Hey guys! Thanks for stopping by for the transcript of Episode 87. If you’d rather listen to this episode than read 8,000 words, you can click the player below or learn how to get them on your phone (for free) here.
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Sherry: Hey, guys! This week’s episode is brought to you by West Elm and their celebration of International Women’s Day. Yep, this Thursday, March 8, is an international holiday, and it’s been around for over 100 years. It celebrates women and all of their accomplishments all over the world. You can find out how and why West Elm is marking this holiday later in the episode or by visiting westelm.com.
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John: I’m John.
Sherry: And I’m Sherry.
John: We like home stuff.
Sherry: We like talking.
John: And we like the occasional game show sound effect. [pulsing sound effect] So welcome to Young House Love Has A Podcast, where we have deep and not-so-deep conversations about DIY, design, and life at home.
Sherry: Today, we’re sharing a beach house issue that almost forced us to bust out our freshly built bunkbeds. Plus, John shares a favorite non-power tool, and we get decluttering tips from an expert who has spent years helping hoarders on TV.
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John: We have a story for you guys about the beach house that we’ve saving because we’ve been trying to get to the end of it. It’s one of those stories that we didn’t want to jinx by bringing it up too soon.
Sherry: Sometimes you can’t talk about it. It’s just literally too soon.
John: Yes. The duplex dormer story, that was something that you guys were in the thick of, but this one, we shielded you from the emotions of until now. So one little nagging thing we’ve had to check off the list at the pink house is getting a final inspection done. Months ago, we had all of our systems final inspected by the town inspector, you know, the plumbing, the HVAC, the electrical. We also had one sort of general building permit that, to get completed, we had to had to have the inspector come through and just sort of check everything off once again. We tried to get this done before the holidays, but because, you know, that time is kind of weird, things slow down, and people get distracted, it just got pushed off. Just by coincidence, the day that he was coming out was the Monday after we were there all weekend building the bunkbeds, just starting the bunkbed construction.
Sherry: Right. So we had laid out the bottom bunk and the top platform. We hadn’t added a ladder yet. The mattresses were kind of leaning in there randomly. We left that house half done, as usual. [laughs]
John: Yeah. I was a little nervous because I hate leaving something half finished, and then have an inspector come through. But I’m like, “He’s not checking the bunkbeds. That’s not under his jurisdiction.” So we thought it would be fine, but we get a call from our contractor later that Monday saying, “You guys failed, and you have to take your bunkbeds down.”
Sherry: So naturally, I did what I do. I sobbed. I was like, “Why?! Why? We’ve been talking for a year about this being a bunk room?” It was just out of left field because all of us had known that this was planning to be this little nook for people to sleep in. What it turned out to be was little thing none of us noticed, which is called egress. Egress means that someone could get out of a window. It’s a specific height from the floor to the base of the window. It can’t be too high. Someone needs to be able to reasonably climb out of it, and it needs to be a certain size of window. And actually, we had both of those correct. It was within the distance it needed to be to the ground, and the window was the right size, but the window opening was not the right square footage.
John: Yeah. I mean, this is all because, presumably in the event of an emergency, like a fire, if people needed to get out, you want to make sure that a body can get out of the house when it needs to, or, I guess presumably, a firefighter or something could get in. And so, like Sherry was saying, we met all the minimums that were required for the window length, the window height, the distance from the floor. What we did not realize was there was a minimum square footage for that opening, and because we have a double-hung window, you only really get half of that.
Sherry: Right. Exactly. So meanwhile, if you guys see a picture—we’ll put a picture in the Show Notes—you’d say, “John could climb out of that window when it’s open!” It’s a big enough opening. But egress code is usually generous. It means a really big firefighter with a really big outfit, carrying an axe and oxygen on his back, could get through the window. We didn’t meet that. The first thing everyone jumped to was the bunkbeds have to come out because this can’t be a room anyone can sleep in.
John: Yeah. So I, having just spent the weekend building this thing, was kind of in shock, when I heard the news. Had I just not built those that weekend, we would have at least passed.
Sherry: Yeah, but I think, in the long run, this is where I put on my happy pants, and I say, “In the long run, this was good.”
John: Oh, of course.
Sherry: We learned about this thing we didn’t meet. And then, guess what? I said to the contractor, “We can’t take the bunkbeds out. John will have a conniption. We just spent the whole weekend on them.”
John: Oh, you put it on me.
Sherry: I put it on you. I was like, “John will never talk to me again if we have to take the bunkbeds out.” We’ve been trying to get this final inspection for months. He finally comes though, and it’s the day after we complete these bunkbeds. And then we fail? Like, “Come on, universe!” The good news is we hung up the phone, and we said, “Okay, we’re not going to take the bunkbeds down yet. We’re going to think about it.” The major issue was that you can’t just change the window out for a bigger one because there’s the historic review board.
John: Yes. Any listener of this podcast knows now that anytime we have to change something on the exterior, it’s an extra hurdle. And also, we already had the siding up, and the inside was all nicely finished, so cutting a larger window was not really our preference at this point.
