As a young man, downsizing and cleaning expert Matt Paxton got some sage advice from his grandfather.
The job that Paxton wound up taking, of course, was cleaning out the stuff-filled homes of others and he got some pre-job training at the age of 24 when his father, grandfather and stepfather all died in the same year and he was charged with clearing out their houses.
“My grandfather told me that if something sucks, you should do it as a job because other people will pay you to do it,” said Paxton, who spent 16 seasons on the TV show “Hoarders” and now hosts “Legacy List With Matt Paxton” on PBS. “And he was right. And it really sucked and it was really sad, cleaning up those houses alone. Ironically, here I am again, 25 years later, still doing it, all because of what my grandfather said.”
Paxton, who is also the author of “Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff,” will make an appearance — hosted by the Gwinnett County Public Library — at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Norcross Cultural Arts & Community Center. The Virginia native, who has lived in Suwanee for the last three years, will share tips on downsizing and decluttering and will talk about many of the concepts contained in his book.
“I’ve been cleaning houses and helping people go through their stuff for almost 25 years and I’ve found that at the end of the day, it’s the stories that really matter and it’s why we hold on to things,” he said. “We all keep our stuff because of the people we love who had that stuff. I’ll be giving my basics on how to tell your stories so you can get rid of all your stuff.”
In offering a preview of the knowledge he’s gleaned over the past quarter century, Paxton said he’ll suggest folks make a “legacy list” of the five or six most-important items in their homes. Once they’ve selected the items, they’re encouraged to write down stories as to why those items matter and how they tell their family’s stories.
“Whether it’s a clock or piano or a ring or a piece of jewelry or even a picture, you have to determine the five most important items in your house,” he said. “People usually find that the important things aren’t necessarily monetarily valuable — they’re usually emotionally valuable. Why it matters so much is when you establish those five items, you start to tell stories of the people that matter most in your family.”
For example, Paxton said he loved his grandmother’s crystal but found another item in her house that resonated more than any other.
“My No. 1 item on my legacy list — believe it or not — is my grandmother’s bicycle,” he said. “She was a cool, young grandma and she would ride bikes all around town with us. And we got into trouble making her go up hill and down hills and doing things we weren’t supposed to do. But my best memories were hanging out with my grandma. My legacy list item is my grandmother’s bike — not all my grandmother’s China.”
Oddly enough, Paxton said his grandmother hardly recalled the bicycling outings, which added to her legacy.
“When I told her the story about her going down this hill she barely remembered it — and it was one of the coolest days of my list,” said Paxton. “Creating the list and telling those stories is how you get people to actually tell you what they want.”
Paxton said he likes to inject a strong dose of humor into the presentation and said that like so many other projects, the journey begins with a solitary step.
“The main thing is just getting started, so I have a few easy tips on that,” he said. “A lot of people will come and say, ‘I actually started’ and that’s my goal. I’ll make you laugh, no question there, but I want to make sure you get started. You’ll leave with the ability to at least get started on cleaning your home. Humor is a large part of it. Without humor it’s a hard topic to go through.”
Having seen his share of sad situations on “Hoarders,” Paxton said he was adamant that his PBS show — which is now in its fourth season and has earned two Emmy nominations — present a positive viewpoint about the value -— and not the worth — of things.
“I wanted to tell these stories — I was finding all these fascinating stories in these houses and they were positive stories and they were interesting,” he said. “I decided I wanted to make a positive show and it seemed really simple. But I work in TV and it didn’t seem to be interesting enough.
“One network said, ‘Hey, are there any attractive granddaughters to fight over stuff?’ That’s not the show I wanted to make. It took me a while to find a home and it ended up being PBS. We did not want to talk about how much items were worth financially — we only wanted to talk about the emotional value and that’s what makes the show so unique.”
If You Go What: Meet Matt Paxton When: Thursday, 7 p.m. Where: Norcross Cultural Arts and Community Center, 10 College St. NW, Norcross More info: Go to gwinnettpl.org