Four Tips for Living with a Less Organized Partner

The first time I went to my husband’s house, long before we were married, I marveled at his CD collection—or more precisely, at how much it overlapped with my CD collection. I took that as a very good sign. I remember thinking, “Wow, we are so similar.”

And we are. Tom and I laugh at the same things. We have nearly identical political views. We share the same core values. We like the same kinds of ice cream.

But in one area, we are utter opposites: our tolerance for clutter.

I cannot stand clutter, but as far as I can tell, my husband doesn’t even see it. I wrote earlier about how our house became disorganized after a series of big life changes. This caused me genuine anguish. It didn’t bother Tom a bit.

I won’t lie: sometimes this mismatch is hard on me. I haven’t always handled it well, and I will admit to my share of outbursts. But over the years, Tom and I have come to a comfortable middle ground on dealing with clutter. It’s not what either of us would have chosen if we lived on our own. But since we’ve chosen to live together, we’ve each made compromises.

I think the principle of compromise is very important here. Some people advise that when one partner is organized and the other isn’t, the organized one should take on the burden of keeping things neat. That would never work for me! I’d be very resentful if my husband didn’t pitch in on something he knew was important to me. But of course this works both ways: I need to respect Tom’s preferences too.

Here’s what helped me make peace with our mismatched tolerances for clutter:

  • I analyzed the clutter. I realized that Tom’s clutter is purely visual. In other words, it has never interfered with any important tasks or responsibilities. Tom doesn’t lose things. We are not late on bills. There are no safety issues. In fact, Tom is extremely organized in his digital life. (I actually think he over-organizes his email and photos!) He just doesn’t care how his surroundings look.
  • I made a sincere effort to see the issue from Tom’s perspective. This was hard, but I stopped taking the clutter personally. I reminded myself that clutter didn’t bother Tom and he put a higher priority on other things. (Of course, he did the same for me, acknowledging that I did put a high priority on reducing clutter.)
  • I accepted different standards for different spaces. In our house, the rule is that public spaces stay neat—or as neat as they can for a busy family. So in our kitchen, entryway, and family room, I get to demand a high level of organization. The same for our bedroom—I want it to feel relaxing, and clutter there would stress me out. But Tom keeps his side of our bedroom closet the way he wants it, even though I’m itching to purge and sort. He keeps his home office as messy as he wants, with no comments from me. (OK, that last part is lie—I can’t always stop myself from offering my opinion.)
  • My most important tip? Focus on what’s most important. I try to remember that Tom truly doesn’t care about clutter, and that for him, decluttering is extra (and unimportant) work. But he does a lot of it anyway, because he loves me. I’ll take that over an uncluttered closet any day!

Do you have a partner whose attitude toward clutter is different from yours? How have you handled the situation?


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Nancy Vorsanger loves how her organized home makes her family’s life easier. She opened her own organizing business to help other families get—and stay—organized, with practical, no-fuss strategies tailored to their own needs and lifestyles. Nancy also loves coffee, word games, blogs, her husband, and her children—not in that order. She lives in central New Jersey.

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