Matt Paxton Talks Hoarders, Career Advice, and the Power of Second Chances
Matt Paxton is extreme cleaning specialist, best known for his regular appearances on A&E’s hit show Hoarders. His business, Clutter Cleaner, is dedicated to helping hoarders clean out their homes and make positive changes in their lives.
I caught up with Matt for lunch at Mom’s Siam (a great little Thai restaurant in Richmond, VA), and we had a long conversation about who he is, what he does, and why he loves to do it. He also offered a ton of great career advice for people who are struggling to find their path. No matter where you’re at in your life, I think you’ll find his advice helpful and inspiring.
As a bit of a warning — if you’re the type of person who is offended by swearing, you should probably just go ahead and click away now.
Kevin Spence: You have a really interesting story — it took you a long time to find your path after college.
Matt Paxton: I was a wreck, man. I was 24, I was an economist coming of college for the Federal Reserve. I hated it. I mean literally, try all for years for this job, you train through college, and I got the dream job. I’m an economist for the Federal Reserve. Got there, sat down, and in the first ten minutes I was like “fuck, I don’t want this job.”
KS: That fast?
MP: You focus so much on getting it, then when you’re getting it, you’ve forgotten what the actual job was going to entail. And I was sitting there in this awesome cube up on the James River looking down and it was like “man, this is everything my parents wanted me to have, everyone is so proud of me,” but I literally knew in the first ten minutes, like, “fuck, I don’t want to do this.”
So I told my mom, and she was like, “you gotta stick with it six months. You gave them your word, and you gotta do it.”
So on my six month review, they told me everything I’d done wrong, and I asked them, I said, did I do anything right? And she goes, well, we don’t talk about that in these reviews. All we talk about is what you need to improve on. I was like, that’s cool, I appreciate it, I’m out. And I quit. I was just looking for some reason to quit.
And I moved to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and I was an economist for Caesar’s Palace casino, which was fun. Too fun. I was 25, and I got in some trouble, and I got hooked on everything. I mean, drugs, women, you name it. Gambling, specifically.
I lasted a year there, came home, and owed about 40 grand to a bookie, rolled home quickly, and my dad got real sick very fast. So I got home and three months later my dad died. And so I went on a two year bender and started traveling out west and was just partying. I ended up in Hawaii for about six months. I couldn’t get home, I was going just to see a friend, was there for a week, September 11th happened, and I couldn’t get a flight home for six months. I ended up living in Hawaii.
KS: Six months?
MP: Six months. It was bad. I was on frequent flier miles. I had no money. And all the flights out of Asia, you know, because they shut down flying for like two weeks, everything got pushed to Hawaii. You could not get home.
And all these people, we lived on the beaches. All these people were on their honeymoons and couldn’t get back. Everybody just camped on the beaches. It was actually really fascinating.
KS: That actually sounds pretty cool.
MP: It was so cool. I was 25, and the girl I was seeing, she was like “ah, fuck it, let’s just do it.” We knew it was an experience, so we just camped out on the beach for a good – almost month. It was awesome.
So I came home, and it was time to get my shit back together. And I owed that bookie a lot of money, and I started volunteering at Comfort Zone. A therapist I was seeing for grief after my dad died said, you know, you may want to think about being a volunteer here, and about ten other people told me that.
And finally I went, and I’d started my first entrepreneurial business, it was called Sandal Saver, which was a cleaner for flip flops and sandals. I was out in Hawaii and my sandals reeked. But I didn’t want to spend, I had a hundred dollar really nice pair of sandals, and I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars, I didn’t have a hundred dollars, so I invented a $5 cleaner for flip flops and sandals.
I sold it for four years, traveled around the world selling that, it was really cool. I learned a lot. I always say, that’s my grad school. I’m the kind of guy that can’t, I couldn’t do grad school. Like, I need to be making money for me to care about it.
I lost about a hundred grand on it when it was all said and done, but I learned a ton and at the same time I was volunteering at Comfort Zone pretty religiously. And that was what sobered me up and that’s what really got me to stop gambling, and that’s what got me focused on – that’s basically what got me addicted to positive stuff.
I met some really really good people there because you’re at your purest form, you’re literally camping in the woods helping people. And I got addicted to helping people and realized that’s what I wanted to do. As for how would I make money doing that, I had no idea.