Sherry: Right. We could go to the historic review board, and they might deny it because it changes the outside structure. They might approve it, but it suddenly felt like this house that was almost completed was going back to this stage of needing exterior construction, like big, dusty things in our furnished rooms.
John: Well, I was thinking, “Okay, do we have to rethink the function of the room?” If push comes to shove, and this cannot be a bedroom, what do we do? What the heck do we use it for? We’ve been so excited about this idea. So after some time of getting our emotions to settle and trying to approach this problem practically and with some levelheadedness, we did come up with a solution.
Sherry: Yeah. I remember where I was. I was standing in the kitchen, staring out the window—a window—and I thought, “Wait a minute! If it just needs to be the whole window that opens, and not a double-hung opening where it only opens halfway, why don’t we do a casement window!?” For anyone listening who doesn’t know what a casement window is, that’s those ones with a crank that you go, “squeak-squeak-squeak”, and it opens to the side. It basically hinges open like a book. So the entire window opens, thereby meeting egress code! So I run. I don’t walk because I have zero chill. I run to my phone, and I call the contractor. I say, “Why don’t we just do a casement window?” And he says, “That’s brilliant! I think they will approve it.”
John: Did he say, “That’s brilliant”?
Sherry: He did. He was very excited! He and I both were in the like, either the bunks are coming out, or we’re cutting a big hole in your house. To do the hole in the house, we have to get the review board to sign off on it. We were pushing a boulder up a mountain again. Switching out a window is so simple. In fact, he even said, “Since I didn’t catch this, I will pay for the window and switch out the window. My labor and my money for the window.” We just have to make sure that the historic review board is okay with this. Even though it doesn’t really change anything outside, we still had to ask approval. They said, “Sure. It’s fine. It will look the same.”
John: I do want to give some context for this because this also happening just a week or two after we learned about the duplex roof issue. So we were feeling beaten down already, and to have this come was almost enough to break us [laughs] for that moment. We felt like we couldn’t get a win. But the good news, I guess, out of that was we were already in active conversations with the people at the historical review board to have this sort of second hearing about the roof of the duplex. We could just sort of, in a call, say, “Hey, also, we’re going to switch out this to a casement window.” We’ll have the same mullions, the same grill pattern on the outside. So from the outside, you will hardly notice that it’s different. It’s only from the inside you’ll see that it’s a crank.
Sherry: Right. We were all thrilled with this. We also had the contractor call the inspector to make sure he would pass a casement window. He said, “Sure.” The historic review board saying, “Sure, of course, if it’s a safety function. Of course, you can switch it out.” It felt like the first time in a while that all parties were coming together. We all just wanted a solution. And then yesterday, I got the text. It was simply a photo. It was a photo of the word “Approved” on final inspection. So we have passed final inspection. The pink house, by all assertions, is totally approved, except we’ll probably need approval on a shed at some point. Exterior stuff is still up in the air, but everything on the inside is done, done, done.
John: Yeah. It means we don’t have to do any more work on it. We don’t have to tile the backsplash. [Sherry laughs] We don’t have to install a mudroom. It’s just done. We can relax now, right?
Sherry: [Laughs] Except for all that. And landscaping. And the shed. But other than that.
John: Before we get into this week’s interview, Sherry, you had a quick update. Right?
Sherry: Yes. This is exciting. If you ever want to hear crossover podcasting, like our voices on other podcasts, I got invited on The Lively Show. I love talking to Jess Lively. She’s been podcasting forever. It was Episode 266!
John: The one that you were on?
Sherry: Yes. Let that sink in. I was on Episode 266. That’s a whole lotta episodes. It aired a week or two ago. She talks about woo-woo stuff, and you know I love woo-woo. It’s like me poking my little questioning finger into the woo-woo space and saying, “But what about this? But what about that?” It was lots of fun. I even told a really weird story about my childhood in Jersey and searching for something in the woods. So if you want to hear that, it’s The Lively Show, Episode 266. It also talks about the evolution of our blog and growing and stopping and coming back and all that. I’ll put a link in the Show Notes for anyone who wants to tune in to that.
John: For anyone who wants to keep tuning in to the show they’re listening to right now—
Sherry: Right! Don’t leave us just yet!
John: Yeah. You know, we talk a lot about decluttering and minimalism and stuff on this podcast. We’ve interviewed professional organizers, professional cleaners, you know, a lot of people who are experts in this field. We came across someone who has a very different angle on this whole thing. His name is Matt Paxton and, by coincidence, he just lives a few miles from us here in Richmond. You guys may actually know him because he spent several seasons on the show Hoarders, that A&E show where they go into homes of people who hoard and clean them out. He was one of the expert cleaners. The Extreme Cleaning Expert, I think was his subtitle. He has this wild experience of going into these crazy cluttered homes, and he has kind of turned that expertise into what he does now. It’s a company called Legacy Navigator, where instead of doing hoarder’s homes, they’re doing estates, like at the end of someone’s life if someone’s either downsizing or a family member has passed away. He has these really unique perspectives on clutter, different than what we’ve talked about before. He actually has a really interesting backstory himself. So lots of things to talk about. Again, his name is Matt Paxton, and we’re going to give him a call right now.
