How to Live with Someone Who Is More (or Less) Organized Than You
If your partner has different decluttering habits, finding a middle ground can be tricky. Still, it can be done.
If organizing disagreements start nearly all the arguments in your relationship, you're not alone. "It is very rare that we find couples who are on the same page regarding decluttering and organizing their home," says Nick Keesey of The Organized Couple, who works with his wife, Carol, to offer home organizing services in South Florida. "Many of our organizing sessions turn into impromptu counseling sessions, and what we've learned is that when there is an organizational mismatch in the relationship, it causes a lot of pain on both sides." Keep your home tidy and your partnership solid with these tips for cleaning and communicating.
Understand your partner.
Keesey finds most couples have an organizational leader "who actively seeks new ways to organize and become more efficient, and is generally more concerned with where items live and how home organization impacts their daily routines," he says. The less-organized partners fall into one of two categories: They're either happy doing the bare minimum to keep things tidy or have no interest in organizing at all. Even when the partners try to reach some common ground, conflicts occur. "For the person who is more organized, it can feel like they are always doing more around the house and their work goes mostly unnoticed and unappreciated," says Keesey. "For the person who does not value organization as highly, they often feel like they are going out of their way to contribute to household organization, and their work is also going unappreciated because in the eyes of their partner, they are just doing what is expected—and it is a struggle to even get that done. It is often a lose-lose situation where neither are 100-percent satisfied with the end result."
Be honest with each other.
Before you start dividing up chores, it's important to communicate—not just about how mad you get when the linens aren't folded and stacked correctly, but about why. "Most problems with household organization and cleanliness stem from a lack of communication about what you are thinking and feeling, and an unwillingness to change your behavior," says Keesey. "Clearly describe how you feel now, how you want to feel in the future, and what specific changes need to be made in order for you to achieve your desired end results. This clears the air—and sets the foundation for practical steps to get you moving in the right direction."
Prioritize (and agree on) your goals.
Each partner will likely have a different vision for the future of their home; maybe one dreams of labeled bins in every storage space, while the other just wants to know where to find the water bill before it's due. Agree to prioritize the areas that will have the biggest impact on your daily life with the smallest amount of effort, whether that's turning a cluttered home office into a soothing workspace or remembering to run the dishwasher every night. "Discuss what specifically you want to achieve, and outline small steps you can take to begin this process," says Keesey. "Focus on the low-hanging fruit so the less organized person can easily implement new habits into their daily routines. For example, help them establish something they can do in 15 minutes or less each day. Is it tidying up around the house? Is it doing the dishes or running a load of laundry? Whatever it is, be specific, write it down, and schedule it. Set daily reminders on your phone if you have to."
Clear the clutter.
Once you have a handle on your home's most frustrating trouble spots, move on to decluttering. "The cause of disorganization is clutter, and the cause of clutter is excess," says Keesey. "The less you have, the easier it is to keep things organized." Owning fewer items often makes your daily chores run more smoothly, says Keesey: You may need to do laundry more frequently if you have fewer clothes, but you'll also slash your fold-and-put-away time, making the whole process less overwhelming. "Daily and weekly chores, like going through the mail or tidying up, become very difficult when the home is disorganized, because it is easy to overlook them in the midst of chaos and clutter," says Keesey. "Cleaning takes much longer when you have to work around many items on the counters, tabletops, and floors. The end result is not as satisfying because when you're done, all the clutter goes back to where it was, hiding the clean surface beneath."
Change your mindset.
Even the most organized person can likely think of a long list of activities they'd prefer over hanging up coats, picking up Legos, or making the bed, but spending a few minutes on small tasks now can save a lot of stress later. "It's important to remember that general disorganization and clutter are the result of decisions made with an 'I'll do it later' attitude," says Keesey. "When you think in the short term, you will always make choices that you believe are easiest to deal with right now, but essentially you're just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. When you take the extra few seconds to put something away in its rightful home, you eliminate clutter and your life becomes much simpler long-term. By putting in the extra work now, you satisfy your future self."
If you're the organizational leader in your relationship, be respectful of the effort your partner puts toward decluttering—and take a cue from your better half to lighten up while they're adjusting. "Be gentle and supportive," says Keesey. "A frustrating and true fact is they aren't going to do it every day, but going from zero days a week to four is a big step in the right direction. They will probably want a gold star for doing what you believe is just their fair share of work, but this gold star might be the fuel they need to keep going and make more progress—so head to the store and get some stickers."