At the same time I was just looking for extra work, because I knew I was going to shut down my Sandal Saver business. One day I was helping my grandma clean out her basement, and I knew she was grieving just like these kids were grieving. And it had nothing to do with the stuff, she was just missing my grandpa. And the more and more I delved into it, I was like, I’ll try the psychology part of this that we do at the camp. And it was absolutely an a-ha moment.
You hear all these big entrepreneurs talk about their a-ha moment. I think that’s a little cheesey, but for me, I think that really was my a-ha moment. And I just watched my grandma, when I started talking about the stuff, giving her shit about not cleaning it up, because the whole family would always give her shit about being messy. But when I just talked about my grandfather and just hung out and got the stories that were attached to these items…
KS: It made sense then.
MP: Once we started talking about the stories, the emotion and the attachment was no longer there. And so one day, literally, we cleaned out this basement that the family had been trying to clean up for 10 years. And then the next day one of her friends called, she’d told a friend at some Mahjong game, and by the end of the week, everyone she plays bridge with had called me to clean their attic. So I had done like four attics that week. Made more money that week than I had made in probably two years.
KS: There are some similarities, right? I mean, you went through some trauma in your life, but you dealt with it in a different way. Do people relate to that? Does it give you any kind of trust when you walk in, when people know you’ve been there?
MP: Absolutely. Totally. Oh my God, I failed for fifteen years. I mean, until I got on Hoarders, none of this made sense. For 12 years I was going on blind faith. I remember one day, on my 30th birthday, my mom gave me a pair of running shoes because I couldn’t afford a pair of one hundred dollar running shoes.
I had no money and I was 30, and that was one of those benchmarks when you’re like, man, you should have your shit together by now, you know? All my buddies had kids and were getting married and, some of my buddies were already getting divorced, and they’d been married for fifteen years and had their kids and everything. It was a real kind of check yourself moment, where I was like man, I have done nothing with my life. All I’ve done is fail. And I would keep just going through all these failures, and none of it made sense. And I was like, there must be something bigger.
And I knew that it had to make sense. I was like, something bigger, something else is going to happen. Like all these stories, and all these failures, they don’t make sense if something bigger doesn’t happen. And so I remember, like 3 or 4 years before I got on Hoarders, I started to know that what I was doing with these individual hoarders was real, because I’d seen these women get their lives back, and I knew I’d helped to give them the tools. I didn’t change their lives, but I gave them the tools for them to change their own lives and I knew that what I was doing was really spiritual and really cool, but it wasn’t on TV. It was just me and these two old ladies in a room and nobody saw it. So I was really going on blind faith thinking, ok, this is really going to be big somewhere. That’s when I started trying to get on TV.
KS: How did that happen?
MP: I mean, I’m skipping through about five years of just cleaning old ladies’ houses and everyday coming home – I would volunteer on the weekends at Comfort Zone and clean the old ladies’ houses during the week, and everyday my mom’s worried about me. I had lost a lot of friends, and the perception in the real world was just failure, failure, failure, failure, and when everyone tells you you’re failing…
KS: It’s hard not to believe it.
MP: You start to believe it. And I remember saying, wait a minute, fuck those people man, they’re wrong. I remember telling myself like, I got into the Avett Brothers…
KS: Great band
MP: …I got really into them, and a lot of their music would remind me — I was living on a buddy’s couch, and he had gotten divorced. We called it operation happy. He had gotten divorced and I called off my wedding and I couldn’t even afford to rent a room actually, I just lived on the couch.
I remember saying, I’m either brilliant and totally focused, or — because I would listen to that music and the music would tell me, fucking keep going, you’re a badass, at some point there’s something real here. I’ve always said the Avett Brothers – thank God they were where they were in their career when I found them because they were trying to be, they were trying to get big. They’re huge now. But if they were already big, they wouldn’t have spoken to me.
KS: You wouldn’t have listened to them.
MP: I wouldn’t have listened to them. So they were so new and I wanted to be that underdog, I wanted to be that – when I was growing up, we all found Dave Matthews our junior year of high school – they would have to give you t-shirts to come see them play for free, because they were just trying to get people to come see them. And now I can’t even afford a Dave Matthews concert, you know?
There was a point in my life where I was running down on the trails, down at James River High School, and I was running a lot because I was running from something spiritually, you know. I was really trying to get my shit back together. So I was running a lot of marathons, trying to prove to myself that I could do anything.
I mean, literally, it was a on a trail. Either downtown or at James River. I was running 10, 15, 20 miles on these trails on Sundays. And I remember just saying, ok, everyone thinks you’re crazy, everyone feels sorry for you, but something big is going to happen in the next five years. And I know that I’m either crazy or brilliant, and I’m like right on the line.
