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!
I was honored to speak at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco's Hoarding and Cluttering Convention. My talk on "How To Organize Your Space with a Feng Shui Template" was welcomed by the audience. They seemed to enjoy it, as much as I did, since it focused off the clutter, and more on fun and easy solutions to clearing the path.
Most educators at the convention concurred that many people with clutter and hoarding challenges do not go to therapy. Most likely because they don't see their clutter as a problem. Also, something to do with attachment issues, which means the stuff they collect is friendly and fuzzier then most people, and they have no intention of getting rid of a thing. The stuff issue is just to personal and painful.There were Professional organizers and consumers at this convention working on all kinds of solutions for over-collecting and accumulating. The researchers attending indicate it is bio/psycho/social challenge, which means genetic, psychological and societal.
Hoarding disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may factor in to the more serious cases. Once the objects, stuff and items build up into a barricade, and the people living in the space can barely move, creating psychosis, depression, anxiety, fire hazards, and possibly even death it becomes dangerous. You can read more about these challenges in a previous article at
Social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and educators help with hoarding and mental health challenges, but the kindness and compassion, and physical aspect of going into someone's home to transform it is usually done by professional organizers.
The boundary issues prohibit so much of what mental health practitioners provide and offer. Anyone who wants to help with a hoarding situation will want to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. When that is not comfortable for a practitioner / family member / or friend then the helping is better left to a professional organizer with a mental health background.
You either have the knack to help others get organized and to have resolve in their lives, or you don't. There is no in-between in being a professional organizer.
Getting organized is hard work, and takes tenacity, thoughtfulness and a planned strategy for both the organizer, and the person with hoarding and cluttering challenges.
For people with clutter and hoarding challenges other people, who get close to them, may pose unsafe possibilities (people wanting to get rid of their charged items, judgment, abuse, removal from their home). The objects start to take life, meaning and then a relationship is formed. Also things that are collected may hold memories, ideas, thoughts and images of a time, person, place.
The mind has now made a simple ice cream wrapper a time spent on the beach with a person's absent son, brother, husband or friend.
It is a seriously isolating. It is seriously challenging. It is seriously difficult to stop.
I have four very close friends and family members who suffer with their barricades and the one common link I found is a broken and damaged relationship with their fathers. I started to talk to clients I work with and it may be a greater possibility that the paternal modeling is essential in future organizing skills.
Marla Stone, Author, Professional Organizer, Decor and Feng Shui Idealist,
Marla is known as the organizing clutter therapist®. Marla earned her BA in Psychology and a Master's in Social Work and is the founder of I-Deal-Lifestyle, a Self and Space Organization Service.