Teach my husband to declutter
January 13, 2014 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Is there a website that explains the concept of throwing things out? I'm looking for a "for dummies" overview that he can skim, not a whole overwhelming system of obligation like FlyLady.

I have a loving, wonderful husband with ADD. He's been messy as long as I've known him, and after a decade I've finally managed to contain the clutter to his man-cave so the rest of the house looks nice.

Occasionally he will get mad at me because I've thrown out something or other. I asked him for examples of how this has made any negative impact in his life, and he gave me the example of a kitchen knife. I have no idea which knife he meant, but if I threw it out it means it was rusty or broken. We have a drawer full of knives and a Ginsu block full of them, too (he keeps ordering kitchen gadgets). It doesn't matter, it was still a perfectly good knife....

We have about a dozen towels in our linen closet - that's all we have room for - and they're old and I'm redecorating, so I decided to buy six nice new ones in a different color. I asked husband which of the old ones we should keep. Not understanding the concept of "one in, one out," he said we need to keep all of them in case we need utility rags. When do we ever need utility rags? He insisted he does. I asked him to find a place to store them, then, and he stuffed them in a cabinet on top of some other stuff....

I know there's absolutely no way I'll ever be more than the bad guy, here, but is there a webpage I can send him to explain the logic behind throwing things out? For example:

Why: because you will be able to find things instead of digging for them; because filth is unhealthy; because it's a fire hazard...

How: Is this item useful, beautiful, do you have two of them? Have you used it/fixed it/even thought about it in the last year?...

That sort of thing.
Please, help.
posted by heatherfl to Home & Garden (61 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a pretty straightforward account of decluttering a home, with step-by-step instructions.

If he's loath to toss stuff (and isn't a hoarder), then I would start with the box method. If you're thinking of throwing something out, and he's thinking of keeping it, put it in a box and keep it there until you need it again. If it's been a certain amount of time (3 months for everyday items, a year for seasonal items) and you haven't used it, you can toss or donate the item.
posted by xingcat at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Clutter doesn't occur because the cleaning algorithm hasn't been learned. Clutter is the expression of a different kind or relationship with the material world. If I were your husband, I wouldn't think of you as the bad guy because you wanted less clutter. It would be because I felt you didn't understand me.

You need to negotiate decluttering without EITHER of you being the bad guy. A web page that told him he's been doing it wrong makes HIM the bad guy. Instead you should discuss how you want/need things kept from the standpoint of how both of you can be reasonably content.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:58 AM on January 13, 2014 [33 favorites]

In my experience, if the husband does not want to do something, no amount of giving him books or sending him links will make him do it. (And I got in BIG trouble when I made MY husband get rid of a 25 year old stereo receiver once. So I speak from experience.)

There is no real, quick, final solution to this. Pick your battles. Focus on one small change at a time. Work WITH him instead of AGAINST him.

So, for the rags, can you work with him to find a better place to store his towels? A place where he can still fit his stuff but that fits with your "vision" of organized? Maybe find one cupboard that is designated "for utility towels" and ask him if he's willing to only keep as many as can fit in that cupboard. If not, work with him to find a cupboard or other storage bin that CAN store as many of them as he feels needs to be stored.

In the end, the relationship with your husband is more important.
posted by jillithd at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband was the same way. He thought we should keep everything, just in case. We had seven spatulas, for example. SEVEN. I tried to explain to him why keeping all that stuff was unnecessary and clutter, but it never worked. The only thing that worked was SHOWING HIM how much nicer and easier things were once I decluttered and cleaned something. My solution was to do a major clean and declutter. Each time I came across something unnecessary and clutter-y I would ask him, "Honey, do you need this ___________ or can I throw it out?" and then let him decide. Whatever he answered I did, but I asked him every time. Everything he insisted upon keeping went in a box or I would try to find a tidy place to store them. In the end, after I cleaned and reorganized everything, he was all "Wow this looks great!".

fter my asking for the 37th time whether he wanted to keep some stupid item he just gave up and said "I don't care. Just use your own judgement." and let me decide whether things were necessary or not. I think asking him for each item drew his attention to how much crap he actually was storing. Plus, it was probably a little annoying to have to decide on the fate of each little thing and the justification for each item started to fall short.

As for the towels, if he thinks they have use as utility cloths then they should be stored with the other cleaning/utility items. So perhaps in the garage? And also, if he thinks they are good for that use then cut them up in to the utility cloths right then and have a bin of them somewhere. They may come in handy and you may come to appreciate them. At least they are out of your linen closet. :)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:00 AM on January 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I wanted to add, it's not the clutter itself, it's the fact that he thinks there's something wrong with me, like this is my negative personality trait he's having to put up with. He doesn't understand the connection between my insane behavior of throwing "perfectly good" things out, and the fact that our house is clean. I want to show him I'm not a neat freak (far from it) but that this is NORMAL.
posted by heatherfl at 9:06 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your husband's issue isn't not knowing "how" to declutter, but that he thinks the things you want to throw out are still worth keeping.

You are free to say, "I threw out the fish gutting knife because it got rusty." And then either replace the knife if it really was useful to him or not replace it if the reality is that you guys don't even fish anymore, anyway.

You are free to say, "I want to get better towels, but we don't have room for all these towels and another dozen new towels." And then, I dunno, maybe let him keep one as rags or a backup or whatever, but it has to go in the shed or the trunk of his car or whatever, with the actual rags.

I would be frustrated, too, if I were married to someone who kept throwing out things I used all the time in the name of "decluttering".

TL;DR: You need to compromise, or at least communicate, about what actually needs to be decluttered and what does not.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crap, I meant to add that since the kitchen reorganization, "do we need this?" question for everything cleaning (the results of which he really likes) he no longer gets all huffy when I want to declutter and reorganize stuff.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:07 AM on January 13, 2014

Oh, I wanted to add, it's not the clutter itself, it's the fact that he thinks there's something wrong with me, like this is my negative personality trait he's having to put up with.

Dude, that is a whole other problem. This update makes me think that the throwing things out/keeping things debate is a red herring. I am very possibly reading too much in to this but that sounds not-so-good. I love my husband and there is no part of him that I "put up with". He does loads of annoying things, and I am sure I do as well, but our perceptions of each other's quirks/flaws is never "put up with".

Is he being actively disdainful and condescending? Is he so inflexible on other things in your relationship as well?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:09 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: As a rule I ask him if I can throw this or that out. His answer is always no. I need a webpage to show him when it's necessary.
posted by heatherfl at 9:11 AM on January 13, 2014

I had a bit of trouble getting rid of stuff that I attribute to a combination of my ADD making it hard to focus on the decluttering... and growing up really, really poor making it hard to see a lot of things as disposable.