I always compared it to a guy walking a fence. Either I’m really neat walking this tight rope thing, or I’m going to fall and rack myself in the nuts. I just believed that I wouldn’t have gone this far, I wouldn’t have failed this big if it wasn’t making a difference.
I remember telling that to my mom, and she just looked at me like I was crazy. Like, she just couldn’t even understand that concept. I’d just gotten married and I was still making about ten grand a year and the wife was like alright, you know, it’s time to do something else. And I was like, I need to get on TV.
And I remember her saying, that’s great, but how are you going to do it? And I was like, I don’t know. Facebook had just started really coming out, and there was a guy on Oprah Winfrey named Peter Walsh. I would write him emails every day. I’d post on his Facebook every day. Now days, you’d probably call it stalking. I mean, I harassed him. And all I was trying to do was – I wasn’t trying to get on TV, I was just trying to clean up the houses after he left.
I wrote him an email saying, I can make you a lot of money, I’d love to talk to you. And I wrote his agent, and his publisher. And my phone rings immediately. And he’s like “this is Peter Walsh,” and I’m like, “whoah, hello, what?” And he’s like, “you’ve got 30 seconds, how can you make me money?”
And I was like, well, I can “blah blah blah blah.” And he was like, if you’re ever in LA, let me know. We’ll sit down. And I was like, funny, I’ll be in LA next week. And I had no plans to be in LA. At all. I had no money.
And he’s like, alright, next time you’re here, let’s get a beer. And I was like, I’ll be there next week. So I ended up buying a ticket, flew to LA with the rest of the money that I had, had a beer with him at the airport, and literally got on the next flight and flew back.
We met and then nothing happened from there. I worked another year cleaning up houses, just asking people if they knew anyone in TV, starting to talk to producers – anyone. What I didn’t know was that at the same time, A&E was trying to make this TV show called Hoarders. And they didn’t know what it was really going to be about, they didn’t know much about it.
They wrote Peter Walsh trying to get him to come on TV. He’s like, ‘I can’t do it,’ and they say, ‘well, we just need houses to clean. We have the talent, we need houses.’ And he says, well there’s this guy in Virginia, Matt Paxton, and he won’t leave me alone.
And so they called me, and I was so excited. They had no interest in me being on TV, they just wanted sites. And they were going to pay me $200 a location, if I can give them a location. And at that time, $200 was an enormous amount of money.
KS: And it was easy money at the time. You were already getting the phone calls.
MP: I had 100 places they could have seen. So I’m still totally failing at every level at this point, and the producer came and met me, and I took her to five places, and she liked all five. She’s like, we’ll probably use all five of these, and she gave me a thousand dollar check. And that was like a million dollars to me. That was five months’ rent, you know? And I’d just got married, and my wife was still living in DC, and I was floating back and forth between DC and Richmond.
The pressure was on, it was the first year of our marriage, and I remember saying, I’ve gotta get something out of this TV thing. But I could tell she dug me, the producer, like she thought I was a character. And I was like, this is my chance, man. Like, I better fucking nail this.
And there was a dude who had a restraining order against me, and I took her to his house. I pulled up, and I was like, this is my chance. I’m going to go for it. So I was like, I can’t go on the front lawn, I have to stay in the car. Legally, I’m not allowed to go withing a hundred yards of this guy. And her eyes just lit up, and she was like ‘Ok.’
And I knew – this guy was 75 and he loved women. The only reason he wanted he wanted his house cleaned was because he wanted to get laid one more time before he died. He’d told me that many times. And she was a cute little producer, beautiful, and I knew she’d get in if he just opened the door. And this guy, he had an airplane – a fully assembled airplane in his basement.
KS: Wait. He had an airplane in his house?
MP: In his house. And he had dried meat, steaks, drying on the plane. And so visually, it was fascinating. It was just out there. And I knew if he’d just answer the door, I was in. Figuratively, because she would have to go in. But the whole mystique of me not being allowed in the house was pretty cool. And it totally worked.
She came out, and he came out, and he was like man, I really appreciate you respecting the law, thank you for not pushing me. And I was like hey man, no worries, I respect you for figuring out enough to get a restraining order against me, because at the time I was the only person certified to clean the hoarded houses in the county, and he was starting to get citations from the county. So he went and had a restraining order filed against me.
