How can I talk to my partner about decluttering?
September 26, 2019 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Too much stuff -- how to talk to partner about decluttering or letting go of large quantities of childhood items that are taking over our home?

We just moved to a new apartment. One of the bedrooms (it's supposed to be an office since we work from home... I would like it to be a child's bedroom one day...) is completely unusable because of the amount of stuff. It is mainly my partner's childhood books, games, and toys... plus boxes of trophies and two large crates of his grandmother's china, which we have never so much as unwrapped and looked at in the past 5+ years we've lived together. He seems completely closed off to getting rid of absolutely anything.

I try to make it easy for him - just now I set aside all the books (stuff like the Berenstain Bears and Goosebumps books, nothing rare or irreplaceable) and asked him to set aside the ones with sentimental value. I.e. I'm not asking him to get rid of everything. He basically refused, saying they all have sentimental value. I offered to sit with him and go through it together but he doesn't want to think about it. Granted, we only moved in yesterday so maybe that was too much to ask, but this has definitely been a pattern in our relationship.

I don't want to get rid of anything behind his back because apparently his parents did that when he was a kid and he considers that a huge breach of trust.

In our old city we rented a storage unit. I was 100% responsible for packing/ organizing/ and moving all the stuff in there and i paid for the unit which I felt resentful about... It was all my partner's childhood stuff plus Christmas decorations. In our new city, a storage unit is out of our budget. I'm unable to set up my work space, or even unpack the rest of the apartment at this point. He doesn't see a problem with having a whole room dedicated to boxes of things we never use or even look at.

Any words of wisdom on how to move forward through this?
posted by jschu to Human Relations (48 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is dumping him an option? Because I lived with a hoarder, and his attachment to old "sentimental" things basically pointed to a personality disorder where he and his needs alone held sway over absolutely everything.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 10:38 AM on September 26 [69 favorites]


I had a dumb argument with my brother the other day about the kind of dumb things siblings argue about. Nobody won, but a lot of steam got blown off and in the aftermath we got to talking reasonably about a few issues we had with each other. Long story short -- my big issue with him of late is that he's been using our mom's place to store some of his stuff, and the amount keeps increasing, less and less room to move to the point of it getting dangerous. I finally got him to acknowledge this and he's already planning a garage sale. Hooray for reason!

I guess what I'm saying is that maybe like me and my brother, you and your partner need to hit a friction point before you can have a reasonable discussion, but by the sounds of things, you do need that reasonable discussion.

Hope this helps.
posted by philip-random at 10:39 AM on September 26


You only moved in yesterday...everybody's tired and emotional. Table it for a couple of weeks.
posted by praemunire at 10:43 AM on September 26 [70 favorites]


This is really tough, I have a few relatives who have the same attachment issues. FWIW it stems from being essentially orphaned in their case, so trauma could be part of it.

If it were me, I would enlist their help organizing it - no I would pester them mercilessly until they helped me (YMMV) - with the goal of making enough space to set up my work space. If this means shelving, or consolidation, or whatever, it at least gets you what you need short term.

Then you can spend the next few years suggesting therapy. Since you've had to manage it historically, I would not expect them to come around once the stress of moving has cleared, or after an argument.
posted by pilot pirx at 10:48 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


we only moved in yesterday so maybe that was too much to ask, but this has definitely been a pattern in our relationship.

Moving is stressful for everyone, so you are probably feeling this more and your partner may be feeling defensive more. So! Your feelings are super valid but maybe table them for a week or two and try to work around the nonsense while you get your life a little more set up.

Because, really, this is basically where you tell your partner "Look, this 'I need to keep all the stuff' thing, is a feeling we don't share. Which means it's your issue to deal with and I will help. But I'm not willing to have your special sentimental things take up space that we need for living in so you're going to have to make choices and I very much hope that your choice is not to end this relationship because you can't make a plan for grandma's china." Because the math is there: you used to have a storage unit. Now you don't. That stuff is taking up space you can't afford to give up. That stuff belongs to partner. There needs to be a plan.

Because there are only a few ways this could go

1. Partner makes difficult choices
2. Partner is unable to make difficult choices right now but is willing to go to therapy of some kind to deal with the fact that these difficult choices are endangering their relationship
3. Partner refuses to make difficult choices but is willing to let you step in and make some and somehow finds ways to balance the relationship afterwards in understanding of the extra work that you are doing
4. Partner will do none of these things, you do not have room for a child you supposedly both want. Partner has to face the fact that they have a relationship-endangering personality trait and the two of you have to face that reality.

The way I handled a similar situation with my sister (two dead parents' houses worth of stuff, sister wanted to keep stuff but could not somehow make plans to deal with that stuff) let me handle some of the getting rid stuff--sort of a don't ask don't tell thing--and she took on more of the other work we had to do with my parent's house. Not totally equal but realistically I am a bit of a neatness taskmaster about all of it, so I think it balanced okay. Partner needs to be made aware of the concept of emotional labor and the two of you need to have a talk about the unequal nature(s) of your relationship, but maybe not just yet.
posted by jessamyn at 10:50 AM on September 26 [40 favorites]


Your partner’s relationship to his stuff is not more important than your time and your desire for a functional home. It is clear from your question that this situation is taking an emotional toll on you. If you have not yet connected the dots for your partner, try that first. Let him know, clearly, that the situation is harming you and that you are asking him, as your partner, to show he cares about your well-being by being proactive in addressing the situation.
Full disclosure, the house I grew up was like that room in your apartment. Only recently, at age 39, have I realized the depth of hurt I feel that my parents valued their relationship to stuff more than providing me with a healthy home. They have also continued to put their relationship with stuff ahead of their relationship to me and my children.
posted by ElizaMain at 10:55 AM on September 26 [16 favorites]


Just to point out that those games, toys, and books can be used by your future child in that bedroom. It does seem strange to me to get rid of books and toys right before having a child who could use them. And after your child outgrows them, your partner might find that he has a different relationship to them. I'm a keeper of stuff too (with a mother who threw out my stuff when I was little) and I found that my relationship to my childhood stuff changed quite a bit when I had a child. Specifically, my stuff started to feel far less emotional.
posted by xo at 10:55 AM on September 26 [12 favorites]


I don't want to get rid of anything behind his back because apparently his parents did that when he was a kid and he considers that a huge breach of trust.

