You want to declutter. You want to downsize. You want to live more simply. So what’s been holding you back from getting closer to those ideals?
My guest today sorts through both the psychological and practical roadblocks that can get in the way of living more minimally, and more in the present. His name is Matt Paxton, and he’s a downsizing and decluttering expert, a featured cleaner on the television show Hoarders, the host of the Emmy-nominated show Legacy List With Matt Paxton which showcases people’s heirlooms and treasures, and the author of Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff: Declutter, Downsize, and Move Forward with Your Life.
We begin our conversation with how Matt got into cleaning out houses and working with hoarders, and some of the worst cases of hoarding Matt’s seen. We then get into both the mindset and brass tacks tips he’s learned from the most extreme cases of clutter that can be used by regular people who just want to pare down their stuff. We talk about why we can feel so attached to our possessions, and how to let them go, while still preserving your and your family’s memories. Matt recommends how and where to get started with your decluttering, and offers tools, including creating a “maybe pile” and a “legacy list,” for deciding what to keep and what to chuck, whether you’re dealing with big items like furniture or small stuff like documents and pictures. Matt explains what to do with your stuff whether trashing, donating, upcycling, or selling, and how much you can reasonably expect to get when you do the latter (spoiler alert: it’s a lot less than you think). We end our conversation with how, after you’ve decluttered your place, to keep it from getting clogged up again.
Oh, and we also discuss where to find hidden stashes of money when you’re cleaning out the house of an older person who’s died.
This is a really fun and interesting conversation that definitely motivated me to clean out our house.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Website for My Legacy List
- Hoarders television show
- Matt’s TEDx talk on “The Unintended Result of Our Attachment to Personal Belongings”
- Podcast #699: The No-Nonsense Guide to Simplifying Every Aspect of Your Life
- AoM article on decluttering
- Podcast #626: How to Declutter Your Work Life
Connect With Matt Paxton
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Read the Transcript!
If you appreciate the full text transcript, please consider donating to AoM. It will help cover the costs of transcription and allow other to enjoy it. Thank you!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art Of Manliness Podcast. Do you wanna declutter? Do you wanna downsize? Do you wanna live more simply? So what’s been holding you back from getting closer to those ideals? My guest today sorts through both the psychological and practical roadblocks that can get in the way of living more minimally and more in the present. His name is Matt Paxton, and he’s a downsizing and decluttering expert, a featured cleaner on the television show Hoarders, the host of the Emmy nominated show Legacy List With Matt Paxton, which showcases people’s heirlooms and treasures, and the author of Keep The Memories, Lose The Stuff: Declutter, Downsize And Move Forward With Your Life.
We begin our conversation with how Matt got into cleaning out houses and working with hoarders and some of the worst cases of hoarding Matt has seen. We then get into both the mindset and brass tacks tips he’s learned for the most extreme cases of clutter that can be used by regular people who just wanna pare down their stuff. We talk about why we can feel so attached to our possessions, and how to let them go, while still preserving your and your family’s memories. Matt recommends how and where to get started with your decluttering and offers tools, including creating a maybe pile and a legacy list for deciding what to keep and what to chuck, whether you’re dealing with big items like furniture, or small stuff like documents and pictures.
Matt explains what to do with your stuff, whether trashing, donating, upcycling or selling, and how much you can reasonably expect to get when you do the latter. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot less than you think. We end our conversation with how, after you declutter your place, to keep it from getting clogged up again. Oh, and we also discuss where to find the hidden stashes of money when you’re cleaning out a house of an older person who’s died. This is a really fun, interesting conversation that definitely motivated me to clean out our house. After the show’s over, check at our show notes at aom.is/clutter.
Alright, Matt Paxton, welcome to the show.
Matt Paxton: Thanks for having me, man.
Brett McKay: So you are a downsizing, decluttering and hoarding expert. You host a show on PBS called The Legacy List. You’ve also been on A&E’s Hoarders. I’m curious, how did you get in this business? ‘Cause I don’t think there is a lot of 12-year-old kids out there thinking, “When I grow up, I wanna help hoarders clean out their house,” so how did you get into this biz?
Matt Paxton: No. I mean, I’d jokingly say, “You failed at everything else, and this is what’s left.” And the truth of it is, I was an Economist coming out of college, worked for the Federal Reserve, and I wanted to be a banker, I really wanted to be a banker, badly, and got all of the accolades to do it. I mean, great Economics degree, got into Federal Reserve, it was awesome. And then the second day I was like, “Oh, I don’t wanna do this.” [laughter] You drain your whole children [0:02:37.1] ____ of life to do it. And basically, I left after six months, went to Caesar’s Palace Casinos, and I became an Economist for Caesar’s Palace Casinos.
And as a 23-year-old kid, I didn’t have the maturity to live in that city, to be really blunt. And it was just… It was wild. Wildness. And got addicted to everything that you could get addicted to, so I came home. And at 23 I had to start over. And I had always cleaned old ladies garages and stuff just for extra money. That year, after I came away from Vegas, my dad and my stepdad and both my grandfathers, all died, and that’s when it kinda happened, I was just this young kid, depressed, sad, and I was tasked with cleaning out all their houses. And I did it for a year and it was just awful. I was sad, I was alone, I was lost, I didn’t know to do, and all the men that had raised me had died, so I couldn’t ask them for help.
And one time my grandpa told me, early in my life, he said, “Hey, if something sucks, do it as a career ’cause people will pay you to do it, ’cause they don’t wanna do it.” And he was totally right. [chuckle] So here we are, 22 years later, I’m talking to you and I’m still doing it. I honestly just… I didn’t hate it, so that’s why I kept doing it, and then when I cleared out those four houses, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just kept cleaning little old ladies at church. I’d clean their attics and their basements, and then I stopped helping them move out, and then I realized these hoarding houses, nobody wanted to touch them. And so, I could charge more. And I loved it. And I did it for five years before I got on TV. I’d just clean hoarded houses, just one after another.
Brett McKay: Alright, so you’ve been doing it for what, 20 plus years?
Matt Paxton: 21 years now, yeah.
Brett McKay: 21 years. Alright, so you’ve been doing this for 20 plus years. I mean, give us an idea. I think people have probably seen Hoarders, but what’s the biggest… Give us an idea of how extreme hoarding can be like, what’s the biggest project you’ve worked on?
Matt Paxton: Alright, so I do the physical part of the cleaning and the harder part is the mental lifting, right? And we’ll talk about this more, but people hoard for a reason, something bad’s happened to them. And so, it’s important to know when you walk in all these houses, the bigger the mess, the more extreme it is, the more insane it looks to you, that’s how damaged and hurt that hoarder is. So I always have some preface… ‘Cause this is the number one question, “What’s the grossest thing you ever seen?”
Brett McKay: Right.
Matt Paxton: I mean, oh man, I had 300 cats in one house one time, like alive, they were running, we had to catch them, 300 cats. And that first cat, that’s easy, like he’s fat and lazy and hungry. You just put some treats out and grab him. But the next hundred, they’re pretty wild, and the last hundred are wild animals, they’re not gonna be caught. And you have to take out drywall. That last cat, the 300th cat, that dude has survived for years and has every disease. I mean, it’s the toughest animal in there. And those are the ones who are really hard to catch. So like that… I mean, the smell on that was horrific, I had… I don’t wanna get too gross, but there’s just been some incredible masses of… Volume-wise, we had a mansion in North Carolina one time. If you know the traditional 30 yard dumpster that you see on the side of the road at a construction site.