So my new method is this: If I donate this to somewhere, are they really going to be able to pass it on to someone else? Is it still quite usable, or is it actually worn out even if it still looks kind of okay? If it's still genuinely usable, then I don't throw it away, I donate it, because there are tons and tons of people who're in the same position I was in as a kid who could really use clothes and household goods.

But I would not, as a kid, have appreciated a stained shirt, even if it wasn't a big stain. I wouldn't have appreciated, as a broke adult, knives that are dull and not cost-effective to sharpen. Those are trash, because nobody wants them. But I feel better about them being trash because of the quantity of stuff of mine that's gotten donated that wasn't. That reduces the anxiety related to decluttering; it isn't a sign that I'm being wasteful, it's a sign that I'm getting nicer things and passing my old things, where possible, on to people who need them more than I do.

And having a few old towels around is super-super-super useful, honestly (hello, the time I spilled a whole bottle of cranberry juice on the kitchen floor), but they do need a place, and that place should, yeah, be either a garage or with cleaning supplies. He's honestly not completely crazy. You guys need to be working on integrating your respective strong suits--he's seeing possibilities, you're seeing efficiency, respect both halves of that. Your entire take here seems to be that his view of stuff is broken, and it isn't, it just needs tweaking--as does your view that all of this is automatically trash because you don't need it anymore.
posted by Sequence at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2014 [11 favorites]

For every item ask the question, "have I used this in the past 12 months?"

If the answer is "no" then bin or sell it.

If you want to add extra complication and believe he can answer the question honestly then you could allow the additional "will I use this in the next 6 months?".

If the answer is "yes" then it gets a 6 month reprieve.

However if it's not used in that time, it gets automatically binned or sold. No further stays of execution.
posted by mr_silver at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2014

Can you frame it in a way that changes the dialog? Don't throw things out - donate them.

For example with the towels, say "honey I bought some nice new towels to go with my new color scheme. We can't fit all of our towels in the linen closet anymore. Can you help me choose some of the old towels we can donate to Goodwill/the animal shelter/etc?"

It seems like he's mainly focused on the fact that these items are still technically useful, even though they don't get used. If you can do something with them that still allows them to be used, he may not be so resistant.
posted by trivia genius at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Well, I personally think throwing out perfectly good towels is abnormal so there is no standard there.

I'm like your husband and my husband is like you, the first step is to talk about why you both feel the way you do, not prove who is right and who is wrong.
posted by lydhre at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Discardia - which is mainly a book but also has a website, is a useful resource for what you want.

At base, it's about taking small steps to decluttering rather than espousing a big, daunting, philiosophy of HOW TO RUN YOUR LIFE that often threatens people and puts them off.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:16 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PuppetMcSockerson - this is the only way in which he gets mad at me.

I understand keeping a utility towel - not six. We already had one in the garage (which he's never used).

I've tried the box thing before. As soon as he saw it, everything in it was put back in the house.
posted by heatherfl at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why are you asking him about things like towels? If you're replacing old, broken, worn-out stuff, just toss or donate it. If he wonders where it went, say you threw it out because it was not useful any longer and you replaced it. If you're not tossing his personal stuff, I don't see why you need to clear it with him. (Old towels aren't perfectly good. Having to use worn-out, chipped, cracked, ugly stuff is depressing.)
posted by Ideefixe at 9:21 AM on January 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

Occasionally he will get mad at me because I've thrown out something or other.

If it's just occasionally, I would throw stuff out and deal with the occasional backlash. It seems insane to me that you would have to consult with him about every last item in the house. If the problem is that he is intransigent when you have conversations about throwing stuff out, stop having them as much. What would have happened if you had just replaced the towels without consulting him?
posted by Wordwoman at 9:23 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you had just added the 6 new towels and thrown out the 6 old ones when he wasn't around, would he have even noticed? I am not even sure why you bought it up with him.

My husband is a clutter bug and like you I have the whole if you want to keep it, it goes in the man cave thing because I get sensory overload if there is too much clutter around. I say this so you know where this next sentence is coming from. You are not going to convince him that your behaviour is normal, you don't think his behaviour is normal, and yet to a lot of people (my husband, MIL, father and brother for example) his behaviour is perfectly normal.

What worked for my clutterbug husband and me to stop the fights was a set of 4 storage bins (though it overflows and includes bags of clothes) in the basement, if he wanted to keep something but didn't have a good reason other than we might need it. It goes in the bin. If he even remembered we had it and wanted to use it in a 12 month period he could go to the bin and take it out, he has to actually have a need for it and use it and not just move it back into in house storage for no reason. In return for him having that veto right Every three months, if I remember and a bin is full I empty a bin off to Goodwill or the rubbish. If he didn't want the item enough to even remember we had it or use in the time frame he's agreed I'm "allowed" to throw it out. I don't put his personal things in there and anything in the man cave is off limits. Slowly he's realised the advantages of getting rid of crap and surprised the hell out of me the other day by appearing with a garbage bag of his old clothes he'd sorted out himself to go to the Goodwill. He feels better with lots of stuff around him and you feel better if things are decluttered, no one is going to win in your situation so you both have to sit down and find a compromise, even if you both think the other person is weird.
posted by wwax at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

There are two reasons people hold onto shit.

1. I might need it one day

2. It holds a sentimental meaning.

I don't get it. My sentiment is in my head, not in a bowling ball. So I think you have to have a discussion about it.

"Sweetheart, I think it's time you got some new underwear. These are looking pretty shabby. Before I go out and get them, what is it that you like about these, so I can be sure to get ones that you'll like."

Once I was told, "Don't get dark colors, they're too hot." Um. Okay. But whatever, he's got to wear them.

I'll often ask him, "Hey, how are you doing for jeans?" Usually, I'll get, "Fine, they're all still good." But sometimes I'll get, "I'd like some khakis." Then we sort through, find some stuff he's not wearing, and then we toss.

Ask questions, and communicate. "Darling, I agree, these towels would make good, 'utility rags' and if we had all the room in the world, I'd hang onto them. But we don't. I promise that if you get into a project that requires rags, I'll get you the Box O'Rags from the hardware store." I think that once he sees that he can get a shit-ton of rags for $10, he'll back off of wanting to save the towels.

It also helps if you can donate to a cause that he believes in. "I get it, these are good towels. How about we donate them to the women's shelter. They always need towels and these will get some good use there."

I think for those of use who are organized and who enjoy uncluttered spaces and no knick-knacks, we can't relate to the pack rats. At least try.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I ask because he's asked me to ask.
posted by heatherfl at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

His answer is always no.