Well.. I mean.. it is.

Also, as others have said, you just moved in, I would let this one rest a bit and, if I were you, I would insist on therapy with established goals.
posted by Twinge at 10:56 AM on September 26 [9 favorites]


Mine, early fifties, continues to collect these things called "Hero Clicks," which are tiny little figures of, like, spiderman or dracula or Marie Curie or whoever, all on disks that you turn to reveal various powers so that you can play a chess-ish game with them down at the comic book store, except that everyone who collects them is now a rapidly aging adult with adult responsibilities and nobody has time to go down to the comic book store to play the game. Whenever he starts to talk to me about which of his many nephews I should inflict the hero clicks upon if he should predecease me, I inform him that what I'm going to be doing with them is melting them all down into a single, horse-sized hero click and having it hauled away on a truck.

Eventually I'm going to lay in some glass-fronted shelving for the reef of hero clicks currently swamping the "office," and then we can both use the office as an office and on occasion stand together in front of the hero clicks with our arms around each other while he explains to me all their various powers. Perhaps when they are no longer the bane of my existence, I might even want to learn to play the game.

Can you get rid of the current dishware and use the grandmother dishes instead? Shelve the Goosebumps and the Berenstains alongside your grownup books?

Failing that, it is possible to be partnered but not live together.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:01 AM on September 26 [12 favorites]


Having someone get rid of his stuff behind his back when he was a kid or young adult is exactly what I was going to ask about before I got to that part of your question. This is a trauma-related behavior from him, and he has created maladaptive coping mechanisms around hanging onto "stuff" to compensate.

My mom still laments how many of her things were gotten rid of by her mother (my grandmother) when she moved off to college. Beatles cards, childhood toys and games, stuffed animals, collections, photos (!), and more. She just moved last weekend and was leaning on me hard about how traumatic it was to trust someone else - movers in this case - with her stuff. I gently reminded her, as is my way, that it was just stuff. She responded, in hindsight not unreasonably, that "my stuff is my link to the past!" She is still traumatized by what happened to her as a teenager. She's not a hoarder, but there is trauma there.

So, my advice to you is to lean into the trauma and acknowledge it. Let him know that you will never get rid of his stuff without his consent, but you need to come up with a solution that honors his ownership of it and connection to it while still making your office a place where you can work. Ask him to suggest some storage options. Can he build some shelving? Raise your bed on risers and store things underneath it? Is there a family member's or friend's home he could store it in, in exchange for some skill he has to barter?

You're not unreasonable for wanting that stuff out of the way so you can live your life as intended in this home. I'm sure when you toured this home and talked about this room being your office and a future kid's room, he didn't say, "Now wait a minute, where are we going to store my treasures? I'd imagine this room being used to store my things." Surely he didn't. Let him help devise a solution, knowing that the status quo is not a solution. Talk about it openly and compassionately.
posted by juniperesque at 11:08 AM on September 26 [19 favorites]


Just going at this from a different point of view. I've helped a person in my life who has problems with accumulating stuff (and can't make decisions around it), and I've watched a few friends deal with relatives who just wouldn't let go off stuff ... to the point it interfered with their lives, but it was likely not entering pathological realms like hoarding.

So if I were in your shoes and had a loved one who I wanted to deal with this, after time has passed (not immediately after moving but within a week or two so that everyone still remembers the pain associated with moving (costs of lifting + $ + decisions + upheaval) and in a non-threatening conversations, ask questions about:
-What do these objects mean to him (beyond "sentimental). Does he envision using them and if so, how and when and where?
-What does he think about the costs of those items (storage, space, cleaning, time, money)?
-Is there any circumstance that he would consider letting go of these items? If so, would anything help him consider letting go of some of these items?

I'd ask these just to get a better understanding to make a future plan. Also, consider having a later conversation (after the first one or two, also in a non-threatening way to his stuff) about the cost of those items to you: You can't use a space, you had to pay to store them before, physically move them before, etc., and you don't want to do so again. Items like unused china in boxes are a cost to both of you now, etc.

Depending on what you find out can guide next steps, but what I've either done or seen other people do as a solution:
-The barrier can drop to getting rid of objects for some people if they think they are going to good use or a good home/so maybe there is a place to donate, etc, as in someone can use that china right now - maybe someone who has never had it and craves it and whatever.
-I know I put this in metafilter before, but a friend of mine tried to help his elderly parents get rid of a household full of stuff so they could move into a smaller place, and even with an ongoing garage sale, they inflated the items or wouldn't let them go (including things like broken cars and 50+ year old cribs). In a later conversation he found out that his parents had emotional ties to each item and wanted their kids to know their histories - for him, he helped his parents write a journal and give items that were symbols of these things - for him it ended up being a powerful experience - this is probably over the top for you, but ... there can be other ways to harness emotions associated with trophies or china, etc. But I'm mentioning this because maybe if you have an idea as to what you are dealing with ...there might be a solution around this.

Also, nthing what another user mentioned ... books in particular could be fun with a future kid.
posted by Wolfster at 11:14 AM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately you've already ceded your best position from which to persuade him to get rid of this stuff, which was before the move. Now it's here in your apartment with inertia on its side.

If him being 100% responsible for offsite storage isn't an option, this may come down to a me-or-your-hoarder-crap ultimatum.

I'll try to be optimistic here and say that if you can convince him to let go of just a few things that are part of the hoard, the floodgates may open and he might get on board with a major pare-down. But since you've already acquiesced to taking all the stuff along on your move, you will probably get better traction with this if you wait until the stress of moving has abated somewhat.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:16 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


Since you paid for storage for 5 years tell him he can pay for you to go to a coworking space.

I think if you're going to raise a family you need to live in the suburbs.
posted by perdhapley at 11:34 AM on September 26 [12 favorites]


You could try the "let's take a picture of it, burn to a dvd or the cloud, or print to paper, then sell or trash the item." Probably won't work, but worth a try, especially right after the effort of moving it all.

