What to do when your partner doesn't want to get organized?

“Do you get a lot of resistance from the partners of people you organize for?” My friend, Derek, curiously asks me one Tuesday afternoon. "When you're organizing for a couple, who is usually the most resistant to getting rid of stuff?"

I get this question frequently, believe it or not. In this line of work, professional organizers get hired by one person in a couple...often with some push-back from their partner. In the experiences with clients I've had so far, it has mostly been the male in the relationship. It ends up being less about getting rid of stuff, and more about the intimacy of it all.

Like with most clients, having someone come in to your home and help you declutter and get organized can be a very intimate experience. Many feel that it's a "failure" when they can't do it on their own and hiring someone to help feels like a last they've just given up.

However, that's just not true. If you can't do your taxes on your own, you hire a tax accountant. If you can't get a stain out of your favorite shirt, you take it to the dry cleaners. If you need to work, you take your kids to daycare. There's no shame in any of these, so why with hiring a professional organizer?

There is a lot of shame wrapped up in what we own and how we keep the stuff we own. Americans have more stuff than every before, so much so that the self-storage industry makes $38 billion dollars a year. Ever-changing interior decorating styles and the planned obsolescence of technology and clothing, makes our homes the prime place to store discarded items. If you're having people over, you quickly stuff closets and basements with clutter...desperate to appear much neater than how you live.

Back to the couple who needs help, but is unbalanced as to how to go about it...

With the couples I've worked with, it almost always looks the same:

-One is fed up with the mess and countless attempts to get organized.

-They contact a professional organizer, mentioning their partner's resistance.

-We meet, we see and discuss the spaces that need to get organized.

-The partner softens, realizing that I'm not going to make them get rid of all of their stuff.

-They also realize that it's a judgement-free zone. Every single person is different and the "why" behind why they hang onto certain things varies. No one person is the same.

Once we actually get to working together, we all discover the real reasons they hang onto things. The old t-shirts hogging space in your dresser are physical memories from the sports you played in high school. The box of costume jewelry collecting dust belonged to your grandma, who passed away 10 years ago. Keeping all of the twist ties from bread bags in a drawer in your kitchen...because that's what your mom always did.

Humans do not exist in a vacuum. We are the products of our environment. We are products of our families. We are the products of our cultures. You react to your parents being cluttered or tidy by imitating them...or rebelling against them. Additionally, you are not the things you own. You are not a pile of t-shirts. You are not a box of costume jewelry. You are not a collection of twist ties. You are a beautiful human, cluttered with lovely memories, not junk.

So, what do you do when a partner doesn't want to get on board with getting their stuff organized? Option one: take all of their stuff and put it on their side of the bed and then make the sheets up over the pile. Option two: badger them incessantly until they leave and take all of their stuff with them. Option three: approach them from a place of grace. Try to understand the "why" behind the items they keep. Go at their pace, doing one category at a time, starting with the least sentimental. Keep heaping grace on them as you declutter.

And if any of that doesn't work...hire a non-judgmental professional organizer.

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