So you say, "Have you used it in the last year?"

And he says, "Actually, no, now that I think of it." And then you guys agree that it can go. (I absolutely agree with donating things that are still useful.)

Or he says, "Yes, that is the only knife we have that is any good for cutting tomatoes!" And then you guys agree that it can stay, but hey, you know, we've never even used this baby Santoku knife, so maybe that one should go to Goodwill.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to hang on to things too - though it's not as problematic as you describe. A part of that is because I hate stuff just going to waste.

So instead of just chucking things out, perhaps show that it's going to good use. ebay it if it's worth something, or freecycle it if it's not (or your local equivalent). And if still nobody wants it then you can show that it's basically worthless trash.
posted by saintsguy at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2014

You can show him all the websites in the world, there's no guarantee he'll believe any of them. I nth those who say this is a fundamental and personality difference among people and there's never going to be a big awakening for him where he wakes up one day and realizes clutter is terrible.

Because, speaking as a clutter-prone, the example above of "hey, I can just buy rags from the hardware store if I need them" would not make me feel relief. It would actively piss me off. My thought would be, "here I am, wasting $10 on rags, which I could have had for free if only I hadn't thrown out those towels a couple months back." Ten bucks buys a nice martini, you know. Whereas I would not derive $10 worth of satisfaction from having a neat cabinet. Opening up a closet and finding the shelves jammed with odds and ends does not bother me. Wasting money on shit I don't enjoy does bother me.
posted by Diablevert at 9:47 AM on January 13, 2014 [26 favorites]

There is a chapter on possessions in Gretchen Rubin's book Happier at Home. You can read the chapter here. I recommend you both read it.

I thought that it was going to be anti-possession, all about decluttering, working towards a minimalist space. But when I read it, I was surprised to see a different approach to stuff. It's a very balanced perspective that acknowledges that 1) possessions can in fact make people happier, 2) things that are worth owning are worth using/displaying/storing nicely, and 3) everyone is different, so just because one person is happier with more or less things doesn't mean another person will feel the same.

Declaring that we’d all be happy with more, or with less, is like saying that every book should be a hundred pages long. Every book has a right length, and people differ in the number of possessions, and the types of possessions, with which they can meaningfully engage.

Give it a read. You may find it helps you broaden your perspective on all his stuff. If he reads it, he may gain insight into why you feel that decluttering and being more selective about what you keep is important.
posted by payoto at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2014 [12 favorites]

I am your husband, metaphorically, and I'm glad to know there are people out there like you for clutterbugs like me. I too am a lazy accumulator. I like having backups, and backups of backups, and just-in-case backups of every thing. I'm addicted to redundancy. Eventually I figured out that I'm going to have to dump some of the perfectly good stuff I'll never use because I don't have time left in my life (I'm near the halfway mark on the human lifespan) to use the stuff I'm not using. I also figured out that someone else could be using it right now, so I'm always looking for new ways to donate things.

A couple of things could be going on:
- He's got some overactive nostalgia for the times he's been through with [item]. I know it's stupid to get attached to a knife, but it's not about the knife, but who he was when the knife in use.
- He doesn't feel he got his money's worth out of an item that still has life in it. (Definitely the case with the rags-- except that nobody needs that many rags, nobody on earth. -- I agree it's stupid to pay money for rags, but I also have a stack of old undershirts that I feel weird about getting rid of. I completely empathize with him, but I don't have anyone to turn my bad feelings onto, so mostly I just kick myself while stepping over t-shirts.)
- getting rid of things in the right way is too much work. (I have to go where to recycle those 15-year-old PC cards? -- Forget it.)
- I'd wager that part of it is he's just rejecting some of your suggestions as petty control. I know it would (will?) grate if some hypothetical future spouse suggests I get rid of something I've lived with for years, and I do even mean the little stuff like towels, not my favorite jersey from the favorite decade of my life, which is the cliche version of this attachment.

I also completely understand why the "Death Row for stuff" box doesn't work-- the box is the focus, and brings items back into his attention after they languished in the twilight-zone of neglect.

Tell him that he's gotta start using things up. Stop buying new things if that's what it takes-- nothing can go in until something goes out. (That means you, too-- I'm sure you feel it should be normal to buy new towels by fiat, but your husband has stuff-control issues, and you get to share them. Want to buy new towels? Tell him you'll donate the old ones to goodwill so that the remainder of their life will be spent in the job for which they were born. Save one for rags and make it into rags and show him the rags and say "here are the rags; we have rags." (Maybe without the condescension I just implied, sorry.)

He's avoiding that little taste of failure he gets when something gets thrown away before it was completely and totally expended. I think he has some instruction ingrained in him to never throw away perfectly-good ___, to save everything just in case of ___, to prepare for the day when ___. You've got to undo that instruction, and it's a global-instruction-- not about spare rags or the tomato-knife, but it's about the lives he's not living because he's living (and maybe because "you're making him life") this current life. Possibilities lost, doors closing. He wants to keep the stuff in case they reopen. I wish you well, and I can't tell you how uncomfortable it is to write this post because he and I are so similar, AFAIk.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2014 [14 favorites]

Here's a Martha Stewart photo gallery about organizing -- maybe too decoratory for what you need, but it touches on getting rid of stuff. She has a bunch more here, maybe you can find one that would suit your husband's style.

I have no idea if this guy is any good, but here's an on-line course in getting rid of items you're sentimentally attached to.

Here's a short, manly article.

But... I think you're going to have to get to the root of the problem, first. It's ridiculous that he wants you to check with him before getting rid of ratty old towels (I'm presuming this isn't a financial issue). Would a few sessions of couples therapy help you guys get on the same page re these kinds of decisions?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

He doesn't understand the connection between my insane behavior of throwing "perfectly good" things out, and the fact that our house is clean.

Does he *like* the fact that the house is clean, or does he, like Diablevert above, not really care? If he likes having most spaces free of clutter then maybe you can establish some rationale as to how such decisions should be made, in order to facilitate the sort of household environment you both prefer. If not, then maybe a different sort of compromise is in order.
posted by jon1270 at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is he getting treatment for his ADD? How about his general mindfulness? Learning to be rather than just do helped me discern the boundaries between what was me, and what was stuff. Sounds like new-agey woo shit, I know, especially to me, an engineer. But for me, it works.

It's been tough, and I'm still well into the messy spectrum, but I no longer BUY ALL THE THINGS or keep that collection of 50-pin SCSI cables because maybe an old Unix workstation could come into my life … Before dealing with my ADD, there was nothing in the outside world that could compete with the fun stuff going on in my head, so hints, cajoling, threats, suggestions and flat-out-yelling-at-me-three-centimetres-from-my-face did nothing.

