Help me help my soon to be hoarder husband!
October 28, 2012 8:12 PM   Subscribe

My husband of 30 years has been increasingly getting to be a total slob. He lays papers, clothes, anything on every horizontal surface! Our house is not small, he has one of our kids' old bedrooms as his office, and it is packed. Yet still he comes home everyday and lays all his 'stuff' on the kitchen table, his clothes on the only chair in our bedroom...I am so frustrated! When he's gone I often go through his 'stuff', tossing what I don't think is needed...but if he finds out he flips! I have set aside time to go through things with him, but he always finds an excuse not to follow through. He is good about doing other household chores, putting dishes and laundry away... I have gotten rid of extra tables and other things he could clutter up, but it absolutely does not help. I need your help before I go bonky. Thanks!
posted by msleann to Human Relations (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Set aside one room in the house that is just for you and insist that it stays clean. Then allow compromise through the rest of the house. He lives there too.

You can be right and end up alone or you can compromise and be happy.
posted by myselfasme at 8:21 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

My ex did similar stuff. Multiple attempts to address it did nothing. Then one day I took the unused, dust covered valet out of the corner of the bedroom and stuck it near the front door. He stopped emptying his pockets on the dining table and other surfaces. His jacket, hat, wallet, etc finally ended up on the valet. It didn't solve all the issues but was a big improvement. (The valet had been bought to address this issue and gathered dust for a couple of years before I moved it and, voila, it finally saw use.)
posted by Michele in California at 8:21 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Rather than throwing things out, why not just round up everything he puts on the rest of the house into a big box and then bringing it into his office ("hon, you can do whatever you want in your office, but I can't have stuff out here - I moved it all into your office, thanks").

Throwing his stuff out is kind of overstepping your bounds, to my mind, and you trying to go over stuff with him may feel to him like it's condescending. The "I put it into this box, it's all in your spot" kind of firmly makes it his problem to deal with and underscores that this is not something YOU'RE going to deal with.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 PM on October 28, 2012 [20 favorites]

I have one of these, named Ralph. I vouch for the box method.

Don't throw his stuff away, I agree that that is kinda a boundary issue, but if it's in a box and goes into his office, win/win.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:26 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Box comment: I tried that...after three boxes were full in his office that he wouldn't go through, and a path with them on the sides from the door to the chair I gave up that idea.
posted by msleann at 8:30 PM on October 28, 2012

If it's in his office, though, who cares if there's barely a path to the door? That's HIS problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 PM on October 28, 2012 [36 favorites]

Yeah, you can't throw his things out, that's not really right.

He just needs to train himself to put all his things in his office. If he puts something outside of his office, pick it up and put it in his office. You will have one crap filled room, but at least it will just be the one.

For keys/phones/etc, it should go on a specific table or tray and not 'wherever'.

It should be more about containment than anything else because I'm not sure if it's an overall solvable problem (apologies on behalf of all of us slobs).
posted by heyjude at 8:33 PM on October 28, 2012

his office, his space, let it be as messy as he lets it be. if the boxes are in his way too much, he'll deal with them. his "too much" and your "too much" look different so let him decide what that is. move things in there as they overwhelm the common area, but let things sit for 2 or 3 days so things he needs soon are easy to find. if he doesn't like this solution, have him come up with one that isn't "and all my stuff covers all these surfaces and you just deal with that."

i'm a total slob - always have been. if i were with a neat freak, well, they'd probably leave me - but if they didn't, i would find the solution of making it my problem in my space to be a satisfactory one.
posted by nadawi at 8:37 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am this type of person too. I feel like nothing helps except for making it almost as easy to put something in the right place as putting it in the wrong place. Therefore there should be a different solution for each thing, using some of the examples noted above:

- jacket hooks or a coatrack just inside the front door, and a little stand with a drawer or table with a bowl or something right by the door for wallet and keys
- put the filing cabinet right at where the mail gets sorted
- put the clothes hamper/laundry baskets right where the clothes would get thrown

agreed with everyone else on continuing to put his stuff in his office outside of these ideas, which would probably mostly be papers. you could label them with the date and then stuff he had not removed/used by 6 months or a year, you could agree would move to the basement, tool shed, or garage or other out of the way place. if he still hasn't used it or opened the box in some other time period, have an agreement with him on what he thinks would be reasonable (maybe 2 years), you could agree that it could get thrown out.