Brett McKay: Right.
Matt Paxton: And so my business is in cubic yard, so that’s a 30 yard dumpster and a cubic yard is basically the equivalent of like a dishwasher. And we were moving out 10 dumpsters an hour out of that house, so I’m talking three… The equivalent of 300 dishwashers, we were picking up and pulling out of that house, every hour, for four days.
Brett McKay: Wow.
Matt Paxton: And we pulled over a million pounds of trash out of that house. And I mean, volume… I mean, that was 30 guys for four days, 12 hours a day. We’ve cleaned out… We had a 18-storey building in Detroit that we had to clear out and people had just kinda taken it over and hoarded out each floor. And the developers had us come clean it out. I mean, there’s just… Your average home, think of everything you have in your house, and we look at it and the floor is full. And so we think, “Oh, our house is full,” right? The walls and the floor, but really that’s a 2D look at it and a hoarder looks at it three-dimensionally. And they can fill it all the way up to the top.
Brett McKay: Well, so you mentioned hoarders hoard for different reasons, and usually it’s because they’ve got some sort of… They’ve had some sort of trauma or they’ve got some sort of… They’re hurt somehow. I mean, what are the common… Are there common issues you’ve seen with people who hoard?
Matt Paxton: Yeah. Oh yeah. So it’s pretty common. So it’s trauma. It’s always trauma. Something bad has happened to them. They’re looking for their… Something good in stuff. A lot of us look for it in gambling, or faith, or drugs, or alcohol, or working out. And I know I’m putting lots of different things in the same pocket there, but we all look for happiness and self-worth in something. Some of it is good, some of it is bad. For the hoarders, they look for it in stuff. It’s usually divorce, or abuse, or death. A common one lately is, believe it or not, just an empty nest where people have dedicated their whole life to raising their children, and we’re at that pocket where there were some really young moms.
And so these women are now 50, and their kids are out of college, and they’re looking for their self-worth, their value, ’cause their husbands are out working and they didn’t get a career. They gave that up for their family, and they successfully raised a really good family, and they did a great job. And now they’re gone, and they’re 50, and they don’t know what to do. And they go on Amazon and start shopping, and all of a sudden the house just fills. And so… I mean, that’s not a horrible abuse thing, it’s just a loss. They’ve gone without their kids.
Brett McKay: Well, another trauma you talk about that you see with people, and these people are… They’re not… They’re leaving us now, is people who grew up during the Great Depression, they love to hold on to stuff. And it’s because they grew up in a time of scarcity. It’s like, “You could probably use that salt and pepper shaker one day, so we’re gonna hold on to that.”
Matt Paxton: Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of clients… And I’m glad you brought that up. I have a lot of clients that remember not having food, right? They remember. I mean, I was in Oklahoma one time and she was like, “Oh yeah, no, my dad had to leave for three years. He had to go to California to try to find work, so we didn’t see our dad for 10 years.” I mean that’s… I mean, could you imagine that nowadays? Your dad just taking off for 10 years and sending money, and he did it to support the family. And the kids stayed home and she’s like, you know… I talked about it in the book, actually. One lady I remember telling me, she’s like, “Oh yeah, one year I got an orange for Christmas and my brother got a peppermint stick.”
And we would… And they would jam the peppermint stick in the orange and suck the orange juice, and that was their treat. And I was like, “Yeah, like stocking stuffers?” She’s like, “No, that was our whole gift and we were proud to have it, man.” We as a society don’t really know that type of sacrifice they had, and this is the last kids of the war, the last kids of the Depression. They didn’t trust banks for a reason, right? That’s why we find money in a lot of these houses. It all make… Any hoarder makes sense, believe it or not. If know their story, no matter how extreme it looks, it always makes sense.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the money thing was interesting. You talk about that where you’ve learned over the years that especially when you go to a house where it’s some “greatest generation” person that’s passed away…
Matt Paxton: 80 and over. 80 and over.
Brett McKay: 80 and over. You go to specific places to look for cash because you know it’s gonna be there.
Matt Paxton: Yeah, I got a top 10 in the book that tells you the top places. My favorite one is the freezer, man. We always find ice blocks full of money. And I actually had one client, a younger client, that she would freeze her credit card, because she didn’t wanna be able to use it. [laughter] I thought that was kinda brilliant. It put a two-hour thaw period on her purchase desires, and she didn’t remember the numbers, she didn’t write it down. This was before they were all saved online, and so she literally would freeze her card so that she couldn’t get to it, and I thought that was actually brilliant.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the toilet tank is another place you look, right?
Matt Paxton: Yeah, top of the toilet tank. Obviously not the part where you poop, but you pull the top part out, they would put it in a Ziploc and tape it, we’d find it. Books is obviously the number one place. I mean, we shake every… If you’re over 80, we shake every book in the house. We grab it by the binder and shake it, ’cause I guarantee we’ll find a thousand bucks, easy.
Brett McKay: Yeah, in a Bible or something like that.
Matt Paxton: Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Yeah, I remember when my grandfather passed away a few years ago. My mom and her siblings were going through his apartment to clean it out, they’d find just coins in medicine bottles like all over the place.
Matt Paxton: Oh, yes. Oh man, the… To your listeners, it would be the red Folgers coffee can. It’s either filled with pennies, nails, or buttons, and it’s an old tin coffee tin. And we often we find money in there. The old orange prescription bottles filled with quarters, and a lot of those were actually silver, so you know, don’t negate those. One thing we find a lot nowadays… I got my started on the east coast near Washington, DC. A lot of our clients were government employees. And in the ’80s, they would all get savings bonds with their paycheck each week, US savings bonds.
So I can see the color from across the room of that little mustard yellow envelope. And I mean, we would find a hundred $50 savings bonds. And I remember one lady, she goes, “Oh, those are expired.” I was like, “No ma’am, they’re matured.” [laughter] It’s like a big difference. A lot of times we’re just not aware. I mean, we find… This is the sexy part, what we didn’t, we find old stock certificates that has not been converted to digital, they’re old paper certificates, which is live money. And I’ve had to train a lot of my employees to understand what all those things are.
I mean, we found $2 million… I’m not exaggerating. We found $2 million in old stocks, and the lady… The guy actually had put them in a big manila envelope that said, “Trash,” and sealed them. And just because of my work with hoarders, I knew there was something else going on. No one’s gonna seal something and write “Trash” on it. So I open it up, $2 million in stocks. And he put them in there so that when the robbers came, they wouldn’t know that it was important. And so, in his mind, it was a safe. [chuckle] But to the untrained eye, who would clean out it’s trash, ’cause it says trash.
Brett McKay: So you say your job is the physical part of the clean-up part. When you work with a hoarder, are there therapists that come in and also help with the underlying issues?
