I’ve been working with families and couples for almost ten years, and one of the biggest themes I’ve come across is the disconnect that often exists between people who live in the same home when it comes to organization and decluttering goals.
I’ve seen couples who were on the brink of divorce over the contents of their garage, and I’ve witnessed plenty of tears, finger pointing, and door slamming.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, and struggling to transform your home in the midst of great resistance from your spouse or family, you are not alone.
Here are my top tips and answers to the question: “What if you really want to declutter, and get organized, and your family is not on board?”
Find Common Ground
We spend far more time dwelling on differences and challenges than cultivating shared goals, and identifying overlapping values. Consider what it would look and feel like to collaborate with your partner to create an environment you are both happy to come home to. Instead of nagging, or focusing on the things that aren’t working in your home, take time to brainstorm with your partner and identify an aspirational vision for your space you can work towards together.
Example: My husband and I both love hosting parties so we agreed to open up our kitchen/dining room area and build an island with stools that could serve as a gathering space. He let me take the lead on design choices, but requested that he select the new stove since he is the primary chef in our family. We both got to stay in our own lanes, while working towards a shared vision that would support our overlapping goal of entertaining more often.
Find a Creative Compromise
If you’re desperately seeking a streamlined home, but your partner is intent on keeping all of their mother’s inherited furniture and china, it will be important to communicate and agree on some ground rules.Perhaps they can store all of their belongings in the attic or basement so you can retain a streamlined aesthetic in your primary living spaces. Maybe they pick their favorite set to display, and donate the rest to charity. Maybe you define one room in the house that is your sanctuary and off-limits to other peoples’ stuff, and the rest of the house is more lax on rules and order. Take time to brainstorm with an open mind so that both of you can have your values taken into consideration before arriving at a creative solution.
Lead by Example
If you’re the one yearning for a clutter-free home, take full ownership over the process and do your own work first. Before you even broach the topic with your partner or kids, get busy editing and organizing all of your personal possessions. This means all of your clothes, books, sentimental items, etc. Not only will they start to observe the benefits of your hard work, but it will be easier for you to make requests of others once you have walked the walk yourself. I took time to edit and organize every single thing I owned before approaching my husband to talk about his epic CD collection from high school. (We may still be talking about it.)
Make it Easy
If your partner is resistant to decluttering and organizing, it may just be that they’re busy and it’s not at the top of their priority list. When I wanted my husband to declutter his books, I made him an irresistible offer. I suggested that I did all the heavy lifting and all he had to do was give thirty minutes of his time to play “keep or donate?” I removed the books from the shelf, set up donation boxes, and turned on some music. I may have even given him a bourbon to sweeten the deal. When he was done making his selections,I took all of the books to donate at our local library and styled our bookshelves. He barely had to lift a finger, and I got the result I was after –a streamlined, organized bookshelf.
Banish Blame & Redefine “Fair”
Most of the conversations I witness in my work involve a lot of finger pointing and blame. “She leaves her stuff everywhere,” or “I just can’t get him to understand that we don’t need five toolsets!” Instead of casting blame, focus on owning your own feelings and communicate your motivation for wanting to declutter or get organized. I realized years ago that my husband just didn’t see the things that bothered me like crumbs on the counter or mail tossed on the dining room table. I found it most helpful to explain that for me having a tidy, organized home gave me a sense of peace and control in a world that often feels out of control. He agreed to do his best to maintain the systems I set up and I agreed to do the lion’s share of the work since ultimately it was my need and not his.Focusing on your partner’s strength also helps reduce resentment. It feels a lot better to think about what a wonderful chef my husband is, and how great he is with our girls, than to stew about socks left out.
Shift Your Mindset
Of course you’re entitled to make requests of the people in your family, but ultimately we cannot control what other people do or don’t do. The good news is that we can always manage our thinking about our given circumstances. Assuming your spouse or partner won’t change, consider some fresh ways to think about your home and your relationships. I’ve worked with mothers who’ve worked to actually love “the mess of life” that their young children provide – the stacks of art and wet galoshes in the living room are a reminder of how lucky they are to have kids, and they hold the awareness that both the mess, and this phase, will be fleeting. When I find myself triggered by my husband’s dirty socks tossed on the couch, I remind myself that I’m the one who deeply values a tidy home and it takes a mere two seconds to toss them in the laundry.
Image Credit: Vivian Johnson