One thing my husband also does that works on me is that he'll say "I see X is here, and it needs to be gone. I am going to throw it away in 2 days if I see it still sitting there." then he usually gives me another warning at 1 day or on the day he's going to throw it away. (we usually use this one for food that's sketchy or has gone bad, because I hate it when he throws stuff away without giving me a chance to eat it or recycle the recyclable packaging) So if I haven't taken action on it by the deadline, then I feel less affronted when he throws it away, I'll think "oh, I guess I didn't really care about X enough to do anything with it before the deadline, so it did deserve to go."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:49 PM on October 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Don't throw his stuff away. That's so passive aggressive and not fair. You gotta use your words here.

"Honey, when you leave your stuff all over our counters, tables, beds, and floors, it makes it very difficult for me and the kids to live in this house. We can't use the surfaces you've covered, and we don't want to move anything you've put there because we can't tell if it's important or not. We need you to figure out a better way to deal with all the stuff you have. What would help? Could you set aside 15 minutes every morning and evening to process what's out so we can be a more functional household? I am starting to resent you and I hate that. What can we do as a team to make this different?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:52 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Read this from my favorite "Clean Shit Up" blog, and just take most of the stuff on UFYH to heart.
posted by deezil at 8:53 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does he see this as a problem? Is he willing to fix it and just can't manage it on his own?

(PS - the bedroom chair is a loss. They all turn into clothes racks.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Throwing things without his permission is not okay, but it sounds like his hoarding tendencies are encroaching upon your shared, common space, which is also not okay. Honestly, I'd suggest meeting with a professional, either a therapist, a professional organizer, or, preferably, both. That may seem drastic, but honestly, if he can't confine his "stuff" to his personal space and you can't resist removing items (not clear if that's solely from shared or common space) then you probably need a mediator to help you set and enforce boundaries. Since he's good about other chores and housekeeping, it sounds like he is a bit of a pack rat. Whether it is approaching the clinical definition of hoarding is impossible for anyone except a professional with personal knowledge of the situation to say. It sounds like this is solvable but you might need someone to mediate. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 9:17 PM on October 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I was your husband for a while. Now that my ex is not here anymore, I have suddenly become neat. I have thought a lot about it. I think it was some sub-conscious way to get at her. I was a leave it in the last place I had it person. It would drive her batty. I would try and had good intentions, but never got into the habit of being neat and orderly until after she was gone. I think he is sending you a message, although I don't know what it is nor am I too confident he knows what it is, but it is buried there somewhere (not under his mess).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:19 PM on October 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Is your husband my mother?

Wait . . .

My dad still gets extremely frustrated with my mother's hoarding, but for the most part, the basement is full of her shit, and anything lying around the house for too long goes down to the basement. Sure, our basement has three antique shops worth of things of questionable value (mostly crap), but the house is cleaner. My dad also does 99.9% of the cleaning.

Just cede some territory (his office, for example) and regularly purge the rest of the house of his crap.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:22 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband is not as bad as yours by the sounds of it, but I am a total neat freak. Our solution is hiding the mess away.

So in the bedroom there is a big laundry hamper with a lid. Whenever I enter the room, I grab all the clothes that are on the floor, bed, and chair and dump them in the hamper. It takes like two seconds, so I don't resent having to do it, and then everything is hidden. I don't actually use that hamper for MY clothes, because along with his clothes that were on the floor there is usually used tissues and other gross stuff, and if my clothes aren't in the hamper I don't mind just piling all the ick in there and forgetting about it. This mainly works because he does actually do laundry eventually and then he has to sort through the tissues and clothes, and also then the hamper empties out enough that I can continue to use it to hide things.