MP: So I couldn’t show up to do it. And he gets all these fines, so he got ahead of the loophole. It was brilliant. So I was like, I salute you for figuring that out, man. But he’s the reason I got on TV, because she was so blown away by that story and our communication with him. That was a Tuesday. She flew back to Seattle, and on Thursday they called me and said, can you go to Alabama on Saturday. And I was like, yeah, yes I can. They were going to pay me like 500 bucks for two days of work, which again was just so much money. Again, that was a Thursday. I flew out on Saturday. Friday, we found out we were pregnant with our first son.
KS: That’s a big week.
MP: A hell of a week. Because on Monday, I had not even known there was a possibility that I could be on TV. And by Saturday, I was on TV and I was going to be a dad. And so that week was huge. I knew that was it, that was my chance. And I just went out and destroyed it.
I mean, I’ve since – I do a lot of podcasting, and I do Jay Mohr’s podcast a lot. Jay Mohr’s a comedian and actor, and he’s really taught me a lot about just totally embracing the opportunity and not just doing well, but like, crushing it. His whole belief is that, you go in there, and anytime you go to get a job, you make it impossible for them to say no. You do your research, find out what they want, and you fucking kill it. And I did – not knowing him at the time – I did do that. But it was out of desperation, not out of strategy.
And I knew, I was like, this is it, this is my chance. And if I blow this, I’m out. And my wife’s going to kill me. So I went in and killed it, and have been asked back every week since. And now the business seven years later — I mean, literally, I summed that up in 10 minutes, but that was a 15 year thing – and for fourteen and a half of those years, I was failing and everyone agreed that I sucked and I was totally worthless, and I really had to have blind faith that what I’m doing is special. I really believed I could change the world, just nobody knows yet. People will tell you I was crazy to believe that, but I totally believed it.
KS: Things must have blown up for you after that. When you think about it, every episode is an hour long infomercial for you in a way.
MP: For me it’s an amazing – I mean, if you look at next year I’ve got a whole line of cleaning products coming out, I’m going to start out on Home Shopping Network and it will be a whole line of cleaning products. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, everyone’s picking it up. I’ve got a new show that will hopefully be coming out in 2013, just about me and my business. I have a book that ended being a New York Times Bestseller. All these things that happened – my podcast is huge, I do three weekly podcasts now, and one of them is in the top hundred.
The other day I was in LA, and I was — I had to go to Jay Mohr’s house, and then I was over at a party at Adam Corolla’s house, and all these people I get to meet with. I mean, it’s crazy that all these actors really dig what I do on Hoarders. And they dig it because it’s real and it’s honest. It’s not acting, it’s just pure me being me, and I really believe that mentality of, all my failures are going to be really special at some point, they’re going to help someone. That really helps the Hoarders relate to me, because I’m totally honest, and I’ve failed as big as they have. So they relate. And then the actors do too, because they’ve struggled at times too.
KS: One of the things that I thought was really cool about what you do, is that you hire a lot of people who either – they’ve been in prison, or they’re recovering addicts.
MP: Absolutely. If you haven’t fucked up I don’t want you.
KS: Is that based on your philosophy, or is it that these guys just show up and kick ass?
MP: Both. They kick ass and they work their asses off because they have to. They’ve hit rock bottom. And so they relate very well to the hoarders. My job is not glamorous. I’ve strategically said, I’m going to make cleaning up poop look really cool. And I do with my words, but what I do is clean up shit. That’s not cool, man. There’s nothing cool about that. It’s disgusting.
KS: I kind of imagine that your interview process when you’re hiring people to pick this stuff up is like a Fear Factor episode.
MP: It’s so wrong. It’s so illegal. I’m like, where have you fucked up, how many years did you do, what did you do – that’s really important to me. I need to know – I don’t really care what they did, as long as it’s not a sexual crime or a child crime. I can’t do that. Or female violence, I can’t do that. But my two best guys are convicted murderers. It is what it is. I mean, it’s not a great thing, but they’re recovered. They were seventeen when they did it, they’re forty years old now, they did twenty years – they served their time. But they fucked up, they did their time, they acknowledge it, they embrace it, they’re honest about what they did, and they have kids.
KS: I don’t think a lot of people realize how hard it is for those guys. Just to do anything.
