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The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter

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On the front lines with extreme hoarders

The Secret Lives of Hoarders is much more than harrowing tales of attacking the ugliest, dirtiest, and most shocking hoarding cases in the country. It is a behind-the-scenes look at this hidden epidemic- what it means, how to recognize it before it gets out of hand, and how to deal with it.

Through his work with hundreds of clients in the worst circumstances- from the giant "rat's nest" that hid more than $13,000 in cash to a vast cache of cartoon pornography to twenty-five years' worth of unopened mail-Matt Paxton has learned to understand this disorder and his clients' impulses to collect, to speak the hoarders' language, and to reach out to them with compassion and concern while avoiding criticism and judgment. Most important, he guides compulsive hoarders successfully through every step of the clean-up and healing process.

The Secret Lives of Hoarders is an engrossing and sometimes unsettling look at extreme clutter but one that helps hoarders, their families, and their friends to find meaning in the chaos.

256 pages, Paperback

First published April 12, 2011

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Matt Paxton

3 books34 followers

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5 stars
137 (17%)
4 stars
255 (32%)
3 stars
290 (37%)
2 stars
89 (11%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 123 reviews
Profile Image for Janette Fuller.
216 reviews34 followers
May 16, 2011
According to a study by Johns Hopkins University,there are an estimated 12 million hoarders in the United States. Hoarding is not about how much stuff a person has. It's about how we process things. Most people can easily make decisions about what to keep and what to toss or donate, and then they follow through. A hoarder can't.
Matt Paxton, founder of Clutter Cleaner and star of the A & E Reality Show Hoarders, has written a book about some of his experiences working with hoarders.
"The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter" is a first-hand account of how Mr. Paxton and his team help hoarders deal with the "stuff" in their lives. He does not dwell on the details of the clutter. He explores the causes of hoarding and the solutions to overcoming this problem. Mr. Paxton explains that hoarding isn't a character flaw. It's not laziness or forgetfulness. It's a mental disorder. The author works with therapists and psychologists to gain knowledge about this disorder. Mr. Paxton explains the five stages of hoarding and has identified the following kinds of hoarding;

The Animal Rescuer
The Information Junkie
The Shopaholic
The Do-It-Yourselfer
The Collector
The Food Saver
The Clothes Hoarder
The Memory Keeper
The Trash Master Compactor (Bags of trash that never get taken out to the curb or recycle items that never get recycled.)

The author explains exactly how he and his team approach a hoarder, work with the hoarder and his family, actually clean out a house and the process of staying clean. There is an excellent "Resources" section at the end of the book. The author lists organizations, top treatment centers, support groups and additional books to read.

I Found This Book Informative, Fascinating and Hopeful BECAUSE....
it gives a well-researched, comprehensive overview of a growing problem that society tends to sweep under the rug. I was very impressed with the sensitivity that the author displayed in dealing with this complex issue.
After reading this book, I am much better prepared to deal with my own hoarding tendencies and hopefully be a help to others who are dealing with this problem. The real-life examples that the author presented demonstrated that this is a problem that touches all ages and socio-economic groups. The follow-up reports on people that the author has worked with shows that not all stories have happy endings. Sometimes the hoarders go through the clean-up process but are not mentally ready to stop hoarding. Mr. Paxton is very realistic and honest about what has to happen before real change can take place.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who might be struggling with this issue in their own life or dealing with the hoarding of a loved one.