Find out what it would cost to store it all for 5 years. Make him pay for it. He might not want it so much then.
posted by H21 at 11:41 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's (almost) time for a conversation about how the Stuff is negatively impacting you and how he plans to change that situation. One way to frame it is talking about the ideal way each of you would like to live. Eventually this will come around to whether having a room full of boxes is part of that vision.

This is the basis of the KonMari method - if you're interested definitely get one of her books rather than the blogs/TV/etc. that tend to skip over the "setting intentions" part. I think the concept where you methodically review your things from least-sentimental to most-sentimental would be helpful here, too.

Have any of the folks recommending keeping the books read a Berenstain Bears book in recent memory? Because a lot of them have some really dated and sexist crap in them. Goosebumps won't be age-appropriate for over ten years, and the hypothetical kid might not even want them and cheap paperbacks aren't made to last 30+ years.
posted by momus_window at 11:49 AM on September 26 [13 favorites]


Here's my question: why can't the china come out of the box and go into a high kitchen cabinet? Why can't the kids' books and toys go on a tall bookshelf in the office?

Just because you aren't using these things regularly/ever doesn't mean they can't be stored in a way that works for your new home. I personally am a childless adult who recently brought back some childhood toys I wanted to keep, for sentimental reasons and in case I ever have kids myself. They live on the bottom shelves of my living room bookshelf, so that when the rare kid visits me they have toys to play with. And I like seeing them there, even though I never touch them.

You seem to be framing this as "keep this pile of boxes" vs "get rid of the stuff in the boxes" but that's not how it has to go.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:55 AM on September 26 [20 favorites]


If you want to push the issue you can load at least some of the boxes along his side of the bed, it is his stuff after all. It shouldn't be your problem in the office, that is no more free space than the kitchen.

If you want to be nicer you can get bins that will fit under fairly low beds, closet organizers, stick the boxes in an unobtrusive corner in the living room, anything to make space so you can have your office set up. The 8-cube storage shelves might be able to fit along a wall somewhere and things like books and knick-knacks might take up less space than they do boxed.

My boyfriend is a collector and I've encouraged him to set up shelves along our (high) walls to display his favorite items instead of having them all over the place collecting dust and increasing visual clutter. I've packed up items that are sentimental but he barely thinks about and leave him with where to put the boxes, so they continue to sit in the hallway (but we are in a house and do have more space). I am ok with it because I have our main living areas and my personal spaces set up in a less cluttered way and I just try to ignore the parts I want to clear out for now.
posted by lafemma at 11:57 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Behavior like this always seems to stem from trauma, and you've already got a clear understanding of at least part of his trauma. For him to work through this you're both going to have to put in a lot of work and sustained effort - it's doable, though, and a really important thing for him to get in order if he's going to help you raise kids and like, be an adult. He's going to have to accept that it's a problem, and respect your feelings, and make clearly defined goals and communicate with you about things he's uncomfortable with. It's all going to be difficult. On the one hand, ouch. On the other hand, if the two of you can work through this together it's a great grounding for future difficulties like, say, parenting together, having a serious illness, dealing with grief, etc.

For right now tensions are high, stress is the default and you're both really tired. If I were you I'd set a series of reminders for myself to talk to him about specific things in a week, two weeks, three weeks. Once that reminder is set I would be able to focus on other immediate things knowing that I won't let this issue fall by the wayside for another five years.

In the meantime, do some thinking about your ideal living situation with this guy and his stuff. Because he'll always have stuff - and that's okay! For me, I live with a guy who has collections, and gets lots of things all the time, and has hobbies where he makes objects. Our mutually agreed policy is that everything in our house needs to have a defined home. We can have some storage in the basement but nothing inaccessible or jumbled. If there are books we want to keep but not regularly read, there must be enough bookshelf space for all the books - if we've run out of shelves we have to cull the books. If we've run out of wall space to display art we need to not get any further art. We're working on installing a curio cabinet for some of my heirlooms and his handmade art pieces. I have a few small shelves in my room that hold bits and bobs from my childhood, a drawer in a chest keeps things safe too. If it's seasonal decorations or whatever (like my menorah, or halloween lights, or summer picnic items) that has a spot in the basement where it lives except when seasonally appropriate. As you can see we're lucky in that we've got the space - but we specifically chose this house because of its space. If you're going to continue being with this guy, it sounds like the two of you are going to need more space together. And that might change some of your life plans. Is what you have together something that balances that change?

Take the week to think about this. Define your goals to yourself so you can speak them clearly to him, and get him to understand what your priorities are so he can respect them - and ask him to do the same so you can reciprocate. The next week, make an action plan, some concrete steps to take. Continue in this fashion with repeated buy-in on both your parts. Maybe he can begin mixing this stuff in with the rest of the house, maybe he can try to cull a certain number of items in a week, maybe he can look for a therapist to nip his hoarding tendencies in the bud. Maybe you can find some shelving and install it, maybe you can help him find a therapist, maybe you can take on another task he find difficult so he can work through his trauma for the sake of a home office. Or maybe you can look for work outside of the home, and maybe you can think about what it'll be like to jam a kid's room into a home office along with seasonal storage in a place that sounds too small for your combined lifestyles and what you'll need in place before you can do all that.
posted by Mizu at 12:03 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


If you both work from home and you need to get your mutual workspace up and running now and there is literally no other place for his sentimental objects and you literally can't set up the rest of your apartment until this stuff is gone then I'd suggest telling your partner that he needs to rent a storage unit for it with his own money, even if that storage unit has to be hours away in another nearby city with more reasonable storage rates.

You've said he seems okay with "having a whole room dedicated to boxes of things we never use or even look at", and yeah, that's a thing that lots of people have to some degree or other. But you've also said that the current state of your apartment will prevent you both from living and working in it because the things that should be in your shared office space are in your living space and you don't even have room to unpack. That's something that should be an obvious problem to him too and is really different from having a storage room. If there's any chance you've not described this situation to us accurately and you're trying to use a not-entirely-true sense of urgency to goad him to finally get rid of things you think he shouldn't keep you need to Let That Go. If this is actually a problem that can be fixed in the short term with some bed risers and under-bed storage boxes and a good sturdy storage shelf, then Do That.

