Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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Finding opportunity in poop and other lessons from Hoarders

UPDATE: New Q&A with Matt Paxton

I have a confession: I watch “Hoarders.”

I hate to admit this because in the past, I’ve been somewhat smug about eschewing reality tv.

But I discovered the show, which features people with extreme hoarding issues, during a low point in my life. A few years ago my son, who is profoundly autistic, would wake up in the middle of the night and pee and poop in his room, then smear the waste all over the walls, bed and floor. So my first task of the day was pretty unpleasant. Actually, it was horrible. And sometimes I would cringe, wondering what the people in my life would think if they could see me scrubbing poop out of the carpet.

That would lead to shame. And extreme gratitude that people couldn’t see inside our walls.

In my lowest moments, I wondered how my life could come to this.

And I recognized those same thoughts and feelings in the hoarders featured on the show.

Wednesday night, Matt Paxton–an extreme cleaning specialist on the show–spoke to students at the University of Mary Washington. Paxton graduated from Mary Washington College in 1997 with a degree in business.

And in an interview before the speech, Paxton said that his own low moments help him relate to the hoarders.

“If you haven’t had a lot of tragedy, there’s no way to get a hoarder,” he said.

During the speech, he told students “Embrace your rock bottom, it’s an awesome place.”

For Paxton, that place was a ditch in Lake Tahoe. He was beaten and left in the ditch with a broken nose, because he owed $40,000 in gambling debts.

It would be another 10 years before Paxton would start cleaning out foreclosed homes. In between, there were three failed businesses. He often had to call friends and family, asking for money.

And so he ended up cleaning poop and other waste.

But that job got him a gig on tv. A&E was working on a show about cleaning really messy homes. At the time, not much was known about hoarding, Paxton said. The show’s producers contacted him about finding messy homes. They didn’t need any “talent.” But when they met Paxton, they wanted him on the show.

He reported to Atlanta to help clean his first house for “Hoarders.” Five years later, Paxton has a successful business, a popular podcast and a book.

And it all started at Mary Washington, he said.

“If I’d gone somewhere bigger,” Paxton said. “I would have gotten a regular job at a bank.”

Instead, he first ended up as an economist at the Federal Reserve. Within 10 minutes, he knew the job wasn’t for him. And there were 14 years of failure, he said, before he got to where he is now–a business owner, tv personality and author.

“If you never mess up, you’re not learning anything,” Paxton said. “Succeeding sucks because you’re not learning anything.”

Tonight, Paxton shared these keys for success:

  • Work harder than everyone else
  • Never quit
  • Don’t judge
  • Keep failing
  • Believe in someone
  • Stop trying to make money, start trying to make a difference
  • There is opportunity in everything