Balancing Disorganization in A Relationship

I often run into clients who have an in balance in their relationship due to arguments over clutter. Some are disorganized but constantly trying to improve, while the other likes order and organization in everything that they do.  It can be hard for them to meet in the middle.  Even harder when one just does not want to prioritize order for the other and the one who likes order can not let go and live with a little chaos. How can couples help bridge that gap so it does not continue to cause tension in relationships?   

As the saying goes, opposites do attract, and because of that there are many couples out there who struggle with keeping order in a way that satisfies the other partner.  It can be a strong bone of contention in a relationship if one member feels like he or she is constantly picking up after the other or begging them to stop bringing more items into the home. 

Getting a person who is unwilling to change their habits to make a significant change can be a challenge.  And for many of you in this situation finding some level of compromise is the only way to get through it.   

Home & Life Declutter Workbook

Define What Organization Means to You

There is no one right or wrong prescription for disorganization.  I firmly believe it should be based on your lifestyle and what your level of organizational expectations are.  You and partner should talk about what you view as your definition of organization together.  It is much easier to understand each other’s perspective and find common ground when you realize what organized feels like to the other person. 

For you it might be having a place for everything in the home and having it put there all the time.  For your spouse, it might be being able to find her keys every morning and knowing where her pile of socks are.  For her, having it put away is not as important as being able to find it. 

To a visual person hiding something in a kitchen cabinet that they need every day can be just as challenging as throwing a paper in a file cabinet that they will never remember they have. ”

Are you a visual or liner thinker? 

Another thing to consider is that disorganized people are very visual people, while linear thinkers think in a more logical progression of where something might be stored. To a visual person hiding something in a kitchen cabinet that they need every day can be just as challenging as throwing a paper in a file cabinet that they will never remember they have.  Where the linear thinker will know where to find a paper because it is under the “logical” tab in the file cabinet.  Knowing what works best for your partner is the first step to compromise. 

Combat this problem by using as many clear containers or visible shelving to contain items.  Using color can also be helpful in allowing your spouse to easily find something without having to have everything spilled out on a desk or counter top.  For instance, in your filing system use green folders, a green binder or a green box to house financial papers because money is green.   

Sometimes lids can be a barrier for people who have trouble putting items away.  By using open containers to sort items it is easy to place something in a category without having that barrier to open a lid and snap it back on to complete the task.  For example, in a linen closet you may use snap top containers to hold medicine. Because it is difficult to access, you probably have a pile of medicine on top of the container rather than inside the bin.  Consider using clear plastic drawer units that will maximize the vertical space on the shelf and create easy access drawers to grab a Band-Aid quickly.  Not only will it be evident what is in the drawer, but in one motion you can open and close the container to grab and replace the object you are seeking. 

Communication & Compromise 

As you can see from the examples above, you can still have order with a container, but allow a visual component for the person who resists putting items away. Do not just assume what will work for you will work for your spouse, partner or roommate. 

Communication is key.  Talk about your frustrations.  Work together towards a solution.  If one of you cares more about having the silverware in perfect  stacking order in a drawer and while the other only cares that it is sorted by size.  The one who craves the stacking order may have to constantly pick up the slack to maintain that. 

Once you maintain roles that work for everyone you can bury some of the resentment for “always having to do it.” 

Create a Messy Area 

If too much order is not your thing, but your spouse craves it, consider setting up an area in the house that is allowed to be messy.  Choose a room that does not get in the way of the larger household, but allows an outlet for the other to not feel restrained by too much labeling and order storing their own items.  Maybe you let go in the playroom, the garage or the basement.  But you focus your energies in the kitchen or family room where you might want to present your home with more order and balance when someone walks in. 

Other Help

Home & Life Declutter Workbook

After years of working with couples and families on organization issues, I have learned the questions to ask to the right questions to distill the heart of the emotional motivations and personalities that are at play in their organizational journey together. 

When I was writing my Life & Home Decluttering Workbook, a step-by-step guide for decluttering your life,  I devoted an entire section to figuring out what your “Order Mindset” is.  I also focused on doing relationship inventories to figure out who was helping and hurting your mental mindset each day.  These templates and questions can be helpful as you embark on tackling organization in your house and moving forward in a positive way together.  For my readers I am offering 20% off the Life & Home Decluttering Workbook with the code BLOGRELATE20. Apply the code at checkout for 20% off, and check back for next week’s blog post for a new product highlight and coupon code!

I hope these tips will help you and your household come together for productive strategies to keep everyone happy in your household. 

Happy Organizing! 


Kristin Vander Wiede is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing and Life’s Lists printable organizing labels, systems and activities. 

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