Don't try to get him to throw out sentimental possessions right after moving to a new city. Definitely don't throw out his belongings for him - that would probably seriously damage his trust in you. Don't pay for his storage unit if he gets one.

Do be honest with yourself about whether you also have items that he doesn't care about or find necessary that are taking up space. My Mother's pattern was to pester my Father and I to purge our belongings of things she thought were pointless while being utterly and completely blind to her own possessions. I'm not saying that's what you're doing, just that it's a really easy pattern to fall into.

Longer term you both should figure out why he's holding on to this stuff. Is the china the only thing he has to remember his Grandmother by? Is he holding on to the children's books and toys because he wants to pass them down to your future children? Once you know the reasons why you can strategize:
  • Does he ever realistically see himself using the china? If he thinks so, what would your lifestyle need to be for that to happen? If not, is there another family member who might want it? Can he have it photographed and then find a new loving home for it (my Father donated my Grandmother's dish ware to our church, and every time we eat a shared meal there we get to eat off Grandma's plates).
  • Does he need to keep the physical trophies or would a nice photo album with pictures of them (maybe paired with pictures of him at the age he won them) scratch that sentimental itch?
  • If he wants to give the books to your future kids, how long will it likely be before your hypothetical kid is old enough for them? How long would it cost to store the books for that long? How does the cost of storage compare to the cost of buying some or all of the books new when your child is ready for them?
If he can't articulate his reasons for keeping these things then seeing a therapist to work it out would be a good idea. If he can't afford a therapist there are definitely books for this sort of thing. Someone above mentioned the KonMari method, and as a sentimental person myself, I found her way of approaching objects appealing.

On the bright side, it doesn't sound like your partner is continuing to accumulate things, and Do Not Underestimate how much easier that makes this problem.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:17 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


I don't know if this helps, but as someone with hoarder tendencies... If his stuff has been shut away, not looked at, for a long time, that's probably compounding things. When I've had to sort/get rid of stuff, I find that the first time I look at it in years, there's a whole lot of "Oh my God, I remember this! I can't get rid of this!" It's like uncovering a holy relic, with a sense of awe that it's survived, unchanged, when everything else about me and my life has changed. But if I go back to the same box a couple of months later, a lot of that emotional charge has dissipated, because I just saw it two months ago. Maybe you could ask him to show you what's in there, talk you through it, ask him to tell you stories about it, express his feelings to you about it and why it means so much? Then revisit a little later and see if he's more amenable to getting rid of some. Not a quick fix, but I think it would work for me.
posted by penguin pie at 12:31 PM on September 26 [25 favorites]


it doesn't sound like your partner is continuing to accumulate things, and Do Not Underestimate how much easier that makes this problem.
I thought that bore repeating. It is deeply true.

Have any of the folks recommending keeping the books read a Berenstain Bears book in recent memory? Because a lot of them have some really dated and sexist crap in them.

No, but fortunately ancient memory of them is sufficient. I knew at 5 that they sucked on ice. My mom and I read and made fun of them together. I credit that and future exposures to schlock lit with my capacity to tolerate abysmal crap well enough that I can edit people's self-published novels without clawing out my eyes. Anyway, nobody said the future kid had to read the stuff. Just put them on a shelf. Maybe one in a closet where Marie Kondo says to keep the stuff you find embarrassing but still joysparky.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:32 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


My mother is a serious hoarder. I've tried to help. I've tried everything. She knows she is a hoarder and it is a hugely detrimental thing in her life. She's seen Hoarders and tried to get better. I tried everything from actual physical labor for a week to emotional support to not caring to making it clear that her grandkids will never, ever be able to visit her and my dad, who is basically a prisoner at this point due to him being notably older than her but that's another story, at their home. My kids will never have sleepover at their grandparent's house like I did. I've seen her cry, I've seen her rage [at friends and family], I've seen her fail. Nothing works.

My wife DrMsEld is a clinical psychologist and said that her abnormal psych class had statistics on hoarders reverting back to the habit once they'd cleaned up (a la the Hoarders show but actual studies/data sets) and she said the rates were similar to Heroin addicts...

If you see this pattern emerging be very concerned. Be mindful of your situation and look out for yourself if you think this isn't trending in a good way because it can seriously alter lives and ruin a home.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:38 PM on September 26 [6 favorites]


I want to point out that you're still paying for storage.

You have a room you want to use an an office now and as a child's bedroom eventually. You made the decision that you would be willing to pay more to have that extra room. Except now you're paying to house his stuff.

In your situation I'd be pissed off. I might have an overdeveloped sense of fairness, but I still think it's worth addressing that. Is his stuff important enough to him to pay what that extra room cost you? Important enough to pay for you to have a coworking space?

I had a whole comment about how if he is a hoarder, he needs to either seriously commit to getting help and doing the work, or you should get out. Living with a hoarder can be emotionally traumatic, to the point that I would consider it emotional abuse - because of a mental illness, sure, but like any mental illness that might cause someone to harm their partner, that's an explanation and perhaps a reason to feel some empathy for the ill person, not a reason to be subjected to the abuse. But .... I erased most of that comment because it seems like it is mostly just THIS stuff, and not stuff in general, that is the problem? For your sake, I hope that is the case.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:46 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]


Oh sorry, I meant to also play let's count the red flags:

completely unusable because of the amount of stuff

which we have never so much as unwrapped and looked at in the past 5+ years we've lived together

He seems completely closed off

He basically refused, saying they all have sentimental value.

this has definitely been a pattern

his parents did [get rid of things of his] when he was a kid and he considers it a huge breach of trust

we rented a storage unit.

I was 100% responsible for packing/ organizing/ and moving all the stuff in there

i paid for the unit

which I felt resentful about... I'm unable to set up my work space, or even unpack the rest of the apartment at this point.

He doesn't see a problem with having a whole room dedicated to boxes of things we never use or even look at.

Seriously, I count 11 things and each and every thing here has an analogue in behavior I've seen from my mother and her hoard.