[Phone call/interview music playing]
John: Hey, Matt!
Matt: How are you guys doing?
John: We are great. Thank you for making time for us today.
Matt: Thanks for having me.
John: First of all, I think people most know you from your time on Hoarders.
Matt: I’m the mean guy from Hoarders is what most people tell me.
John: Well, I’ll admit it’s been a while since I had seen an episode of Hoarders, and I went and watch a couple this week with Sherry. It was a nice refresher as to how intense this process is.
John: I’m sure for you guys as well.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, every week, my job is go to somebody’s lowest point in their life. It’s intense.
Sherry: Well, I imagine you have a different lens on the stuff than they do, clearly, because they think it’s valuable, and they really want to keep a lot of it. How do you go about changing their viewpoint on that?
Matt: You know, I spent probably half my life as a hoarding expert, the other half my life as just helping regular people, like you and me, clean up their houses. On the hoarding side, you have to understand that hoarding is a mental disorder. Period. Like it or not, there’s something going on, and it’s usually some type of trauma. Something bad happened to someone, like they got divorced or they lost a partner. Something sad happened to them, and they’re looking for their happiness and self-worth in stuff. And so, if you keep that in mind, it’s easier not to get angry and frustrated.
John: Yeah. What struck me, watching it again, was that it was just a reminder of the control that stuff has on people, including myself. I’ll put myself in that category. It’s obviously not to the extreme that some of the people on the show have it, but I think I could see myself a little bit in some of the rationales that they were making for the things, like, “Oh, I’ll use that later,” or “I’ll sell that later,” or “I’ll find a place for it.” Like I was talking to Sherry last night and saying, “We have four mirrors up in our attic that don’t have a place, don’t have a specific purpose, but we’re hanging on to them because they might and we still like them.”
Matt: Yeah! Let’s use you guys as an example. I mean, I’m betting, in real life, you’re kind of a minimalist, but you fix up a lot of houses, and you need stuff. I’m sure your tools are—
Sherry: Oh, John’s tools are extensive. [laughs]
John: Let’s focus on Sherry, Matt. [Sherry laughs]
Sherry: He brings up the mirrors, and I’m like, “Let’s talk about the tools!” [laughs]
Matt: Now you understand why I’m on the show. Yeah. But you actually can justify those tools because you do—you guys do use them every day. When it’s not you, individually, it’s very easy to give these rules. But the minute it becomes personal, and it’s about your happiness, that’s when we kind of start pushing back.
John: So having been there on the ground and with these people, what’s something that you want the viewers to know about those individuals?
Matt: Awesome question. So these hoarders are like super, super smart, and that’s why they actually have a hard time communicating. They don’t really live in the same world that we do. You and I have a nighttime. We rest. We go to bed. They don’t. They’re up 24/7. Their brain is working constantly. If you’ve ever taken that red-eye flight from LA to DC—
John: No thank you.
Matt: Yeah. It’s a really long flight, and it knocks you out. Well, a hoarder basically takes a red-eye every night. These are really, really good, smart people, but they’re just living in an intense situation 24/7. I had one lady, one of my favorite ladies ever, she was a translator at the UN in the ‘70s.
Matt: So she hand translated over 10 languages. I mean, think of how much of a strong, powerful woman this person had to be to even have that job – how brilliant she was. A powerful woman, but she was paralyzed by hoarding because of some trauma in her life. And so, when you see these people making silly decisions or saying mean things, it’s not really who they are. It’s just kind of the life they’re living right now.
John: It’s so interesting that you say that because Sherry—I don’t mean to speak for you here, Sherry—but she grew up around someone who had some hoarding tendencies. She visited this house often. I would say the person is a brilliant person.
Sherry: And also thinks they’re smarter than everyone else, so if you try to bring up to that person, “Hey, do you want my help to clean your basement?” they’re like, “Are you crazy? I don’t need help.”
Matt: Oh, man. Yes. So the top three professions are teachers, nurses, and social workers. Those are the three top professions.
John: You just checked a couple boxes from that house.
Matt: Yeah. So here’s why. They’re caregivers. Their self-worth and their happiness, it comes from giving those items away. Now, here’s the problem with that. It doesn’t mean anybody wants their stuff.
Matt: We’ve got all these MRI brain scans—this will actually blow your minds, since you have a connection to it. At Boston University, Dr. Tolin did this really cool MRI study where they did a hoarder and a non-hoarder. They showed them the same pile. It turns out, a hoarder definitely sees the pile differently. So, literally, if you and your partner are sitting there looking at a room, and you’re like, “What? Do you not see that pile over there?” believe or not, you actually might see it differently.
Matt: So for that hoarder, they see it the way it looked when it started because they see it every single day. Then you and I come in, and we’re like, “Oh, my God. Look how full this house is.”
Sherry: Right. And this person, I am not at their house often, and so it smacks me in the face how much it changes. But they’re like, “Oh, I still have a walkway here. What are you talking about?”
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I would caution you when you’re in that situation, any of your viewers, remember the key thing you said there. This is someone you love, right?