Matt Paxton: Yeah. So on the TV show, we have a therapist 24/7 on set, and in real life, we require them to go to therapy beforehand, because… Look, I was an economist, so I lean heavily on math. Yes, I’m a trash man, but the numbers don’t lie. And at the end of the day, if the hoarder goes to therapy, it’s a 60% success rate. They will keep their house clean. But if they don’t go to therapy of some kind, and therapy might be… It may not be like CBT, sitting on the couch and talking to a therapist about your feelings, there’s a lot of new different kinds of therapies, it might just be volunteering, but they have to have something to deal with the emotion part. And if they don’t do that, it’s a 0% success rate. Let me repeat that. If they don’t do some type of therapy, I guarantee they will repeat, and so, we don’t think it’s ethical to clean the house and take their money from the family, if they’re not gonna do something to fix the mental.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Well, let’s say someone’s not a hoarder, but they have a lot of clutter around the house. When you work with these people, do you… Are they just less extreme versions of hoarders?
Matt Paxton: Yeah, so let’s put… Again, let’s put the math behind that: 5% of the country hoards. That’s 19 million people struggle with hoarding. That’s still a really big number, but that means 95% of the country just has too much stuff, and that’s the majority of us. They just have a problem with too much stuff. They bought too much, or they saved too much, and they just want a different life, and so they want less things. And so, it’s not that… Not everybody’s a hoarder, they just wanna have a better life with less stuff. And I married a minimalist, so I’ve gotten really onto the vibe of less is more, [chuckle] and I’ve really embraced it and I love it, and I think a lot of people are getting to that life of simplicity. They just want a little less, which is totally normal.
Brett McKay: Why do you think we get attached to something? Why do you think we just collect stuff and then we have a hard time getting rid… ‘Cause sometimes you’ll notice like,”Oh man, I got a lot of stuff here,” but you don’t do anything about it.
Matt Paxton: Yeah. So I did just write a book about this, so we’ll talk about it.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Paxton: I mean, to me, I really wanna stress this, the stuff is stepping stones, and I really want people to buy into this mentality. We got it at a certain point in our life to get to the next point. So we needed it then, it served a purpose now, and it may not serve us a purpose now at this phase of our life, and that’s okay. I think about my skis and my snow shoes and my… Oh man, frisbee golf was huge for me in my 20s. It’s where I had my most social life. I’d hang out with my buddies, we’d get a beer, we’d walk in the woods, we’d throw frisbee golfs, we’d play for hours. Did it every weekend. I’ve been raising a bunch of kids for the last 10 years. I didn’t touch them and I gave them away and… When I moved ’cause I hadn’t played them in eight years. We moved to Georgia. Just the other day, my boys and I were walking, we came across a beautiful new frisbee golf course. They’re like, “Dad, I always wanted to do that. Let’s go play.” Now, I had given them away, so I had to go get new ones. Is that okay? Yeah, because technology changed anyway, right?
And there are a lot better ones now. So what I mean by that is it did serve me a purpose at one point in my life, it didn’t at another point, and now it does again, so I went out and bought some more. That’s okay. We hold on to stuff because we think we need it, or it was expensive. And the bottom line is, I can give you 20 excuses, we hold on to things because we have a positive memory attached to them. It’s really just stuff, it’s really just atoms, like it doesn’t matter, we’re not in a… If you live in the US, you don’t have a scarcity of stuff. Even though we didn’t have food and stuff during the pandemic, you still… You weren’t gonna go hungry. We don’t live in a time that our grandparents did. So really why we’re holding onto stuff is we wanna prove that we have value, either to ourselves and to other people. And it’s gonna get real deep here. We wanna prove that we’re successful, that we’ve made it, that we’ve done well, or we just really wanna… We think it brings us happiness.
I mean, I did a TED Talk on this concept of, as a young dad, I wanted to buy my kids a lot of stuff, ’cause I didn’t have a lot of stuff growing up. And I was raised by a single mom and she worked really hard to give us what she could, and so, I wanted to provide for my kids as much as I could, so I worked super hard to buy them all this stuff, right? And then I would have to work harder to make more money to buy more stuff, and I would start giving excuses like, “Oh man, I’m doing this for you.” Like, I started telling them I was doing it for them, and I started telling them that it was all about trying to make them happy, and I was not around. And so, I was working harder for more money and spending less time with my kids, and so it was a lie, like, it was a trap that I was just working harder for more stuff, and so, I’d miss my kids more. And I’d miss my kids more, I’d feel bad, so what would I do? I’d work harder to buy them more stuff. It’s a vicious cycle.
And at the end of day, I was like, “This is dumb. How about I just spend more time with my kids and buy them less stuff?” And so I did. And so I’ve really settled down on, we keep stuff because we think it makes us happy, or the items are associated with someone that did bring us happiness and joy, so that’s why we hold on to a lot of stuff from the past because it reminds us of great people and great times.
Brett McKay: And that’s why the title of your book is, Keep The Memories, Lose The Stuff. Like, understand that the thing is attached to a memory, you can keep the memory of that…
Matt Paxton: Yup.
Brett McKay: Attached to that but while getting rid of it at the same time.
Matt Paxton: Yeah, I’ve tried to really dumb it down, tell the… The stories live on forever. Like, I’ve been lucky enough that… And I’ll say that again, I’ve been lucky enough that my dad and my stepdad and my grandpa, they died early and it gave me a career, and my dad… Now, none of my kids were alive when any of those men were alive, but my kids can tell you 10 stories about each one of those men, because I tell the stories all the time. And I have a few items, I call them legacy list items, we’ll get to that in a little bit, but I keep those items and I continue to tell the stories about those men. So my sons will come and be like, “Oh Dad, tell us the story about that time that grandpa and you guys went fishing with a bear. That’s awesome.” And then they hear the story, and they like, “Let’s go fishing.”
To me, you tell these stories, I’m not saying it’s gonna cure everything, but it does get you started, and if you tell the stories, you pick a few good items, you tell the stories, what it does is it really puts the top tier of your items that truly matter, and the people in your past, the people they’re attached to, those memories, they live on forever. My kids will have never met my father, which is insane to me, but they are… Man, my oldest is my father. It’s crazy, it’s scary how much alike he is. And so my kids will even be like, “Oh, that sounds like what your dad used to be like,” and I’m like, “Yeah.” And so I’m constantly talking about people from the past because they’re part… They’re still… Just because they’re not here, that don’t mean they are not part of our family. But they’re attached to the items we have in our house. And so, we have less items, because we’re able to tell… We tell the stories of them. So we have less stuff, but the people stay alive forever.
Brett McKay: Okay, so I think that’s a good… It’s an overarching philosophy of how you approach people… It’s like, tell stories about the items, keep those stories alive, but you can get rid of it, you don’t need that thing anymore. Let’s get into more like brass tacks.
Matt Paxton: Yeah, how do we get started, man?
Brett McKay: How do you get started. So let’s say, someone comes to you, you go to their house, they’re feeling overwhelmed by the clutter in their home, they don’t know how to get going, what’s the first thing you do with this person?
Matt Paxton: Alright, so define the finish line. You gotta really know where you’re going. And the reason I do this is, so many clients come to me, “Man, I’m ready to declutter. How do I start?” Great, well, “What do you need it for?” “Oh, well, I don’t know… Thinking about moving.” “Great, where are you gonna move to” “Oh, I don’t know. My mom might move in with us or we might move in with her, we haven’t decided.” And I’m like, well, how can you decide what… How do you decide what you’re wearing on vacation, if you don’t know where you’re going, right? That’s really what it bears down to.
