Couples and Their Clutter

One of the most common responses I get when I meet someone at a social gathering and explain what I do as a professional organizer is “Ahhhh, you need to talk to my partner!!”

Do you and your partner fall on different ends of the clutter tolerance scale? Do you get into arguments about the clutter in your home? How do you handle it?

My husband and I were quite far apart on the scale and over the years have managed to find a way to deal with our differences and have more reasonable expectations of each other. I have to confess though, the real changes started happening after I started working as a professional organizer! How did this happen?

I think the key ingredients are Patience, Respect and Humour, all with equal weight. Developing patience can be challenging but with practice it can be a very effective tool. Respecting our differences when it comes to things and our use of space is generally more fruitful than seeing your partner as “wrong” or “not normal”. In Good Therapy, Dr. Edward Hallowell is quoted as saying that “many who face clutter conflicts are really in a power struggle”. A cluttered room can mean very different things to different people. One sees it as cozy and comfortable while the other sees it as their partner not caring about the family. The article goes on to explain that the topic of clutter, if not addressed, can cause an undercurrent of relationship strife.

My comfort level with clutter has softened over the years and my husband’s has moved closer to mine. Our home is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We have however, agreed upon certain zones being clutter free and others that can accumulate “stuff”, up to a point. My heart skipped a beat when he came home one day with a new purchase, excitedly showed it off to me then asked himself, “now, where is a good place to keep this?” Having a designated place for all things really helps with keeping the clutter down.

After reviewing what the experts say about managing clutter and relationships, I’ve chosen the following tips to guide you through the process:

• Remember, clutter problems are normal! No two people are alike.

• Start with Respect. Be Patient. Keep it light with Humour. Using these three qualities, begin to work with your spouse/partner to tackle cluttered spaces.

• Timing is everything! Pick a time that is stress-free to talk with your partner. Put a date on the calendar with a time limit, to work on a space.

• Identify areas or rooms that are to be clutter-free at all times and others that are clutter-acceptable

• Designate a place for items to make putting them away easier. Sometimes things get left on the table because you simply don’t know where to put it.

• Understand that for some, letting go of things like books is not simply packing them up and donating them to a local charity. It’s giving up on the dream that someday they will have the time to read them.

• Break tasks up into small, attainable chunks. For example, begin with a small area such as the entranceway or a piece of furniture that often collects an assortment of items.

• Hire a professional organizer. She/He can work with you and your spouse to declutter your home and create customized organizing solutions for your home that are sustainable.

• Consider seeing a therapist if you feel deeper issues are not being addressed.



“Why clutter can undermine relationships” (The Daily Briefing, Advisory Board)

“Cleaning Out the Clutter Can Clear Up Relationship Conflicts” (Good Therapy)

“How Clutter Can Hurt a Relationship” (Intelligence for Your Life)