Matt: And we forget that. We get really frustrated because we love them so much, and we forget to say that. So you’re going to laugh. When you’re dealing with an extreme hoarding case of someone you love, you’ve got to start with, “Hey, I love you.” People forget that because we get so frustrated, and we get so focused on the cleaning. You want them to have a better life. Well, they’re not going to do that until they’re ready, and I can assure you, that it is a mental disorder. It has to have some type of therapy to be fixed. The cleaning is actually secondary. So I always tell you, instead of worrying about their house, go find some volunteering they can do. Go find something social they can do. Help them get a life outside of that home.
Sherry: That’s so interesting. I guess they become sort of homebound.
Matt: Yeah. They’re fine at home. The stuff is safe. Trust me. The stuff doesn’t yell at them. The stuff doesn’t complain to them. The stuff doesn’t tell them to get their life together. That’s why cats are the primary thing that we see hoarders collecting on the pet side. Cats are easy love. Cats come up to you. They give you a little snuggle. They get food, and they walk away. Cats are never going to yell at you and tell you to clean up all your bags. When you get into the super advanced stage—you and I are talking about, you know, just mid-level people. When you get to the super advanced ones, the person’s been hoarding 20-30 years, a lot of them are home shopping hoarders, so like Amazon, Amazon Prime, HSN. The boxes just continue to show up. They consume, but they never open the boxes.
Sherry: Oh, that’s so interesting. So there’s just unopened boxes, but the boxes themselves make them happy.
Matt: I mean, it’s a drug. They feel good. The box shows up. It’s like, “Oh, my God. Somebody loves me.” Then they get upset and frustrated, and they’re like, “Oh, I shouldn’t have bought this.” Then they feel bad. So what do they have to do to feel good again?
John: Buy something else. Yeah.
Matt: They’ve got to buy something else. So it becomes a vicious cycle, man. I don’t want to get too heavy. I mean, this is not a crazy, heavy podcast, but it always makes sense. You just have to remember, okay, this person is a brilliant person. They’re smarter than you and me, so I can’t try to out manipulate them. I tell them my angle. I say, “Hey, I’m going to actually take you to this volunteering thing because I want you to get happy about something other than your house.” What happens is, you’re also actually quietly showing respect. You’re showing that they’re smarter than you.
Sherry: Right. I stopped trying to assist in any way over a decade ago. It was just a source of arguments, and I love this person. So I was just like, “I have to let it go. I just can’t be that person who, every time I see them, I bring it up because then I’m annoying.” You know?
Matt: Well, yes. It’s funny. You’re doing it right —if you read my book, that’s exactly what it says. You’re not going to out manipulate them. They can hurt longer than you and I ever could imagine. It has to be done with positive things. Why I got so good with working with hoarders was that I had actually been in my own rock bottom. I had been in some really bad, really desperate situations. Believe it or not, I was actually an economist for the Federal Reserve, and I hated it. From Richmond, I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, and I became an economist for Caesar’s Palace Casinos.
John: It sounds a bit more fun than the Federal Reserve.
Matt: It was a little more fun. Actually it was too much fun. I was a 24-year-old kid. I know this is a family-friendly podcast, so I’ll keep it clean. It didn’t end well in Las Vegas. Let’s just leave it at that. [Sherry laughs]
John: Everyone else can fill in the blanks.
Matt: I was there for two years, and then was asked to leave the casino. I was escorted out by some folks. I was just on a complete bender, lost everything, and had a really bad rock bottom. The end of that story is I actually owed a bookie $40,000. I had two days to come up with $40,000. My best solution was to kill myself. I’m very open about this, and I’m not trying to downplay it, but it was a low point. Why I’m telling this story is, of course, I didn’t. My life got much better. When I got home, I started cleaning old ladies’ attics.
So when I’m with a hoarder, talking to them, and they’re telling me their story, I totally get it. I’ve been there. If you haven’t had a challenge, if you haven’t had anything gone wrong, I don’t really want to hang out with you. You don’t have any good stories. I went to my 20-year college reunion the other day. We were not like, “Oh, hey, yeah, guys. Remember that time we studied really hard and got A’s? That was awesome!” [John and Sherry laugh] That’s not the story that you tell. It’s like, “Remember that time we got hammered, and we rolled a tire down the street and hit a cop car? Yeah, it was awesome!” [John and Sherry laugh] That’s a true story, by the way.
Sherry: Good aim!
John: Or bad aim. I don’t know. [laughs]
Matt: Let me tell you. It was very bad aim. Even the cop laughed at me. He’s like, “What are you doing at 2:00 in the morning wearing a Hawaiian shirt rolling tires down the street?”
John: Just making memories, bud! [Sherry laughs]
Matt: Yeah. He’s like, “Just go home, man. Just go home.” [Matt and Sherry laugh] Anyway, point is, everybody’s messed up. So, obviously, when you’re working with a hoarder, don’t think about what they’re doing wrong. Think about what you’ve done wrong and connect at that level.