MP: Oh, they can’t get a job anywhere. I mean, you can’t get a job – I’m probably the only person who hires them, so they’re never going to mess up. People always say, well, you’re cleaning up really important private possessions for people, don’t you think they’re going to steal them? Of all the people in the world, they’re the least likely, because if they mess up they go back to jail for life. They just did 20 years. They’re not gonna mess up. They’re honest to God the safest guys I could have. By far. But I love them.
KS: What I noticed is that – so you had some problems with gambling and drinking and things. You hire people who’ve also been in trouble. And your business is based on the idea of people recover from their problems. It’s all…
MP: Second chances. Everything I do is about second chances. I wouldn’t be here – I had a buddy who got me out of Tahoe. A buddy who gave me a job. He’s since passed away, but he gave me a second chance. Nobody believed in me at that point. My father, my mother did not believe in me. He believed in me.
I’ve got a duty to believe in these guys. But I would say I’ve got an edge. I know – I think it’s a secret that these guys are so good and they’re going to work so hard. It always blows me away. I hope that nobody actually figures that out, because if someone is going to pay them more, they’re going to excel wherever they go.
You know, I don’t want them to leave, but second chances — it’s like Rudy man. It’s like an underdog. The whole underdog mentality. That’s so much cooler than some boring guy from the suburbs who worked at Capital One and just lost his job. That’s boring.
Now, I use it to my advantage heavily and they know that. I tell them, I’m going to fucking sell your story of second chance all day long. I’m going to tell the whole world you were a convicted murderer and use it to our advantage.
KS: That’s really interesting too, because there are a lot of – even some big companies that hire people. But they try to keep it secret. They’re scared it’s going to hurt their image…
MP: We scream it. We tell everybody. And I tell the guys, look, I’m totally going to use you and your story to our advantage to get us working more. And it’s worked.
KS: So with the work that you do, you aren’t working with situations where you can tell people, we’ll be out there in two weeks.
MP: Everything we do is an emergency. Everything’s an emergency. We don’t schedule out more than two weeks ever. That’s another problem, we have to really deal with faith. So we started last night, when I went to bed, we had no work for this week. And I woke up this morning, and we were booked for Tuesday and Wednesday. I mean for seven years now…
KS: That sounds incredibly stressful.
MP: It’s extremely stressful. And every week I’m out of work. I’m not on a contract with A&E. I could get kicked off every week. And I almost have a couple times. But I – you get used to it. That’s part of being an entrepreneur. You’re only going to work as much as you’re willing to hustle. But also, on the same side, it’s totally up to me. I don’t have to worry about some asshole boss five levels up who I’ve never met who has some agenda that I don’t know anything about.
KS: You don’t have to do the TPS reports.
MP: Yeah, exactly. There’s no TPS reports in what I do. Either I do a great job and I do well or I don’t. And if I do a great job and change this lady’s life, they’re going to tell someone. And that’s another very awesome thing. I very specifically, or strategically, choose to do this every week. When we help someone, we make sure they know that we’ve helped them change their life. We make sure they tell everyone they know. I mean, nobody gets the emotional tie to a service like we do. And then they’re blown away because these two big scary black guys who used to be ex-murderers, they’re also emotionally – we’ve totally flipped their emotion. And they actually feel like they’ve helped us.
There’s a lot of strategy behind what we do. We position ourselves – there’s an old book called Positioning. It’s an old marketing book from the 70s, and we use that a ton. We position ourselves in their minds and in their hearts. So we don’t have to advertise, because we totally — we totally shocked them by having these really good employees who they thought were scary guys. And we’ve totally over delivered on their life. We’ve helped them at a horrible time, and helped them change their life. So we don’t have to advertise because they tell everybody they know. Anytime anyone they know is in that same bad situation, they tell them about us. We never have to advertise.
KS: I’ve been watching the show, and I’ve noticed that the hoarders seem to open up to you more easily than they open up to the doctors. At least in the edited clips they show on TV.
MP: What the issue with that is, some of that’s editing. But some of that is, when you’re at your worst point – anytime I show up at your house, that’s rock bottom. If I’m asked to clean your house, that means your house is one of the 20 messiest houses in the country. You’re really fucked up.
I mean – so they’re – how can I say this. Someone at that bad of a level, they don’t want professional help. And very specifically, I’ve built my system around being a buddy, not being a professional therapist. I don’t want to be a therapist, because they think therapists are judging them.
