The Odd Couple Syndrome

I’m not a marriage counselor, but sometimes I play one at work.  Very often, during the course of an organizing project my client will tell me about the organizing habits of their spouse. Sometimes it is the absent spouse that is urging the other to “get organized.” Other times the one who has called me in is trying to organize around their spouse.  In any case, it’s common and I get the question all the time, “What should I do about my husband’s/wife’s stuff?” I call this the Odd Couple Syndrome.

We all know that you are never going to completely change your spouse, but there are ways to work around them and curtail their clutter.  In my own marriage we are not too far apart on the neatness scale, but there are a few house rules I had to lay down early on in our relationship and I’m happy to say, my hubby has adapted.  He likes everything out, I like to tuck it away. So we compromised with where we could keep things out. Here are a few pointers when it comes to organizing with or around your messy spouse:

  1. Take a walk through your house with your spouse and write down the organizing/home improvement projects you’d like to tackle this year. Write them down according to room and then determine where you should start. I suggest starting with the worst room first.
  2. If you disagree on what needs to be done, compromise. Decide on your budget and discuss who will do what task.  Whenever possible work together.
  3. If your spouse has an exorbitant amount of stuff that he/she won’t part with, categorize it, box it up and then decide where this stuff will be kept. Basements, attics & garages are typical storage areas. Perhaps set a deadline like, “if you don’t use this in one year, it goes.”
  4. If your spouse is messy with one type of thing like magazines, newspapers or books, purchase a big basket, a magazine rack or a new bookshelf to house these items.  Literally contain them!
  5. If you are organizing a room or area and your spouse is not present, don’t toss his/her stuff. Simply put it in a box marked with his/her name and asked them to go through it and decide. Give them a deadline.  This works well for kids stuff too. Children who move back home after college, often have boxes of items they conveniently forget to go through. That’s fine, but let them know on a certain date, it all gets tossed. Not many people have room to store “Postponed Decisions.”
  6. If containing your spouse little by little does not work, give them a room or a closet for all their stuff that you don’t want in your living space. Then let it go. It’s their space so you don’t have to worry about, it as long as your shared living space is agreeable to both of you.

Like all things in marriage it’s about compromise. Think about what you can live with in terms of messiness and clutter. It’s better to discuss these things in terms of project planning and not pointing fingers about who is worse or whose fault it is that your home is not perfect.  Take a logical, proactive approach and remember to be kind to each other. You’re not right or wrong, you are just different.