living with clutter when it's not yours
January 6, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How do you live with your partner's clutter?

I recently moved in with my partner, after dating for a little over a year. I moved into her house, where she has lived for several years. There is clutter everywhere. I didn't think it would bother me, but my irritation and frustration with it are slowly building. She has said she is willing to address the clutter, but actual progress with it has been incredibly slow (she works a lot and often doesn't have energy when she gets home).

I have offered everything I can think of to help with this situation - take everything that is lying out and put it in boxes out of the way, or hire someone to help, but she insists on taking care of the clutter herself. I have offered to take care of all the other house chores so she has time to address the clutter, since this is something I can do without her worrying that I will throw away something important. But she's not doing it, and it's driving me crazy. I don't know how to address this in a sensitive way - I know that she's very busy, and the last thing she wants to do after coming home from working for 12 hours is go through strata of old mess. But the last thing I want to do after coming home from work is see strata of old mess, and I live there too.

How can I be okay with this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her that the two of you need to make a plan for addressing the clutter, and a timetable, and work toward it, or that you will need to move out again. Seriously.
posted by cyndigo at 1:56 PM on January 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

How can I be okay with this?

If this is really your question -- and your question is not how to "fix" her -- the answer is that you need your own area in the house that you can keep as empty/neat as you like. When you are feeling stressed about clutter, you can retreat there for a little while.
posted by fritley at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

One person's clutter is another person's art supplies. Or are we talking about junk and trash? That would be a dealbreaker for me. Not necessarily for the relationship, but for the living arrangements. Not every couple is happy living together.
posted by sageleaf at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that talking is your only solution.

But I found this post on warm and cool people at Apartment Therapy useful to begin framing the differences between clutter-ey people and those who are not.
posted by Kronur at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do you have a little space carved out for yourself where you have a non-clutter sanctuary? I currently live in a house with 4 other people and while we are all generally messy, if I don't have my own room clean and de-cluttered I start to lose my shit a little bit. For your own sanity, I would highly suggest trying to make a small desk-space or your own office to de-stress, if you can.
Regarding the clutter, I know from experience with my housemates/best friends that planning on dealing with the clutter can be as stressful, if not more than actually doing it. What helped for her was to create some time, say an hour on a weekend where the two of us sat in her cluttered area and I pulled crap out of a pile and asked if she wanted to keep it, toss it, or donate it. For her it seemed to help to have someone else there to keep us focused on the task at hand, and it also seemed to make the whole project much less overwhelming. If there is as much clutter as my friend has, and as we have in our house, it is not something that will go away quickly and you will always need to work at keeping it down.
posted by ruhroh at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to sit down with her and tell her how much it is affecting you. And then offer to spend a weekend powering through it with her to just get over the big hump of getting started (which is the hardest part).

Once you've addressed the initial problem you're going to have to think about maintenance and your priorities. Since she has a much higher threshold for clutter, realistically you will probably have to figure out things that she can do that you don't enjoy and do a large share of the picking up or you will revisit this issue over and over again. If there isn't anything that she is will to do that would help distribute household workload (going shopping, doing laundry, mowing lawn? etc.) then you may need to revisit whether or not you two are compatible as far as living together.

I know that sounds extreme, but living with someone who has drastically different tolerances for tidiness is a HUGE stresser and you really need to think about how you want to live your life in your home.
posted by Kimberly at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've struggled with this too. I even got to the point where I went through my partner's stuff (which is all over the floor and on his couch) and sorted it. I made piles of junk mail, important mail, laundry, odds and ends and then asked him to at least go through the stuff. He ended up moving the piles around and redistributing the mess everywhere.

The problem is not having the time, it's the "wanting" to do it part. I know lots and lots of busy people. People who are busier than what you describe of your partner. They manage to take care of the things in their life because it's an important priority for them. Your partner needs to find motivation based on his/her own personal need more than your need to have a cleaner, neater space. God help you both.
posted by loquat at 2:05 PM on January 6, 2011

This is one of those things where people have vastly different views of whats normal or OK. My ex and I had this issue for years and years, which I basically resolved by giving in to her clutter/mess on the whole, and as fritley suggested had a couple places that were "mine". I made some attempts, but she just didn't see it as an issue that way (and in her mind I think it was clean, because it was certainly much much cleaner than the house she grew up in, whereas I grew up in what was basically a Martha Stewart house).

