by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
When I met the man who would become my husband he had left a 10-year relationship and had gone back to live in his mother’s house. Before that he had lived in his former girlfriend’s home. So, I knew, when we decided to move in together, that he wasn’t bringing much furniture or other home necessities to our apartment.
So, I was surprised when every day, for weeks, he’d show up at our new apartment with a few boxes of stuff that he’d been storing in his closet and his mother’s garage. While I was pleased that I was consistently reducing the things I no longer needed, I found myself living with someone who felt flat surfaces were meant to be covered with knickknacks.
Fast forward a few years to our first house. He bought things to make the house look interesting and felt my more minimalistic approach was boring. (He’d been buying things for me to create collections, something he, apparently, felt I lacked. My small collection of frogs expanded to include a shelf of cat-themed items, another of dragons, and a dresser-top+ of squirrels.)
I’ve brought up the idea of decluttering some knickknacks in favor of the model cars, trucks, planes, and ships that he builds. A couple of times, I’ve pointed out that if he got rid of (or moved) three shelves of DVDs, he’d have space to display some of his recent model builds. I think he may be softening to the idea (first mentioned three or four months ago). Fingers crossed.
Get Some Perspective
Despite decluttering “rules,” such as getting rid of things that haven’t been used in a year (or six months), eliminating duplicates, or limiting quantities, these things don’t have to be tossed. In fact, decluttering is a choice and someone’s choice may be to keep what they have.
Some people like having stuff, others, not so much. For some, a lot of stuff is creatively stimulating; for others, anxiety-provoking.
If the individual is holding onto things (in vast quantities) that most people view as trash (say, used pizza boxes), that’s a problem. If it’s impossible to cook on the stove, sit on a chair, sleep in the bed, or shower because these areas are piled with stuff, then an appointment with a psychologist who works with people who hoard may be in order.
If your partner likes a ‘full’ look, then you can do what you can and hope that they become inspired by your example.
Be the Example
If you’re significant other agrees to the idea of decluttering, then, go for it.
On the other hand, if your partner doesn’t want to declutter …
You may grate your teeth at this piece of advice, but you need to start with your stuff. Your partner can see what you’re doing and maybe they’ll ask some questions about how you’re making decisions.
Then, move onto areas of your home where you normally make the decisions – the kitchen if you do all the cooking, the laundry room if you do the cleaning and straightening here, the home office/craft room.
Introduce Some “Rules”
As you move your decluttering efforts into some rooms, you’ll encounter spaces used by your significant other. Maybe your partner enters the house and drops mail, stuff from their pockets, and other things onto the kitchen table. Others at home (including you) have followed this example and now it’s impossible to eat a meal at the table.
Bring up in conversation that you want to start eating meals at the kitchen table without the need to push things to the side. You want the table cleared all the time. Emphasize the benefits of being able to sit down with a cup of coffee or breakfast in a clear, peaceful space.
Because the stuff on the table has probably lived there for a while, the table is now that stuff’s ‘home.’ If you want the stuff off the table, then you’ll need to figure out where all that stuff belongs. Work with your spouse through the process so they aren’t complaining later that you’ve moved stuff on them. Help them determine the logical place for paperwork, extra pens, vitamins, receipts, etc. Don’t think it’s obvious, because it isn’t, or the stuff wouldn’t be piled on the table.
Working through the process with them helps them make decisions about where stuff goes.
Have you had success decluttering with your spouse or partner? Were they ready or reluctant and did you feel that you were able to help? Leave a comment below.
Add in a Dose of Humor
You know how in some documents you’ll encounter a page with the words, “This page intentionally left blank,” which is ironic because those words negative their message?
Maybe you make a sign that you put on your newly cleared table after dinner that says, “This table intentionally left empty,” perhaps with an emoji of a smiley face with its tongue sticking out to emphasize the humor. Each night, after dinner, you post this sign as a reminder.
Create a Consequence
What will you do if you find items left in an area that’s been decluttered? Discuss this when you’re planning to declutter the space. You aren’t agreeing to put things away for them. You also don’t want to move things to another location where the items may stay instead of being put away.
Point out that it will be easier to put away two or three things today than two or three dozen items this weekend (as evidenced by the clutter that the two of you will be clearing). Ask your partner to decide when they will do this task – before sitting down to dinner? Before watching television? A reward for doing the task could be that you won’t be reminding them multiple times to clear the table when they are watching a favorite show.
Perhaps if they succeed for a few days, they know that you’ll purchase ice cream for dessert, or you’ll make a favorite dinner, or take a bike ride with them. (And give yourself a treat for your efforts – a cup of coffee, time to read a book, etc.). You’re helping them to develop a new habit; it won’t happen overnight. Also, you want to help them succeed in this area so they discover that they can declutter and maintain the clear space.
Continue to a New Location
You can’t make another person declutter (or do anything, really). However, if they feel successful decluttering small spaces, they may continue to other locations on their own.
And if that doesn’t happen? Create cluttered zones as well as clutter-free zones – or even entire rooms. Give your significant other spaces where you won’t try to declutter or organize in exchange for locations where clutter must be cleared away.
It’s an odd sort of balancing act where nothing will really feel, or be, balanced, but it can create clearer spaces in your home.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.