‘Hoarders’ expert Matt Paxton has new PBS show ‘Legacy List,’ moves to Suwanee

Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders,” and minimalist expert Zoe Kim show off their minimalist modern farm-style home on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Suwanee. Paxton has started his own PBS show “Legacy List,” which focuses on items people keep because they carry important stories. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders,” and minimalist expert Zoe Kim show off their minimalist modern farm-style home on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Suwanee. Paxton has started his own PBS show “Legacy List,” which focuses on items people keep because they carry important stories. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC.COM

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC.COM

Recently engaged to a minimalist, he now lives in a 2,700-square-foot home with seven kids.

Extreme cleaning expert Matt Paxton could never say he has led a boring life.

On the classic A&E show “Hoarders,” he has watched a woman eat 25-year-old candy, sifted through thick cobwebs that resemble cotton candy and stood on a mountain of used diapers when an earthquake hit. He has had to evade 100 parrots in one abode and found baseball bats used by Babe Ruth.

The 45-year-old Richmond native has banked on that show as his calling card and continues to help out a couple of times a season, but it’s no longer his primary TV job.

Instead, he now hosts a show that is airing its second season on PBS called “Legacy List With Matt Paxton.” By rummaging through collectibles and heirlooms found in attics, cellars and closets, he helps baby boomers pare down their stuff as they downsize and focus on what is truly valuable to them. Each episode highlights a handful of items that have real meaning to the subjects.

Paxton brings in three experts who fish around for a lost 1850 textbook, possibly buried deep in a stack of boxes, or provide more information about a 19th-century musket, a vintage typewriter or a samurai sword. Each episode also airs two-minute history lessons on related topics such as cameras, touch screens and children’s toys.

But Paxton resisted the temptation to go the “Pawn Stars” route and learn the market value of whatever collectible he might be focused on.

“I just want to collect the stories behind the items,” Paxton said. “And people who watch the show relate to these stories. They think about their own parents and grandparents in almost every situation.”

“Legacy List” airs in Atlanta on Georgia Public Broadcasting on Saturdays at 9 a.m. and can be viewed on demand at mylegacylist.com. It’s currently airing in about 18 of the top 25 PBS markets and 250 of 350 PBS stations nationwide.

“I see it as a cross of ‘Finding Your Roots’ and ‘Antiques Roadshow,’” said Steve Humble, chief content officer of Richmond, Virginia-based VPM Media Corp., which produces “Legacy List.” “Matt leans into the emotional aspects of these items. It’s really compelling and has become a popular show.”

Matt Paxton's PBS show "Legacy List" airs on GPB Saturdays at 9 a.m. PBS
Matt Paxton's PBS show "Legacy List" airs on GPB Saturdays at 9 a.m. PBS

Credit: PBS

Credit: PBS

Paxton is also a new Georgia resident. Around the time he got divorced in 2019, he met his current fiancée Zoë Kim at a Ted Talk he was hosting and they began dating. Kim, a decluttering specialist herself and author of the book “Minimalism for Families,” had moved to Suwanee and was building her dream home near downtown, a place she imagined she’d be with her four kids for years.

Kim moved into the 2,700-square-foot sleek, modern farmhouse-style home last April during the pandemic. As she and Paxton became a serious couple, they debated where to live: Richmond or Atlanta.

Ultimately, Kim and Sarah Paxton, Matt’s ex-wife, came to an agreement where Sarah would move to Suwanee with their three kids. Sarah now lives three blocks away.

Paxton and his ex-wife are on good terms. “We don’t hate each other,” he said. “We have to take care of the kids.”

He recently had to go through his own form of downsizing, moving to Kim’s smaller home in November. He dug through boxes and boxes of his own family stuff, deciding what to keep and what to toss.

When both families are together, there are up to nine people in the house including six boys and one girl, ages ranging from 6 to 14. But despite the potential for chaos, Kim’s home remains organized while maintaining an air of warmth and no shortage of natural light.

“I’m happier,” Paxton said. “I dropped 1,000 square feet and I gained five people. And it’s never boring.”

In fact, having fewer things means far less cleaning, Kim said. And she actually likes to move furniture around on a regular basis so a trimmed-down lifestyle makes that so much easier. One nook, for example, has been used over the months as a video studio, arts-and-crafts storage, a sitting area and home for the Christmas tree.

