Surviving Decluttering As A Couple

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Even when we understand from an intellectual view that our stuff is just stuff, it can be difficult to fight our emotional ties to it. When you add the additional emotions and dynamics between a couple, decluttering can be even more complex, full of negotiations and compromises.

<Now imagine angels singing in the background while you read this next part.> If done well, decluttering and organizing as a couple can be a relationship-building experience. You learn to reform your space while listening to and respecting your partner’s needs. Your home will develop into a place that nurtures your relationship and inspires a tone of mutual respect. <End angelic singing.>

Did that sound a little unrealistic and idyllic? Of course it did, because it won’t feel like that at all! It’s true anyways, but figuring out how to declutter together in your home can be messy!

{FYI – There is not one gender or another that wants to hold on to more (aka: what feels like everything to you).}

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How To Start When Your Spouse Isn’t On Board

If possible, start with an apology of how you’ve handled things in the past. Explain that you’ve been learning more about it and want to try again to work together.

Paint the picture, explain what it would mean to you, how things could and will be better when the home is under control. Explain how clutter is getting in the way of x, y, and z – things important to them too!

If you need help with things to say, read through the Recommended Declutter Reading, and even better, ask them to read certain articles you think may help.

If your kind and sincere asking doesn’t at least start a conversation, you may need a counselor to help you get on the same page. Change is possible with equal parts hope and effort. In any case, keep reading to see if anything else might help.

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Let Them Speak

Trying to understand why your spouse wants to hold on to clutter helps them feel respected. Usually, when a person feels heard and understood about something, they are more flexible to change. You can’t tell them their stuff is rubbish and make them feel stupid – that will not work.

Letting a person simply explain, without judgment, why they want to keep something gives them an opportunity to figure out by themselves that they can let it go. It is a lot harder to explain why you need to keep a bunch of stuff out loud than keeping it inside, where emotions and sentiments make the decisions.

Listening is one of the things a professional organizer offers clients: the cathartic experience of explaining all the reasons and emotions behind having kept stuff. There truly is something satisfying about getting all the emotional baggage off our chests and into the open air. Our load lightens and the grip our stuff has on us loosens.

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Build Trust

Often people start keeping things in response to a trauma. Something(s) happened in their life that made them lose a sense of control, and now they grasp control wherever they can … especially in controlling their stuff.

You can’t pave the road to letting go by scaring them into thinking you’re going to get rid of all their stuff when they look the other way. Fighting about the stuff will just make them want to hold on even tighter.

While you declutter with them, build trust through consistently listening and honoring their wishes. When they eventually let their guards down, you might find they actually start wanting your opinion (if you don’t share it forcefully).

In my personal experience, when my husband knew that I understood what things were important to him, he started to let me declutter his stuff without him. Now it’s easier for him to just let me do it, but it was a lot of hard work on both our parts to get to that point.

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Give People A Chance To Change (even slowly)

Change does not happen overnight. It takes time. You have to trust the process. If they choose only three things to declutter on the first pass of their drawers, celebrate!

You’ve probably been imagining a certain amount of stuff gone right away, but it’s not going to happen all at once as a person learns to declutter. Celebrate progress and look forward to the next pass through the drawers.

Decluttering is one of those things that can start slow, but it goes exponentially faster once someone gets the hang of it. That’s not something you can force, but you can support getting there.

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Remember

Absolutely No Shaming about past decisions. If you can let go of your spouses past clutter-building mistakes, you give them the fresh start they need to make changes.

See the potential of your space and your spouse. Visualize what your space could become and share your vision with your spouse. Speak positively to your spouse and make sure they know you want what is best for them.

Show kindness. Notice a problem or frustration your spouse experiences as a result of organizing, and find a way of making it easier for them.

Ask permission. Nothing goes without the permission of the owner.

 

Tell me about your experience decluttering with your partner or spouse. It may encourage others.

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Don’t forget to go get your Printable Pack for the Declutter Challenge Coming Up!

