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Maybe in My Next Life…

March 18, 2010

Sometimes I tell people that in “My Former Life” I worked in politics. I often think about what I’m going to do in “My Next Life.”

Last night I attended a local chapter meeting of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Most people who know me (or who look at my BlogRoll) probably aren’t surprised that I’m interested in all things “organization” related. Organizing other people, professionally, is something that I’ve often thought I’d be good at and would really enjoy. I (and J. to a greater degree) have reservations about whether or not it could really work as a “career” for me, but that’s another story.

The NAPO meeting listing in the business section of our local paper may have caught my eye this month because of the guest speaker. It was Matt Paxton, Founder & CEO of Clutter Cleaner and a regular on A&E’s Hoarders. He is from/based in Richmond, and spoke a couple of weeks ago at a big home show. I thought about going there but never made it. Last night I was interested to meet some professional organizers, and to hear what Paxton had to say.

I was not disappointed in the meeting content. Paxton discussed how he got started in his business, the show, and signs of and methods for helping true hoarders. His back story is actually very interesting. He graduated from college and started working at the Federal Reserve (just like J.). He knew within the first few hours that he hated it, and didn’t want to end up like the 50 year old guys (who Paxton at the time considered “OLD”) who never worked anywhere else. Paxton’s mother told him to stick it out for 6 months. He did, and he quit as soon as that time was up. He went to Lake Tahoe, got a job at a casino, and proceeded to indulge a gambling addiction and lose $20,000. After being beaten by his bookie, he begged a free cab ride.  The cabbie told him, bloodied and desperate, that his life was pathetic and he had to make a change. He left the gambling scene, came back to VA and spent time deeply depressed and trying to figure out what to do. Within one year during this time, he lost his father, step-father and 2 grandfathers. This didn’t help the depression, but he cleaned out years of stuff from all 4 of their houses. He had cleaned out a hoarder aunt’s house about 15 times in his youth. He realized there was a business here, and started Clutter Cleaner.

Clutter Cleaner does more “extreme cleaning” than “organizing.” They deal with people who are unable to function because of the STUFF they have surrounded themselves with. If you’ve ever seen “Hoarders,” you know that this stuff sometimes includes trash, rotten food, even used adult diapers. All of their employees have some sort of addictive background. Most have dealt with alcohol or drug addiction, and Matt admittedly dealt with a gambling addiction. His strategy includes disclosing this information and telling clients his story. It immediately removes judgement on both sides (we’ve all got our issues, we’ve all got to have help in dealing with them). He says his crewmembers “re-focus” their addictions onto helping people, even to the rush of dealing with the “gross factor.” It’s a point of pride that one guy threw up 16 times his first day of work for Clutter Cleaner.

Most people who engage in true hoarding, in Paxton’s experience, have dealt with some great trauma. Many of them have been victims of abuse (sexual, physical, and/or emotional) or have dealt with significant grief. He considers their behavior a reaction to this as well as some sort of addiction. He also discussed the physical state of many of his clients. Many are in poor physical health, are overweight and are not dealing with these issues responsibly. I had observed in watching the show that almost all the hoarders they profile are overweight. In describing a hoarder’s physical surroundings, he suggested that their weight problems can be caused by the fact that they can’t move around freely, or prepare healthy food because they’re storing paper in the oven or can’t open the fridge because of the stuff in front of the door. I asked if it isn’t more a problem of the same aspect of their personality that makes them hoard things, be unable to get rid of things, even be addicted to things makes them be unable (in a will power sense, not a physical sense) to exercise, makes them addicted to food, etc. He acknowledged that it’s probably a “chicken and egg” scenario, where it’s hard to tell what precedes or causes what.

I have a friend who happens to know Matt Paxton (this metro area of one million people is truly a small town!), and I had half jokingly told her before to contact him and offer me up as his “intern.” I can confidently say today, that I don’t want that internship. I’m not interested in cleaning up that kind of mess. I do think I could be effective at dealing with the chronically disorganized, both residentially or in a business or non profit setting, but I’m not interested in hauling away years worth of your diapers.

Otherwise, the meeting gave me a few new contacts and some things to think about. This is an industry that has experienced a rise in popularity, media attention and free press in the last couple of years. But it’s not recession proof and there will be a new “fad” eventually. Paxton predicted about 2 more years of this kind of attention, then marketing will get a little harder.

**This is all just observation and an interesting topic from my perspective. I am not judging anyone. And, believe me, there are plenty of aspects of my surroundings and my life that could use more organizing (I’d have a lot of work to do on my own place before I would ask anyone else to pay me to organize their spaces). I am also no size 6 and have never really been willing to try to be.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. DISorganized permalink
    March 19, 2010 2:51 am

    You are kinda hard on yourself. You don’t have to be PERFECT. I think this is a great piece–really good explanation and description of Matt and of hoarding. Thanks for sharing what you learned! Keep organizing, dreaming, and making plans.

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