Now that we've divorced my house is blissfully clean and open. I would consider this more strongly in future partners --- not that we have to agree 100%, but a large gap in what is acceptable/clean is hard to close and just gets more frustrating over time.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:05 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello me! Have you tried watching Hoarders? This is where you're headed. I really saw that as a wakeup call to *do* something *now*.

But don't watch it with her -- I started watching with my husband, and he would just say "Oh, I'm nowhere near as bad as THAT..."
posted by lgandme0717 at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2011

I think issues like these ultimately boil down to issues of respect for each other. You in acknowledging you moved into and environment that you knew was non-ideal along these lines and hoping to change her/it. She understanding that to share a living space with you is to really share it with you in a way that addresses your personal issues about what a home should be as well as her own.

I have found that if you can talk about the respect component as well as the (insert present frustration here) issue, that a partner is more likely to take the issue seriously because they sincerely do care about respecting the other person.

If it becomes obvious that they don't seem to respect your concerns (after having discussed them over the course of a few non-emotionally-charged times), then your solution is to ask yourself a new question. Namely, "Do I want to live with someone that does not understand/acknowledge/respect what my ideas of home are and come to a compromise that works for us both?"
posted by nickjadlowe at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, Horders is a great motivator.
posted by ducktape at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband gets his own room (his study, not our bedroom) that can be as messy or as neat as he wants (hint: it's always messy) and in return he is not allowed to clutter up the rest of the house. If he does, whatever he leaves lying around, surfing gear, mail, junk, automatically gets put in his room for him to deal with where I can at least shut the door on it. I accept that he's not tidy but I refuse to let it take over the entire house and my life. I saw how he lived when he was single - ha! No way! Now we're both happy and we've never argued about it.
posted by Jubey at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm your partner in my relationship. He doesn't see dirt/slime or pet hair, I don't see clutter. That's not entirely true as I'm trying to mend my ways. For me the biggest stumbling block is finding places for everything. My mother also instilled some of her hoarding tendencies in me so I may feel guilty about throwing things out, or worse, I hang on to items because "what if I need them?" I agree with suggestions of having your own, decluttered place to go, but that's really not enough in the long-run. What's helped for us is a landing place that is okay to clutter up, but occasionally is cleaned out. Ours is a bookshelf near the door where my school stuff can be dumped. ruhroh's suggestion of going through the stack of papers with her would really help me, so maybe you can tell her how much the clutter stresses you out, and that you'll go through it together--not that she has to get rid of anything (necessarily) but it all just needs to have a place to live. Good luck.
posted by emkelley at 2:21 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you my husband?

I am clutter: not trash, but stuff. Stuff upon stuff. Papers, books, odds and ends I should fix, things that might be useful some day. My husband moved in and hates it. Drives him up a wall. Also, I work and have a long commute, so I'm in the same boat.

Things that have worked (although I'm not cured by any means):
- Creating a place for things and labeling those places
- Freecycle and Goodwill: Throwing things out is a crime, but if someone else gets enjoyment out of it I can do the keep, trash, giveaway pile thing with great ease
- Taking a day off work, setting aside a weekend, etc. and getting my husband out of the house. Somehow, I can't sort things and judge things while he's there, judging me and my stuff. There's a certain personalness to all the crap. So I need loud music, highly caffeinated beverages and room to grieve over the loss of that second toaster
- The nighttime sweep. We don't always remember to do it, but most nights, we go through the house and put away all the out-of-place things: laundry down the chute, stray shoes in the closet, papers in my drawers, phones on the chargers, computers in the computer stack, dishes washed. It goes fast if you do it every night before bed