And decluttering, there’s two things that are really easy to quit: Working out and decluttering. And they bathe very similar, and so all these tools are really meant to keep you from quitting. And so, defining your finish line is really important, and then your why. And the why is where it still gets pretty sentimental. And then, we’ll get into really deep stuff here. But on the why, it’s like, Well, why am I cleaning? What… A lot of my clients are downsizing, and so they’re seniors, and they’re gonna get out of a house of 50 years. And I’ll say, “Great, where are you moving?” “Well, I’m gonna move down to be closer to my grandkids. So I’m gonna move to a smaller apartment in Florida.” Great. I got my destination, which is my finish line.
I’m going here, specifically. I know the floor plan. And two, I wanna be closer to my kids, that’s my why. And I tell this story all the time, about my son. I’ve struggled with weight my entire life, adult life. I’ve gone up and down 20 to 30lbs. And it bothers me. And I’ve been working on it, and my 12-year-old son said to me the other night, and this was like in October, and he said, “Hey, dad, are you gonna die at the same age that your dad did?” “Yo, what do you mean, man?” He goes, “Well, your Dad was 52, and you’re 46, Dad, so that means you’re gonna die when I’m 18.” And he goes, “Dad, I’ve been watching you and it looks like being a dad is really hard, and I’m gonna need help. So I kinda want you to be here.” This is at night, right? I’m trying to put my kid to bed. I’m like, “Buddy, do you think about this?” He goes, “All the time, dad.”
I go, “Buddy, I promise you, I’m gonna be here.” And he goes, “Well, then, why do you eat all those bad foods that you know are bad for you?” And I started to diet the next day, [chuckle] because I wanna be a grandpa. That’s my why. So get real clear on your why and where you’re going, ’cause that keeps you from quitting, that keeps you focused, that keeps you going, ’cause it is really easy to quit. But when I realize, “Oh man, I gotta be here for my son, then I do it”. Same thing on decluttering. Alright, step two is, take it really slow. So many of us, it’s taken us 10, 20, 30 years to fill these spaces, let’s just take… Let’s not make it a big house cleanse, let’s just make it a garage. You got no cars in your garage, and you want one car in the garage. That’s awesome, but it’s taken you 10 years to fill that garage. So, don’t try to do it in one Saturday. That’s not realistic, ’cause you haven’t been doing this in a long time, you gotta get the skill set back up. So I always say what I call the 10-minute sweep, which is really, really almost nothing. You pick a one-foot by one-foot area, half a bookshelf, an individual shelf, maybe your car’s trunk, maybe… A one-foot by one-foot area. I just say the junk mail is a good place to start, even that junk drawer in the kitchen on the top left, wherever you have yours filled with the old Bed Bath & Beyond coupons.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Paxton: That are expired, by the way. [chuckle] Everyone has one of those. Start in that small area and go for 10 minutes, that’s it. Do 10 minutes a night for a couple of weeks. And it’s not about what you got accomplished, it’s that you got something accomplished, that you got started, that you’re getting used to it. And that’s what matters. And then once you’re used to it, then you can expand it to an hour, hour and a half, two. But I really wouldn’t do more than two. You really gotta get used to just doing it, doing it slow, because otherwise it becomes a job and it becomes overwhelming, and it becomes easier to quit. And once you quit, you stop.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word with my sponsors. And now back to the show. No, I think that’s a good point, start small, because I know when I’ve done decluttering projects in my own life, I’ll try to do it all in a weekend and…
Matt Paxton: Never works.
Brett McKay: It never works. You just get tired and you’re like, I’m done… And I’m not done.
Matt Paxton: Well, and our life doesn’t suit that, right? Like, I gotta take the kids to the game. If you have children at all, or a grandkid, to cut off 10 hours on a Saturday is a thing. That’s hard now. It’s our one day off, really off, and so you have to just do an hour, man. If you try to… I hate closets, because you can shut the door, and you can walk away from it and avoid it for a very long time. We actually don’t have any closets in my house. My wife is a minimalist designer, so we actually don’t have any closets, because guess what? If you don’t have any closets, you can’t store a bunch of crap that you don’t need. [chuckle] And so to me, closets are symbolism of, it’s just easier to quit, ’cause you can shut the door.
Brett McKay: Do you have any recommendations on where to start your decluttering project? Let’s say, your entire house is just… It needs a clean, where would you start? What’s the best place to start?
Matt Paxton: And I’m different on this one. I say, don’t start with the pictures, I’ll say that, because pictures can really wear you down. But pretty much anywhere that’s not heavily emotional. Like if you just lost your partner, don’t start in the bedroom, right? I don’t mind doing the garage, ’cause it gives you a clean empty space to work in, that’s dry and inside. So sometimes, I will start in the garage, but I’ll set my expectations really low, ’cause the garage also has a lot of boxes that you can break down and make a lot of space. And so I would say where you should start is somewhere you can see a lot of success, immediately. So if your dining room table is filled with mail, that’s a great place to start.
Brett McKay: Gotcha.
Matt Paxton: I actually love… I think dining room’s a great place to start, ’cause it’s a big table that you can use later for sorting, and quite honestly, none of us are really using our dining room anymore. For a lot of us, it’s become an office or it’s become a place for the kids to have school during the pandemic. Rarely do we sit at the… We don’t sit at the Sunday dinner anymore, the dining room table, that’s not something that happens as much as it used to so that’s an easier place to start. Now, there is some emotion there, because a lot of times, if you’re… Like if you’re a grandma downsizing to leave the house, actually, that’s the last place you wanna start, the dining room table. If you’re a younger generation that you don’t use that room that much, then it’s a good place to start. For a grandma, that was the most important room, and that china and that crystal and the silver, that’s really important. And the reality is, the majority of your kids don’t want that stuff.
Brett McKay: Yeah. That’s gonna be a problem, I imagine, coming up where…
Matt Paxton: Oh, it’s now. We’re in it right now.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Now, yeah, ’cause I…
Matt Paxton: Brown furniture.
Brett McKay: Yeah. My mother, she’s got a china cabinet full of china that was her mother’s and grandmother’s, and I don’t… We don’t have a dining room. I wouldn’t have any… There’s gonna be a lot of china cabinets and china on the Goodwill market here pretty soon.
Matt Paxton: So, I work… Yeah, I work with Goodwill. [chuckle] I’m actually Goodwill’s ambassador for downsizing and decluttering, and this is something we’re working on now, a series. It’s not that… And this is really important, this is for grandma. It’s not that no one wants your stuff, it’s not that they don’t love you. They just don’t want that stuff, the dining room, because we don’t have a use for it. Our family memories are made at the ski slopes or at the beach or at the river, they’re often at vacation spots or somewhere else. And so we want those great memories, we just don’t need them from the same place that you had those memories. Goodwill is filled with china, silver, crystal and brown furniture and they can’t sell it because nobody wants it.
Brett McKay: Maybe there’ll be a revival here in 50 years.
Matt Paxton: Nope.
Brett McKay: You don’t think so?
