Matt Paxton's new book helps people declutter through stories and memories

Matt Paxton and his Legacy List crew; Jay Paul, Jay Paul Photography

When a 26-year-old Matt Paxton helped an elderly lady from church downsize her large house, he didn’t know it would be a transformative experience. But he decided that what he wanted to do with his life after that was help people simplify their lives by realizing the value of their memory. Paxton is the host of the popular Emmy-nominated PBS show “Legacy List,” and a thirteen-year veteran of “Hoarders” on A&E. The expert on home organization now has a new book, “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff.” Matt Paxton joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share his insider knowledge of hoarding, decluttering, and the true meaning of stuff.

Paxton has been a decluttering and organization expert for over twenty years. As with so many good and finally-possible ideas, Paxton’s book concept got his full attention during the pandemic. “I kept getting the same questions over and over and over, and I thought, ‘Gosh, if this many people are asking me these questions, I probably need to get it down on paper,’” said Paxton, “And I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m never going to have time like this again.’”

No stranger to the extremes of clutter, Paxton has seen it all. “I had a guy that had an airplane he had reassembled in his basement, and he liked to dry out his clothes, his shirts, on the wing. And he said, ‘Nothing dries a shirt like an airplane wing,” Paxton recounted. 

But although he’s there to unsentimentally address the mess, Paxton approaches his clients with a big heart. “People often forget that hoarders are incredibly intelligent,” he said. “Gosh, I mean, you’ll find art. Of course, books. Books [are] always the number one thing they find, because in books, it’s intelligence and information, and so most hoarders are incredibly intelligent. So they see the most value in books…. Just a couple of years ago, we found a Picasso and two Salvador Dali’s in an attic.”

“Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” serves as much as a personal memoir as a how-to book. In it, Paxton pays tribute to his greatest inspiration, his father, who died unexpectedly at the age of 52. “My dad dying, you know, it made me clean up my first house,” he said. Though his dad isn’t around, Paxton’s certain that, like any father, he’d be thrilled to know his son earns a living just by being brilliantly well-organized. “My dad would love this…. Just because of who my dad was, it does bring me pride to know that it gave me a career, and it gave me purpose, and I’ve been able to help thousands of people doing it,” said Paxton.

As someone who knows intimately how grief can keep you attached to stuff, and to the material memories of a loved one, he emphasizes that his book isn’t just decluttering tips; it speaks to the emotional weight of serious cleaning. “It’s not the stuff that holds you back; it’s the stories…. What I’ve seen in my life is, the more you tell these stories at the beginning, the easier it is to get rid of the little smaller things that don’t actually matter as much.”

Matt Paxton’s new book “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff” is out now on paperback, and can be purchased here