I cleared out a big cupboard beside the door that he comes in after work, for him to dump his bag, shoes and coat in. Of course he doesn't - he carries them past the cupboard, into the lounge or dining room, and scatters them haphazardly around the place. This used to drive me NUTS. Now I just accept that the first time I walk through the house after he has got home from work, I pick up all this stuff and carry it to that cupboard. I throw it in and close the door. It's only one armful of stuff, so again it doesn't take much of my time and I don't think of it as cleaning up after him (although I guess it kind of is) - I think of it as indulging my neatfreak minimalist tendencies. (And he thinks of it as me stealing and hiding his things. I'm sort of joking.)

His office stays messy and cluttered and gross, but I can keep the door to that shut and pretend it doesn't exist.

Anyway, I think your solutions are more storage (with doors and lids so that once stuff is in it you can ignore it) and a willingness to spend a few minutes a couple of times a day stuffing things into that storage.
posted by lollusc at 11:04 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he does make sympathetic noises when you present this as a problem, but fails to follow through with any kind of meaningful behavioral change, you might want to see if you can interest him in the idea of new habit acquisition as a learnable and useful skill in its own right and therefore a game worth playing.

Perhaps you could get something useful started by negotiating one particular shared working surface as a Sacred Surface Upon Which Nothing Shall Be Abandoned, and getting verbal agreement to a rule that anybody who walks away from that place must always carry with them anything they put on it.

Be prepared for the first time he notices that you have accidentally overlooked the new rule, because he won't be able to resist giving you a gleeful serve about that. He'll no doubt be expecting you to react defensively because that's almost certainly what he'd feel he had to do given reversed positions. Don't do that. Instead, seize the opportunity to take the wind out of his naughty-little-boy sails by acknowledging with quiet dignity that yes, you did desecrate the Sacred Surface and that doing so was an unfortunate lapse best avoided in future.

If everybody takes the habit acquisition process at all seriously you should find that it takes about six months until nobody needs reminding about the Sacred Surface. At that point (but no sooner!) the two of you can negotiate one-at-a-time piecewise additions to the Set of Sacred Surfaces, and I expect you'll find that those become blessed much more quickly because the requisite skills have already been learned.

Also, defining which if any surfaces inside his man-cave become Sacred is nobody's right but his. Everybody needs a refuge that smells only of them. You should have one too.
posted by flabdablet at 11:39 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I disagree with those saying it's not OK to throw his stuff out. He's a grown ass man who should be able to put stuff where it goes. But you should be fair about it and see if you can get him to agree to a system. Hoarders think everything is important.
posted by shoesietart at 12:22 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I was this guy once, and you were my SO. It's unbelievably frustrating to both high entropy person and low entropy person. Putting his stuff in his place is a reasonable compromise.

This stuff isn't rational, nor is it necessarily crazy, it just is. As in, it's part of him and you're going to have to make peace with some of it and, by extension, him.
posted by zippy at 1:17 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Strongly seconding the approach where you analyse your space and try to arrange it so that it is easy to put things in the right place. For example, I have a problem with washing-on-the-floor sometimes. The two things that helped most in getting it under control were going on antidepressants and moving my laundry basket right next to my bed where I undress. I also have a three-way basket so that the washing is pre-sorted and ready to take down to the machine whenever. It sounds like you and your husband need to sit down and work out, for each of the rooms of your house in turn, what he needs to do with clothes, books, papers etc in that room. Then make a place for them. Sometimes you might need to take a bit of an unconventional approach, but it is possible to design some of these problems away.
posted by Acheman at 3:08 AM on October 29, 2012

I think you should buy another chair for your bedroom and a lot more boxes.
posted by colfax at 3:10 AM on October 29, 2012

I hate this new tendency to label "anyone messier than me" a hoarder. Hoarding is an actual psychological diagnosis, it's not a catch all term for anyone who is messy and resists attempts from other to throw the mess away.