Things that have not worked:
- The Container Store: storage boxes just become more crap
- My husband helping: If it's me getting rid of stuff, I'm in charge. If he's even commenting on stuff, even in a kind, nice way, in my weird, defensive head, he's judging me or forcing me to get rid of stuff
- Trying to do it linearly, room by room or even floor by floor. My brain has to think through the things, their use, the best place for them. So, before I'm wrapped up, there's likely piles or cabinets torn apart or something. If I just do a room, I'm shoving things in a drawer or under a bed without thought

So, ask her for a specific plan including a specific date and time and what she needs to get it done: you out of the house, extra curbside pickup of trash, etc. If she's like me, she'll get huffy and defensive and then give you a date grumpily, whine right before to see if you'll let her out of it for now 'cause she's [excuse] (which you will not give in any way) and then stomp around until it's time to do it. Then she'll do it and want you to praise her for the progress she's made (which you'll do and be very generous with her and not say something like "about time") and then you'll encourage a nighttime sweep. Or a first thing home sweep. Or a place where her coat, bag, shoes and clutter that walks into the house with her goes. And you'll praise her when she does right and gently remind when she does wrong and eventually she'll be able to internalize that organizing without crap feels good. (You might even offer a reward/treat for X clutter-free days in a row.)

Or at least, that is what works with me. Perhaps she's totally different than my stack of screenprinting screens, Archie McPhee toys, clothes that need buttons, picture frames that need to be hung and wireless peripherals that are missing their receivers, but hopefully this helps a smidge.
posted by Gucky at 2:22 PM on January 6, 2011 [20 favorites]

Jubey - I like that a lot. I understand the 'neat cave' that people are advocating to retreat to, but I don't think it's fair to force a clean freak into one room when the partner who isn't a clean freak is perfectly happy in a clean living room. Really, though, the idea is the same. Partners both need to compromise (neat people should deal with a little mess, cluttery people need to try to be neater) and should also have an area they feel control over.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:23 PM on January 6, 2011

Hoarders has been a huge help for me. I have a tendency to hold on to things because I might need them, so the counterexample of how terrible things can get if you don't nip that in the bud has been salutary.

What's helped for us is a landing place that is okay to clutter up, but occasionally is cleaned out.

Yes, that can really help. Bins, shelves, cabinets, drawers, etc. that can be closed are a great compromise.

The thing is that it's possible it might make her anxious to have the things out of sight--if so, that might be an early sign of some hoarding-related behavior, and that's something she might want to work on.

But hopefully you guys can take a trip to the Container Store or Target or wherever and get some storage solutions that satisfy you both.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2011 need your own area in the house that you can keep as empty/neat as you like.

This is important, but it doesn't solve the problem of how it feels when common space is messy in a way that makes one person uncomfortable.

There are two key things here. One is something she has to learn, and one is something you have to learn. (And by the way, I had to have this explained to my by a therapist; my partner and I have the same issue.)

1) When you talk to her about the clutter, try to convey that the clutter itself isn't the problem, and that it's not anything about her or her choices or her habits. It's more about how the mess makes you feel. Not "feel" as in "it makes me angry when I ask you to clean and you don't," but feel as in "I love you, but when there's clutter everywhere it makes me feel like there are bugs crawling all over my skin and it makes me feel antsy and that's a very uncomfortable way for me to be in our home."

2) This has been hardest for me. Her definition of "neat" and your version of "neat" are quite probably very different. When my partner moved her desk into my house (which we share only part-time), I asked repeatedly for her to at least tidy the desk when she was going to be away for a few days. And bless her heart, she listened, but her way of tidying was to put all her papers in a single, messy pile that verged on toppling -- and eventually did. So we've had to teach each other what our respective "neats" mean. I've had to explain what doesn't drive me crazy and have had to try to explain why (difficult), and she's had to explain why the way she attempts to straighten seems neat to her. The latter is important, because it's taught me to move from thinking "Dammit, why won't she respect my needs???" to "She really is trying to be respectful, but these things can be subjective and we have different standards because of the different houses we grew up in and she can't read my mind so I have to explain it in a patient and non-controlling way."