Most of the books and websites do nothing for me. I lost my copy of GTD for several years. That Discardia book looks like its smugness would bring me out in hives. We can be a stubborn and irritating lot. But if you can find out how to engage us, we will move the world overnight.
posted by A Friend of Dug [sock] at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're ok with swearing: unfuck your habitat.
posted by O9scar at 10:19 AM on January 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have dealt with a guy like this. No amount of showing him books or articles or whatnot will change him. He can intellectually understand the concept that throwing things away= cleaner house, but that won't change his emotional reaction to "his perfectly good stuff" being thrown out. Even if he never uses it and doesn't barely know it exists. Even if he NEVER knew it existed until after you threw it out! And yet, somehow, the house is supposed to magically be clean. Right.

Basically, I only know two ways of dealing with this, and they both suck.

1) live with it the way he wants it and be constantly frustrated by clutter, which you have to deal with way more than him because you probably do home-related stuff more than him.

2) just chuck the useless crap when he's not around to stop you and hope he doesn't notice.

There's also the passive-aggressive option of deliberately making HIM be the one to deal with all this crap and setting it up in such a way that it will be super, super, super aggravating for him and let HIM be the one to get frustrated and say "why the hell do we still have this stuff!?" Because, of course, if HE wants to get rid of it then it's ok. But you probably really shouldn't do that one.
posted by windykites at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Leaping back in--I have (treated) ADD, and I do tend to save stuff because I might need it someday. Or because who throws away perfectly good wrapping paper and ribbons/small glass jars/stale bread that could become crumbs? And then I can't find something and so I buy yet another whatzit. I had 8 pairs of scissors for 4 people. My family was drowning in stuff, which was everywhere in neatly labled plastic tubs that no one ever opened. Took a flood, a move, and a death of near-hoarding parent for me to figure it out. I was fishing stuff out of trashbags and now I donate/recycle and throw away stuff without angst.
It might be passive-aggressive, but if you can handle his frustration, I think windykites last suggestion might work.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:32 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is he willing to cave on anything to please you? Does he have the impression that he's caved plenty and is he holding on to things for some other reason?

There are dynamics here. I was shocked at Diablevert's answer because it sounds so...weird to me. WHY would you want storage spaces all jammed full of things you may NEVER use? But people are different and I guess we have to make allowances.

Clearly we're coming at this from two completely different spaces.

My parents are both pack-ratty from different directions. To my mother, all of her shit is a souvenier of some place she's been, or something she did or whatever. So there are 100 Japanese Hina Dolls, and shit-tons of Navajo baskets and Santa Maria pottery. There is custom made furniture from Korea. There is Art. OH BOY! Is there ART!. She has managed to arrange it nicely in their house.

For my Dad, he's all about, "I might need it some day." So the garage is so jammed full of tools, paintings, boxes of crap, lamps, bookshelves, cookbooks, etc, that he can't get the car in there.

It's a compromise.

My Dad is hilariously trying to foist some of his shit off on my sister and I. There was a picture of the family taken in the seventies. We all dressed up in old-timey clothing and posed as a frontier family. It was developed in sepia tones. It was framed in his office for nearly 40 years. Now it's in the garage. I don't want it. My sister doesn't want it. So what does he do? He wrapped it and gave it to Sissy for Channuka anyway. She wrapped it up and gave it back to him for his birthday.

I will occasionally get a box from him. Full of random stuff. If it's in MY storage room, then he still has access to it, "in case I might need it." My storage room is Goodwill.

There may never be a good answer. He may not care that your house is clean, and he may not care how it gets and stays that way. If he does, then you have a foundation upon which to build.

If it's 50/50, then you're doing as well as you're going to do. If you find that you cave more than he does, approch the arguement from that angle. But don't be surprised if he's still holding the fact that you gave away his Snoopy pillow case from sleep-away camp against you. Even if it happened in 1989.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am, or mostly used to be, your husband. And still would be, except I reached a point of actually being bothered by the mess and hassle.

It's really hard to unpack, because there is so much magical thinking and fear (sometimes inherited and sometimes just from out of nowhere) and anxiety wrapped around it.

There is also - and this was a turning point for me - a need to understand that we don't have to be happy about every single decision we make. Yes, those towels might be super-useful if [sources of fear and shame] occur, or if [fantasy person you want to be] comes into being. But, the former is realistically unlikely and the latter, should it come to pass, can be accommodated with new supplies - deserves, even, new supplies. And so while it is uncomfortable to let go of the fear and the hope, it isn't actually going to kill you to be a little uncomfortable.

So it's fixable if you can internalize two principles: you have to throw things out or eventually your house gets full, and you can do that even though you don't love doing it.

If he is too steeped in the fear/shame/hope cycle, he will not internalize the first principle. And without that he can never progress to the second.

I don't think you can eradicate his fear/shame/hope with a webpage. It's like quitting smoking or drinking or gambling or...hoarding, which is what this is. You can forcibly remove someone from the source of their addiction, but it doesn't mean they quit.

You might try looking at some hoarding resources to see if you can find something simple and poignant enough that it might pique his desire to work on it, but you can't make him have the desire. He may need professional help, too, especially if this is learned from the people who raised him. (Or genetic. I wasn't raised by the hoarder in my family, but I'm most certainly related to her.)

I did actually change dramatically due to FlyLady, but it's because she drills straight down into that shame/fear thing. If he's more a magical thinker who's going to start restoring old cars any second now, you're right that that's completely unproductive vector.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

The nice thing about UnFuck Your Habitat is that, at least from a cursory browse of the home page, it doesn't seem like it's really centered around getting rid of useful things in order to have a minimalist space, but instead it's about being organized and having a neat and useful home.

You can't make dinner if the kitchen counter is full of clutter. You can't find your shoes if they're in a pile. If all your office stuff is in a pile of clutter on top of banker's boxes on top of I don't even know, there is no point in keeping any of it because you will never be able to find anything.

A lot of the reblogged images on the main page don't show a lot of evidence of people radically throwing away a bunch of stuff, which I think might appeal to your husband. It's just... cleaned up. Everything is in its place. If there's no place for it, you've got to question why you have it and whether it's worth keeping, and if it is worth keeping, can a place for it be found?

This approach might appeal a lot more than some kind of Martha Stewart art-directed "see now, isn't the lack of owning possessions just inherently better?" kind of thing.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are two reasons people hold onto shit.