John: Again, when I watched the show, I didn’t see myself so separately from the same types of issues. Different scale, but we still have this complicated relationship with stuff that we have to navigate every day.
Matt: Every day.
John: So I wonder, for the people that are listening who don’t have this extreme situation but are still trying to get a handle on whatever level of clutter they have in their house, or disorganization, maybe we could talk a little bit about what you’ve learned through your experience that could help those people out as well.
Matt: Perfect. Thank you for going this route. This is half of my business now. I help families downsize when they’re trying to move out of their big house they lived in 50 years, or we help people clean up the house after someone has passed away. You have to remember, you cannot do this in a day. It took maybe 50 years to fill a house, sometimes 20 years. You’re not going to clean it in two days. You have to get in that mindset. So I say, “Hey, look at it in one foot by one foot areas.” I do—I call it a 10-minute sweep. Every night, I want you to clean one foot of your house. Get your dishes done, get dinner wrapped up. I get the entire family involved. I don’t care who’s there. Before bedtime, everybody cleans for 10 minutes. And then, when we’re done, guess what? We’re done.
John: I see that can work on both halves of the problem, potentially, because if you already have a mess that’s overwhelming, you can chip away at it. It also helps with the maintenance on the backend.
Matt: Exactly. If you don’t clean your house for, say, the summer, it starts to overwhelm you, and you just can’t get ahead. I mean, one of the other rules I have is always unpack a bag.
Sherry: We’re maniacs! We get back from trips and do it right away – I think it’s just because the longer it sits on the ground, the less likely I am to do it. But if I do it right away, I do it.
Matt: Yeah, and it’s done. Groceries are a great example. That’s the only one we really automatically put away. Groceries, we put away because we don’t want the food to perish.
Matt: But look at all your stuff that way. The stuff will perish in a hoarded house if you don’t unpack it. So the Target bags—that’s what I find at the bottom of most houses. Target bags that have not been unpacked. We get home from shopping, and we’re like, “Ugh, I’m tired.” We put the bag down, and then life starts. This isn’t hoarding. This is just life, regular-day life.
John: And then you can’t remember whether you bought it, so you go out and buy it again.
Matt: Exactly. And don’t underestimate the mental space that takes up when you leave those bags. It becomes another task in your mental checklist.
John: Yeah. I find that’s one of the big reasons, I think, that we try to stay on top of our clutter is because it’s so tightly tied to our mental state. When our house feels out of order, we feel out of order.
Sherry: Yeah. Well, I think probably—now that I’m thinking about it, some of my aversion to cluttered bags might actually have to do with the person I love who has the hoarding tendencies. I think I might see things as worse than they are. If I leave a bunch of bags, and my friends come over, I say, “Oh, my gosh. My house is a mess!” My friends are like, “Stop making me feel bad. Your house is not a mess. Don’t say that. It’s such a fake out.” I’m like, “Literally, in my brain, my house is a mess!” It’s like a weird mental thing.
Matt: It is subjective. I think an average home should not look like something you see in a magazine.
Matt: Your house should not be perfect. It should be lived in. It should be lived in on a daily basis. That’s why I always come back to the 10-minute sweep. If you clean together as a family, the house will never really get far away from it.
Sherry: So let’s say that someone doesn’t think that 10 minutes at night will help with their crazy attic or if they have some other really cluttered area —we have a garage that gets really bad sometimes. What should they do?
Matt: Yeah. I would an hour at a time and take a break in between. Where you get into trouble is one partner is like, “Well, I’m going to clean the garage today. I know you’ve got to go work out, but I’m going to do this.” Then you start making yourself a martyr, and you start blaming each other for not helping. So everyone has to buy into it. Do an hour, and then every hour, a break. You’ve got to break every hour. I clean estates a lot now in my new business, Legacy Navigator. So oftentimes, I’m going through a house with three adult children. They grew up in this house, often. So I’m going through their 1980s bedroom with them, or I’m going through their attic, like you’re saying, or I’m going through the garage with them. But it’s three kids that just lost somebody, so they’re sad. Just a regular person cleaning a regular garage, it’s not as sad. Still, break in an hour for 10 minutes. Get water, get some food, and then tell a story about something cool you found. Just tell that story because what it does is it gets the emotions up. That’s really what stuff’s about. Stuff’s about emotions. It’s not about the physical stuff. So not only does it give you a mental break, but it separates you from the stuff. It’ll make you get rid of more things.
John: Oh, that’s interesting.
Sherry: It will free you from actual possessions because you realize the story is what you value.
Matt: Yeah. It’s not about the stuff. It’s never about the stuff.
Sherry: This makes me actually think of something I recently got asked. John and I had built a dollhouse for our daughter. It was years ago, probably four, five years ago.
John: Yeah. She was three. She’s almost eight now.
Sherry: Right. So she’s eight, and she doesn’t care about it anymore. I said to her, “Do you want the dollhouse still in this corner of the closet, or do you want a desk, and you can write in there or do something that you do much more often these days?” She was immediately like, “Yeah. I don’t care about the dollhouse. Let’s get me a desk.” It was an exciting moment to make her room work better for her because it was just sitting there getting dusty.