Matt Paxton: No, it’s a room that doesn’t even need to be in the house anymore. And so, I will say… Well, look, mid-modern furniture is huge right now, and that’s beautiful. I don’t think we’re gonna see a bunch of brown furniture from… The colonial dining room furniture, we just don’t need it anymore. I’ll say this, if you love your china, if you love your silver, use it every day. I saw an old Meme the other day that said, “Every day is a special day, don’t save anything for a special day.” And as cheesy as that is, I think it’s true. So if you like that stuff, start using it, man. I have seen families start displaying their legacy list items in their china cabinet, they got rid of their china. Beautiful china cabinet with the glass windows, you can see everything. Start putting items that actually matter, things you actually care about, that tell the story of your family. Start putting those items in there and showcase them and tell the stories and let people see what matters in your house, that’s a good way to re-upcycle and reuse it. And donate. By the way, donate, donate, donate, donate. Like, the more you donate… You will not be happy with what you get money-wise for the stuff in your house. Here’s a stat that’ll blow your mind. I’ve emptied thousands of houses. And when you empty a house, after the kids have taken the stuff they want, guess what the average household value is of all the items inside your house?
Brett McKay: No clue.
Matt Paxton: $8,000.
Brett McKay: That’s it?
Matt Paxton: That’s it, man. You spent a lifetime and probably a couple hundred grand filling it. Now, good, you’ve taken the stuff you care about out, the important stuff. But all that extra junk? And it’s funny, I just did this last year, I moved. And I’ve been saying that stat for five years now, and I sold all the stuff in my house on Facebook marketplace, and I made $8,000.
It was like within $200 of what I always say. It’s about 10% financial value of what you paid for it, so if you think you should list it for 1,000 bucks, you’re gonna be lucky to get $100. Now, I’m summing, I’m averaging. This is not every single item, but just set expectations extremely low. So like that dining room set. “My mom paid five grand for it.” Dude, if you get $500, you’ll be lucky. You’d be real lucky. If someone picks it up for free, you’d be lucky, to be honest, on a lot of that stuff. Pianos is a real challenge, nobody wants big pianos anymore. Your mom might have spent $75,000 on it in 1950, and that’s a ton of money, right? But good luck even getting it donated right now, ’cause people just don’t have… That’s not for common life right now, those things. But yeah, it’s… Donation is where you see the most value. There’s always someone that needs more than you, there’s always a group of people that have less. And I found that, man, the more you donate, the more you give to a family, the happier you will be and the cleaning goes faster.
Brett McKay: I imagine that’s another reason that people hold on to stuff, ’cause they think it’s really valuable. In their head, it’s valuable. It’s like, “Well, this is a grandfather clock that’s been in our family for three generations, it’s worth $90,000.” It might be… Maybe there’s a market, but probably not. Most people aren’t gonna put a grandfather clock in their house.
Matt Paxton: Now let’s do minds… A lot of this book’s about mindset, and so emotional value and financial value. Emotional value, it’s worth $100,000 ’cause it was your grandpa’s. Tell me about your grandpa. It’s why I talk about the story so much. Your grandpa was awesome, but that financial value is not actually equated to how awesome your grandpa was. He might have worked his butt off to get that clock for you guys, he probably did. He was an amazing man, and you really miss him, I’m sorry he’s dead. This is the kind of conversations that happen in the houses that I’m working in. I go, “That’s great, but I got two bidders on this clock and the highest bid right now is $500.” And you only need two bidders, ’cause that’s… Basically whatever an independent third party’s gonna pay you for it, that’s what something’s worth.
And what I’ve found is, when we start hanging on to that, “Well, it’s worth so much more.” What that is, is that’s procrastination. That’s your brain trying to slow down, ’cause you’re just not… You’re sad. It’s hard to let go of stuff. ‘Cause at one point like, “What if I need that again someday, what if someone really wants that or what if my kids want it?” Your kid’s eight, I don’t think he wants that clock. Are you gonna haul that thing around for another 20 years? And so, we start to procrastinate. What I remind people is, “You’ve already decided you didn’t want that item, you’ve already made the decision it’s not going with you. You just didn’t like the price that was attached to it, financially.”
And then I start to say, “Start to look at the value of your time. Are you really gonna haul this thing around and spend 100, 200 bucks every time you gotta move it, and you’re gonna spend hours trying to squeeze another $200 out from someone else? Your time is worth so much more.” Your time is your biggest currency in life, I believe. And so you gotta put a value on your time. I’ve seen families fight over $100 on a table, and I’m like, “Dude, if there’s 10 people here arguing for three hours on text over $100, really? [chuckle] This is ridiculous, guys.” I really encourage people, man, put a financial value on your time, and that really starts to tell you how much something is actually financially worth. But what we’re arguing is over the emotional value, not the financial value.
Brett McKay: Well, related to this, you talk about the issue that comes up with storage, where people will take that furniture that belonged to grandma or grandpa and put it into storage. That costs up to $300, $400 a month, and if it’s there for 25 years, you’ve what? Spent maybe $100,000?
Matt Paxton: Dude, I had a lady, she was paying $225 a month. I got my calculator, I’m gonna do it right now. And it was her nice stuff. This was her best stuff, and it was in there for $225 a month for 20 years. So that was $54,000 she spent storing her nice furniture that we sold for about five grand when we got it out.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay.
Matt Paxton: So, negative $49,000. I told you earlier, let the math figure it out. I talk a lot in the book about a spreadsheet decision. A spreadsheet will take the emotion out of it. And I’m gonna put that math right again, $54,000, it sold for $5000, it was $49,000. If having it there brought you security and made you feel better, then it was worth the $49,000. It might not have been though. And so I remind people, everybody, it’s again, back to the stepping stones. Like, you had it at some point in your life ’cause you needed it. Now, you don’t need it. It’s okay to let it go. But man, 49 grand. Think what you could do. Think of the opportunity cost with that 49 grand. Let’s think that was in a bond, right? What if that 49 grand had earned 5% a year? That’s a whole… And now you’re looking at 200,000 grand over 20 years, when you think about it that way. And it’s just stuff. Don’t get me wrong, stuff has given me a career and I love… I have some nice stuff too. I have a Air Jordan collection. I love Air Jordans, and I have a very expensive Jordan collection. My wife hates it, but it’s the one thing I enjoy. So, that’s okay. But by having less stuff, it allows me to have fewer nice things.
Brett McKay: Okay, so again, the reminder there, separate emotional value with financial value.
Matt Paxton: Always.
Brett McKay: And then start off small, 10-minute sweep, work your way up, don’t try to do this all in one day, start in a room that’s whatever you…
Matt Paxton: Gives your success, yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Gives you success. So when you’re talking with a person, or they’re going through their stuff and they’re looking at each item, how do you help them decide whether they should keep it or get rid of it?
Matt Paxton: So I have a lot of exercises. One, when’s the last time you used it? And in my book, I say, if you haven’t used it in a month, do you really need it? Now, that was a trick for the readers. Is a month long enough? No, of course it’s not. And everyone gets mad at me. “The month’s not a lot… It should be six months. It should be 12 months. It should be 18 months.” And people argue. Great. I just wanted you to pick the time. [chuckle] That’s all. I put the lowest time possible to make people decide when it is. It’s usually a year. If you haven’t used it in a year, do you really need it? I talk about skis all the time. I mean, where I grew up, we used to get snow and we’d all go skiing every Friday night. Man, we haven’t had snow in like five years. The world is just changing, and I don’t have the time to go skiing every week. Like, that’s not realistic, and skis have changed. Start getting realistic about that, and what I call that is your fantasy life versus your reality. A lot of us live in a fantasy life. We keep all these great clothes, we keep all these amazing items. Even with hobbies, like people have kept all these hobbies during the pandemic. Are you really gonna make that many more blankets? Are you really gonna make that much more sourdough bread? How much stuff do we need for these hobbies?