In all, it requires a lot more communication than you, as the neater person, will ever imagine it should, and it's tiring, and it takes a while. You have to decide whether you care enough about her to be patient as you both work towards and understanding that will let you be happy together in the house.

Much luck.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:32 PM on January 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

For some reason I always feel abashed when I recommend Flylady to people. The principle of Flylady is simple: they give you a list of things to do each day which you do after setting a timer. This lets you do things in tiny chunks - 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there - which makes it less overwhelming. They make the decisions for you in terms of what to do each day - also makes it less overwhelming. You also make yourself a calendar which you follow - also less overwhelming. It tries to free you from the perfectionism that can keep you from starting what seems like an overwhelming project.

The parts I'm not enthusiastic about: the purple fairy, the Christian overtones, the married with children thing, the referring to one's children as DS (dear son) and DD and husband as DH and so on. It can get cutsie.

The thing is, as someone who had a great deal of trouble keeping her place vaguely clean, it really helped me. I don't necessarily follow all the ideas, but I sure do like setting the timer for 15 minutes and cleaning a room. It is amazing what you can do in 15 minutes.

Let your partner know that the clutter is hurting you and send her to the website and see if she's into it. She may hate it, but ask her if she'd be willing to try it for a week. After all it is just 15 minutes a day.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have cluttery tendencies myself, and I've had a strong DON'T TOUCH MY SHIT reflex for most of my life. I've gotten better with it, but I would still much rather pick up my own things than have someone else do it. It feels intrusive, somehow. Maybe she has a similar reaction to offers/attempt to clean up after her? It was also her home before it became yours too, and that can be a hard adjustment.

I don't know if she's like me, but understanding how she feels about cleaning and clutter might help you reach an agreeable compromise.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:38 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you guys in the situation to move to a new place? I bet it still feels like "her home" to both of you.

Then, you'll have a clean foundation on which you can, together, create a home that stems from both of your personalities. In addition: when moving, she *has* to go through all of the stuff, and will toss/organize a lot of it.

Really- it's hard to start something new in an old place.
posted by functionequalsform at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

How can I be okay with this?

You can't. Why should you? You hire someone. Once a week, someone works with your partner on declutter activities. Everyone gets happier.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, monkeymadness isn't really right - it doesn't always make people comfortable to have a 'clean' living room. It can feel like a showroom or a 'model house' or somewhere else where no one really lives and everyone has to be on best behavior at all times, like people who have plastic covers on their living room furniture. When it comes to shared areas you may have to make a compromise. I'm in a situation like the one wildcrdj mentions, where my partner really does think it's 'clean enough'... and compared to his childhood home, wow, we're minimalistic ascetics. And I've been relaxing my standards a bit in turn, which may be what you have to do in the end.

For now, while she's slowly working on getting stuff together, it might be enough to ask her to clear a space for you as others have mentioned - that might actually be a big start toward getting her to tackle the project. That sort of project is much more intimidating than it really needs to be - if you can get her to sit down with it for an hour or even half an hour, you might be able to make a lot of progress in clearing space and making it more tolerable for you.
posted by Lady Li at 2:43 PM on January 6, 2011

Unclutterer has several good posts about this, and a forum for questions and discussion.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:51 PM on January 6, 2011

Communication :)

My partner likes this "clean" I like things "neat". The happiest we've ever been is by hiring a maid service twice a month to get things "clean" and pick up a bit, and then we both focus on getting things organized. It takes a lot of time to get things right.

Also, making space together for these things, and investing in good storage (and of course donating/freecycling) is uber important. We donate clothes two times a year... and other older stuff too. It takes time. Its a relationship - it takes work... I always thought that was just a saying but it really really takes work.
posted by debaser42 at 3:13 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

You pretty much realize you're not perfect either and you realize that you bring organization to the relationship when you can. And you remember why you love them and what qualities you love them for.

