Decluttering expert Matt Paxton has seen a lot of stuff in his career -- a LOT of stuff. Thursday, the "Hoarders" and "Legacy List" host will be in Chattanooga to help you get rid of yours.
Paxton is visiting on behalf of Goodwill Industries of the Greater Chattanooga Area. One of his key beliefs is that donating excess, unwanted stuff is a quick way to peace of mind.
"Donation is a really powerful tool," he says, especially for agencies like Goodwill, which sells donated goods to provide employment and training opportunities for people who have disabilities or have trouble keeping jobs.
"You're able to give the power of that item to someone else that will make their life better," he says. "You can try to sell it first, if the money matters. If not, go ahead and donate it. At the end of the day, you'll be happier with a donation you didn't have to spend three weeks trying to sell."
Time is a precious commodity, he says, so consider that when you're trying to assess the value of the stuff you no longer use.
"Think of it this way," he says. "If your time is worth $20 an hour and you spend 50 hours setting up a yard sale, you need to make $1,000 to break even."
Paxton's first appearance, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Goodwill store on East Brainerd Road, will be open to the general public, says Cindy Todd, Goodwill's chief marketing and branding officer. Those who bring a donation for Goodwill will receive a free copy of Paxton's book, "Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff," while supplies last. He'll sign copies of the book and give an overview of best practices for keeping stuff from taking over or for banishing it, if it already has.
At 6 p.m., Todd says, Paxton will do a presentation "for those in the business of helping people downsize and relocate, such as Realtors, organizers, movers, people who work at assisted-living communities, etc." That event will be held at the Job Connection Center next door and requires an RSVP (see box for registration information).
He'll also film an episode of "The A List With Alison Lebovitz" for public television station WTCI, which is collaborating with Goodwill for Paxton's visit. ("Legacy List" airs on PBS.) He'll also film a couple of 60-second spots with tips that will air the next few months, Todd says.
Paxton has been in the business of helping people downsize and declutter for 22 years after working as an analyst for the Federal Reserve. "I was a banker, and I hated it," he says.
Then one summer, his father, stepfather and both grandfathers died "and I had to clean up all four houses," he says. "I knew then what I was going to do." He changed careers and hasn't looked back.
He's spent 16 seasons on "Hoarders," an A&E reality show that depicts the struggles and treatment of people who suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder. Paxton heads a crew of extreme cleaning specialists on the show. He describes those situations as dramatic and sad. "People's lives were so bad because of their stuff," he says.
On "Legacy List With Matt Paxton," now in its fourth season, he helps Baby Boomers downsize their homes or settle the estates of family members, in the process discovering hidden treasures, heirlooms and the memories attached to those items.
Although "Legacy List" would be considered more positive than "Hoarders," Paxton says the shows share a core similarity about the stuff we keep.
"We hold onto stuff because we love the people attached to that stuff," whether it's sorting through Grandma's attic once she's gone or Mom's house and she's a hoarder, he says. "It took me probably 10 years to really, truly appreciate that. I learned a lot of skills on 'Hoarders.' The drama is real. No one would choose to be a hoarder. You have to be patient and compassionate and a good listener."
He says it also helps to have a gentle sense of humor to ease the tension. "I can't tell you how many grandmas still have high chairs and cribs in their attics," he says. He recalls a 78-year-old downsizer explaining that she still had a high chair because her son used it. "How old is your son?" he asked. "He's 50," she said. "I don't think he will fit," he told her.
Even if it's not a hoarding situation, the emotions that can surface with decluttering after decades of accumulating can be hard to process.
"Rock bottom is a difficult place to be," Paxton says. "You may have seniors moving to a smaller house or a senior living center. That can be a hard place for them. It's hard no matter how pretty or messy it is. We want to make sure people don't feel like they're alone."
Paxton says for the past 10 years he has "really focused on the downsizing." He loves hearing the stories associated with the items and the people who owned them.
"I love the positivity of downsizing," he says. "You're hearing what people are going through, the celebrations of the past, the celebrations of what's next. We really believe that downsizing should be a positive experience for the family. It should be one of the most positive experiences ever."
One thing he doesn't do on "Legacy List" is focus on the dollar amounts of the items families discover when they declutter.
"You'll never hear us talk about the financial aspect," he says. "Who cares what it's worth. You got this from your grandma? Tell me about your grandma."
For either show, he says, "it's not really about the stuff. It's about the stories and emotions."
And that's kind of the point: Don't let your possessions own you, he says. As stuff accumulates, people think they'll get to it someday. "But if you're over 70, is this how you want to spend your time, going through junk from when you were 30?"
His best advice? Start small. Start real small," he says. "If it took you 30 years to fill the house, you're not going to empty it in three days."
He says his class will offer his Top 5 tips for decluttering. "It's fun and funny, and you will leave ready and motivated to do more."
IF YOU GO
— What: Meet downsizing expert Matt Paxton of "Hoarders" and "Legacy List"
— When: 4-5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23
— Where: Goodwill, 7601 East Brainerd Road
— Admission: Free; bring a donation for a free copy of his book, "Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff" (while supplies last)
— What: Presentation by Matt Paxton for downsizing and relocation professionals
— When: 6-7 p.m. Thursday, March 23
— Where: Job Connection Center next door to the store
— Admission: By RSVP
— Contact: Heather Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-629-2501, ext. 4041
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.