Profile Image for Jeannie.
532 reviews25 followers
June 5, 2011
This was interesting but kind of got boring for me...now this could be because I'm a faithful viewer of the show and have learned most of what he discusses from there...not sure. All I know is I went gung-ho into reading this one as soon as I bought it and it just fizzled out for me. Matt is a true pro in what he does and really cares about the people he works with and I give him a huge thumbs up for that!
Profile Image for Diana Santoso.
438 reviews
June 17, 2020
I read this thinking I would read stories and anecdotes about hoarders. Who knows this is quite a deep book with a lot of insights to the minds of the hoarders, how to best address the problem, the techniques and sources he uses and applies in his works. Very interesting and also thorough!
Profile Image for Kat Montemayor.
Author 9 books223 followers
July 2, 2020
Behind the scenes

If you are a fan of the show, this book gives you a more in depth and behind the scenes look at what hoarders and their families experience. There are even follow-up at the end.
Profile Image for Kitty Jay.
333 reviews20 followers
August 25, 2016
Somewhat embarrassingly, I had to dig under a pile of papers on my desk to find this book. The Secret Lives of Hoarders by Matt Paxton, however, does a marvelous job of explaining the difference between "messy" and "hoarding".

I have never seen the show Hoarders, which always struck me by the way people spoke of it as vaguely exploitative. I know a number of people who watch the show purely to motivate them to clean their houses, and to gasp in revulsion at the detritus that accumulates in a hoarder's home. That said, Paxton does an admirable job of resisting the urge to write a tell-all, gross-out memoir of his professional cleaning days to grab money from people gleefully reading about hoarders (despite what the cover looks like, I might add). He writes about them with dignity, empathy, and compassion. Though he does mention some of the horrific things he's found, he is always quick to point out that this is a mental illness, and usually a reaction to some kind of trauma that compels people to collect things and never throw them away.

Though not a doctor, he also does research into it, all with the purpose of better helping those who hire his services. Here is a person who legitimately, genuinely works to help people, and who actively seeks out more knowledge in order to better help them. The more I read, the more I was impressed by him. Even I was shuddering at places, at some of the things he described, and I doubt I could do his job with even an ounce of the apparent gallons of sympathy he possesses.

The book reads more like a how-to guide for dealing with a loved one who is a hoarder. It explores why people hoard, including the underlying mental illnesses that can trigger hoarding as well as the local issues ("Why can't they just throw away their food wrappers?"), what people hoard, how to address hoarding in a loved one, and what not to do and what to do when helping someone in that situation.

If you're looking for that gross-out, horror story compilation, this is not it. This is, instead, a very solid, thoughtful look by a man who demonstrates his compassion and sympathy for people suffering from a serious mental illness.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
58 reviews
May 23, 2018
This guy gently and clearly looks at the issue of hoarding. He views those with the compulsion to hoard with such compassion and shares the insight he has gained in the trenches while working with these people and their families to win back their lives. I love how he always seeks to empower the individual with hoarding issues, intuitively knowing that they need to be in charge of their own change for it to stick. It is actually quite amazing. The book is uncluttered with jargon or academic information and instead is full of practical tips, steps, and information. If you have anyone in your life who displays hoarder tendencies, this book will help you approach the situation with care and love, making success all the more likely.
Profile Image for Sirena.
142 reviews10 followers
September 26, 2015
This book was not what I expected. I guess I was hoping for more of the show, "Hoarders." I thought it was going to be stories about hoarders -- which there were some -- but most of it was about what to do with hoarders. The first quarter of the book was good but since I'm not dealing with a hoarding situation, the rest of the book lost my interest. BUT if you have someone in your life who IS a hoarder, this book is chock full of information and I would highly recommend.
429 reviews12 followers
July 12, 2015
I've never seen the TV show Hoarders, so I wasn't familiar with Matt Paxton. What comes through in his book, which describes how he helps people with hoarding tendencies, is how he treats them with respect and kindness -- all the while describing his techniques for helping them declutter for good.
Profile Image for S.
376 reviews
May 12, 2016
I liked this book. It talks about different levels of hoarding, and follows people who are at at some level of the spectrum, from what caused it, cleaning everything out, and their long-term results. There are also resources at the end. The writing style was pleasantly smooth, and it was an easy read; I admit to organizing more than normal while reading this book. 4*
Profile Image for Natalie.
446 reviews10 followers
December 5, 2011
An interesting, quick read. I like that Paxton clearly defines his company's process and their standards for assessing and assisting hoarders and their hoards without being sensationalist or judgmental.
Profile Image for Cosette.
1,210 reviews7 followers
May 28, 2013
Enjoyable read - for a hoarders addict. Provides more detail about how it's possible for people to end up living in such conditions. Success rates and support contacts.
Profile Image for Jessica.
399 reviews11 followers
January 28, 2014
This is probably the ideal book for family and friends of hoarders.
Profile Image for Vicki.
4,537 reviews16 followers
September 27, 2019
True life situations of hoarders as experience by the author. Great information and tools to use for those have a hoarder in their life.
Profile Image for Leena.
62 reviews
December 10, 2017
The consensus of stars for this book on this site is about right (3.5). While not an in-depth psychological study like "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things" by Gail Steketee and Randy Frost, the book is still very insightful and helpful in a practical way. It is also fascinating in the same can't-look-away manner all hoarding is: just when you think you have heard it all, along comes a gigantic rat's nest or another inscrutable reason to hold on to those decades-old junk food wrappers. Maybe this is why the middle of the book that deals with the cleanup is the dullest and weakest part of the book: dismantling the offkilter creativity of hoarders isn't quite as morbidly interesting as the creativity itself.