Two solid and irrevocable actions you should stick with:

1) Do not get a storage unit or additional space or some sort of fancy storage solution that isn't sustainable. It's a crutch and a bad one at that as it just kicks the can down the road.
2) Do not let yourself be the one suffering here. If you need that as a workspace and inanimate objects are keeping you from having it then you deserve consideration.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:47 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]


Consider a multi-pronged approach:

- Display shelves for stuff that can be grouped into collections, and dedicated, limited storage in the apartment for some of it.
- Temporary storage unit for 6 months, only if he budgets and pays for it, with the understanding he'll sort through a couple boxes every month to limit his emotional response.
- It's okay to take part of the china set (a few teacups, a serving platter to use on holidays) and donate the rest.
- You're apartment dwellers, so how many Christmas decorations are we talking about?

Also, maybe center yourself more in these proceedings? You were paying for that storage unit for FIVE years, after YOU organized and packed up this stuff; he trusted that you would not throw anything away then, and you did not. You've more than proven that you're sympathetic to his trauma. His original "fuck you" response to his parents chucking his stuff is now an ongoing "fuck you" to you and your life together.

(Seriously consider if this the crux of the problem for you: right now the room is meant as a shared office, but you envision it as a kid's room someday. How far in the future, and are you both on the same page about that? Could you believe, on some level, that his clutter is a literal and symbolic stumbling block to what you ultimately want with him? (There might be more to unpack than these boxes.) In moving to the new city together, you've just re-committed to your relationship. Moreover, it's a more expensive city, in which you've opted for a larger home. You've always tried to make things easier on him; how does he make things easier on you?)

You both need the 2nd bedroom as an office. In order to earn a living, to keep that shared roof over your heads. Ask him for his 100% in this situation -- does he really expect you to be productive while climbing over his boxes?

Keep in mind moving houses is uniformly terrible, and that you're both exhausted. I'm off to sort a relative's "clutter" next month; after several attempts (over nearly 20 years) of trying to accomplish this task as a team, they've promised to vacate the premises as I work so that they aren't upset and overwhelmed (and correspondingly unpleasant to me) in the process. We'll see. I completely get the 'doesn't want to think about it/ongoing pattern in our relationship' thing.

I’m sorry you're both going through this.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:27 PM on September 26 [5 favorites]


If he's refusing to engage on this issue, I'd say get into couples counseling and have a conversation. If he won't go to couples counseling, go to therapy on your own.

I know an older couple where, over the course of a few decades of marriage, her inability to deal with this stuff means that their three bedroom house (where only the two of them live) is filled to the brim with multiple boxes of china and books and papers. There are pathways through stuff. And a friend of mine is right now dealing with the results of his father's ability to get rid of stuff when he was alive. If he keeps stuff, he won't stop, and this situation won't get better.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:30 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


So, as someone with cluttery/hoardy tendencies, I think the way a conversation with him will go most constructively—or at least most clearly—is if you emphasize the effect the clutter has on you. Clutter conversations are often loaded with a lot of normative/paternalistic baggage about what a living space should look like, how a respectable person should behave, etc. that for a lot of people can trigger something like authority resistance. This especially jumped out to me for you because you mentioned his parents violated his trust as a kid by throwing his things out. The fact is, if he lived alone, he might have a room full of his clutter and it might be perfectly sustainable and fine. But he doesn’t live alone! You deserve to have a living space that works for you too. Really impress upon him how the situation affects and, well, hurts (if it does) you. If he doesn’t have any reaction to that, well, that sucks and the issue kind of escalates from a clutter issue to a why doesn’t my partner care about my happiness issue.
posted by dusty potato at 1:31 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]


My husband is a packrat. If your spouse has ADHD that can make it harder for them to declutter so keep that in mind.

Parents clearing things out without his permission cemented this pattern.

If he is sentimental about the past then moving to a new place is going to be the absolute hardest time for him to face this.

I've gotten my partner to let go of things more and more over time. Putting on pressure didn't work. Reasonable conversation didn't work. No longer taking responsibility for his things worked. Decluttering my own things and staking claim to 50% of the storage space even if my shelves remain empty worked. I suspect he also had some grieving he needed to do, and as he moved forward with his life in the here and now he found it easier.

He still keeps way too much by my estimation but this issue cab easily become a power struggle.

Saving the conversation for a marriage counselor wouldn't be a terrible idea.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:47 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


You might want to consider if, ultimately, the only acceptable solution to you is that it all *goes away*, as in leaves the building, never-to-be-seen-again. Because that's what it sounds like to me, and might be part of what he's responding to.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:20 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


> Here's my question: why can't the china come out of the box and go into a high kitchen cabinet? Why can't the kids' books and toys go on a tall bookshelf in the office? Just because you aren't using these things regularly/ever doesn't mean they can't be stored in a way that works for your new home. I personally am a childless adult who recently brought back some childhood toys I wanted to keep, for sentimental reasons and in case I ever have kids myself. They live on the bottom shelves of my living room bookshelf, so that when the rare kid visits me they have toys to play with. And I like seeing them there, even though I never touch them. You seem to be framing this as "keep this pile of boxes" vs "get rid of the stuff in the boxes" but that's not how it has to go.

All of this this, this, this. Do not fall into the endless and unresolvable trap of negotiating a justification for each item. No-one responds to that with anything other than defensiveness. You think that you're being more rational, and you likely ARE. But there are also undoubtedly commonplace objects in that apartment that you consider useful for your own reasons and do you really want to walk into a tangled forest of arguing the usage quotient to storage space to value proposition of the rest of the stuff in the apartment?

But look, right now, his stuff isn't exactly his stuff, it's just a bunch of boxes of unspecified principle-of-the-thing. He can't form and change his own opinions about the objects themselves (or eventually move them along into possible Kon-Mari territory) in this state. So, someone needs to help him de-Schrodinger his stuff into y'alls home, even if the fit is a little awkward. But you were really offering to go through it with him so that you could help him decide what to get rid of, so...uh...that someone is probably not you. This is a good job for a not-my-partner friend*.

*Are you friends with any other couples where you have that dynamic? Like, when my overcompetitive friend is an asshole playing a board game -- if his wife tells him to cut it out, he's furious, but if I say the same thing she would have said, he sheepishly simmers down and he and I joke about it. No projection baggage, see.

