Concert T-shirts. Golf magazines. Old beer bottles. You name it, and there’s a person out there who hangs onto it for dear life. At the same time, there’s often a partner in the home who’s trying to make do with less. This person may even be a Marie Kondo devotee, appreciating old clothing and books for their contributions while hurriedly ousting them from the house.
So how on Earth does a couple with varying methods of organization—or lack thereof—coexist? We talked to some experts to determine the secrets to achieving balance within your home. Whether you’re the minimalist or the pack rat, try putting these tactics into practice.
Holding on to past frustrations about your partner’s behavior won’t make the situation any better. That’s why it’s important to let things go and start fresh when you decide to reorganize your stuff.
Julie Coraccio, the organizing guru at Reawaken Your Brilliance, urges couples to focus on the present, no matter what happened in the past.
“Remember, you’re a team, so there should be no blame for how you got to the situation you’re in right now,” she says.
Allow some personal space
Your partner deserves his or her own sacred area, says Jennifer Snyder, a professional organizer at Neat as a Pin in Waco, TX.
“Let this person keep the space as neat or cluttered as desired—and it should remain above reproach from the spouse with different preferences,” Snyder says.
Once this spot is created, the person who owns it can keep whatever they want there, says Jamie Novak, author of “Keep This Toss That.” “But if stuff crosses into the common area, it has to be pared down,” she says.
You and your partner should then decide what “clean” realistically looks like in your home.
“Establish a baseline that’s also a compromise,” says Snyder. Figure out your home’s absolutes in the shared living spaces (a few suggestions: no eating in bed, no shoes past the front door, taking out trash on time).
Next, try to create preset parameters for how long certain items can stick around. This will allow the “declutterer” to toss in peace and the “saver” to trust that certain things won’t be lost.
“For example, agree that newspapers older than a month and receipts older than 14 days can be tossed,” Novak says.
Find creative ways to cut clutter
Go through the areas that need organizing, and find ways to cut down on paper, clothes, books, and more.
“Sign up for online banking so you get less in the mail,” Coraccio suggests. Old tees can be made into a quilt. As for books, let the amount of shelf space dictate the number you keep. If new tomes arrive, take away the same number of old ones. (Yes, we know this might involve some tough decisions.)
Designate a box
If your partner is having trouble parting with items, put them in a box and let the box remain as a safety net for a couple of months, says Novak. “This way, he or she can go back to an item they miss.”
If the box remains untouched for a while, it gets donated or thrown out. Just don’t open it! There’s a chance the saver may reminisce and want to keep some items all over again.
Resist the urge to toss without talking about it
Whatever you do, don’t throw things out without warning the other person. This could lead to big problems down the road if the item actually contained important information. Does this need further explanation? No.
Just accept it
There might need to be a relaxing of the standards, says Coraccio.
“If you insist on impossible levels of neatness, the whole family will be stressed out,” she says. Does this sound like you? Take it down a notch.
Above all, the most important thing to remember is to be mindful of each other—an essential step en route to living together in harmony.
“If the messy spouse can understand that the neater spouse finds peace in order, and the neat person can see that the mess-prone person needs to spread it all out to feel at ease, then this mutual respect will take them a very long way,” Snyder says.