If I expanded this book or any book on hoarding, I would add two more chapters. The first additional chapter would deal with the ways hoarders accumulate their possessions. Matt Paxton mentions shopping on credit several times, but as hoarders have often abandoned conventional means of employment, there are other, less expensive ways to hoard. The easy availability of clutter in the American society deserves a study of its own and never fails to astonish an immigrant like me who was used to owning one of everything, instead than dozens.

The second chapter would be dedicated to the psychology of people who actually enable hoarders, giving them stuff and helping them to hoard. Contrary to this book's claims, not all hoarders are socially inept. Like Gail Steketee's study shows, some hoarders are very intelligent, sociable, and able to navigate their relationships to support their hoarding. I have personally witnessed a hoarder "helping" a garbage man to "lighten" his load because the hoarder "feels bad for the garbage collector", with the full cooperation of the garbage collector. I think the dynamics within such relationships would make an interesting study.
Profile Image for Christine.
192 reviews
October 26, 2017
Two words come to mind for this book: helpful and realistic. The author draws from real-life examples as well as insight from a psychologist to discuss hoarding in terms of it being a mental health issue. Aside from providing thoughts on various possible causes, co-morbid disorders, and reasons for hoarding, Paxton outlines the necessary support elements that need to be in place in order to provide real, lasting help to someone who hoards. The book isn't all-positive; many of the various cases Paxton references had outcomes that were only slight improvements, if not outright relapses, and he's very realistic about the great difficulties that exist for those trying to overcome a hoarding disorder. I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a hoarder in their life or who wants to know about the realities of trying to help.
Profile Image for Lauren Williams.
112 reviews2 followers
December 15, 2018
Compassionate, insightful author for a complex, painful subject

Matt Paxton found his life's calling by chance. But he brings endless passion, compassion, energy, a sharp ability to read people and even enthusiasm to that work - conducting the intensive deep cleanings that the homes of people with hoarding disorder often need in order to be able to reclaim the spaces safely.

This book is an excellent introduction to every aspect of the activity: the typical mindsets of people with hoarding disorder, and ways to approach working with them; potential complications of government or other outside involvement in the case; the "how-to" of the actual cleaning process, and most important, how to allow and encourage family members to get involved in the person with hoarding disorder's recovery.

Lauren Williams, Owner, Casual Uncluttering LLC, Woodinville, WA, USA
Profile Image for Sarah.
122 reviews29 followers
November 5, 2017
I’m not a fan of the show “Hoarders”, I read this book as someone with hoarders in my family.