P.S. You being responsible for packing and moving the old storage unit is some bullshit.
posted by desuetude at 2:32 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]


You've only been there a day and moving is stressful, but with hoarders there is never a good time. So do bring it up.

Hoarding is SERIOUS. I have hoarder family members. The narcissism, selfishness, defensiveness, and avoidance gets worse with age and seeps into every part of a life. The shame and overwhelming mess and eventually filth isolates them from friends and family, but the stuff is stilll more important to them. The water gets hot slowly, til you don't know you're boiling.

And it's not just the mess. The entire mindset is incredibly toxic. You can't have a real conversation with a hoarder, they can't face the truth about anything. You can't have a proper life with travel and adventure because they get weirdly secretive and suspicious and set in their ways.

Watch some episodes of "Hoarders" and see for yourself. I know hoarders. It is just as life-ruining as a drug addiction. I would never ever bind my life to a person with hoarding disorder. Early warning signs (and it sounds like he's beyond "early" when you have an entire unusable room!) are important flags.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:42 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


Just to point out that those games, toys, and books can be used by your future child in that bedroom. It does seem strange to me to get rid of books and toys right before having a child who could use them.

This is sort of a side note to the main question, but I would be careful with this assumption that the stuff can safely be used by kids. My family member had saved books and toys from his childhood, like winding musical radios and little toy trucks. They promptly fell apart and/or stopped working when his first child played with them and it was very upsetting for him (and consequently his child and spouse). Also the books basically are too fragile for a child to handle (also word about the outdated content of the books). So if you stay with him and if you have kids, make sure he is okay with whatever might happen to the toys once a kid gets a hold of them.
posted by JenMarie at 2:43 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


nthing that he should not be fobbing off the emotional labor of handling HIS things onto YOU.
posted by brujita at 3:08 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


I wonder if there’s also some other stuff going on here, possibly about economics.

Is the apartment you’re living in currently the size of apartment that your partner thinks they’ll be living in the rest of their lives? Or are they expecting to live in a bigger home someday?

Would the things fit comfortably in a bigger home? Are they the sort of things that could be stored in an attic in a house? Because I wonder if to your partner, your insistence on getting rid of the things seems weird if the size of your place now seems temporary to them.
posted by corb at 3:42 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


I didn't read the other answers so I may be repeating or contradicting things here. But you have to draw the boundaries you need in practical/functional terms. I need a room with space to walk. I need this room to be able to contain baby furniture and no other stuff. I need 50% of the closet/bookshelf/bathroom cabinet. You also need to give concessions to the other person's needs even if you don't understand why they are the way they are (e.g., trauma, ADHD, whatever.) . So you say, "X space of your house is yours completely and you can put whatever you want in there so long as it doesn't draw vermin or create tripping/fire hazards."

And then you get HANDS OFF their stuff. In exchange, they own their own emotional labor of dealing with (or not dealing with) their own stuff, so long as it is inside their borders. The instant their stuff extrudes from their safe zone into a zone you have put boundaries around, you get to reinforce the boundary, but again, in practical/functional terms only ("hey, I need 50% of the closet, I don't have room for my sweaters"). You can't change why they do the things they do, and that may just be between them and their therapist, but if they decide to share some of it with you, you can't use it to put them down. Similarly, you handle your stuff in the way that makes sense to you, and they can draw boundaries and call you on it if your stuff intrudes on their personal zone.

For instance, I don't give away or sell any of my partner's books, but if they get so many books that it takes up my book space, I say, "hey, I don't have enough book space, you need to do something." If I'm giving away/selling books, I say, "the book giveaway pile is here, put anything you want on it", and when they say "no, I have nothing to give away", I keep my damn mouth shut. I've made them upset when I accidentally put books in the giveaway pile that I thought were mine but actually were theirs (we had originally had two copies), and they rightly called me on it.

If you can't let your partner be their own flawed person with relation to their stuff, or if they are not owning their responsibility not to have vermin/fire/tripping hazards, or if it's gotten so far that you are in contempt of them and think "they are a big baby, just messed up", then maybe it's time to consider not being in that relationship.
posted by matildaben at 3:47 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Also, please take with a grain of salt the people who are equating a cluttery-person with a hoarder. Maybe there's a spectrum, but I don't think a sentimental, possibly traumatized or neurotic or ADD-having, cluttery person holding on to their toys and not living in perfect Kondo-like minimalism is equivalent to a hoarder with actual mental illness holding on to moldy milk cartons. Don't let the fearmongering keep your focus away from the real issue here.
posted by matildaben at 4:00 PM on September 26 [24 favorites]


In case you end up with a lot of stuff for a while as you work this out, or as a concession: consider somehow making a lot of your usual furniture items into storage versions. End tables? Make them small chests of drawers. Bed? How about a storage bed or captains bed, with very large drawers underneath. Footrests, benches that could be trunks or storage benches, and maybe an enclosed platform you could build for setting plants on.

There may be storage space you're not fully using, like the upper (and usually unreachable) parts of linen closets, attic space, etc.

If you have everything packed to move, then it might be possible to pack it more densely and with less padding.

However, if you really are planning to have a child, that child will need those spaces for his or her stuff someday, so there needs to be some plan to gradually exchange bulk stuff for smaller things of denser value.
posted by amtho at 4:06 PM on September 26


Following up matildaben and some others; I like the framework of "Yours, mine, ours" in a longterm relationship. For anything we could run out of -- time, space, money -- we should work out what we need as a unit to survive (including margin for error). That's ours, we have an equal say in it, and it gets allocated first. Then the leftovers get divided into "mine and yours" and neither of us gets a say on the others'! Which shouldn't be scary, because survival has been covered by "ours".

I think we had duct tape down the middle of our first shared office. It looked embarassing and dorky like a dorm room, but that is INFINITELY BETTER than fights and resentment.
posted by clew at 4:38 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


You’re paying for space you’re not allowed to use because he refuses to deal with his hoarding. Tell him you need an office and he has x amount of days to move his stuff into storage that he pays for or to go through it and decide what to keep. It would be kind to offer to help him shop for storage and sort through it if he’s open to that and work on solving the problem together because this is obviously something he struggles with, but have boundaries.