If you ever want a successful relationship, which essentially means that you become a loving person, then you have to learn to let some stuff go.
posted by anniecat at 3:22 PM on January 6, 2011

I have offered to take care of all the other house chores so she has time to address the clutter

For some people, they honestly just don't know how to do it and it overwhelms them. I am a better organizer than my husband. I was worse at cleaning than an old roommate. When I cleaned, it simply wasn't perfect. Things needed to be arranged in a certain way for her (like the salt and pepper shaker needed to be squared against each other and put in the corner). Can't you organize the stuff that's bothering you without throwing something away?
posted by anniecat at 3:26 PM on January 6, 2011

Housekeeper. Frame it as an upgrade to her lifestyle.
posted by rhizome at 3:33 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every thing has a place, every place has a thing.

There is no other way to organize a space.
posted by gjc at 3:44 PM on January 6, 2011

My own answer: streaks. Every day, I need to purge something I don't need from my house and clean or straighten something up. Could be big or small. Over time, things asymptotically approach the state of "neat."

Another answer: my wife and I used to volunteer with the LA branch of the volunteer group Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (great group, btw). The guy who ran that studio had velcro on literally everything. His philosophy was not everything in its place. Rather, it was everything should move in the general direction of where it belongs, where it will be stuck on the nearest velcro'ed surface on the way. Sometimes the thing makes it all the way, sometimes it doesn't. Worked for him.

As weird as this solution sounds, it's actually an issue because you'll use lots more of your base material (hooks or loops) because you've covered your car dash or wall with the stuff, vs. the other side, which is in a little taped strip on pencils, remote controls, headphones, etc. So you wind up with a lot of excess. This guy actually found someone who had the exact same system he did, but with the base material flipped - so it worked out.

FYI: I like my solution better, but whatever works for you. The generalized answer is you can't always be in a state of neatness, but a bunch of little steps in that direction will get you close.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:58 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm not sure she would given what you've said about your discussions with her already, but do you think she'd manage it better if you set things up in a way where it was obvious where stuff should go? My husband comes from a family of folks with tendencies a little too close to Hoarders territory for my comfort, and it's not ideal but it has helped some to quietly place organizing items where he most sheds things--bins for his endless music jacks in the practice space, stackable baskets and drawers for bits and bobs in his tool/workspace area, a pen cup wherever he uses them, tiered trays on his computer desk for his endless paperwork, a tray and a little box right where he comes in from work so he can shed his keys and wallet, hampers moved to right where he takes off his clothes before showering, etc.

Besides that, I just kinda got used to whisking away any and all garbage (packaging, receipts, etc.) he'd otherwise let sit around for 5 years IMMEDIATELY. We come home and he drops his bags on the table and by the time he comes back from peeing or taking his shoes off or whatever the bag and all packaging is in the garbage.
posted by ifjuly at 4:11 PM on January 6, 2011

Here's a schema:

Public space: uncluttered at all times
Shared space: deal to attain a suitable level for both
Private/personal space: as you like it, no comments allowed

Crap in public space subject to immediate relocation/disposal/dumping in private space.

Kind of works for me and Madame Fauxscot. Our clutter is usually transient, though some is persistent. Mostly, though, it follows the above schema.

You moved IN, of course. In many ways, it's HER place. Without some consideration extended to you, have you perhaps thought you might just be ambulatory clutter? Could be, you know!

The way you deal with stuff generally, and not just clutter, is to decide what the hell you want and move in that direction. What you've been doing isn't working, so it's time to try ANYTHING else.

Can you make a point with your own unannounced dump run, cleaning out stuff she may want but hasn't acted on? Pick a fight. Make a front yard bonfire. Discover eBay and Craiglist. Find the local thrift store. Rent a storage locker. Move all the crap there. Wait a month and see if she misses anything. If not, take it all to the dump. Pay to have it picked up.

Generate a gradient... a big ass reward to her for decluttering something and a big ass sanction for perpetuating it. Your communication is not getting through. Turn it up to 11. Someone is not listening and someone else is cowering and stewing.

Creativity, my man. Time to see if this is going to change or if you are going to have to learn to be whipped.
posted by FauxScot at 4:12 PM on January 6, 2011

Addressing the clutter in small chunks can also help. When you say, "Please clean up this room, it's driving me crazy," that can be really overwhelming. Instead, you could go for, "hey, can we set aside an hour this weekend and clean off the table so I have a place to eat breakfast?", which is much more manageable. Once a specific area is clean, you can patrol it yourself by picking up things that land there daily, asking your partner where they go, and putting them away. This would obviously be a very gradual process - it could be a couple weeks before a room gets all neatened up. But it works out.

