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The not-so-secret life of a Hoarders hero

Matt Paxton refers to himself as 'the Master of Mistakes' because it took 14 years of failure to succeed.

Tomorrow in Life, we’ll have a story about Matt Paxton’s visit to the University of Mary Washington. Paxton graduated from Mary Washington College in 1997, with a degree in business.

Here are some of the highlights from his speech and from an interview with Paxton:

University vs. College?

Paxton was not thrilled when Mary Washington College changed its name. He sent a check for $0 to the school, with a note to let the president know he hated the new name. A few days later, the president called Paxton personally. This was before he was on TV, and Paxton described himself as “a barely C-student” so he was impressed the college president would take the time.

How did a degree in business lead to a gig on “Hoarders”?

Really, Paxton credits his years at MWC with giving him the foundation for his life, and for setting it on a trajectory which led to “Hoarders.” But what best trained him for his role on the show: A volunteer role with a camp for grieving children. Paxton volunteered at Comfort Zone, which is for kids who’ve lost parents. It helped him learn to recognize that grief is almost always the trigger for hoarding. And through his work at camp, Paxton feels comfortable helping people deal with their grief.

How does he deal with the smells?

The homes on “Hoarders” often feature dead animals, rotting food and piles of human and/or animal waste. Just watching the show makes me queasy at times. But Paxton said he doesn’t even notice the smell most of the time. He did say that some of his crew throw up during the cleaning process.

I’m  little hesitant to out him about not noticing the smell, because if I were his wife, this would put him on diaper duty all the time (Paxton has 2-year-old and 4-month-old sons).

He did once have to shave his head, because he couldn’t get the smell of a dead body out of his hair. Paxton found the body, which seemed to be a suicide, while cleaning foreclosed homes in Baltimore.

Dig deeping doesn’t just require a shovel.

Paxton and his crew often haul away tons of junk. But that’s not the hardest part about helping a hoarder. “You’ve got to dig deep enough,” Paxton said. And he didn’t mean with the shovel. He said that if you really spend time and get to know the hoarders, you can discover that they’re really great people. They just have a lot of baggage in themselves and in their homes.

How much time does he spend with the hoarders?

At least 20 hours before the cameras start rolling, then four days of taping. Afterwards, the hoarders are entitled to about six months of therapy and organization. And sometimes, Paxton said, the hoarders become friends and he keeps in contact after that.

In fact, remember Vula?

That extreme hoarder had a lot of dead cats in her home. And she lived in so much denial that even when faced with the carcasses, she still maintained that none of her cats had died. After a while, a frustrated Paxton dropped a bag of dead cats on her feet. Her response to him had to be bleeped out of the show.

But she came around, and Paxton now considers her a friend. When his wife was expecting their youngest son, Vula would call and offer name suggestions.

Who are hoarders?

They’re not who you’d think. Some of Paxton’s clients include judges, attorneys and doctors. Nearly all have suffered some sort of tragedy–a death, an illness, sexual abuse, etc.

Why cats?

Paxton refers to them as easy love. Hoarders are used to being judged by people–and their minds are never quiet, usually their own thoughts are screaming judgments round-the-clock. But cats don’t judge you for a messy house. And they don’t require a lot of maintenance. They tend to be very good at surviving even with minimal care, but as “Hoarders” often shows, a hoarding house can be too much for some cats.

Why the worst cases?

Paxton is usually only called out on the most extreme hoarding cases. He said that’s where he works best. “I can’t handle a desk with a stack of papers, that’s not my thing.” But give him a 4-foot pile of used diapers, and he’s all good. In fact, he thrives on that. Paxton used to be addicted to gambling and drugs, and he admits that his work with hoarders is a “replacement addiction.” He said that he gets a high from helping in a situation that he knows no one else can touch.

Memorable finds?

You find all sorts of stuff in a hoarded home, and some of it’s not pleasant: dead animals, child pornography collections. But some of the more memorable and lighter finds include: unused Super Bowl tickets, gold coins, a collection of more than 1,000 dildos, six Voltar machine games and a copy of “The Secret Life of Hoarders.”

How did “Hoarders” affect his business?

As you may expect, business is good for Clutter Cleaners these days. But now that Paxton is on TV, he often has to skip the action. Clients often don’t want him at their home, because he’s so recognizable. In fact, Paxton once had to clean a house in the middle of the night, so the neighbors would never suspect.

What is Paxton’s home like?

Watching “Hoarders” always inspires me to clean out a closet. Living through “Hoarders,” as you may expect, led Paxton to be somewhat of a neat freak. But he has two boys now–a toddler and an infant–and he has to give up some of that compulsion to clean. “I’d rather have my kids than a clean house,” he said.

Can’t get enough?

You can follow Paxton on Twitter: @cluttercleaner or check out his website here. You can also find his podcasts here. Oh, and Paxton said the upcoming episode is especially good–Monday, 9 p.m. on A&E.