solomon on turning decluttering into a day job with Sort Your Life Out

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Tuesday, 2nd April 2024
Stacey Solomon in the Sort Your Life Out warehouse (Credit: BBC/Optomen TV/Vincent Dolman)

When Stacey Solomon stepped on to the X Factor stage at 19-years-old she “never imagined” her career going in the direction it has, or that she’d ever be up for a Presenter award at the RTS Programme Awards 2024.

Now, one studio album, one Queen of the Jungle crown, several presenting gigs and a decade and a half later, it is her tidying talents which have led to her dream show - Sort Your Life Out.

Solomon’s love for organisation derives from a need for it - becoming a mother at 17 meant it was a necessity: “as soon as I had Zach, I was like, I've got to get my shit together. Because I'm living on a fish and chip shop wage, with working tax credits. 

“I’ve got to think about myself and another human - childcare, nappies, wipes, milk. Stuff that most 17-year-olds don't have to think about.”

The love for tidying came much later, after Solomon became a homeowner. Whilst her utter delight in organisation and crafts on Sort Your Life Out would suggest she does it all for the joy, she maintains it’s not solely for the fun factor. “For me, the thrill is that it gives me back time to be with my family. If everything’s got a space, a zone, and a reason to be there, then my house and my surroundings support me and my life.”

Given the format has now been recreated in 11 different countries, it’s hard to imagine a time when production companies wouldn’t leap at the chance to have Solomon sort out hoarding families’ homes, but Solomon’s organisational show dreams were initially hard to realise. “I’d been trying to do an organisation show for years and years” she explains, “and then in the end, I thought I’m just gonna do it on my own Instagram. No one will give me a show, so I'll just do it myself!”  

After making a name for herself by sharing her crafty creations - as well as home decor DIYs for her house “Pickle Cottage” on her social media accounts, Solomon brought out her first book, Tap to Tidy. “People really resonated with it, and found it useful and helpful… and then finally production companies went ‘oh, maybe we should make this a show.’”

The format is a house makeover like no other: the home is gutted, stripped, and all of its contents are laid out in an enormous 10,000 square foot warehouse. The families are then told they should cut their belongings by around 50% (and usually they have a fair few - one 2023 episode saw 1672 toys, 459 books and magazines, 325 pieces of baking equipment, and 39 tiny jars of jam). Solomon takes one day helping the families decide whether to sell, donate, or recycle their belongings, and organisational expert Dilly Carter takes the next. The two form a good cop, slightly stricter cop double act. 

Iwan Carrington, Stacey Solomon, Dilly Carter and Rob Bent
(Credit: BBC/Optomen TV /Neil Kent) 

Whilst work in the warehouse is underway, carpenter Robert Bent is busy creating space-saving dining table solutions, or making a coffee table out of an old wardrobe; and cleaning expert Iwan Carrington is showing you how a wet rubber glove and some willpower can get rid of all that dust under your sofa. Ian, Dilly and Rob were scouted through their socials, where similarly to Stacey they would be sharing cleaning and organisational hacks. Solomon then presented her own form of chemistry test: going to the pub near her house. “We clicked straight away... I just thought ‘yeah, they’re the ones. Done!’”

When asked if there’s any good tips she’s taken home from filming with her, she goes one step further “I bring Dilly home with me!"

“We sit and organise stuff at my house every single year. We do something big like the shed or loft or something, and I love it.”

Solomon still hasn’t managed to tempt carpenter Rob over to Pickle Cottage. “He’s scared to come because he knows he won’t leave. I want him to make me something out of my stairs! There’s endless possibilities with Rob.”

Although Sort Your Life Out sometimes appears like the team are a four-man band, Solomon doesn’t waste any time pretending she’s personally laying out 1672 toys in a lovely colour coded pattern in a giant warehouse. Solomon laughs “We say this every series, ‘Can we please start filming everyone else because me, Rob, Dilly and Iwan are not pulling this off on our own.’” As Solomon waxes lyrical about the amazing runners and crew behind the programme, she reminds that they are not working on a “glossy Saturday night show”, and they are essentially moving houses for someone, and then donating, selling and recycling its contents, which is no mean feat. Despite this, she says the amount of crew she sees coming back year after year is immense: “They’re literally gold dust, and we couldn’t make the show without them.”

Solomon and the Watlings (Credit: BBC/ Optomen TV)

Solomon’s lack of judgement and empathy whilst sorting through families’ lives makes it difficult to imagine Sort Your Life Out being presented by anyone else. She handles grieving families with care, makes getting rid of precious toys seem like fun for the children, and is sympathetic when the parents cry over parting with quirky ornaments. Compassion and care to the families is paramount to Solomon and the Sort Your Life Out team, in fact, she considers it the most important thing in her presenting role, “It’s all well and good saying ‘let's get organised, let's put some zones in, let’s make this house work for you’, but we really have to look at why they’ve got to this point in our lives, and why do they want to change.”

Solomon makes it abundantly clear that the contributors can talk to her and ask for support off camera if they want to, as well as receiving behind the scenes support from therapists and sometimes bereavement specialists. “I don’t think we’d be responsible if we weren’t doing that.” 

“People [don’t] realise just how big of a deal this is for some families to open up their home, and let the nation see something that they've not even let their own friends and family see.

“My biggest nightmare would be people feeling embarrassed and feeling horrible after the experience - you want them to feel great.”

Solomon’s husband, EastEnders star and reality TV staple Joe Swash, makes sporadic guest appearances, sometimes helping with odd jobs, or even undermining Solomon’s decluttering by offering a family £200 for a CrossFit trainer.

The couple met the year after Solomon’s X Factor appearance, upon her being crowned reigning queen of the I’m a Celeb jungle, as Swash was hosting the after-show as the usurped king. Both Swash and Solomon turned their jungle stints into successful presenting careers, with Swash appearing on Hole in the Wall and children’s TV, whilst Solomon had her beginnings in a dating show called Love Machine, and a comedy-singing-competition hybrid show alongside Keith Lemon. From there joined the Loose Women panel and took “odd random gigs, like stuff for Saturday Night Takeaway and interviewing people in the audience in X Factor.”

Whilst speaking on future projects, and her fantastic as yet unpublished idea for a Filofax that does it all, Swash appears out of the ether and says he wants Solomon to create a magazine. 

Solomon: “You want me to serialise an entire subscription-based magazine?”

Swash: “Yeah, every week we could put in a little cleaning gadget or something.”

Solomon: “Don’t know how the environment would feel about that…”

For her next TV presenting role, Solomon is doing what she’s used to: helping people and fixing houses. This time on a more structural scale. In her Channel 4 series Renovation Rescue (the first UK commission for Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine), she will be helping people who have had unfortunate building work and fixing it without spending much more money. The show will teach tips from the trade and help people understand what to look for when they get work done on their property. Solomon’s aim for the programme is to help “people's understanding of what they should expect, and what they should look for when they get some work done.”

As for Sort Your Life Out, Solomon would love to make over a “giant house in America” or a “Scottish or Welsh castle." Meanwhile, Swash jokes he’s hoping to be a Sort Your Life Out “permanent fixture.” This promotion is not looking too hopeful, as Solomon says: “he comes in, gives me his two pence, knocks a wall down then leaves” - much like his interjection in this interview.

Stacey Solomon was nominated in the Presenter Category, and Sort Your Life Out won in the Formatted Popular Factual Category at the RTS Programme Awards 2024.

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When Stacey Solomon stepped on to the X Factor stage at 19-years-old she “never imagined” her career going in the direction it has, or that she’d ever be up for a Presenter award at the RTS Programme Awards 2024.