Make it clear that his hoarding is impacting on your life and it’s having repercussions. If he refuses to move any of it, move them yourself, on top and around his side of the bed if necessary and start working in your office. The idea that you have to pack, move and pay for storage of stuff he never even uses is so unfair and he does this because you allow him to get away with it. Don’t allow him to get away with it anymore.

Tell what you need, why you need it, how you’re going to help him to achieve it and when you need it done by. Then when the repercussions come, he can’t say he didn’t have every opportunity to avoid it.
posted by Jubey at 5:03 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


A relative of mine is a hoarder, I have written about hoarding, and I participated in a workshop for people with hoarding tendencies. The workshop was super helpful for me. First off, is it possible that your partner may be a hoarder? Here is a resource that helps one consider that question. At that page you will find a PDF called the Clutter Image Rating Scale.

That scale is useful because it shows images of different levels of clutter in different rooms. Instead of guessing, it allows one to make a visual assessment of the situation. "In general, rooms or homes that reach the level of picture #4 or higher reflect a level of impact on every day life that might qualify for an HD diagnosis and will benefit from seeking help."

Your life needs to change so you can stop feeling resentful and start getting the full use of your home. On that front, it does not matter if your partner potentially has hoarding disorder or not; something needs to change. But it does matter in the sense that if your partner has HD (or, like me, is on the lower end of the scale but still clearly has a problematic relationship with stuff), there are tools and programs that can help your partner make progress in shedding stuff.

Randy Frost is one of the national experts on hoarding. One of the things he has pointed out is that people who hoard tend to be more intelligent than average and more creative. It is easier for non-hoarders to organise items and to get rid of stuff because they have fewer thoughts about them. Like, hoarders may be able to come up with hundreds of ways to organize stuff, which is partly why it is so hard to organize them. Making decisions is the single hardest job our brains do, so actually getting rid of stuff and making decisions about stuff is super taxing generally and especially for folks like me. That does not excuse the impact our behavior has on our partners, but it does help explain it.

The peer-led group workshop I went to met weekly over 10 weeks or so and used the Buried in Treasures workbook to help us identify some of the forces behind our hoarding, give us exercises involving our possessions, and helped us make progress. It made a huge difference to me, a former yard sale addict. (And it was on Oprah, apparently, not that I knew that before now.)

TL;DR: You do need to speak up for your needs, and I support that. But hoarders are not the only folks who tend toward black-and-white thinking. Solving this problem, if your partner does have hoarder tendencies, will require your partner to do some real work and also require you to have some additional patience. There are lots of folks who can help, from professional organizers to therapists who specialize in this area should that be needed. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:09 PM on September 26 [8 favorites]


He doesn't see a problem with having a whole room dedicated to boxes of things we never use or even look at.

Consider sharing this thread with him and the many many people in it saying versions of this:

Dear Internet stranger with all the stuff,

If your partner has a problem with all the stuff in your apartment then you have a problem. Continuing to ignore it will not make the problem go away, but it may make your partner go away. It is time for you to take this issue seriously and show it through your actions.

Yours truly,
Ask MetaFilter

posted by Bella Donna at 5:19 PM on September 26 [6 favorites]


I have saving tendencies. Mostly sentimental stuff from childhood or my early career. Or clothes that I might fit into one day if I get my shit together and lose the weight I should. I also got divorced and my ex moved out of the house. She left behind everything other than what she wanted herself. In the last few years I have literally filled 10 yard dumptsters with crap.

I think I saw the advice on the green, but regardless of where I saw it, someone suggested taking pictures of sentimental stuff. I have taken pictures of so much of my sentimental stuff. Literally thousands of pictures. Then I tossed out most of it. Some things like baseballs I caught at a major league game, I kept. My 2nd grade math workbook, scanned a few pages and tossed it. The dishes we were given for our wedding, the nice, really nice, china. It became my everyday china.

I adopted two theories. One, take pictures of it. Two, use it or lose it.

Every time I thought something had monetary value like grandma's tea set, I tried to sell it. Consignment shop or eBay. At the end of the day, any money I received was not worth the effort.

Now that my kids are moving out on their own, we have had long discussions about what to keep, how to keep it and who is responsible for it. One son is in the military and he lives out of a couple of duffel bags. He kept one banker's box of stuff and let me toss out or give away everything else.

Give your husband agency on how to get rid of stuff. Take pictures. Make use of some. Let him decide how to get rid of everything else. When they hauled my dumpsters away, I cried a little internally, said goodbye internally, went inside, drank a beer and it took me a few days to get over it, but years later, I still have the pictures and will sometimes look throught them.
posted by AugustWest at 6:32 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


Taking pictures of things is good. Before my last move, I got rid of a lot of old clothes that would never fit again that way.

But yeah, I also have a lot of the trauma-backed tendencies toward keeping objects, combined with a very visual memory that ties all kinds of memories and feelings to specific objects, even old concert wristbands. So I entirely get where that can come from and how it can manifest. I also just moved into a new space like 3 months ago and am only just now getting down to the bottom of the piles of boxes. I had 120+ boxes! Getting through all of that—and processing all the feelings that go with it, and remembering all the stories of those things, and figuring out how to make space for all those things, and finding the right furniture to store or display it all—takes time. And you just moved...yesterday?

Give this time. People above have suggested lots of potential strategies for working through this. Don't assume you're going to be living in an episode of Hoarders if you don't do something about this right now. For someone with a lot of stuff, moving itself is kind of traumatic. Everything gets jumbled together, you have to trust other people with your stuff, and at least for me, it's kind of jarring to have all those objects with memories and valences from various time frames all in new configurations, boxed up together, etc. It really triggers my dissociative tendencies, because for me, part of the way I remember the path back to and through who I am is by being surrounded by objects that remind me of who I am and want to be. I also work from home, and I also had an entire workshop room and an entire home office full of various boxes to work through. I still managed to get work done, and I'm almost done unpacking the boxes. You are at the start of something here. You have to be patient.