They know – I’ve been very loud about me and my guys’ mistakes, so if anyone shows up in a Clutter Cleaner logo, they know right away that that guy’s not going to judge them, because they’ve probably fucked up worse than the hoarder has. We call it equalizing is our process. It’s very strategic how we’ve built this brand over the last 10 years, because we want people to know as soon as they see the Clutter Cleaner brand, this dude’s going to be my equal, he’s going to work with me, and he’s not going to judge me. And then they always ask their personal stories. And now they know, most likely, they were in jail. But a therapist comes in and a lot of people automatically think that the therapist is going to judge them.
KS: They’re not on the same footing. They’re above them.
MP: That they’re above them. That they’re not equal relationship. Equalization is huge. We built that process ten years ago, and thank God, because I was at my low point. If I had not fucked up for fifteen years, if I had not failed for fifteen years, I couldn’t be equal with these hoarders. So it’s funny, fifteen years later, thank God I messed up. Because even they were all mistakes, for those fourteen years, now that’s my equity. That’s my bank account.
You can’t have any worse stories than me. Every hoarder who tells me their horrible story, I’m like oh yeah man, I was living in a gutter in Lake Tahoe when this guy beat the shit out of me. I told this story on Howard Stern, I mean, I literally will never forget the night that the bookie was like, you owe forty grand. I literally remember thinking, how many guy’s dicks and I going to have to suck to come up with forty grand? And that was a legit, like, that was an option on the table. And not a good one. A pretty bad option. But it was like, that might be something I have to do. So when I tell that story to hoarders, they’re like, “oh man, I’ve never been that low. Sorry.”
But the equalizing is so important. So important. And I think the other side of that is, where entertainment is going now, is that reality TV has become so fake that people really appreciate true reality. So no matter what, if I’m talking to you, if I’m talking to Howard Stern, if I’m on Opie and Anthony, a podcast, TV, whatever I’m in, I make it a point to tell a very true, horrible, embarrassing, honest and real story because people relate to that, and they’re dying for real content.
On the entertainment side of my business, I have a belief that honesty is the next celebrity. Just being a good actor isn’t enough anymore. As consumers, we need honesty. We need to relate. Because of Twitter, because of Facebook, you just can’t be famous anymore. You’ve gotta be real and approachable. I will literally spend two hours a day on Twitter responding to anyone who writes me, because each individual consumer now, they expect a response. You know, twenty years ago, you didn’t write someone you knew from TV. But now, you get mad if they don’t respond. You get angry. That motherfucker didn’t write me back.
KS: Who does he think he is?
MP: Yeah! What an asshole. So it’s very important that you maintain. And you can’t have some intern who is responding. It’s gotta be you.
KS: You can tell. It’s bizarre. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s obvious when it’s not them.
MP: You can tell absolutely. I mean, but you think of the people I met. I met Jay Mohr on Twitter, I met Jay Leno on Twitter, I met Howard Stern on Twitter, I mean all these guys who have helped promote my career. All these huge guys on Twitter and all these podcasts.
KS: How did that happen? You just sent them messages?
MP: I was watching Leno one night, and Jay Mohr was on, and he made a joke about Hoarders. And so I tweeted Jay Mohr, I wrote, “thanks Jay Mohr, saw you @JayLeno, love you guys, thanks for the Hoarders love #hoarders, Jay Mohr is the funniest guy alive.”
And it was on midnight east coast, and when I woke up the next morning, there must have been a hundred people, of his fan base, that said you gotta get Paxton on your show, he’s awesome, he’s out there man, you gotta – they loved that real, that honesty.
And so now it’s funny, when I made that commitment early in of being completely honest and real, which is against the grain – I do believe that you have to go against the grain — whatever the grain is, you’ve gotta go the opposite. It’s the only way to be seen. I truly believe that, and I did it early enough where nobody else was doing it. Now a lot of people are doing it. But I was able to be loud enough at the beginning because nobody was doing it.
And I’m a nobody man, I’m a trash guy from Virginia, and if I go to LA I’m booked for a week because I can do 100 podcasts. I can do 100 interviews, because people like – I’m now known as the guy who is so honest and real. It’s part of my brand. And it all started watching tweets and guys on Facebook. I’ll tweet anybody now, I don’t care. I’ve been harassing Kathy Griffin for a year now because she will not respond to me. I’m trying to get her on my podcast, and she won’t do it. Will not do it. I can’t even get her to respond to me.
KS: I thought she was supposed to be D-List.
