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VOL. 128 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 8, 2013

‘Hoarders’ Star Partners With ServiceMaster

By Michael Waddell

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“Hoarders” television personality and Clutter Cleaner owner Matt Paxton met this week with ServiceMaster Clean and Restore franchisees and staff at the ServiceMaster Training Academy to discuss their newly formed partnership and examine hoarding, which has been officially listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

“Hoarders” TV personality and Clutter Cleaner owner Matt Paxton met this week with ServiceMaster reps.

(Submitted Photo)

Paxton and Clutter Cleaner recently partnered with Memphis-based The ServiceMaster Co.’s Clean and Restore divisions to expand the reach of specialized hoarding and estate cleaning services on a national scale. Between 5 million and 14 million people in the U.S. are compulsive hoarders.

“For hoarders, it really is not about stuff. Hoarding is an emotional disorder that manifests itself out as trash. A hoarder is generally a very caring person,” said Paxton, who offered training and insight to help attendees better understand the mindset of hoarders. “For the past seven years, we’ve traveled the country, cleaning thousands of houses and helping families.”

As the TV show “Hoarders” grew in popularity over the past six years and awareness of hoarding increased, Richmond, Va.-based Clutter Cleaner began fielding more job inquiries, reaching more than 1,000 requests per month that it could not handle due to its size. So Paxton began searching for a partner with an established network to help more people in need.

“One of the things that we are always looking for are service expansion opportunities, ways to identify new customers,” said Bobby Lewis, ServiceMaster vice president of innovation and project management. “Our partnership with Clutter Cleaner is a co-branded, co-marketed deal because we see strength in both brands. Matt brings more than eight years of experience dealing with hoarders, and we see this as a growing segment and an opportunity to more effectively service those people.”

Lewis feels the partnership differentiates itself from other services due to a focus on helping the person get help with their problem. Clutter Cleaner takes each customer through a checklist to examine their hoarding and figure out ways to break the habit before the job is submitted to ServiceMaster.

“Our approach is to get to know the hoarders and their families, and then tailoring solutions around their emotions and not their stuff,” said Paxton, who spends 10 to 20 hours with families before cleanup begins. “There’s no way to cure hoarding just by taking the stuff out of the house. If you don’t get therapy of some kind and you don’t deal with the mental side of it in some way, the house absolutely will fill back up.”

Clients are guided to local therapists, social workers and adult protective agencies to help address their disorder.

“There’s always a reason the hoarding starts. Usually something tragic happens as a trigger, such as depression or grief from loss of a job or family member, some sort of abuse, or divorce,” Paxton said. “I’ve never really met a bad hoarder. They are usually good people that something bad has happened to. Every hoarder starts out with a normal, clean house and a happy life.”

He is seeing the problem of hoarding advance as technology increases, with people able to stay shut in their homes while consuming more and more online and through television.

There are hoarders of all ages and backgrounds, and they save everything from papers, tools, clothes, antiques, collectibles, food, and other items from everyday life to animals, animal feces, trash and dirt, creating dangerously unsanitary living conditions.

Hoarders are classified from Level 1 to Level 5, with Level 5 often including extreme depression leading to major structural damage of their homes like severe mold, odors, bugs and cobwebs, and entire floors and rooms being blocked off. A Level 5 hoarder struggles with daily tasks such as eating, sleeping and using the restroom.

“When I started Clutter Cleaner seven years ago, the average duration to fill a house was 20 years, and it’s now probably 10 to 12 years,” said Paxton, who appeared on roughly 60 of the 80-plus episodes of the popular TV show during its six-year run, which ended earlier this year. The show is now in syndication and is just debuting in some countries.

A couple of memorably extreme jobs for Paxton included removing 18,000 used and recycled adult diapers from one home and removing 300 cats from one 1,800-square-foot home.

A typical clean-up cost of a compulsive hoarder’s home is estimated to average between $12,000 and $18,000, and Paxton explained that, overall, very little of the stuff is actually thrown away, with most being donated, sold or recycled.

ServiceMaster Restore currently has more than 1,000 franchisees, and Lewis expects that number to grow thanks to the new partnership.

“We are already seeing interest because of the partnership,” he said. “We have a plan over the next three years to certify and train 150 of our franchisees, and the idea is to be operating in partnership with Clutter Cleaner in 150 markets over three years.”

ServiceMaster is also making an investment this year to put some of its products on retail shelves, and as part of the new agreement Paxton will serve as a spokesman.

Both sides hope that a potential new TV show, being pitched now by Paxton, could help to widen the footprint of the partnership even further in the next couple of years.

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