And it was the fantasy life that we had at that time, and I say, let’s get real focused on your reality life. That also goes with clothes. Do I need my size 28 jeans? And I’m a snug 36, guys. I think I can get rid of my 28s and my 30s and my 32s. I still got a chance on my 34s. I had to get… The reality in my closet is that that stuff doesn’t fit me anymore. It’s easy to… I tell people to do with… You have grandkids, do a fashion show. Put on the clothes. Well, one, if they don’t fit right away, you know right away. If you can’t even get them on, then come on, donate them. If they were just ridiculous looking and the kids laughed at you, probably time to get rid of those too. And then really focus on the donation.
Again, think of how many people could use that. On my TV show, Legacy List, we just had a show last week that aired where this guy was a retired NBA coach. He had coached for 20 years in the NBA… 25 years in the NBA. He had 10 NBA championship rings. He’d won one as a player and nine as a coach. And he had two whole closets filled with suits, and he’s a tall guy, he’s like 6’10”, 6’9″, and we were able to find a group that took those suits, and they refurbished them to men that were coming out of prison that needed nicer clothes, and they were ecstatic because they were tall, they were extra long suits and they don’t get those. And so there were a bunch of young men that got really nice suits. Now, they could get back into the workforce and try to get a job.
And it was through donation, and that was a way we were able to clear out his house. He had to get real about his reality. He’s not wearing suits anymore. He’s not coaching anymore, he’s retired, and so he was able to get rid of that stuff, but that was really hard for him because those suits were who he was. That was his armor that he wore every day, and it was really hard when he finally… He said, “Okay, I’m giving someone else a chance at a job, so it’s worth it.” He said, “And they’re gonna look good.” And so again, again, that finding out what you’re doing for donating is really important. That’s a tool. It’s not just an easy place to drop stuff off. You gotta believe that you’re making someone’s life better, and that’ll make you happier to let go of things.
Brett McKay: Okay. So first tool of heuristic: If you haven’t used it in over a year, get rid of it, you don’t need it anymore. You also have this other tool you use when someone’s sort of on the fence with something, like, “I don’t know.” ‘Cause maybe they’ve got a lot of emotional attachment. It’s the maybe pile.
Matt Paxton: Maybe pile. I love the maybe pile. So your piles are keep, sell, donate, trash, and maybe. Maybe is really powerful because in the beginning, you’re gonna have a lot more maybe ’cause you’re just not there yet, and a lot of times you’ll be like, “Man, I love this item, gotta have it,” on day one, and you’re like, “Okay, fine, keep… ” And then you say, “Alright, well, wait a minute, maybe, I don’t know, maybe, maybe put it maybe… ” And what happened at the end of each day, you come back to the maybe pile and you realize, “I’m not sure yet.” And if you’re not sure yet, that’s fine, ’cause if you get rid of the maybe pile, then you’re never gonna move forward, ’cause keep is definite, trash is definite, no question on either one of these, sell is pretty clear, if you can’t sell it or you don’t wanna donate it, you put it in the maybe.
And then what happens is you come back to the end of the job and you’re like, “Man, why did I keep this teddy bear from my girlfriend in eighth grade? This is ridiculous.” But at the beginning you thought that was important, but then you’ve gone through all the other emotions on this journey and cleaning out and on day 10, it’s not that important, and so it’s easier to let go of things on day 10, then it was on day one. So you’ll find that, and this isn’t a full safe, full proof tool, but maybe pile really does help you keep going faster through the process and then helps you. You’re not punting the decisions, you’re just putting them later down the line when you’re more warmed up.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So you mentioned earlier this thing called the Legacy List, what’s that?
Matt Paxton: So legacy list, it’s the title of my show, and a legacy list is just a list of five or six items that mean the most to tell your family story. For me, I got a ring of my dad’s, I’ve got a poker chip, I’ve got a cookbook from my mom that she actually made for my dad, and my parents got divorced when I was six, but later in life, my mom went out and talked to my every woman in my dad’s family, and every woman in my family, and even the old ladies at church and got all their recipes that we grew up on, and she gave this book to my dad, and… Later in life. And then when he passed away, I got the book, but it’s all the recipes I grew up in, and it’s in all of their handwritings, so it’s my mom, my grandma, my great grandma, my other great grandma. All these great recipes, all in their handwriting.
And now I have this one book with all the in one place, that is an incredible legacy. So why I want you to tell, to really create a five or six items that tell your family story, it sets the pace on what’s important to you guys. And again, it gets you in the habit of telling the stories, and so what it does is when you have these five or six items, you gotta share them too, you gotta show them off. They’re not meant to be in storage. If it’s so important to you, why would it be in storage? That makes no sense to me. And I see so many families, “Oh, this is really important. It was my great grandfather’s. I love it. You gotta see it.” Great, show it to me. “Well, it’s in storage, I gotta go get it.” Well, then I’m gonna say, it’s not important. It’s not there. So that’s something I’ve started to say, put that in your china cabinet, put that on your mantel, put that in your book shelf. Start putting those legacy list items out there, but what they do is it gets people used to telling the story, and then it sets the pace of what’s actually important.
Brett McKay: So these are typically items that belong to a parent, grandparent, right?
Matt Paxton: And maybe even you, maybe even you. I had one lady that I found an Olympic medal. It was like she was like, an Olympic… She was a piano teacher and I’d never forget her. And I was a kid, I was… This is before I was a cleaner. But it’s funny, I look back in life, I cleaned a lot of houses, even as a kid, I was just trying to hustle, make extra money, but my piano teacher, she was from Czech Slovakia, and I don’t think that’s a country anymore, but at the time it was. And she won an Olympic medal in the javelin and… Female Olympic metal, silver medal, and we found it. And I was like, “Why is this in the drawer?” She’s like, “It’s just from my past. It’s who I was. It’s not who I am.”
And I always thought that was fascinating, even my grandma used to win all these county fairs, she would win these blue ribbons for her garden, and right before she passed, I was cleaning her house and I said, “What are all these ribbons?” She said, “Oh, that… ” “Your trophies should not be found when you’re alive, they should be found when you’re dead.” And she goes, “Otherwise, you’re bragging.” And although I know she believed that, I think she’s wrong. Man, we should see your trophies now. Put those ribbons… You don’t have to put them all out, but put one out, but I think it’s okay to brag about what you’ve done, put these items out. It’s for your family or for you. But again, it gets you in the practice to telling the stories and being proud of your family, and what that does is it separates the memories from the stuff, and you’ll find that you’re able to let go of a lot of other stuff just because you’re already telling the stories of people.
You can only tell so many stories, and every item has a story, that’s why I put a limit on the number, ’cause if you’re keeping every item and telling every story, no story is ever gonna get told, and your kids are gonna hire me to throw all your stuff away, ’cause they don’t even know what the stories are.
Brett McKay: One tip, so say you got your legacy list and there’s items you wanna keep intact and display, but one of the tips I liked a lot was when you’re going through maybe your parent stuff or a grandparent stuff, upcycle it, somehow use it, incorporate it into your life. So I think you gave the example, you had some rings owned by some grandparents, you melted them down and made a ring for yourself.