Having a designated "clutter space" is also good. When things land on the "clean" space, they can get moved to the "clutter" space. My partner and I actually just resolved to buy a few more end tables for random clutter - places to deposit the stuff that accumulates on the kitchen counter or the dining room table after it starts to drive me crazy, basically. It's a compromise: accepting that our living room will basically never be clutter-free (because neither of us is super tidy), but excluding the clutter from spaces that need to be clean to be useful.
posted by mandanza at 5:20 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm really similar (at least natural cleanliness tendencies-wise) to your partner. I'm projecting a bit, but I want to tell you what might be going on with her/what might work.

1) Once it gets overwhelming AT ALL for me, I shut down. I just cannot will myself to clean because I know it will take FOREVER (even though it totally doesn't). So there ends up being piles upon piles of mail, food containers, silverware, whatever. So, I have to clean up those things RIGHT WHEN IT HAPPENS or I just. Can't. Do. It. It's a challenge to be clean, and for some people it never becomes a habit -- I have to remind myself to throw things in the trash ALL THE TIME. It's a recording in my head (toss that, toss that, toss that), and it can be so frustrating that I want to cry at times.

2) Praise really, really works. Seriously -- I know it might seem like being clean should be the default, but some of us just have a really hard time with -- acknowledging the changes/being proud can be really great motivation.

3) Please withhold judgment. I'm embarrassed about being messy, and I don't need a hard time from the person who's supposed to love me most. Positive reinforcement.

4) I need a small (or large) place where I can be messy. Just so I can not think about making things be clean all the time. For me, that's the trunk of my car.

5) I think framing it as a "respect common space" issue is a good way to go about it -- just make sure she has a place where she can be a bit messy. She knows her quality of life would probably be better if her space were neater, but it's hard.
posted by superlibby at 5:50 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not for everybody, but fly lady has lots of routines that make these issues not so overwhelming and easy to maintain.
posted by kch at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm a clutter person, but from everything in your question and my non-first-person understanding of how non-cluttered people work, I don't think you *can* "be okay with this." You're probably going to need to find some compromise in which things are more organized and less cluttered than they currently are.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:48 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm a cluttery person, and I wish I weren't. One of the problems is that I find the act of decluttering -- dealing with that stuff -- incredibly tedious and tiresome. One of the ways that it becomes more pleasant is to have company I enjoy while I'm doing it. Maybe setting aside time for your partner to do the work, but you to hang out with her and make it more enjoyable would help? If you have some similarly annoying-to-you task that you could do at the same time, it can double for both of you as low-key together time that's also productive in more concrete ways as well.
posted by rosa at 8:32 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really, really, really enjoy living in a neat, organised home, but I still struggle with clutter.

When I lived alone, I was both the untidy room-mate, and the neat room-mate who was driven crazy by the mess, rolled up into the one person. Yes, that is as exasperating as it sounds.

In my case, it's because I am so utterly exhausted when I get home, that I tend to just put stuff down wherever. Also, when I was a kid, having a cluttered floor helped me keep my parents out of my room, so I have an innate clutter = safety/privacy association.

Some things that have helped me achieve a level of calm/orderliness:

Spending time as a houseguest in friends homes that had what I call "Zenlike calm" - beautiful, organised, neat but in no way sterile or anxious - this gave me a strong yearning for a calmer/more organised home, and gave me a rough sense of what to aim for.

listening to podcasts while I organise/sort/dust etc. "Just one podcast" (45 minutes) is a manageable amount of time for me to work on housework.

keeping a tray on the bottom shelf of the coffee table at all times. Now I can take a whole trayful of cups etc back to the kitchen in one trip, which means that they don't build up - everytime I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, I take the whole tray of empty whatevers back with me.

a bowl for my keys near the front door. Oh, the times that I was late for work because I couldn't find my keys before I started doing this!

a wastepaper basket in my bedroom.
a wastepaper basket under my desk.
a basket in the toilet cubicle for the cardboard cores of empty toilet rolls.