1. I might need it one day

2. It holds a sentimental meaning.

A major one for a lot of us is that it is a waste to throw it out. I hate how much garbage there is in the world and how much stuff that could be used is just mindlessly tossed in favor of a different color or slightly newer version. I would much prefer to just keep using the old one, or if we can't, at least find a way to make it into a back-up.

I get really stressed out when we throw out stuff that seemed like it could still be usable. It isn't about money and it doesn't help at all to be told that it will only cost a couple more dollars to get something similar - that just reminds me how easy it is to throw out things and how much goes to waste every day.

I've gotten better about compromising on some things and not trying to hold on to really broken or worn out stuff, but I still get bothered when my partner throws out something that seemed perfectly good to me. Sometimes he'd rather just toss it than launder it or fix it, and I find that troubling. In a way it's not irrational - he's doing that with cheap stuff that we can afford to replace - but it still seems like the wrong approach. Superglue the handle, scrub the stain, preserve the world instead of replicating it...
posted by mdn at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2014 [15 favorites]

I don't think a website is going to help. You seem perfectly capable of explaining the logic behind throwing stuff away, and he still doesn't agree. I think this dispute is more about different values. He may not value clealiness to the extent you do and has more sentimental attachment to objects or has sentimental attachments to a different set of objects. Maybe you each need to recognize that the other person isn't crazy. Does he understand how much it stresses you out to see a cluttered room or closet? I would suggest that you need to convey that rather than the logic at issue. I've recently been better about agreeing to get rid of stuff in the basement because I'm starting to understand that my wife can't relax down there right now.

I would totally shove some perfectly good towels into the closet so that I can keep them until they are needed. It just doesn't bother me if the stuff on the shelves in the closet aren't all lined up neatly. I don't want to live in a trash house or anything (and I don't and didn't when I was a bachelor), but some extra stuff on top of the closet isn't the end of the world. I also have stuff in the kitchen that I like to use, some of which predates the marriage. For example, there is a particular pot that I like to use to make rice. I've been making rice with that pot for 15+ years and I know how to time everything exactly correctly. My wife wanted to ditch it a year or two ago. She doesn't use it and there is another pot that is about the same size. To her, it was a double and unlikely to be missed. She also threw away a perfectly good giant pot that I used to use when I homebrewed. Now that I'm getting back into the hobby, I'll have to buy another one.

I'm not sure input from strangers on the MetaFilter is going to make the situation better. One of my wife's friends is pushing her to try to get me to get rid of all the books I have stored in the basement. That actually does not help the situation. I'm more likely to make concessions to the wife that I love than outsiders to the marriage who interfere and try to push their "use it in 12 months or it is gone" theory on me.
posted by Area Man at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

A major one for a lot of us is that it is a waste to throw it out.

No one says you have to throw it out. You can donate it. You don't have to deny yourself something nice because you have a gazingus-pin that still works, kinda.

My mother had a potato peeler from when she got married in 1962. Sure it worked, but it hurt your hands and it took forever because the blade was dull. I bought her an Oxo one, for $4.00 and with her arthritis, it now makes peeling potatoes a quick, easy job.

Sure, she could be buried with that old potato peeler, but some things outlive their usefullness.

My sister is using towels from my mother's wedding trousseau. More power, but that's not my bag.

The idea that there's virtue in eating out of broken but repaired crockery, or hanging onto the old potato peeler, even if you don't intend to use it, seems wrong headed and silly to me.

It's okay to sell old things at a yard sale and to buy new things if that's what you want. It's okay to donate stuff you don't want any more, to needy people. My hanging onto a ratty old towel won't help anyone's anything. It just means that I have a ratty old towel in my space.

To each his or her own, if you want to make a life with old, semi-broken, crap, good on ya mate, but don't try to sell that as something noble. It isn't really, it's just sad.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Have you considered moving a significant distance without any real budget to do it, or any idea precisely how much space you'll end up with on the other end? That worked for me.

My favorite method for "right-sizing" my stuff is to pick out the things I actively want to keep and ditch the rest (by whatever method) rather than to pick out the ones I don't want to keep. Making disposal the default is much easier emotionally. I don't have to think, "this object's worthless!" at any point, and can dwell more on how much I like the items I do want to have in my life.

Also, I found Stuff interesting and helpful in changing my packrattish ways. It's not a decluttering guide, just a book about what possessions mean to us.
posted by asperity at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re the towels, I agree with lydhre. My parents have always kept half a dozen or so old towels around as rags for when a toilet overflows or a kid is sick. They keep them in the laundry room with all the other cleaning crap. I think sometimes they wish they had more, frankly.

Anyway this is just another data point to suggest that finding a website that supports your particular point of view might not be the right tack to resolve this marital difficulty.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:11 AM on January 13, 2014

You can show him all the websites in the world, there's no guarantee he'll believe any of them.

I think this dispute is more about different values.

Yep, he doesn't need a website. You and he just think differently.

My Father is Law is like your husband, and my husband has, to some extent, learned it from him. FIL grew up poor, in a culture of "make it, make do, or do without" and then, when he joined the military, his parents threw out pretty much everything he'd left at their house when they were forced to unexpectedly move. Once you know those things about him, a lot of his behavior makes much more sense.

You and he are just not on the same page about the nature of "stuff", and right now you are just talking past each other. You and he need to sit down and talk about why he feels this way about keeping things, and why you want to get rid of things, and do so without judgement about the other. Right now you are judging him for not wanting "a clean home" and he's judging you for (I'm guessing, I could be wrong) being wasteful and throwing away things that are still useful.

Somewhere there is a middle space. It's ok for you to want new towels (which I presume you can afford), but understand that it's ok for him also to want to be frugal and keep things that he still sees as having a useful shelf life.

This doesn't have anything to do with his ADHD. Your sidenote about "he keeps ordering kitchen gadgets" is a little worrying, because it could (and I stress here that it could, not that it will) blossom into a hoarding behavior down the line. It has to do with different upbringings and different backgrounds. Understand where he's starting from, and let him understand where you are starting from. Right now the two of you are at war in your own home ... you have "contained" him to one area of the house where he can do what he wishes, but you're fighting skirmishes every time you want to throw something away.

Talk to each other. Talk about your parents homes and emotional attachment to objects and your views on recycling, and your views on what makes a happy, beautiful home. Understand one another. There is no website that's going to substitute for that.
posted by anastasiav at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why can't the stuff just go somewhere in his man cave? It sounds like you just want his hanging on to extra stuff to not be in places where you can see it, like in the linen closet. If he wants to hang on to old towels or knives or back issues of National Geographic, he is welcome to, in his space.
posted by kat518 at 11:21 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, the argument I have found most useful for convincing people to give things up is this:

Keeping something and not using it is just another way of wasting it.

