Matt Paxton, a professional “extreme cleaner” and one of the stars of A&E’s “Hoarders,” drove up to Lisbon last June on his first trip to the state and pulled into the driveway with a yard of junked cars, ready to get to work.

Except he’d pulled up to the wrong house.

“They just laughed. ‘We’re just from Maine, man, we’re not hoarders,'” said Paxton in a phone interview from his home in Virginia this week. “It made me realize, this is a different mentality (in this state) and you have to respect that. Everybody kept telling me, ‘Dude, that’s so Maine.'”

The hit A&E show, now in its eighth season, filmed its first episode in the Pine Tree State last summer. Details are tightly under wraps until it airs March 13 at 8 p.m. except for the barest of teases from Paxton: It involves a single-family home passed down through several generations. One sister lives in it, one doesn’t, and there had been tension.

And the inside was pretty bad.

A local ServiceMaster crew hauled out seven 40-yard Dumpsters’ worth of you-name-it.


“I will say this is a very complicated case — we definitely had some ups and downs throughout that process,” Paxton said. “What I’ll say is it was a phenomenal example of what hoarding can do, both good and bad. We saw multiple things happen, and you’ve got to watch to the end, man, because hoarding is not a simple thing. You will see parts of your own family in every episode. That’s what I love about this show.”

On the series, professionals come into a person’s home and try to work through the clutter and underlying issues that lead to the extreme living situation. 

“There was some code enforcement violations on this specific episode, so we had a very strict deadline: We had to get ‘X’ done by ‘X’ time,” he said.

For the Lisbon episode, someone had reached out to the show on the homeowner’s behalf. During three days of the seven-day shoot, Steve Cox’s 10-man ServiceMaster Fire & Water Restoration crew donned protective gear and respirators and hauled out 20,000-plus pounds of accumulated stuff.

Cox co-owns franchises in Auburn and Falmouth.

“In this case it was nice because the homeowner was actually looking for help with her hoarding situation,” Cox said. “A lot of times, when we show up, we’re not necessarily there because the homeowner wants us to be.”


More often, his crew is called in after a flood, fire or mold, or after a fire department or code enforcement office has flagged safety issues. He’s cleared out places just as bad before.

“There are all different types of hoarders — there’s memorabilia hoarders, there’s information hoarders. We’ve had some pet hoarders and that can be difficult,” Cox said. “I’d say the worst one that we’ve done was a meat hoarder, where they didn’t have the refrigerated space to store it. So we had to clean it all out and disinfect and sanitize everything.”

Yes, that’s rooms of meat.

“That one was sad,” he said. “We cleaned everything, had everything ready to go, spic and span, and as we were pulling out the Schwan’s truck was pulling in. What we do is just cleaning. We’re there to help with the symptom, but the folks really need to get some psychological help, or within weeks they will be right back to where they were.”

At the Lisbon home, everything was brought to a sorting tent set up on the lawn. That’s where Dawna Hall of OrganizeMe in Portland and Lisa Luken of Simple Joy Living in Kennebunk had their sleeves rolled up.

Because of the enormity of the project, they created a “maybe” pile for the homeowner, boxed other obviously useful belongings — a blender, a grill — to head back inside, and banished other things — trinkets, anything yard sale-ish — to the trash.


“On day two, I was in tears, like, ‘Oh my god, this poor woman,'” Hall said. “I didn’t think I’d get sucked in like I did. Usually it’s just me and a client and we’re doing one shelf at a time, one closet at a time, very slow and steady. So the pace was a little overwhelming and very emotional, but I’m glad I did it. I got to see behind the scenes and how this all works.”

Paxton, who owns a cleaning business and estimates he’s cleared out more than 2,000 hoarded homes, said it’s a very trying process. If families can afford to do it in private — hoarding-level cleanings can run into the tens of thousands of dollars — he encourages people to do it that way.

“Think about it: This is the ugliest thing about you, and hey, let’s put it on national TV for the world to see. It’s not anyone’s first choice,” Paxton said. “We do give them a year of therapy on the back end. Without the therapy, it’s not appropriate, we don’t think. They get a free cleanup, one of the top cleaners in the country, one of the top therapists is on set the entire time and that’s to work with the family and the person that’s struggling with hoarding.”

Paxton estimated 10 million to 14 million people in the U.S. are affected by hoarding behavior. It frequently traces back to a trauma: loss of a job or a family member, or abuse.

“They’re looking for happiness and self-worth in stuff,” Paxton said. For the Lisbon homeowner, “there were a couple tragedies in this person’s life, and here we are 20 years later. No one wakes up, ‘Hey, I want to ruin my life and have a mental disorder that just paralyzes me, costs me my friends.’ No one wants that.”

Cox said it’s rewarding to look back and see a homeowner helped, in taking a “terrible situation” and making space livable again.


“It was a tremendous learning experience: both everything Matt brought to the table and seeing how something like that is put together,” he said. “It was over a long, hot weekend in June, but I think everyone appreciated being part of something like that.”

Paxton learned a few things, too, like how Mainers tick.

“When you get up north, this is a survival mentality, this is not like Phoenix or not like New York or Alabama,” he said. “People are (also) very private in Maine and you have to respect that. We had to adjust our skill set. We couldn’t be in their face all day; we had to give them more breaks. We had to be very respectful of her privacy and we had to be very respectful of these generations past. This mother and father that built this homestead, they were celebrated by this whole family. And in other situations, I’m cleaning in Phoenix, that doesn’t even come up. It was just so interesting to me, the different aspects.”

And he had a good laugh with the neighbors whose home he’d mistakenly pulled up to. They told him the junked cars were like a savings account; they’d eventually sell them for scrap, which made sense.

“What’s hoarding? When you lose your family, friends, when it’s a public safety issue because of the stuff,” Paxton said. “Their next-door neighbors were fine. There were no code issues and their family members were all healthy. Literally, next door, this lady’s health was challenged because of hoarding and her safety was challenged because of hoarding, so that’s what crossed the line. It was a great example of literally 200 feet from each other, one was considered hoarding and the other was not.”


This story was updated on March 9 to reflect the new air time.

Hoarding can be a sign of a serious mental health condition

Suspect a loved one has a problem?

Look for grief or loss, and speak up.

“You start to see every day they’re getting a box from Amazon or a box from QVC. You can’t fix it, but you sure can address it. Say, ‘Hey, I love you, I’m a little bit worried about you. Can we get you some help?'” said professional “extreme cleaner” Matt Paxton from A&E’s “Hoarders.”

“The goal is people get help early. As nasty and as gross as some of these houses can get, you have to remember this is someone that is sick, mentally. They’re a good person; something bad has happened.”

Not sure what’s hoarding and what’s just a lot of stuff?


The nonprofit Institute for Challenging Disorganization has a Clutter-Hoarding Scale assessment.

Say it’s not hoarding, just large-scale chaos. Keep these organizational tips in mind?

“Clutter is postponed decisions,” said Dawna Hall, owner of OrganizeME in Portland. “Something can always be put away or thrown away.”

Every item should have a home — find it or toss it. For every new thing that comes into the house, one must go.

“Usually what happens is a room starts to become cluttered, they will pick up all the stuff — all those bits hanging around — and throw it into a bag or two, and then that bag gets shoved into a closet, never to be dealt with or seen again,” Hall said.

“Then it starts accumulating again. All of a sudden you have this one closet full of bags of stuff that needs to be dealt with. That happens often. Instead of throwing it in a bag in the closet, deal with it then. That’s what I help people with; that’s where they become paralyzed. ‘I want to put it away, but I don’t know where. Do I even need it?'”

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