When Toni Helleur signed up her family for new Three show Sort Your Life Out NZ, she hoped host Kanoa Lloyd would help her and partner Lio Tafolua regain control of their over-flowing family home. But that was just the beginning of the life-changing process.
"It was quite a healing thing for us for a number of reasons," tells Toni. "We didn't realise how unhappy all the clutter was making us. It didn't feel like our home any more."
Between them, Toni and Lio have five kids – Toni's son Javan, 24, and Lio's daughters Cassandra, 28, and Olalini, 27, from previous relationships. Together, they share sons Roman, 10 and Tristan, nine.
It was confronting for the large, blended family to see the contents of their home laid out in a giant warehouse and having to reduce it by half.
The process was difficult and brought up many discussions that the whānau would never have had if they weren't forced to consider why they were holding on to certain items. Among those pieces was some heartfelt memorabilia.
Toni sadly lost her dad Murray last year, and one particularly poignant moment came when she and her family had to discuss whether to keep or donate Murray's tie collection. A keen footie player, Murray had kept a tie from every rugby club he'd ever played for.
Lio, 47, could understand the significance of the ties because he, too, has a similar collection of jerseys, many of which have travelled with him from his home in Niue.
Toni says she was taken by surprise at how vehement both Lio and Javan were that Murray's tie collection should stay in the family.
"It brought a lot of understanding about why we've kept a lot of Dad's things," shares Toni, 42. "It was the first time I had ever heard both of them talk about it. It was very emotional, particularly with Lio. Even though he was my dad, it was lovely knowing what they meant to him."
If anyone is deserving of a helping hand it is Toni. For the past decade, along with running two businesses, she has spent her spare time giving back to her community in the South Auckland suburb of Māngere.
Her volunteer work stepped up a notch when Covid hit two years ago. Toni and a group of fellow frequent volunteers decided it was time to formalise their efforts so they could better serve their community, and the I Am Māngere Trust was born.
They do everything from helping community groups find funding to sourcing equipment for fundraising events. And whenever Auckland was plunged into lockdown, they provided food parcels and were part of the effort to get their community vaccinated.
"We want to change the narrative about Māngere being an unsafe place full of gangs," says Toni, who explains that the name "I Am Māngere" is a celebration of the suburb and means "I do really amazing things and I love my community".
"I'm very passionate about it," she smiles.
Recently, Toni's work with I Am Māngere became her full-time job. For the past few years, she has regularly called in favours from her family for help.
They're always happy to lend a hand, she says, and Toni admits she sometimes signs them up for things she knows will push them out of their comfort zone.
"I do get my family into a lot of things," Toni laughs. "I'm giving them a little shove in the right direction because I know the result will be amazing for them. I will overhear them talking to other people about it and I always hear positive things."
The most recent surprise she has sprung on her loved ones was signing them up to appear on Sort Your Life Out NZ.
When she told them what she'd done, she says Lio and Javan, who both describe themselves as shy people, were hesitant. But Toni used her magic powers of persuasion because she didn't want either them or herself to miss out on such an amazing opportunity.
"Because of what I do in the community, I'm always the one that's out there quite a lot," she smiles. "I just wanted my family to shine this time."
Sort Your Life Out NZ screens Wednesdays at 8.30pm on Three.
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