Those old towels? If they're sitting in your cupboard, not getting used, when they could be being used at an animal shelter (or a rag processor for that matter) - they are going to waste.

Will your husband find this argument convincing? I don't know. Good luck!
posted by mskyle at 11:36 AM on January 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

haven't read through all the responses yet, but I have cluttery tendencies and I notice that it often overlaps with "but it's still a perfectly good ____" or "maybe someday I will be in dire need of this ____." Putting stuff out for free makes me feel better about getting rid of things, in that I think maybe it'll come back around/be there when i need it in the form of some other junk. Maybe craigslisting items like a rusty/broken kitchen knife (accumulating a lot of those sorts of things, then putting a 'free stuff box' out) would make him feel better about your efforts to get rid of clutter than just tossing things in the garbage (which feels so final!).
posted by ghostbikes at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2014

To each his or her own, if you want to make a life with old, semi-broken, crap, good on ya mate, but don't try to sell that as something noble. It isn't really, it's just sad.

I'm not trying to say there is anything noble about it - I'm just trying to explain the emotional philosophy that may be behind it. It just stresses me out to get rid of things instead of repair them. It can be a problem in the modern world, and I understand that - sometimes it is more sensible to just replace. But my desire is to repair.

I did not mean to imply that was somehow better - I just thought it might be worth considering that some of us who tend towards clutter are not necessarily basing our attitudes on arguments about specific memories or potential uses of given items, but rather, a general approach to stuff.
posted by mdn at 12:09 PM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Having lived through a Forced Decluttering Event six years ago, I've found the following procedure to be useful:

For any toss/keep decision, the key question is: "Is this item in my inventory?" I.e. if I'm ever in need of, say, a DDR2 2G memory stick, will my first impulse be to rifle through the middle bin on the second shelf to retrieve the designated white box or will I just go to Newegg?

I.e. not just (a) do I have it? and (b) is it put away neatly? but also (c) will I retrieve it if (when!!) that vaunted moment actually occurs.
posted by whuppy at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't think you're going to find a book or website that tells your husband that you are right and he is wrong.

Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD is a book that I found to be very helpful.

To be honest, as a person with ADHD, other people's organizing tips and tricks for the most part are pretty unhelpful for me. What's helped me get rid of things isn't questions like "is it useful? is it beautiful?" but the realization that I'm a disorganized slob and the only way I'm not going to live like a disorganized slob is if I stop holding on to things I don't need. Having a lot of stuff requires overhead.

Also, for whatever it's worth, as much as I appreciate someone's efforts to declutter and organize for me, they're going to do it wrong and whatever system they come up with is going to drive me insane and I'll never be able to find anything, and I will just be stressed out by their efforts and not able to maintain it.
posted by inertia at 12:56 PM on January 13, 2014

For us, it became about the cost of NOT throwing things away. Not just paying for storage for stuff we got no utility from; but the fact that without throwing things away, the hard work that we do every day is wasted, because we will never have a nice place to live. It helped that both his mother and mine have crappy messy living spaces because they are too reluctant to get rid of old stuff so I had examples to point to.

I explained to him that hoarding old junk was a great way to GET poor (paying for storage, paying for more house than we really need just to accommodate the stuff, which costs so much less than the house it takes to keep it in) and to STAY poor because it take so much extra work to organize and find stuff in a messy, over-full house -- work and energy that drain us both.

Anyway, we're pretty much all better about it now, but it was a difficult road and I completely sympathize with you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:58 PM on January 13, 2014 [11 favorites]

There's a show on Ion TV called "Neat" that I'm trying to get my pack ratty friend to watch. I find it comforting that pretty much everyone has a crap room, drawer, closet, etc. There's no putting down of pack rats but the show works toward finding out why the person is keeping more stuff than they have room for and if it's getting in the way of the kind of life they want to have. It's pretty sympathetic with some tough love if needed. Looks like you can watch some episodes online.


By the way, I'm with the husband on not pitching the towels. We have a box in the laundry that was a life saver when the siphon for the aquarium got knocked off and overflowed all over the floor. That said, there's a limit to how many you need so now we donate the old towels to an animal group that does low cost spay neuter surgery. For me, having depression era grand parents, I totally get the not being wasteful thing but I don't want a house full of so much stuff that I can't use the space.
posted by stray thoughts at 1:06 PM on January 13, 2014

ADHD here. I am big on purging, because it makes my life manageable. 12 towels means it's easy to ignore the laundry until it gets overwhelming. Same with dishes. I'm currently on a campaign to convince my house we need to minimize our dishes so we don't spend a week (or two) eating take-out because we're playing roulette with the kitchen sink. The mancave idea is nice to help isolate you from his ADHD symptoms, but I might stress that having an area of total disarray is probably evidence that there's work to be done. He needs the utility rags because they sound familiar and he's worried he has it on a to-do list that he doesn't quite have together. Without those rags right there as a constant reminder, he knows he's too disorganized to get around to whatever project.

That said, it's easy to get sentimental about things. To get around that, I've implemented the Box system. I have a number of boxes: Books, Clothes, Crafts, Things that don't have a Home. When it came to purging clothes, I put 1/3 of my partners wardrobe in a big box and put it high up in the closet. I let him know it was there if he was missing something. For myself, a month or two in the box, and I'm ready to let it find a new home. For my partner, I would hint, and I waited until he didn't seem like he wanted to die. That was this weekend, a year later. But a quick look, and he only kept two t-shirts and was willing to let two giant trashbags go to Goodwill.

My end goal is to be Apartment Therapy worthy. Not really because I'm style conscious, but because that level of staged neatness implies a sense of order and control over my environment. I've gotten buy-in from my partner because he realizes how stressed I can get when our place gets out of control. And worse, because I shut down when I'm stressed, it creates a negative feedback loop that usually ends in an embarrassing tantrum.
posted by politikitty at 1:20 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know someone with ADD-Inattentive whose behavior in this regard is identical to your husband's. In addition to the very good points Lyn Never has made about what could be motivating your husband's behavior, the person I know has said, "I already lose or misplace so much stuff, it seems reckless to actively get rid of anything I've managed to hold onto."