I also got a coworking space membership, so when I had to go somewhere with a professional background and there wasn't anywhere in the apartment 'cause of all the things, I could do that. So definitely consider that, not begrudgingly, but as something to try for a while. Then revisit it a few months down the road, after you've iteratively, bit by bit, worked through some more of this.
posted by limeonaire at 7:41 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]


Also? Don't assume that the sheer amount of objects in your life is an intractable condition. As highly attached to objects as I am, after having gone through them all while unpacking recently, I am getting to a point where I am starting to think I don't need to see all of them all the time, and that at some point I might even be willing to "put away" more of them or get more storage boxes that fit into my shelves to make my surroundings less visually cluttered. I'm coming around on this myself. People's perspectives can change.
posted by limeonaire at 7:47 PM on September 26


I don't want to get rid of anything behind his back because apparently his parents did that when he was a kid and he considers that a huge breach of trust.

yes, as would anyone. you do not have the right to determine what of his personal property is not valuable enough for him to care about, or to set a number of how many items are permissible to care about.

You do have the right to an equal say over the use of your home and equal access to the rooms in it. If you had enough space for each of you to have a 'your room,' the problem wouldn't exist. as it is, he doesn't have a greater right to take over this room than you do. it is fair to tell him that if his designated personal space (dresser drawers, his half of the closet, his side of the bed, however you guys do it) doesn't fit everything he cares about, he will have to find somewhere else for it, because you are not his subordinate tenant but rather his partner. his right to own and to keep his own possessions is not in question. all that is in question is his right to dominate the half of your shared space that belongs to you. this is a right he does not have.

You say you were responsible for organizing and paying for storage previously, which is a strange thing to say when you obviously were not responsible. don't volunteer for responsibility for such a thing again. do not re-choose a position where replicating what his parents did to him or making up for what they failed to do for him is a choice you can create for yourself, since you aren't his parent. Saying you are responsible for this kind of parental caretaking doesn't make it so. even if you're angry about it, it still isn't so. he is not able to enforce that on you without your cooperation.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:28 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]


I keep thinking about this. It's true: he may be a hoarder, in which case, trying to live together is going to be a neverending struggle (unless and until a true understanding of and a treatment for this disorder emerge). But we don't have enough information from the initial question to know for sure. Is he still bringing in stuff? Or is this just stuff that, since you've combined households, he's never had space for in the shared living space? My Hero Clicks hero is definitely a hoarder. In his own space he's pushing a 6 on that awesome image rating scale* Bella Donna shared. But in my space he's like a two or a three in just the two places he's colonized in the house. I say my space because it is: still my space. He has half the clothes closet, and we use a few of his plates, one mug and two glasses, but the majority of the house is mine. He's a hoarder: definitely a problem. He doesn't have space for his stuff commensurate with his constant and delightful contributions to the joyful running of the household: definitely a problem.

Is your space shared equitably in other areas of the house besides that room he's taken over and is he continuing to bring stuff in? If so, you probably can't live together. But if not, maybe it will be possible to make room for his things in the domicile.

*My mother is nearer a 7 or 8 on the image rating scale--or was the last time I was over there, which was years and years ago--she may be at 10 at this point, 10 on that scale being a four-alarm fire. (There's another horrifying four-level descriptive scale on Squalor Survivors.)
posted by Don Pepino at 10:54 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone. I marked some best answers but every comment has really given me something to think about.

>Is he still bringing in stuff?

Not really. It is all childhood stuff. He just does NOT want to think about it, look at it, talk about it. I tried bringing it up today and it did not go well :(

I feel like if it was stuff he actively cherished, I would understand that a lot better.
posted by jschu at 11:21 AM on September 27


OP: this stuff usually isn’t rational and that is partly the point. I had all the feels about my stuff and I was both terrified to tackle it and terrified to lose any of it and a couple of years ago, for the second time in my life, got rid of almost everything.

That is a very hard thing to do. One of the benefits of the workshop and the workbook was realizing that I needed to make priorities and actually pull the stuff out that I cherished so I could see it and enjoy it. Because otherwise it was lost to me even if it was in my possession.

Please don’t expect to be able to understand your partner’s feelings about stuff. They are complex, not necessarily rational, and not necessarily obvious even to your partner. My best advice: do not ask your partner to agree with you or to mirror your own feelings about stuff. Do ask your partner to respect your boundaries after you decide what those are. If you need to run tape down the middle of the extra room and claim 50% of that space so you can work there, let your partner know. And if your partner does not move the stuff, warn your partner you plan to hire someone to move it and bill for it.

Or whatever. You don’t need to be a victim, you don’t need to be a bully, and you don’t actually need to understand why the partner is like this about stuff. You need to decide what you need, you need to explain what that is, and then you need to take whatever action you decide is appropriate if your partner fails to act.

Compassion helps. I feel comfortable speaking for all non-perfect humans in saying that few people want to make themselves or other people miserable with their collecting or other behaviors. Brains are quirky; we take comfort in odd ways, ways that aren’t always healthy.

So be compassionate if you possibly can. I have this terrible habit of complaining bitterly about someone’s behavior inside my brain over the course of many months or sometimes years. And then I snap and get cranky and angry and difficult with my loved one. Because I have forgotten that all that complaining was inside my head and never expressed clearly and kindly to my loved one. Who is then understandably shocked and surprised and hurt that I’ve lost my shit abruptly for reasons that are news to them.

Don’t be me, is what I’m trying to say. And also, give this thing a rest for a week or two. You’ve brought it up and it hasn’t gone well. So don’t keep bringing it up for now. Make a plan. Make a plan that depends on you and not your partner. And not the plan of paying for storage yourself. But as others have said, you have just moved. Find someone else to vent to about it for a while and come back to it after things are more settled. Also, there is no perfect way to deal with this. The buried in treasures workbook has one page that is addressed to the partners and family of people with too much. You might see if you can find that to get a sense of what you’re dealing with.

And if you just had it and you’re sick of all the stuff, that’s fine too. But if you’ve been extremely accommodating all this time, you will need to be clear that things have changed and be consistent before your partner truly understands you mean it. This stuff is hard.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:07 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


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