Getting organized can be tedious and overwhelming when you are alone and without support of your partner, family and or roommates, who don't want to be your cohort in the organizing adventure. Organizing a shared space with an unwilling partner can block the road to YOUR ORGANIZED world.
Most commonly I hear that a spouse, partner, family member or roommate wants to get organized but the other half is just fine in their clutter comfort. This tends to be difficult and worrisome for the person who wants freedom and escape from clutter and disorganization.
Why does clutter come between people? Well some people realize that the outer is a reflection of the inner and want to have an organized system to help them stay focused and productive. Other people push clutter in your face and are just plain old “self-centered”, not aware of their surroundings and or other's feelings. The person creating the disorganization and mess cannot see the demise of their counterpart. Or could it be they thrive on clutter and actually feel comforted?
Are people REALLY comfortable with clutter? Not usually, but on some level if a person grew up in a cluttered environment they may not think twice about living the same way as was their home of origin. Other people who tolerate clutter mayhem well, may suffer from mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, ADD and or Obsessive Compulsive challenges. The divide, amongst people who share space, in housekeeping styles, is what a lot of partnerships fight about. Most people who cohabitate or who share space fight about money, housekeeping, moral issues, how to raise children/pets, and sex (if that is in the equation). Housekeeping, let's face it is tedious, but when clutter has run rampant it may become dangerous, harmful to health and downright unbearable for a person who likes order and neatness. One person may feel like they are king, on their "junk" pile, while the other a drowning person.
So what to do when two or more people in a space are at odds with each other? Well what most civilized groups tend to do is compromise. But how do you compromise on clutter and chaos? The same way emotionally intelligent people solve conflict, you discuss it, find out what common ground there is (no pun intended), and you make a plan that suits both of you. The best way to discuss a difficult situation is to use assertive language.
Assertive language style goes like this.
YOU: I feel______________(adjective feeling words) i.e. hurt, overwhelmed, confused, disappointed, let down, unheard, stepped on etc.... when________________(describe situation) i.e. there are piles of stuff in corners, the garage is overtaken by your unfinished projects, when I can't see the countertop, when dishes are left in the sink, when the house if not kept up etc.... and then the finale......_______________________(validation, so they hear the feelings) i.e. and I love you so much, and you are such a great partner, and so creative and so loveable and I appreciate this and that about you, you’re a fun roommate etc....
The reason for the switch from the "I feel" statement and the "situation" statement to the sweet "validation" statement is that ideally the other person will hear your feelings and respond accordingly. There are no guarantees, if you become highly assertive, the other person will respond appropriately. That doesn’t mean that you lower your communication style, becoming aggressive, passive aggressive or passive, it just means you will probably have to learn how to have rules about your world and boundaries to protect it.
When you discuss situations that bring on contention between you and others, in an assertive manner, you will feel more confident and justified in your approach, and also create expectations for an assertive response. When the other person comes back at you with aggression, passive aggressive stances, and or ignores you and you feel defeated keep going with the above assertive language. If the other person continues to use a non-assertive method of communication even though you have shared deep and dark feelings, and have validated them, it is time to realize they do not care about your feelings and or working on a better partnership. Your next step may be to seek counseling, individual and or family, get coaching with an experienced life coach or take a break from the situation through separation until the other person will hear you, and make the necessary changes for the partnership to resume comfortably for both of you.
Remember when you share space….the meaning of share is important!
Steps for decluttering
Space Analysis-Analyze your space and figure out what you want to use it for. If it is your garage for instance, do you want to park your cars or will it be a workshop or a kid's play room? Understand that if you want to use the space for more then one activity, realize the potential of the space and all that it can be. Make drawings, even if you don't draw well, of what you think it would look like. Cut out pictures from magazines of ideas you have for the space. Visualize the space in your mind's eye. Discuss the space with family and friends and generate ideas. Call a professional organizer and get a free consultation about your space. Next take everything out of your space.
Take everything out of the space. Starting with an empty space will help you determine a home for everything you are keeping and give you a blank canvas to design the space from scratch. Find an area to sort through the things you will keep and the items you will eliminate.
Eliminate. Of course the most difficult part is getting rid of stuff that you have held onto for some reason or another...and guess what, even if you haven't used it for years and aren't sure when you will, it is still difficult to get rid of stuff. Have four piles. One for Keep, one for Give, one for Trash, and one for Miscellaneous or just can't decide. This makes the task go quicker. Once you get everything sorted you will be ready for putting everything in its place.
Putting Everything in its place. I always say there is a home for everything and it's true. You will find a home for every item you want in your space. The reason it is a good idea to have a home for everything is simple...stuff will end up back where it belongs, and it will be easy to find when you want it. Since you designed the space ahead of time it will be pretty easy to move everything into place. If there are heavy items there are great tools at the hardware store for moving and sliding heavy peices. This is also a time to hire a handyman, or get some handy friends over, if you want things hung, pictures, racks, wall units put together etc... Once your finished sit and relax and take it all in.
Sit and Relax and take it all in. Finally your space is complete. This is a time to use the space and see if it really works for you. You may want to make adjustments and move things around and even eliminate more stuff you realize you're not going to use in the space. You may also want to purchase some new items for your space. Reflect on the space and make sure it is how you really imagined it. Hopefully with all the planning and carefully considered steps your space is perfect for you and voila!
Marla Stone is a Professional Organizer and a Lifestyle Coach
She serves Orange County, Los Angeles County and San Diego County
She is also available for telephone and or skype consultations nationwide.
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Marla is known as the Declutter Your Strategy™ expert. Marla earned her BA in Psychology and a Master's in Social Work and is the founder of