I've found that walking my friend through a worst-case scenario of what happens if we donate or throw something away is sometimes useful, because his ADD-I (and other people's reactions to it) have created a world for him where he's never sure what negative consequences he might bring on himself for actions he thought made sense at the time. But if I tell him, "if we donate these ratty towels to the animal shelter and one day have a really large spill to clean up, then we can still use the current ratty towel/s we have, paper towels, kitty litter or even the current nice towels we have, depending on what spilled. No one is going to die or lose their parent's love; at most we may be mildly inconvenienced for a finite time in the future. Keeping these towels creates a fire/walk hazard right now for an ongoing indefinite period," I'm sort of both giving him leave not to be mad at himself for not having the foresight to keep ALL THE TOWELS, FOREVER, letting him know I will not be mad at him either, and reigning in any catastrophizing he's doing. Obviously that method won't work when he has a sentimental reason to keep things, but it doesn't sound like you're pushing him to toss things of sentimental value.

The suggestions to donate what you can are also good; I sometimes go as far as to look up specific donation or relief centers and show my friend that they are particularly requesting whatever it is that is being given away; I think the idea that someone with a great and immediate need for [whatever] is more motivating to him than the idea of just dropping off a box at a goodwill. He was carrying around a box of motor oil bottles in his trunk for a while until I suggested we donate it to a fire station, for example.

I think it's also reasonable to say (to your husband) that you've met him halfway in asking him about the keep-worthiness about every household item, and that he is not being fair to just say everything should be kept.
posted by tyrantkitty at 1:47 PM on January 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Not a website, but an idea to consider.

I took my brother-in-law to a landfill and we spent a few hours watching trucks unloading and workers bulldozing everything into cells. Then we went to a recycling center and watched their sorting process for an hour. The sheer scope of these operations seemed to make an impression on him.

Nearly a year later and he is doing much better. He still has a "man cave" but once a month it is de-trashed by objective third parties and then treated with pest control products. Still not the way I'd want to live, but his wife and family have accepted the compromise. At least the rats and roaches are gone.
posted by 99percentfake at 2:01 PM on January 13, 2014

This may be a useless answer, but I'll post it because I wrote it, what the hell.

My beloved and infinitely frustrating father, who was a hoarder, died Dec 2012, and I spent 8 months digging out and clearing out his house -- which was horrific, boxes literally-no-joke stacked to the ceiling in all the rooms, unusable bathrooms, filth everywhere, a basement full of junk that housed rats, and too much stuff to find anything. The tragic thing was that important objects and papers were buried in the crap. I know EXACTLY how you feel, fighting against this: it's a nightmare. You should resist the oncoming tide of crap.

But I'm starting to sympathize with Dad, and with your husband, just a bit.

After I'd cleared the house I shipped all the stuff I cared about to Saskatoon -- I'm an only child, so all my Mom's and both Grandparents' things are there. I've just had boxes and boxes of china and art and furniture delivered to the new house that I've bought -- and now the place is filled to tottering overflowing with the stuff from his house and my own stuff. It looks, horribly, like an episode of Hoarders. There is crap on every surface. I cannot find the lampshades. I have to move things to sit down.

So I'm going to have to purge, and I'm going to have to purge stuff I really love and value.

But many of the usual approaches aren't going to work, and the idea of implementing them on this stuff makes me all stabby: they're all predicated on the idea that no object really matters except as a utility item and this is simply not true. Most of the stuff is 'useless' in the practical sense: I don't need my Grandmother's cut-glass punch bowl. I don't need the Villroy & Boch mettlach platters from 1885 that used to hang in Grandfather's hotel, back in the 20s; I don't need the 20" Japanese Glass fishing float Grandfather found in Prince Rupert harbour or Dad's argelite carvings or Mom's china or my Great-Great-Great-Great Tante's copper kettle. And the stuff that can be displayed don't match my decor (very mid-century modern, all teak). But if anyone suggested that I throw out these items because they are not 'useful', I would cheerfully disembowel them. If anyone suggested that I pick just one of them to keep or to 'take a picture to keep the memory alive' while tossing them, I would rend them limb from limb. It's going to take me quite a while to figure out what fits in my life (or matters enough to keep without fitting into my life), and what I can pass on to other family members, sell, or discard. Only time will make this work.

And I'm lucky: I live alone so I'll be able to move through this task at my own pace (and I will, I'm giving myself a deadline of 6 months to figure out how to house it or what to discard). If I had a partner who was throwing this stuff away behind my back, I'd probably leave -- not because the stuff was more important than the partner, but because the partner didn't understand what was important to me.

I guess that I'm suggesting that being in control and being able to decide what is important and what isn't, rather than living like a child at the behest of another person's wishes, might be one reason why your husband is being so resistant. You're the one deciding what matters, not him.
posted by jrochest at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

In considering all the advice above, I think one key issue to consider is the extent of the problem. How cluttered is the man cave? How much does he clutter up the rest of the house? Is this a rats and roaches hoarder sort of problem or just mess and clutter of an ordinary sort?
posted by Area Man at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2014

I suspect, as others have mentioned, that donating is going to be the way to go here (or "donating" for things that are not of sufficient condition to be reused). Fine, he could use the knife or the towels, but you can afford to buy another knife and can afford to buy some utility rags, and you're helping others by donating these items. Animal shelters need, basically, unlimited towels. So, you donate the towels and if he asks, explain that a puppy is in a warm soft cage now - is him having some contingency rags really more important than that? Or you donated the knife to the local soup kitchen - is his bajillionth knife really more important than food for hungry kids?

I think concrete examples of where these items are going and which specific less fortunate people are benefited will be helpful for him to get it.

It's ok to regret giving something away, but knowing that someone was helped by it lessens the "Argh! I'm so dumb for tossing that!" feeling.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:34 PM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

You're not getting rid of the old towels; you're releasing them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2014

You sound really frustrated. It's very hard living with someone who has very different standards for clutter - my dad is a pretty major hoarder so I know what it's like living with someone who won't throw anything out.

I'm getting the sense that you're looking for a way to convince him once and for all that he's wrong and you're right, by finding the "most logical" answer, and I'm not sure that's the best approach. It really depends how severe the problem is, for one thing. If he's a serious hoarder and won't throw out anything ever, he needs professional help and nothing you can do will really improve things. If instead the worst problem is that he likes to have a lot of different knives and rags around "just in case" and likes to hang onto potentially useful things, I'm not sure that his perspective is unreasonable at all.

Most likely it's somewhere in the middle, in which case it really depends how willing he is to compromise and improve things. I'm not clear whether he is at all interested in decluttering (and is now asking for resources to help), or if this question is your attempt to persuade him with logic that your way is better. If it's the latter, I'd urge you to reconsider your approach - there is no objectively perfect number of possessions to keep, and neither of you are necessarily "wrong". You've probably both been compromising on the issue for awhile (and maybe not fully appreciating each others' compromises).