Paxton, when bringing his stuff to Kim’s home, had to practice what he preaches on “Legacy List” by only keeping things that had a good story behind them. And to ensure those stories are not forgotten, he regularly tells them to his three sons. The younger ones, he admits, don’t care too much. But his 11-year-old is picking up an appreciation for his family’s history.

Paxton, a mathematician and economist out of college, fell into the world of decluttering by accident. In his early 20s, he became a gambling addict and lost everything. Then his dad, Ed, who was just 52, along with his stepdad and his grandfather all died in a two-year period. “Emotionally, that was a big drain for me,” he said.

After hitting rock bottom, Paxton received treatment and grief counseling. Cleaning out his dad’s home was painful but oddly cathartic. “My grandfather had told me, if something sucks, do it as a job because people will pay you to do it,” he said. So in 2006, he started a company called Clutter Cleaner and began helping seniors pare down belongings collected over a lifetime.

When A&E producers were looking for subjects to highlight for a new show in 2009 called “Hoarders,” they sought his advice. While he had no initial aspirations to be on TV, they liked him and he became a regular cleaner on the show.

He was the only one on the show who wasn’t a professional organizer or a doctor. He was simply good at coaxing hoarders to clean up their homes and, by extension, their lives. “I am just a regular dude that screwed up,” he said.

Matt Paxton on the set of "Hoarders" in Memphis. His new show, on PBS, is called "Legacy List." Courtesy of Matt Paxton
Matt Paxton on the set of "Hoarders" in Memphis. His new show, on PBS, is called "Legacy List." Courtesy of Matt Paxton

Credit: The Washington Post

Credit: The Washington Post

After seven years on “Hoarders,” Paxton quit in 2017 and started his own production company hoping to sell more positive concepts, but didn’t close a deal until PBS signed on to “Legacy List.” And with three kids to raise, he said he needed the cash so he returned to do some spot “Hoarders” episodes, including a few this coming season.

Paxton admits he has struggled with work-life balance over the years. The pandemic has helped him stay off the road, better enjoy life with his family and be present.

“I want to be that guy telling the stories when I’m old,” he said. “I don’t want to be the dead guy they’re telling funny stories about. People don’t miss stuff. They miss the people behind the stuff.”

Matt Paxton’s own “Legacy List”

Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders” shows off a Caesar’s chip, one of his personal legacy items. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders” shows off a Caesar’s chip, one of his personal legacy items. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

A Caesar’s $5 casino chip: “At one point, I had gambled all my money away and this was my last chip. I lost everything at age 25 right before my dad died. I told the cabbie who always drove me home that I had nothing. I started walking home. He said, ‘Get in the car. You got to stop gambling!’ It was a rock-bottom moment. I later found this $5 chip in my pocket. I take it with me as just a reminder.”

Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders,” shows off two of his personal legacy items, the family cookbook of his mother Lynn Clayton and the Tiffany’s gold ring of his father Ed Paxton. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Matt Paxton, a former expert on “Hoarders,” shows off two of his personal legacy items, the family cookbook of his mother Lynn Clayton and the Tiffany’s gold ring of his father Ed Paxton. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

His father’s ring, which he wears all the time, and his mom’s cookbook: “He was in advertising. It was feast or famine. One year, he’d lose everything. He’d have to sell his car and the house. Then in three years, he’d be rich. He convinced the jeweler Tiffany’s to let him do a magazine. He did the whole thing in his dining room. When he was supposed to get paid, he said he liked that Tiffany’s gold ring and got that instead.” He also kept a personalized book of recipes from his mother.

A 1969 oil painting by his father Ed Paxton is one of the few wall hangings in the home of Matt Paxton and minimalist expert Zoe Kim, seen here relaxing in their kitchen in Suwanee. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
A 1969 oil painting by his father Ed Paxton is one of the few wall hangings in the home of Matt Paxton and minimalist expert Zoe Kim, seen here relaxing in their kitchen in Suwanee. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

His dad’s painting from his college days: “Painting was his senior groove at Oklahoma Baptist University. He loved painting and that was the farm he grew up on. They were hay farmers. It was in my dad’s house for years. Then it was buried in my attic in Richmond forever.”

ON TELEVISION

“Legacy List”

9 a.m. Saturday

Georgia Public Broadcasting or on demand at mylegacylist.com

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