Matt: I know the “but” here. What’s the “but” part of it?
Sherry: Well, so I thought, we made it. Should we keep it? Then I was like, “No. You know what? We made it. We can make another one.” So I Craigslisted it. Our readers, maybe four or five of them, said, “I can’t believe you Craigslisted that! Why wouldn’t you want to save it for your grandkids?” I was like, “You know what? When I have grandkids, they’re going to be into something, and I’m going to make them the thing they really love. What if they don’t want that dollhouse because their dolls are a different scale?” We have the skills to create something super customized for them. And we enjoy that.
John: Or it’s the future, and it’s all holograms anyways. [Sherry laughs]
Matt: Yeah! So you’re hitting on a couple of really important topics. One, when you want to downsize your kids’ stuff, you did the right thing. It’s not your choice. It’s your kids’ choice. Believe it or not, seniors and kids behave the same way. You can’t go into a senior’s house and say, “Hey, I need to get rid of some books. Tell me all the books you want to get rid of.” That’s too big. Same thing with a kid. You can’t say, “Hey, man, tell me all the stuff you want to get rid of.” With both groups, kids and seniors, you need to give very finite numbers. You say, “Hey, give me two items I can rid of on this shelf.” Don’t say, “Pick ten toys.” Say, “Pick two.” They can achieve that. That’s realistic. I can see it. The last rule we haven’t done is equal in, equal out.
John: That’s a rule that we’ve started using in the stuffed animal realm for our children. They see one, and they’re like, “Oh, I want to bring this one home.” I said, “That’s fine, but you have a full basket, so it means one of those has to go out.” That gets them thinking a bit more about how important this new purchase is.
Matt: Now, you’re really getting to the point, which is, what’s important to the person, the individual, and is it really worth the cash value?
Matt: Now, easy to have that rule with stuffed animals. Let’s have that rule with tools.
John: Nope. [Sherry laughs]
Matt: It’s hard. I mean, I put you in that corner on purpose. It’s really, really hard.
Sherry: Well, we had all this scrap wood and all these old screws and bolts, and I was like, what’s happening is we’re not using it. We’re going to the store and getting what we need for the new build. The scrap wood just sits there; it never gets used. John’s like, “Well, maybe I might need this size for another project later.” But it, literally, is like five years old. We did a purge, and I said: “Listen. We have the capability to go buy what we need and build as we go.” We do still have a small scrap wood pile, but it’s thankfully not the size of the shed anymore.
John: Yeah. [teasing] Is this my therapy session now? [Sherry laughs]
Matt: I might have gotten an email from your wife earlier on this. [Sherry laughs] Here’s the deal, man. We all came here with nothing. You were born with nothing. You were born with your mom and dad. That’s it. I get cheesy, and I’ll say it’s just about family, but that’s really all it is about. The rest of it is just stuff. I mean, I’ve dealt with really extreme situations on hoarding, and now I deal with the families at the end of their life when they’re getting through their stuff.
John: Well, that was actually the last thing I wanted to ask you about because I feel like you probably are getting to see all the stuff that people collect and build up over the years that isn’t needed. So I’m curious. What are those items that you’re seeing most frequently that have built up, that families are having to deal with at the end of someone’s life?
Matt: Yeah. Books are a huge, huge thing. We find tons of books. I’m okay with books. I’m okay with people not making decisions on books. Books are very personal. Old clothes. I’d say three sizes and below, you can get rid of. I mean, like, I’m wearing a size 36 jean. I finally got rid of my 28s and my 30s because, guess what, I’m never going to get back down to my 28s. Get rid of the clothes. I will tell you the brown furniture, the really, really fancy furniture that our parents had, that’s a real pain in the butt to deal with. The china. Nobody wants the china and the silver anymore. Most of the time, the adult children are left with all this stuff. We get an enormous amount of old kids’ artwork.
John: Wow. That’s interesting.
Matt: Yeah. I call it “mediocre artwork.” I mean, I have a massive pile in my house of every piece of my kids’—my kids are four, six, and eight. So they’re bringing home one or two pieces of art every day. What we’ve now finally started doing is, we pick one piece of art per week per kid. At the end of the month, we go through those 4 -5 things and we keep one favorite. So at the end of the year, we have 12 absolute favorite pieces of art.
John: When my parents downsized from the house I grew up in, my mom went through the process ahead of that move of giving a lot of stuff down to us. There was a several-month period that has trickled now even to today, which is five years, six years later, since they’ve moved, where I’m getting these little momentoes that they had kept of me for themselves. Now, they’re realizing, well, they don’t have a space or use for this, so it’s coming to me. Then I’m like, “Okay. This is funny for a moment. What am I going to do with this old letter I wrote my grandma?”