I think you might find it more productive to have a real, non-judgmental discussion with him: not about why his way is wrong, but about the specific things that make you unhappy and more importantly, why: overflowing drawers, broken objects, ugly towels, whatever, as well as the things that make him unhappy and why: waste, not having necessary things like rags on hand, treasured knives being thrown out, whatever. Then maybe you can work towards a solution that isn't as simple as "throw out X items" but that addresses your biggest annoyances at minimal cost to his unhappiness. There are probably some things he really wants to have around, but others he could consider throwing out, especially after he knows his important things are "safe" (is it possible he's hanging onto everything because he's afraid of a "give an inch take a mile" situation and losing all his stuff? did he grow up poor and now needs a certain number of things to feel secure?).

But again, if it really is a case where he literally won't throw out anything without a huge argument, professional help may be required to see any improvement.
posted by randomnity at 3:25 PM on January 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Adding one more answer, as this thread seems to have exploded a bit: My own parents have a marriage similar to yours, OP. My dad's a bit messy and loves to buy new gadgets; my mom's neat and organized and loves to have everything in its place. They still occasionally drive each other nuts with their tenancies, but they seem to have come to a pretty successful detente overall, and they've developed strategies over the years to work things out. My mom lets him buy kitchen gadgets as long as she can figure out a place to put them in the kitchen beforehand, he'll agree to store the cookbooks in a closet rather then having them out in stacks. If he wants to buy new giant fancy pot he lets her get rid of one of the old giant fancy pots. I'm sure you can work things out with your dude also. Give up on curing and focus on managing the disease.

I was shocked at Diablevert's answer because it sounds so...weird to me. WHY would you want storage spaces all jammed full of things you may NEVER use?

Chipping in to clarify: It's not that I actively enjoy having cluttered closets. It's that it doesn't bother me to have cluttered closets. I can open the door of a cluttered closet, dig around, find the thing I want, close that door and go about my day, never thinking of it again. It takes a pretty high level of clutter before I find it stressful, and while I do derive a certain amount of satisfaction from having things neat and tidy, it's just....not that much satisfaction, in comparison to the drudgery of the maintenance involved to keep it that way. It's pretty easy for me to ignore clutter, and therefor it doesn't stress me out. I mean, I like to think I'm not completely hopeless --- I'm in the middle of reoganizing my closet right now --- but I'd probably blush to admit exactly how long those half-filled shopping bags were sitting in the corner of my room before doing so.

I think in OP's mind, and the minds of many neatnicks, as witnessed in the thread, having a messy house is actively bothersome, like an itchy rash. For me it more like street noise --- you notice it when you first walk in but then it fades into the background. Potato, potahto, it's be a funny old world if we were all the same, etc. But I mention it because I think if you're a neat-ly inclined person, the idea that someone could not really notice or appreciate neatness is difficult to wrap your mind around. The OP seemed to take the view that once their spouse understood that getting rid of stuff was a pre-req for neatness, they'd cave and be all for it. But when the sight of a tidy walk in filled with wicker baskets and shoe racks fills you with nothing but indifference, that may not be the case.
posted by Diablevert at 4:55 PM on January 13, 2014

As a person who is, um, a bit more like your husband than like you, I really like Unclutterer.

As a bonus, they do touch on mental and psychological uncluttering as well as mental and psychological reasons people have for holding on to things, which may be helpful in helping you both communicate with and understand each other. You can laugh at the Unitasker Wednesdays together, and maybe start a conversation about the utility of objects and whether they are useful additions to or detractions from your life.

I'm guessing he doesn't see any problem with holding on to something as long as it's still good (it's not like it's hurting anything, right? you totally have the room in your house, right? [stuffed in some closet on top of other junk] it's free, right? what if you NEED it someday?)--but eventually you may be able to get him to recognize the idea that there is a cost, literal or psychological, to holding on to something: you have to take care of it, it's taking up space, no one else is getting benefit from it, and perhaps most of all it may keeping you from focusing on what's really important, and keeping you from valuing what you really have. Quantity can keep you from quality, and that includes quality of life.

That's been hard for me to learn. We never had much when I was young and I held on to everything I had for a long time. I also got the idea that I didn't deserve nice things, and that crappy things were good enough for me, and that having lots of broken stuff from free piles that I was somehow going to fix someday was somehow helpful either to me or the environment. It's not good.

The Unclutterer people also have a book. If I have a little bit more time later I might try to look for particular posts that may be helpful. If it doesn't clutter up your thread!

Good luck! I aspire to be more like you, but I'm working on it.
posted by spelunkingplato at 5:02 PM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

is there a webpage I can send him to explain the logic behind throwing things out?

There are millions of sites on decluttering your home. For a "manly" approach, try 30 Days to a Better Man Day 13: Declutter Your Life. It and other sites all tell you to break the problem into small, manageable chunks, to systematically and slowly work your way through things, and to make sure you have good storage and organization systems to manage what you don't throw away. The best ones tell you to stop buying so much stuff in the first place.

And that might be getting at your real problem and real solution. He is pushing back against you spending money on new stuff when, from his point of view, you already have perfectly good old stuff and buying the new stuff would just waste his money without improving his life one iota.

Maybe you think he's a big mess, a bit of a cheap bastard, and not very bright. You want a "for dummies" overview that he can skim (is he not a good reader?) and he doesn't understand the concept of things that are simple to you. He needs to be taught. You think of yourself as the sensible one, the neat, organized captain of your newly redecorated home.

To him, though, perhaps he's the frugal, sensible, unpretentious one, the one who is wiser with his money and yours. He may think you're always blowing hard-earned money on unneeded stuff ("Towels? More fucking towels? The cupboard is bulging with towels. Who are we trying to impress?") just for the sake of appearances and oh look shiny and fashionable.

A good compromise might be to get rid of things you don't need to keep and don't need to replace. Get rid of the old towels and leave it at that, because maybe you don't need a dozen towels that match the new decor.
posted by pracowity at 2:50 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I need a webpage to show him when it's necessary.

Web sites are easy to make. So make one. That way you can tell him exactly what you think he needs to hear, and pretend it's not you saying it. Whether that will make any difference is to be seen (I bet not).
posted by kindall at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2014

Like asperity, when I get on a decluttering kick, I think about moving. So the questions are: "would I bother to pack this?" and if no, "do I have an immediately foreseeable use for this?"

There are lots of systems you can use (I tend to combine those questions with sorting piles: keep, toss, donate, reconsider at end of sorting), but I found that figuring out the questions that will encourage me to get rid of things was the key. I've moved a lot on a minimal budget, so considering how quickly and cheaply I can execute my next move is motivating for me.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:20 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

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