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16 thoughts on “Surviving Decluttering As A Couple

  1. I must admit I have not read all the entries about the upcoming challenge but I think I need to get Christmas stuff put away before I start on my laundry area or is it ok to start anyway?

  2. My hubby is half way on board!
    The other day, he asked me for tips on Decluttering his cabinet of stuff. So I showed him some of my cabinets.
    This morning, before he left for work, he said he was going to be late because he was going to stop and get some containers, and bins for his cabinets. Because he wanted to copy mine.!
    Thank-you Mary for all you do and helping me and my family be organized!

  3. Oh but this is tough. I have started decluttering my own things and leaving my husband’s things in place. one afternoon I suggested we could work on the den together. He agreed. I mentioned some magazines I was considering getting rid of. His efforts consisted of piling up everything that was mine and taking it out to the front porch for the recycle bin! Later I realized he thought he was being helpful but at the moment I was angry. Great! his idea of decluttering is throwing out everything that belongs to me. Most of my stuff made it to the recycle bin but nothing of his is gone yet.

    1. You are doing all you can, which is all you can do. If your effort to communicate doesn’t work, it really is okay to get a counselor involved. :)

  4. In my household, hubby is the neatnik. *I’m* the one with the problem. Frustrates the heck out of him, and me. What is your best advice for how to answer, “If you loved me, you’d take care of this/wouldn’t do this?” I don’t do it on purpose. It bothers me, too. I hate that I am like this.

    1. I would answer honestly and let him know that you are listening and trying the best you can, but even with all your effort … it may take a while. And then just try. If necessary/possible, maybe mediate with a counselor. It is very common for this to be a source of frustration between partners – you are not alone!

  5. Beautiful article! I love the warmth, care and empathy that comes through which,with a good ear, is the key to most relationship dilemmas. I have been doing this with my partner for the last 3 years and it’s fun to see the light bulb moments happen. i think the first was towels. After gathering all the towels in one place and then asking how many towels he thought we should keep for just the two of us we made a sizable donation later.

    1. Love this! I think it’s easy to keep “enough” towels when you don’t think through it, but talking about it out loud is eye-opening. We can be more ruthless with our partner’s encouragement!

  6. This is just what I needed to read! My whole house is tidy and orderly, free of clutter.. including drawers and closets except the basement and garage. We are still working on these areas. My husband *sigh* has so.much.stuff. He has childhood toys and at one point (kid you not) he had a 30 gallon tote of his first baby spoons and shoes and clothes and a trash bag full of stuffed animals and blankets and trinkets galore… all this stuff just in boxes. I don’t know if he has a sentimal attachment to this stuff or he would just feel the guilt of letting it go but I am really struggling with this right now. In the midst of a mild adult temper tantrum, I threw (not literally) all his “prized possessions” in one room in the basement. I don’t know what to do!

    1. Maybe possibly, think about small improvements over time and keep trying. If there is never any improvement, and he is truly not letting go of anything, consider a counselor – he may have issues/ trauma/ things unexplained that are affecting his letting go ability more than you or he realizes.

      When I married my husband, he was the one people gave free stuff to and he had a garage, a room, and several closets worth of computer parts. Fast forward to a few years later when I really wanted the last of the junk gone (he was never going to do anything with the parts!), I negotiated with him. We bought him the nicest, fanciest computer that he’d ever want and some guy from Freecycle picked up all the rest of the stuff! It filled this guy’s long-bed truck and cab!!! (And we had only been married a few years and our house was still much smaller than now, I still can’t believe I tolerated storing all that as long as I did. My husband was happy, though, because of the trade. …. So maybe turning that storage room into your husband’s man cave? ;) Remember, it took me years of effort to get to that point AND years since to get to where we are now. It does not happen overnight!

  7. Starting off any conversation with openness and two way communication will lead to more successes than not. Whether it’s an apology, explaining how much decluttering would mean to you or showing facts and figures supporting your point, the end product happens when connection is there.

Leave a comment! I love to hear what you think!