MP: Yeah! And you would think she needs the company. But she doesn’t — I don’t think she does her own Twitter anymore, you know? But if you look back at it for me, and if you come back to your story, where you decided ok, I’m going to do this full time, I’m not going to work for someone else anymore, you made a commitment that night, to you and your family. We’re all going to hit that commitment, that decision phase. When you go, when you make that commitment, you gotta jump, full leap of faith, and you have to have a really strong set of beliefs that are not going to be accepted by the norm.
If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re probably not going to be that successful, because there are a hundred other people who are going to be doing it. Chances are there’s someone who’s going to be more talented than you, and a harder worker than you.
That’s my – I say that every week on my podcast. You will never outwork me. It’s not possible. You will be better looking than me, you will be smarter than me, you will be wealthier than me, but you will never out work me, it’s absolutely not possible. You will fucking die before I quit. I totally believe that. That’s one of my beliefs, and you just have to stick to it.
I will outwork you no matter what, and I approach every situation like that. As a battle. Like I really do, and I take it very personally. You just have to stick to these beliefs, and you have to go after it. You have to crush it, like Jay Mohr says. Don’t just try to be the best. You’ve gotta be the fucking best. Like, IT. Nobody’s better than you. And I believe that. I’m the best fucking trash man in the world. That’s a lot better than being the number eight accountant on the fifth floor.
Now, financially has that rewarded me? It has now, this last two years. But the first fourteen years? No. I’ll make more this year than I made in the last fifteen years combined, but it took me fifteen years to get there. Not easy for my mom, not easy for my wife. It will be easy for my kids because they don’t know any different. I was lucky, I waited for the kids. If I had the kids really early, I don’t think I’d be able to stay this committed to a process like this.
I think you can do anything in life. It’s just a matter of how much are you willing to hurt, and how much are you willing to work. The good news is, if there’s a hundred people like me trying to hustle, the first time it gets hard, fifteen are going to quit. Then the next time it gets hard, another 25 are going to quit. So I mean, just by not quitting I’m going to be in the top 10. Because everyone else has that option, they allow themselves to quit. I will never quit.
Now, I will strategically stop, if it’s financially and mathematically the wrong thing to do, but you’ll never see me quit just because it’s hard. When it’s difficult, and I’m looking at it like, ahh, I should probably quit, it would probably be easier for my wife just to quit right now, well that’s an opportunity because most everyone else is going to quit. So to me, I love that. I embrace that. I like it when things get hard, because now I know everyone’s going to start to make those decisions.
KS: You really kind of made your own path. Even the job title that you have right now…
MP: I made it up.
KS: …it didn’t exist.
MP: No. And now there’s guys all over the country saying that they’re extreme cleaning specialists. I just made it up one afternoon in an interview.
KS: Did you have like a list of candidates for your title that you chose from?
MP: No, I just actually said it and it stuck. And now, it’s funny, even my number one competitor which is Corey Chalmers, who is a good friend, but he is by far my number one competitor in the country, but it’s for real, we love each other but we don’t.
We both believe we’re the best, and to complicate the story more, Hoarders actually started off as a pilot for his company. The pilot show was actually about Corey’s cleanup company, and for some reason he didn’t end up on the show for almost 3 years. Not sure why, but it helped me
So I thank him all the time, I’m like, thanks for fucking that up man, because you gave me three years on TV before he got on. I would never have been on TV had Corey never messed up.
KS: You’ve got a lot of screw ups to be grateful for.
MP: Oh my God. There are so many mistakes out there that helped my life.
KS: The reason I started this site was, I wanted to help people understand that they don’t have to sell themselves out. You know, I wanted people to know they could do something they love. What advice would you have for them?
MP: You have to turn off all the other voices. If you’re single, you turn off all the voices. If you’re married or have a partner, then that voice matters. But that’s it. I used to struggle with, alright, what is my mom gonna think, what is my grandmother gonna think. It used to really bother me that my mom had to tell her friends that I didn’t do anything.
I was engaged to another girl, and I remember she really wanted me to get a new job. And her now husband is a systems process analyst. That’s who she needed to marry, not me. I never want to be a systems process analyst. I don’t know what the fuck that means. But for years, I just wanted – my mind wanted to do what I do now, but I so badly just wished, I would pray that I would grow up and be able to be a systems process analyst.
Man, if that’s not who you are, just move on. Spend your energy on creating something new. For me, you’ve just got to totally, totally block out those voices. They don’t matter, man. You’re on your own, you’ve got to create your own path. Your own path doesn’t involve everyone else’s opinions.
