Matt Paxton, star of A&E's hit show "Hoarders", has helped dozens of people struggling with the disorder. In his new book "The Secret Life of Hoarders" he gives readers an in-depth look at some of the most extreme cases he's seen and he explains why this happens.
It was the summer of 2006 and I was desperate for work. I was living in Richmond, Virginia, and sleeping on a buddy's couch after a few adventures with jobs that went bad and an attempt to start my own business that failed. I consider myself to be a hard worker and usually have great ideas, but this time I just didn't know what to do. I decided to try to pick up a few cleaning jobs to earn enough money to help my buddy pay rent. I printed up some flyers and stuck them in mailboxes in an upscale neighborhood, and the next day I got a phone call. An older couple wanted me to empty out their son's house and organize an estate sale. The son, Timothy, had died recently, and they said there was just too much stuff for them to handle. I agreed to a price of a few hundred dollars. If I had had any inkling what I was heading into, I would have charged thousands. I had cleaned houses before, mostly helping my grandmother and aunts, and I wasn't afraid of mess. But this guy had been collecting things for decades. When his parents showed me into the house, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of clutter. Every room had stacks of dustcovered boxes, bags, and cartons piled up to six feet high. Narrow, dark corridors snaked between the walls of stuff—I had to turn sideways to get through some of the tight spots. On my second day of trying to pull items out of the house to sort and price for the sale, I realized I was in over my head. I called my buddy's brother, Colin, and asked him to help. We needed a truck, so he grabbed another friend who had one. Both of them were still in high school so we were only working late afternoons and weekends. It took us three weeks to finally empty out that house.
Although Timothy had the most cluttered house I had ever seen, the stuff that he'd collected showed that he had a lot of interests, ranging from music to German toy trains to antique furniture. Evidently he went through periods of collecting each one of those, which we could tell by the layers of stuff and the dates on the letters and magazines in the layers. It was like being on an archaeological dig. We could tell that from 1975 to 1980 he was into high-end stereo equipment and vinyl recordings. Then, from 1980 to 1984, he slowed down and was mainly hanging on to mail and magazines. He started saving musical instruments around 1985, and then a few years later added the trains. He collected board games too.