Look, my husband is like you. He dumps every paper I might leave around in a pile, which he then dumps on any unused surface in my office. He takes any magazine that I may be reading from its spot on the coffee table and puts it in my office. He grabs any book that isn't his and puts it in my office, despite the fact that we have a whole library full of shelves he could drop it on. Old Christmas cards that he knows I don't want to throw out? In my office, not in the neat box he knows we keep all mementos in. DVDs I buy and leave by the door while I grab dinner? In my office, not the DVD shelf in our living room.

Sense a pattern? It's not actually about "cleaning up" it's about making me aware of the "mess" I'm making. I married him and I knew he was a neat freak before I married him so I'm the one who puts up with he piles of crap that doesn't belong in my office being in my office. I guess he puts up with my messiness by not setting the house on fire.

If him leaving stuff around is a problem for you, put it in his office. He'll either get the message or you won't see the mess, win win. But, also, reexamine that it might not that you are right and he is wrong, you just might have two different standards for tidy. Compromises are great!
posted by lydhre at 3:25 AM on October 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

Your phrasing suggests that either the behavior is new or he was always a bit sloppy and it's become much worse.

Has anything else changed?
posted by bunderful at 5:08 AM on October 29, 2012

Is this a relatively sudden change or new behavior? Sometimes, just sometimes, it's also an indication of a medical problem. You describe him as your husband of 30 years, so I'm guessing he's at least in his mid-50s, right? Perhaps a complete physical checkup is in order.
posted by easily confused at 5:41 AM on October 29, 2012

This isn't slobbiness, it's hoarding.

Slobbiness wouldn't be met with resistance. Husbunny is slobby, I'm not. I pick up after him constantly and he doesn't even notice. He doesn't squawk about it either.

I agree that a medical check-up is in order, followed by a meeting with a therapist. Why does your husband need to hang onto so much stuff? Can he even tell you what it is?

This will not get better, and segregating his mess is no answer.

If even suggesting that going through the hoard and getting rid of things results in denial, aggression or anxiety, this is a real, clinical problem and it needs to be addressed as such.

But you knew that. Didn't you?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of possible interventions here, but all of them require him to admit the problem and be willing to work on it. It isn't clear whether or not this is the case for him. If he is, hire a professional organizer and have them help you work out a good plan.

Otherwise, I think the best short term "keep your sanity" solution is the box method. Who cares if his office is a disaster? Better than the entire house being a disaster! If it gets to the point where the office door no longer shuts or there is physically no more room to put things, it might be time to get professionals involved.

For an extra "zing", if you don't think this is a medical/hoarding issue, write the date on each box you put in there with a marker. It might make him aware of the scale of the problem to unearth multi-year old boxes if it comes to that.
posted by zug at 7:08 AM on October 29, 2012

Have you ever seen this book? Or actually, the NY Times article that served as the basis for the book is enough. It's about trying to use the behaviour tools of animal trainers (Skinner et al) to train your husband.

Essentially, if you see him make the slightest effort to be more tidy, you reward him and go completely over the top, and then so on and so forth until, hopefully, keeping things tidy has become a habit and you don't need to reward him or bother him about it at all (although you should do something every now and then, randomly, to show that you love how clean and tidy he is.)
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 7:18 AM on October 29, 2012

I'm kind of a slob. Let me share my storage scheme that has helped to de-clutter the place; if it works for me, maybe it will work for your husband too:

Throw everything into boxes, but enter it in a spreadsheet first. Number the boxes with a sharpie. Now if you want to find something, you can easily figure out which box it's in, all without conforming to any rigorous organizational scheme.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:48 AM on October 29, 2012

Unfortunately, no advice, but I did think of this article which might be a helpful starting place.
posted by Leezie at 8:00 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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