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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2011

Beyond the Degree: Reclaiming Lives

On the hit A&E TV show “Hoarders,” Dr. Darnita L. Payden ’05, helps people reclaim their lives.

Darnita Payden

There was little joy in Claudie’s house in Illinois, just tons of stuff, knee-deep and everywhere: stacks of old newspapers, broken-down musical instruments, empty bottles, canned foods long past the date of safe consumption, and her granddaughter’s cherished stuffed bear, now moldy from months buried under clutter.

To part with these items seemed insurmountable for Claudie, and it was ruining her life. Her marriage was in trouble, her 12 children no longer wanted to visit, and she slept at a homeless shelter because her house was uninhabitable. But things changed when Dr. Darnita L. Payden walked through the door with the crew from the A&E television show “Hoarders.”

Days later, Claudie and Payden were standing at the upstairs window, watching as a crew placed item after item out in the snowy front yard and then into trucks. Claudie looked at the 22,000 pounds of stuff—things she’d long thought were her treasures—and instead of being traumatized, she was doing something she hadn’t done in a long time: She was laughing.

“She said, ‘I can let it go. My family is more important,’ ” Payden recalls. “We were able to give her what she wanted: a home for her children to gather.”

Payden was cast on the hit show after sending an email to the producers. Now, serving as an expert on organization on the television program is just one of the things she does as owner and executive director of Dr. DClutter Life Management in Washington, D.C. For the last three years she has also provided one-on-one life-management sessions, training, seminars, and onsite coaching for organizations and individuals. She helps people who are overwhelmed, disorganized, isolated, and feeling out of control by focusing on improving their thinking, language, and behavior.

Her interest in this field took root from watching her mother and grandmothers while growing up in Washington, D.C. The women were extremely organized and led by example, and they told Payden she could be whatever she wanted to be. So, at age 12, she wrote down her goal in an elementary school yearbook: to become a doctor.

During her experience at Walden, it wasn’t just the coursework that prepared Payden for her current career. It was the structure of pursuing a PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Counseling Psychology in an online format. “I found out pretty quickly that with distance learning you have to be organized and disciplined,” she says.

And though her current focus seems far from that of her dissertation, which is titled Life Outside the Bars: The Psychosocial Effects of Incarceration on the African-American Female Spouse, the fundamentals are similar.

“My dissertation talked about removing stigma and shame. That’s my goal when working with my clients,” she says. “I want to make sure my clients can hold their heads up high and not be stigmatized. They’re easy targets; people don’t understand how they can live like that. My goal is to give them tools and strategies they need to live the lives they desire and deserve.”

To tell us about your Beyond the Degree career, email [email protected].