Matt Paxton: Yeah. So my wedding band is old rings from all the men and women in my family. I’ve shipped it in and they melted me a wedding band. It’s jewelry that would have just sat in a drawer somewhere, it’s not particularly fancy jewelry, it’s just gold, it’s neat. And then in fact, when I was going through that drawer to find that… And I love upcycling, I can tell you 100 stories of upcycling. It takes, an upcycling is taking old items and re-purposing them for modern living, but still allowing you to celebrate the past. I love that I have my great uncle stuff, I found my grandfather’s old ring from Alaska, he went during the war, he got placed in Alaska, and I didn’t put this in the book, but the coolest thing I found was…
And my grandfather was a farmer, hard-working guy, never saw him cuss or take a day off, he worked every day of his life, hardest working dude. He was a preacher, like everything, but he’s just a wonderful man, and I found… With this Alaska ring, I found a telegram from him to his sister and just said, “Alaska is great. Send more money.” [chuckle] That was it. And I never heard my grandfather ask for money ever. He just didn’t do it, and he worked really hard, but I love that telegram, so I actually kept the telegram. So I’m not saying get rid of everything, but get rid of the 80% that doesn’t really matter, that lets you keep the ones that really do. So I did keep the Alaska ring and the telegram ’cause I think it’s hilarious, and I have a feeling one of my sons will like it. It’s also smaller than a bread box, so it’s easy to keep.
Brett McKay: You could turn that telegram into a piece of art, like frame it, put it on your wall…
Matt Paxton: I know. I should. I don’t have any… So my house is a minimalist house. We have no walls, man. It’s all windows. So I’ve even had to… My wife took this to the extreme… I should say fiancee, we’re not married yet, but we have seven kids and we just haven’t gotten to it, believe it or not. We have six boys under 13, so we’re deep in it right now, but yeah, some days some of these items will get… We will get them… I guess why I’m saying this is like a lot of people who are listening are like, “Well, you do this professionally, man, your house is probably perfect.” No way, man. My life is as crazy as yours is. My life is crazy, and we’re just surviving just like you are, but a lot of these rules will help you keep it in mind and slowly progress to where you wanna be.
Brett McKay: So we talked about big stuff, china cabinets, jewelry, things like that, physical, tangible things. A lot of clutter is just documents and pictures. Any advice there in helping people sort through that stuff? ‘Cause I imagine you walk into a home and there’s just piles all over the place. I’m sure everyone’s got their pile in their kitchen where they just put everything. How do you sort through that stuff?
Matt Paxton: Alright. So junk mail, get through the mail first. Junk mail is exactly that, it’s junk mail. Shred it, rip it up. If you owe somebody money, they’re gonna find you, so don’t worry about that. If you find a bill you owe, pay it obviously, but 90% of your junk mail, it’s just that, junk mail. Go through it quickly. I get into a habit of keeping it clean, which is my mail, I do that over the recycling bin. I don’t even take it to a table. The minute you put your mail down, you’re not gonna touch it for a week, so I take it right to the recycling bin and I look at it and I shred it up. If I don’t need it, I shred it right away, and so it never even makes it on to… Because you put that bag down, it’s gonna stay.
And that’s a habit. That’s how a lot of my hoarder houses started. It started with one bag. They went to Target to get something, and they got tired, it was hot, they sat down on the chair, put the bag down, and then they didn’t empty it. And then like a week later, “Man, I need mustard.” They go to the store again, get mustard. When you empty a hoarder’s house, you’ll find 10 cans of the same stuff or like 20 hammers, ’cause they go to get it and they forget it. They put it down and they forget. So on paper, get back to the paper, get really, really focused on your bank statements. You only need the end of the year, 12/31, that’s the only one you need. Your taxes, you do need seven years, but you can digitize all of this paper. I mean, honestly, there’s apps on your phone now, you just take a picture of it.
Genius Scan’s a wonderful app. Take a picture of it, email it to yourself, you’re good. You really don’t need to keep most of your paperwork. You can scan it all, digitize it. Now, here’s the kicker on this. Have two copies of your digital downloads. Have one on your computer and then save one on a hard drive and put that hard drive in a safe, a fireproof safe. You wanna back up your backup on that. So the paper… And in the book, I list all the paperwork you need, like all of it and how long you need to keep it. Medical records, legal records, taxes, all of it. All your documentation. Where it gets hard is genealogy and pictures. Genealogy is something that comes up a lot in my career. I didn’t know a whole lot about it early on, and I went out to this conference in Salt Lake City called Roots Tech. Have you ever heard about it?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Paxton: Man, it’s the Woodstock of genealogy. It’s unbelievable, and the amount of technology that’s out there to help you find the information about your family. It’s new to me, and I just love it and I’m fascinated by it, so I’m even finding myself holding on to a little more of the genealogy side of it, and so I always wanna say be respectful of that. If that’s who you are in your family and you’re the person in charge of that, then make a space for that in your home and respect it and make the space for it. And that’s awesome. But on the pictures, man, that’s when we get into trouble because we keep doubles of everything. We have doubles from the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000s. So the ones I tell you to get rid of… And when you’re going through the pictures get really, really… This is where I want you to do the 10 minute sweep.
Don’t spend more than 30 minutes a night on pictures, otherwise it’s just… You get lost in there. But go through the whole pile at a time and say, “Okay, I’m gonna get rid of the doubles, I’m gonna get rid of the negatives,” ’cause you haven’t used them yet. It’s 30 years, by the way, so you haven’t used them yet, just to put math in there. If you got it in 1990, it’s 30 years ago. We don’t need them. Get rid of the negatives. Get rid of the doubles, get rid of the generic landscapes, which is just, “Oh, that’s a mountain,” or, “That’s a beach.” You don’t know which one it is, and there’s no people that identify it and no landmarks in it. It’s just a landscape. Get rid of the generic landscapes. Get rid of the people that you do not know who they are, or honestly care to know. You don’t like them. And that’s a new one I’ve added. The people you don’t like. I can’t tell you how many families I’ve… “Oh, that’s my ex-husband’s family. I don’t like this.”
“Well, why are you holding them?” “Well, someone might want ’em some day.” “When’s the last time you talked to them?” “It’s been 15 years.” They’re not gonna call. You can get rid of the stuff for the people you don’t like and don’t want. Now, be careful in the genealogy, I wanna say this. When I say pictures of the people you don’t know who they are, and this is not the old 10-type genealogical pictures, okay, this is just a picture you took on your phone and you don’t remember anybody in the picture. It was at a party in college and they don’t mind… Get rid of those. The old, really important family heirloom pictures, I still put those to the side. And so just those tips alone right there, like just the duplicates, the negatives, the generic landscapes, and the people you don’t like or don’t know, that will knock out more than half your pictures right there.
Brett McKay: And then utilize digitization.
Matt Paxton: Digitization. There are so many good companies out there that will do that for you. I’m a big believer in your time is worth more than the cost of that, so get it down to a reasonable number and then have it digitized, and I’ll say this… A stack of pictures one inch high is actually 100 pictures. 100 pictures. How many thousands and ten thousands of pictures that you have in shoeboxes or in buckets? I’ve had families that have like, “That whole room is dedicated to pictures now.” And we just don’t have enough time or bandwidth or space to go through them all and tell the stories of all of them. So get focused on them. Get it down to… I think 500 isn’t reasonable, so a shoebox should be reasonable. You should totally save at the end.