Matt: Let me give you advice there. So if the moms are listening—if grandmas are listening—
John: My mom is listening. [Sherry laughs]
Matt: Yes. Okay. So, Mom? If you’re listening, Mom, here’s the deal. You’re allowed to give deadlines because a lot of times our generation uses our parents’ house as a storage unit. Even though we have our own house, we’re like, “Mom, you can’t throw away my old Legos, but I’m not going to come get them.” So my mom finally said, “Look. Here’s a firm date. If you don’t come get it by December 5, I’m tossing it.” So set those rules. Come pick them up. And then, for us, John, you did the right thing. You take it from your parents, and you say, “Ah, thanks. This is awesome. I really appreciate it.” And guess what? It’s now yours. You can do whatever you want to do with it.
John: I think a lot of that is giving it so that they don’t have to be the ones that throw it away and feel like they are trashing some memory. They’re putting that decision on me to make.
Sherry: And then we laugh for five minutes. There’s always something hilarious about the old thing, and there’s a reason they kept it.
Matt: Yeah, we’re coming back to: keep the story, and then get rid of the item. You don’t need it anymore. I say you’re going to take ten items from your parents’ house when they pass away. Ten items is what you’re going to have space for in your house. And the Millennials listening? Believe it or not, it’s going to be less. The trending on housing is smaller, not bigger. We’re the last generation to buy big houses, and we’ve got multiple generations passing stuff down to us. We keep about 5% after someone passes away, and then we’re charged with disposing, either trashing, donating, or selling the rest. If you don’t need the money, donate the items. Somebody needs your stuff somewhere.
John: Well, thanks so much, Matt. This was fascinating.
Matt: Thanks, guys! I appreciate it, man. I’ll talk to you soon!
John: Talk to you later.
[Phone disconnection sound]
John: If you guys want to learn more about Matt Paxton and what he does now with his company, Legacy Navigator, I will put a link to their website in the Show Notes. I will also put a YouTube compilation of some highlights from him on Hoarders, if you’re just trying to place what he looks like from having watched the show years ago. And I’ll put a link to his book, which is called The Secret Lives of Hoarders. So that will all be in the Show Notes for this episode at younghouselove.com/podcast.
Sherry: Okay. Up next, we have “We’re Digging,” which I feel like, one is very home-related, kind of expected, rational. One is really out there; it has nothing to do with home.
John: It’s something we do in our home.
Sherry: So, anyway, we’ll get to that in a second. But first, we have to take a quick break.
[Ad music begins]
Sherry: As I mentioned at the start of the episode, this Thursday is International Women’s Day, which has been around for over 100 years. Actually, when I was researching the very first one, I realized it fell on my birthday, March 19th, but in 1911. So I was negative 71-years-old.
John: So not even a glimmer in your mom’s eye. I don’t think your mom was a glimmer in someone’s eye.
Sherry: [Laughs] It was like three generations back. Anyway, this year, it’s on Thursday, March 8th, and it’s a worldwide holiday that celebrates the accomplishments of women all across the globe. Our sponsor this week, West Elm, is making sure that everybody has a way to celebrate it.
John: Yeah. They actually shared with us that over 70%, I think 73%, of their team is female.
Sherry: Yeah, and that goes through all levels of West Elm, from artists and designers to the factory owners, and even top executives. Even the people we talk to to plan these podcasts are women.
John: So all of this is to say, that women are a huge part of West Elm and why they’re committed to supporting and celebrating women every day, but especially this week.
Sherry: Yes. So this Thursday, again, it’s March 8th, head to any West Elm store for an International Women’s Day celebration. It’ll include pop-ups from local female makers and entrepreneurs. They’ve even got a special International Women’s Day item that will contribute $5 to Girl Up, which is the United Nations Foundation to promote gender equality worldwide.
John: So you can go to westelm.com/stores to find your closest location and to learn more about what they are specifically doing to celebrate International Women’s Day. Again, that’s at westelm.com/stores.
[Ad music ends]
John: Last week, you guys might remember I was digging sort of a tool basic that I feel that everyone should have. This week, I’m going to hit you with another one. Just brace yourselves.
Sherry: I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.
John: Oh, you’re ready.
[Fresh funky beat that just makes you want to dance]
John: When I was putting together last week’s Show Notes, I linked to that old post we had written about five of our must-have power tools. I realized, because we were only doing power tools in that list, I left out some essential non-power tools. One, recently, that has been a big lifesaver for me have been my clamps. I’m saying clamps, C-L-A-M-P-S. I realized these don’t get enough gratitude in the tool world. They are really important – really helpful for lots of projects, and I just use them all the time. And, specifically, I’m talking about my bar clamps. I’ve also seen them called trigger clamps. I was trying to research to make sure I have my terminology correct. The ones I have, they’re by Irwin. I picked them up who knows how long ago. They’re different than what I think are called spring clamps, that kind of look like a pincher or like a big chip clip.
Sherry: Oh, yeah.
John: Those are helpful as well, but what I use more often are these bar clamps, or trigger clamps, that are like a really long bar, almost like a stretched-out C or a stretched-out question mark. They have a wider mouth, so you can clamp larger items together, or thicker boards together.
Sherry: Right. They were really helpful when we were building the bunkbeds because even though we had two sets of hands, it’s hard to be sure you’re holding things exactly lined up or to make sure nothing shifts when you drill into it. The clamps really keep things secure, and you’re sure it’s not going to move as the drill goes in. It’s almost like a caulk gun, if you guys know how that works.
