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From trash to treasure

Al Harris April 7, 2011 1

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What started as a desperate attempt to make some extra cash by cleaning houses has turned into a major enterprise for Richmond business owner Matt Paxton. And now it has become a book.

Paxton, owner of Clutter Cleaner, is a regular on the A&E reality series “Hoarders,” in which he tackles the most extreme cases of hoarding. Although the show only follows a handful of cases, cleaning the filthiest houses in America is an everyday job for Paxton.

Paxton tells all in his new book, the “Secret Lives of Hoarders,” which will hit shelves May 3.

“Being on three seasons of ‘Hoarders,’ now going into season four, we understand the media and are starting to be recognized,” Paxton said. “The book was a good opportunity.”

The book chronicles some of the most bizarre and disgusting jobs Paxton has tackled in his five years of taking on extreme cases of hoarding. The book is also a guide to what goes on in the mind of a hoarder and how to identify whether someone you know has a problem.

“I wanted to teach families how to really understand the disease and [let them] know you can’t go in and start screaming at a hoarder. It’s not that simple,” Paxton said.

The book is published by Perigee, a division of Penguin, and has a cover price of $14.95.

Because of his television exposure, Paxton said that his rates have gone up and most people can’t afford him anymore.

“We are $15,000 now to go to a house,” Paxton said.

Often Paxton and his crew can recover enough valuable items from the house to sell and pay for some or all of the work.

“We do have to help people find the money. Usually we can recover half our costs,” Paxton said. Clutter Cleaner has six employees and handles 10 to 12 jobs a month.

Paxton said that on one occasion his crew found $13,000 in cash and another time $40,000 in U.S. savings bonds buried beneath layers of household debris.

“Just the other day we found a Tiffany vase worth a couple grand,” Paxton said.

With the success of the show, which has about 3 million viewers per episode, Paxton has developed a bit of a following. He teaches two seminars a year, training other companies how to clean up after hoarders. He also gets e-mails from across the globe.

“The show is a hit all over the world,” Paxton said. “I just got an e-mail from Egypt of all places.”

Paxton is hoping that following will translate into book sales.

Paxton said the idea to write a book came about after meeting freelance author Phaedra Hise at a networking event hosted by Richmond BizSense. Paxton collaborated with Hise to write the book.

She had originally met with Paxton to write an article for Fortune Small Business, but it didn’t quite work out.

“The magazine she was writing for folded the morning we were having coffee, so we just started talking,” Paxton said. “By the end of coffee, two hours had passed and we decided, ‘Hell, let’s try to write a book.’”

Hise, who writes articles for Inc. Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, said she pitched the idea to her agent, who was extremely receptive to the book idea.

“I called my agent that afternoon and she said, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” Hise said. “I had to warn Matt that it almost never happens this way.”

The duo spent six months on the proposal, and Hise said it attracted multiple bids from different publishing companies.

Once Perigee picked it up, the publisher wanted it fast, Hise said.

“It was insane. Usually you get a year. We did this book in five months,” Hise said.

Thankfully, Hise said that she got along great with Paxton and that writing the book went very smoothly.

“Matt is not a writer, he left that up to me. He has all the ideas and all the knowledge and is very colorful in expressing himself,” Hise said. “My job was pulling everything out of his head and putting it in his voice in the book.”

Hise said she thinks the book will sell well because of increasing awareness about the problem of hoarding.

“Everybody knows somebody who is a hoarder,” Hise said. “Usually it’s their mother-in-law.”

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One Comment »

  1. Brian Korte April 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Matt Paxton is the classic example of an entrepreneurial success. After a few attempts that didn’t get him where he wanted to be, he kept at it, saw an opportunity and worked his tail off. I couldn’t be prouder of his success. The A&E Hoarders show, the Secret Lives of Hoarders book, and whatever else is coming are only signs that the rest of America is catching on to what Matt’s friends already know about him. Hard work and a positive outlook on life pay off, particularly when you’re as kind to strangers as you are to family. Congrats to Matt and family and great job on this article, RBS.

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