Paxton obviously has a lot of sympathy for people suffering from compulsive hoarding but some of his advice frustrated me as it came close to “if you live with a hoarder you must let them do whatever they want and accept it”. Hoarding doesn’t just negatively affect the hoarder themselves, it is a form of neglect towards children, it harms families. He puts a lot of responsibility onto the families of hoarders, forgetting that they are being negatively impacted, often becoming completely worn down and hopeless.

I wish this book had gone a little more into depth. Many cases of hoarders are described, but only for a couple of pages before jumping to the next example.
Profile Image for Jenna.
35 reviews11 followers
January 6, 2018
This book was very informative about the ways to support a person who hoards as well as providing insight into how all of us can be slip into these patterns, as well as recover from them. As a therapist, I've always respected Matt Paxton for his compassion, insight, and the way he manages to connect with his clients, and it's great to get this view of his work away from the drama of television. There were great skills in here which I'll use in building my own therapeutic relationships.
Profile Image for Amanda Weeder.
223 reviews
June 13, 2019
I got this at a thrift store because I'm a fan of the TV shows about hoarding, and it was worth the $0.49 I paid but won't be staying on my permanent shelves. I expected this book to be all about hoarders and the author's experiences in working with them, but it had just a few hoarding stories and was mainly information about how to work with hoarders and those close to them. Probably very practical if you're in that situation, just not what I was looking for.
478 reviews6 followers
May 13, 2021
I love Hoarders and Matt is one of my favorites..a tough, take no prisoners guy. I was expecting a lot of stories and pictures.
Eh...this book was more of what/how to handle a hoarder and how to take care of the biological issues. There were some case histories, some pictures, just not as much as I thought.
This is going to sound bad...but he comes across softer in the book than he does on the show!
Profile Image for Becky.
596 reviews6 followers
July 15, 2019
I expected more nitty gritty of the hoarder stories. Give me filthy old hermits, toxic sludge, rat colonies, a corpse found under stacks of boxes. This book tried to be more psychological and analytical but those parts read like a high school term paper and the "case studies" were not what I'd hoped for, especially given that this book was written by a guy who has a reality show!
Profile Image for Alaine.
352 reviews
May 15, 2020
I got about halfway through. Here's the thing. It was a library loaner that I apparently placed on hold, but I had no memory of doing that. I have absolutely no idea why I wanted to read this book and by the time the hold became available, I'd moved on. Nothing wrong with the book -- I just wasn't particularly interested.
Profile Image for Leila Chandler.
229 reviews4 followers
September 15, 2020
It's not a "tell-all", it's actually a self-help guide if you have a loved one who is a hoarder. So I guess it's good in that sense, but it was a bit boring. However, if you do have a friend or family member who is a hoarder, it is important to understand the psychological underpinnings of it and to not judge them. They may have an untreated mental illness.
Profile Image for Emily.
44 reviews
March 31, 2023
Really helpful techniques and on the job lessons from working with horders.
Best examples and descriptions of hording jobs and compassionate humanization of the individuals that fall into this behavior. Highly recommended reading for professional organizers and family/friends who come up against this.
Profile Image for Pug.
944 reviews3 followers
October 22, 2020
It was an interesting book, and a quick read. I liked the hoarders' stories, descriptions, and pictures too, of course! (The filthier, the better). If you're out and unable to watch "Hoarders," this book will hold you over.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
282 reviews3 followers
August 23, 2021
Eh, it was ok. I thought it would be more about the stories of hoarders he had worked with, but that only came briefly at the epilogue and sprinkled through the book. It was mostly a how-to book in dealing with hoarders. It was interesting in parts, just not what I was looking for.
Profile Image for Sophie.
31 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2022
Handled with respect and care, Paxton uses this book to provide support and guidance to those who struggle with Hoarding (or have relatives who hoard).

Entertaining, informative and very insightful.
Profile Image for Lindsay Merrill.
327 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2017
Strong 3.5 stars.

I've probably seen every episode of Hoarders and I am fascinated by the psychology of hoarding. This book was really interesting.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 123 reviews

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