John: Yeah, that’s a good analogy.
Sherry: Kind of like “trigger, trigger, trigger, trigger, trigger” and then you’re ready to use the caulk gun. That’s how we use the clamps. You just kind of pull the trigger a few times, and it’s tightly held, and it’s not going to shift.
John: I use them at the beach house all the time when I’m cutting things with my circular saw because I can clamp things to my sawhorses to make sure that they’re not shifting while I’m using my saw. The last thing you want to happen when you’re using a saw is for your material to move. So I’m shouting them out as something that’s not exciting at all, not something you’d think to have in your tool repertoire, because it doesn’t really do something fun like cut or attach things together – but they’re great.
Sherry: It’s like the unsung hero of DIY. [laughs]
John: Well, it’s like the backbone. I highly recommend them for yourself or as a gift for someone because, even they don’t really seem thrilled when they open it, down the road, they will think of you often when they realize how helpful those clamps are. I promise.
Sherry: What I can promise you is that what I’m digging this week will bring a smile to your face. It will make you laugh regardless of the crazy political news, weather, anything annoying that’s happening. When I’m watching this show, it’s like Snoop and Martha. Do you remember when we talked about Snoop and Martha’s show and how these two unlikely friends just make you smile.
John: Yeah, this is a detour. Let’s bring it back. So you are digging…
Sherry: Ellen’s Game of Games. Anyone who watches Ellen knows, she just makes you smile. To watch Ellen is a gift.
John: We’re talking about Ellen DeGeneres, here, the talk show host/comedian.
Sherry: Yes. And now, she has this show called Ellen’s Game of Games. I think it’s on NBC.
John: Yeah, it’s on NBC. We watch it on the NBC app, like the On Demand app. We don’t really watch her daytime talk show. I mean, every once in a while, we’ll catch a viral clip or whatever, but I guess she plays a lot of these really silly games on the show itself. Contestants will compete in some weird, wacky showdown. So they have compiled it now into a primetime show, where it’s just a bunch of these games all together.
Sherry: The reason I’m digging it is because anyone who listens has heard us mention things we like to watch short little things with our kids some nights after dinner. An example would be like OK Go videos on YouTube. We were looking for a new show to just sort of sit down and watch, maybe 10 minutes, before bed, that wasn’t another YouTube video.
John: Yeah, it’s hard to find something that keeps the interest of us, the parents, and then an almost eight-year-old and an almost four-year-old.
Sherry: Right. It’s a special thing that intersects all of those quadrants. And so, we decided to just put on Ellen’s Game of Games. Why not? We all were just laughing and having so much fun. It’s really silly. There’s nothing about it that’s serious—it’s almost like—remember Nickelodeon’s Slime?
John: Yeah. It’s like a Double Dare episode, but with adults.
Sherry: Yeah! It’s very silly. My very favorite part is she does this thing where everyone’s blindfolded. It’s musical chairs, but they’re feeling around on the ground. The chairs rise up from the floor, and they’re made of like padded foam.
John: Picture a small, padded ottoman rising out of the floor suddenly.
Sherry: And people are blindfolded, so they’re feeling around desperately so that they can put their butt on that popped up seat first. And then, you know, the last person to find it is eliminated, and so goes the game. There’s something so funny about it, and Ellen is so funny about it. Just watching Ellen laugh makes me laugh. It’s all done in such lightheartedness. I feel like the contestants are very excitable. It’s like The Price is Right. You know how you know the reason those people get chosen is because they’re screaming and dancing.
John: When you watch Ellen’s Game of Games, you know in the background there is a producer somewhere going, “More excited! More energy!” Everyone is hopping up like they have taken some sort of magical pill [Sherry laughs] that has them amped up, ready to go. I feel like it would be a lot of fun to be on that show, but I could not produce the amount of energy they require. [laughs]
[Outro music begins]
Sherry: Thanks for listening to Young House Love Has A Podcast.
John: Hey, and if you know someone who might enjoy this episode, you know, maybe someone who could use some decluttering advice or is struggling with a loved one who has some hoarding tendencies, please feel free to pass this along. Most podcast apps have sharing functions built right in, or you can just send them a link to our Show Notes, which will have a player embedded in it.
Sherry: And keep telling us what you do while you listen, like About Progress on Instagram, who listened while walking curbs trying to get baby number four to come out into the world.
John: I remember that stage.
Sherry: I also got a follow up from her, and baby Elliott arrived safely. So yay! Congratulations!
John: And, of course, we’ve got more info, photos, and links over at younghouselove.com/podcast, including some of our past episodes where we interviewed other cleaning and organizing experts.
Sherry: And a link to my Lively Show podcast interview where she explains why The Secret isn’t making everyone a millionaire.
John: Dang it!
Sherry: I know. It’s very interesting!
[Theme music ends]
John: Can I get a volume check for you?
Sherry: [Singing] I’m wearing my new slippers! They’re so comfortable. [Salesman voice] My feet have never felt so luxurious. New slippers by Target, featuring Minnie Mouse.