If you truly care what your parents think, don’t even start. It’s a waste of your time. Like if you need peoples’ approval. Well, that’s not true. I need peoples’ approval. I mean, I’m on TV. I’m a needy guy. But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta be comfortable for ten, fifteen years – an extended period of time, going against the grain and knowing it’s going to pay off eventually.
But every morning you’re going to want to quit. And you can’t. So you just can’t care what other people think. Your path is not going to be created by other people. If you go on a path that someone else created, you’re not a trailblazer. You have to be comfortable being a trailblazer, and it might take ten years of hurt before you get your first even hint of positive feedback. But I mean, I love it. My high, I mean, I used to be an addict. I’m a recovering addict, and my high now is working and being a dad. I love helping people, I love creating things. Like, that’s my drug.
KS: You’ve replaced your other addictions with an addiction to your job. You’re not always at home. A lot of people, you know, tons of people struggle with keeping a balance between…
MP: You’re not going to have a balance. Balance is a great word. You’re not gonna have a balance in this path. Some things are gonna give. I have no friends anymore. Everything I do is work. I’m either with my family or I’m working. There is no free time.
People ask all the time, what do you do for fun? Couldn’t tell you. I don’t. I work. Now, I love my job. Luckily, what I do is totally fun for me. But when I’m driving somewhere, I’m doing an interview on a podcast or a radio station. If I’m on a train, I’m doing an interview somewhere. There is no downtime. I don’t watch football anymore, my kids don’t care about football. So my free day at home, I don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays anymore if I’m home. If I’m on the road, man, I’m filling up 20 hours.
I don’t sleep more than four hours a night. Haven’t for years. I have to focus as much as I can on the road. I mean, this is a great example. My family is gone for two days. So I’ve got a lunch with you, a dinner with someone else tonight, and I’ve got three interviews this afternoon. Like, I’m going to use as much as my downtime so when I am with my family I’m going to be able to give them one hundred percent.
Could I be a more present dad? Probably. I’ll always be working on that. My wife really needs stability, and financially that’s difficult for me, because I might work really hard for six months and then have no paychecks for six months. So I’ve had to learn how to communicate with her better, we’ve definitely – it’s been hard on our relationship. We’re stronger for it now, but that first year was not easy.
I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, so I’ve seen the good happen two or three years later down the road. My wife’s never lived that way, so she doesn’t know that believing in something and hoping that it’s going to pay off – the first time she saw that happen, I think she was more pissed than she was happy because I was right. Now we’ve been married for five years now, and she sees a lot more now. She says, I know, it will work out. And like, that makes me so proud. But she’s a really good balance for me, because she does all our bills. I don’t have anything to say with our home bills. Each month we sit down and say, how much money do you have to make this month? And she’s in charge of all that. She needs to have control of that stuff for her to have some type of balance.
She makes me all the time, just, stop on new ideas. And my dad all the time, my dad was notorious for that. My dad was a really creative and cool guy, but before he died, he couldn’t not create. He never knew how to collect. So he died broke. And my wife and my mom really hammer into my head, you must only have these five ideas, and until they make enough money for us to live on, you can’t go on to another idea. I’ve got two more ideas right now that are better than anything I’m doing right now. I can’t touch it. And I made the commitment to my family that I won’t. I stopped gambling years ago, and I can’t, because in my family’s mind that would be cheating. It would be putting something else ahead of the family.
So I have my business, that’s what I’m allowed to gamble with if you will. But with very set limits from my family. My mom and my wife, they’re my bosses. And I don’t mean that my wife’s a boss, but they’re my check. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve gotta have someone you’re accountable to. And that’s my wife and my mom.
KS: It’s easy to get lazy.
MP: Oh my God, I have to make sure that I have an office to go to. Personally. Some people can work from home. I can’t. I’ll be sitting there watching the CW at 1:00 on a Tuesday if I’m at home.
I have to be an entrepreneur now. That’s who I am. I couldn’t go work for my father in law. If that’s what I had to do to support my family I would, but I would be miserable. But now, I love every single thing that I do. I love my podcast, like, that’s my fun.
I stopped drinking pretty much on the road. I used to go out and get hammered on the road, like, I’m building brand by being out and meeting people in a bar. No I’m not. I need to be in getting my emails done and getting my projects done, so that when I get home I can get off the plane and go right to my kids and give them every minute that I can. I do believe that I need to everything I can on the road or in the office to make money to support them.
Everyone’s gonna tell you you suck, and everyone’s gonna tell you you’re gonna fail. And if you listen, you will.