Brett McKay: Another tip I’ve found useful… I’m kind of getting out of this stage, but I’m at the stage in life where my kids make me art and you’re like, “Oh, this is great.” And then you throw it in the trash and they find it in the trash. “Dad, why did you throw this away? I made this for you.” And then you take it out and it just sits on your desk. One thing I’ve been doing is I’ll take pictures of it and then chunk it.
Matt Paxton: Digitize the pictures. I have a folder on the phone for each kid and I take the pictures of it. Now with seven kids, we’re pretty ruthless. We’re like, “Oh, great, look at your folder.” And we’re like, “Great picture,” and we rip it up and put it in recycling right in front of them.
And I’ve made my kids a little harder on that, but they’re like… Just the other day my eight-year-old was like, “Dad, I made that for you.” So we do have a frame, that’s one of those foldable frames that opens up and so each week the kid will pick… And the younger kids… Your kids, it sounds like they’re getting older.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Matt Paxton: This is really important for the younger kids ’cause I’ve seen families that they kept every single picture, every picture their kid made. And let’s be really honest here. It’s mediocre art at best, at best. We’re keeping it because we love our kids and we don’t want them to get upset. We’re not keeping it ’cause it’s great artwork. But once a year they make a good piece and so that’s what I’m trying to set you for. There’s one a year you really want, so don’t keep them all. And what we do is we take the picture each week, whichever one they love, keep that one they love, get rid of the rest. And at the end of the month, decide which one they love and it goes in that frame that opens up. It has a latch door on it that opens up. You can get them in any hobby store.
And so you’re switching out the pictures each month and they get to see the art that they choose, not you, them. And then at the end of the year, you’ve got one that you keep and you put that in a bin. And so I have a bin for each kid and literally we keep one a year. That’s it, but they’ve displayed up to 12 a year. And we’ve kept a couple of them digitally for each one. But I promise you on the back end, we moved last year and I had kept every… I had kept pretty much every painting of my kid’s and I threw away all but like four or five because… And they haven’t asked for them, I promise you.
Brett McKay: Okay. So you’ve done all this stuff, you’ve sorted piles, you got your pile for donate, sell, trash. That’s pretty much it. And you’re big heavy on donating, cause selling it, it’s gonna take a lot of time, even money, and you’re not gonna make that much from it, so…
Matt Paxton: Well, let’s talk about sell real quick. It’s not that you can’t ever sell and I don’t wanna press a lot of… But the reality is a lot of the stuff isn’t worth anything, but there’s two ways I do encourage selling. One is they’re just mass, sell it all on an online auction. Get an online auction company to come in. They do all the posting for you, they market it, they sell it, they have people that… They have buyers. If you’re doing a yard sale or an estate sale at your house, it will not go well. That’s not your job. That’s not what you do. You want a company that has lots of buyers to do it. And quite honestly, you don’t want that in your house, you want it at the estate auction house where people come and get it. It’s gotta be online or there won’t be a lot of traffic.
If you’re selling items one-off, I’m really big on Facebook Marketplace. It’s the easiest thing and it’s local. Oftentimes it’s people that you know. So you can put stuff on Facebook Marketplace for whatever price you’re willing to get for it. People will haggle, so be ready for that. But if it doesn’t sell in a day, then just take it over to the Buy Nothing groups and donate it. But there is… You can quickly find out if there’s a market for something. If 50 people immediately ask you for it…
Brett McKay: There’s a market.
Matt Paxton: There’s a market. And tools you should always sell. Try the furniture at a low price because it’s still better than hiring someone to come pick it up ’cause that will cost you money. Even if someone buys it for $100 bucks or $50 bucks, but they come get it themselves, then that’s still cheaper for you ’cause you’re not paying $100 for someone to take it away. And so the key here is don’t waste your time. Put time limits on it. I would say a day. Put it on Facebook Marketplace. If it doesn’t sell, then just give it away.
Brett McKay: Any tips on… So you’ve cleaned your house out. How do you prevent the clutter from accumulating again?
Matt Paxton: So the key is you spent the last 20 years filling your house up, then we spent the last six months cleaning it out. Let’s get back to the 10-minutes sweep clean every night. 10 minutes maintenance. Just like weight loss. You can’t do a diet, work out and then lose all the weight and then go back to eating the worst food in the world. You gotta stay with it. So the same thing with the cluttering. Just stay with it. Don’t let it get away. Never put the bags down, always empty the bag. Always empty the bag when you come back from the store. Equal in, equal out. When you buy something new, get something of the same size out of the house. Go donate it. On the paper, I keep a shred box in my trunk and I keep a donate box in my trunk. Why in the trunk of my car? ‘Cause if I put it in the garage, it’ll overflow and fall all over the floor and I’ll never take it in. If it’s in my trunk, once it’s full, I drive by somewhere and the kid at Goodwill takes it out of the back of my car.
I don’t even have to take it out of my car anymore at Goodwill. That’s how crazy that is. They literally come, they say, “Pop your trunk,” and they grab it for you. So just keep those boxes ready and take your donation stuff right to your trunk ’cause the minute you put it down, it’s not gonna move. All you did was transfer it from Point A of your house to Point B. You didn’t get it out of your house. So I put those boxes in my car. I think that’s the easiest way to do it. Stay on top of it. Everything has a place, put it… Do that extra two minutes of work every night. When you get back from the store, put the stuff back where it goes. When you’re working on your tools, you go to do something, you use the hammer and the nails, take it right back to the garage, put it in its place. Don’t put it down on the kitchen room table ’cause then you’re not gonna touch until next weekend.
Brett McKay: Well, Matt, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Matt Paxton: So the book you can buy anywhere, ‘Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff.’ It’s on sale now. If you can’t afford it, go to the library and check it out. And if you can, go to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target, any independent bookstore. My website for the TV show is mylegacylist, mylegacylist.com. You can watch all three seasons on there now or on PBS anywhere in the country, public television. It’s a great show. It’s a positive show about aging community Americans telling their stories. Super fun. We find a lot of awesome history there. But check that show out and we have tons of tips all over mylegacylist.com, lots of videos. And then we do have a resource section from our book is on that website, mylegacylist.com. So every company I’ve ever worked with that I recommend you using, it’s all on that website, and then there’s a chart of the first 100 items people ask me about, “What should I do with it?” Everything from pianos to stamps. “Do I donate, do I sell?” And it gives you all the resources. All that’s on the website at mylegacylist.com.
And then of course, my social media is I Am Matt Paxton. Any handle, anywhere you wanna go, we got lots of quotes, inspirational quotes and helpful tips from the book and from my career and we’d love to hear from you. And if you wanna feature your family on our show, we are casting right now for Season 4. If you got a cool grandma that’s awesome and wonderfully weird and you wanna feature her story, go to mylegacylist.com. We are accepting casting right now for filming later this year.
Brett McKay: Well, fantastic. Well, Matt Paxton, thanks for this time. It’s been a pleasure.
Matt Paxton: Hey, thank you, man. I really appreciate it.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Matt Paxton. He’s the author of the book, ‘Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff.’ It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about Legacy List at mylegacylist.com. Also check out our shownotes at aom.is/declutter where you can find links to resources and we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Make sure you check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you like to enjoy ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code Manliness at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. It helps that a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to AOM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.