I used to just have one rubbish bin for the whole two bedroom flat, after all, it was just a small flat, and there wasn't much space. Guess what... stuff often never made it there. You need a bin in every single room, that way stuff gets thrown out the instant that it occurs to you.

Thinking "Just one thing." I often find that I can do just one thing, whereas doing all the things is overwhelming. Just one thing often leads to me doing 5 or 10 small things, whereas "I have to do it all" leads to doing nothing.

Taking stuff to op shops, putting stuff on freecycle, selling stuff on ebay, giving stuff to friends who wanted it.

Things that actively made things worse for me:

any website or book that called me a messie or a clutterbug. This just made me dig my heels in and think "Fuck you!" at the website/book.

anything judgey or preachy - I had to stop reading Unclutterer because it made me feel so pessimistic and despairing that I would think "I will never reach what Unclutterer unrealistically describes as the bare minimum standards, so I will just give up altogether."
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 3:36 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This earlier thread may also be useful to you.
posted by crocomancer at 5:32 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm reading this thread with interest as it sounds like it could have been started bny my SO.

We have two areas of conflict with regard to clutter:

- there being too much stuff for too small a space. If you're used to stuffing things in anyoldwhere, this argument never makes sense. We cleared out lots and lots of stuff from the wardrobe this weekend - stuff that didn't seem clutter, because after all, it had a place to go. The difference is interesting - now it's just full of stuff I would actually use, and not all crammed in.
- things which I need to keep, but my SO can't understand why. Initially, these were things that had outlived their useful life, or things I liked but had more than I'd use (eg mugs). This has changed over time to things I do use, but not constantly. For example, I might have ten craft books. For me, this is a library, some of which I'll use occasionally, some as I improve, some more often. To him, it's a set of ten things that are pretty similar, so why not cut it down to six? This makes us both feel like the other isn't listening - there is nothing more aggravating for me than feeling like someone isn't respecting my views on things and listening to my explanation.

Do either of these sound familiar?

I feel happier now I've got rid of stuff, but I can remember almost every item I threw away. There's not really such thing as a personal organizer (as in Hoarders) in the UK, so we've had to do it ourselves. For years, I simply thought some people had too much stuff, and some did not, and I was in the former category, so it was OK to make an extra van trip when moving. I'm dyspraxic as well so I need to have things in front of me to remember to do what I need to with them - if I put my deodorant in a drawer, say, I will forget to put it on. (My SO isn't dyspraxic and wouldn't for the life of him understand what was wrong with 'putting it away' like that.)

Forcing a hoarder/clutterer to get rid of stuff will cause a lot of resentment and tears. As things go on, tough love may work, but to begin with I found this really upsetting. Never ever throw anything away without asking her. Never behave like she's failed if she throws out ten things one week and none the next - that just feels shitty for everyone.

Also, for me, throwing useful stuff away makes me feel terribly guilty about the waste of time and money in the past - giving it to a good cause helps. I freecycled some old hobby supplies and felt really good that they'll be used - the collector really wanted them for her daughter to use. That made me happy/
posted by mippy at 6:37 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I have offered to take care of all the other house chores so she has time to address the clutter, since this is something I can do without her worrying that I will throw away something important. But she's not doing it, and it's driving me crazy."

It would be useful to have a definition of 'clutter', here. Does she simply have a lot of knick-knacks, paperwork etc that could maybe do with a tidy, or are we talking no floor space? The distinction may explain whether she has a problem or the two of you just have different styles .
posted by mippy at 6:38 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

try to get her going with fly lady? it is free online and sends you daily "challenges", like getting rid of 27 things. It has helped me tons, though I still have lapses now and then.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:42 AM on January 7, 2011

A book that I found very helpful was Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan.

It talks about tips for creating a space that will be calm/relaxing and joyful, and it isn't all judgey.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 6:59 PM on January 7, 2011

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