On Hoarders, and now on his terrific, Emmy-nominated PBS show Legacy List, Matt Paxton helps people deal with their stuff, whether they’re in crisis because of hoarding or downsizing and sifting through family heirlooms.
In his new book, Keep The Memories, Lose the Stuff—which is now available on Bookshop.org, Kindle, and at your local bookstore—Matt offers practical advice for dealing with stuff and memories. In this excerpt, Matt writes about how he got started, explains why memories about stuff matter, and discusses generational differences in collecting things.
Did cleaning out Dad’s space spark an epiphany that decluttering is my lifelong purpose? Not at all. I was just happy to put off my job search for a few months while I figured things out.
I still had no idea how I was going to earn a living.
My father, my hero, was gone, and I was lost and wandering—and the only thing worse than being lost in life is being lost in life and broke.
I had one thing going for me, though: a community. People knew my grandfather, they knew my father, and now they knew me. I had my people. The upside of a tightly knit community is that people look out for you when you’re down on your luck. The downside is that everyone knows the details of your life. Both realities played into what happened next.
Word got around that I had cleared out my dad’s house and that I was looking for work. At church one Sunday, a kindly eighty-year-old woman—we’ll call her Etta—came over to me. I’d known her my entire life—she and her loving squad of bridge players, with their immaculate, blue-tinted white hair. No matter what was going on in their lives, these women got their hair done at the beauty parlor every other Thursday afternoon.
Etta told me she’d heard I was looking for some ways to make money and offered to help me out. She lived in an old colonial house like my father’s, and her friends were encouraging her to downsize now that her beloved husband, Jim, had died. She was years away from going into senior living, she hastened to inform me. But she figured I could use some extra money. She asked if I could do some work for her.
I quickly agreed, happy to help her out and earn some cash. A few days later, I arrived at her home ready to clear out what I assumed were a few boxes.
Then I stepped inside. Etta’s …….