Saturday, October 24, 2009

Finding Peace between Organized and Disorganized Partners

They often say opposites attract, but when it comes to organizational opposites the differences often lead to stress and conflict. The stress can effect a wide variety of relationships but tend to be the hardest on relationships that require people to be in close quarters, sharing space like:

Spouses and Romantic Partners
Parents and Children
Business Partners

Today I want to focus on Spouses and Romantic Partners, because often in the beginning of a romantic relationship, you are not focused on the details of the other person like how they deal with clutter. If you do notice the clutter-you are able to overlook it because of the excitement of a new relationship. It is when the organized person and the clutter bug try to join households and habits under one roof that problems tend to begin.

Anger, and frustration, and resentment in the relationship can pile up as clutter does around the new home with the organized person often feeling that the disorganized person does not value the relationship as much. Over time as this problem continues; hopes, dreams, and plans for a life of love together can often also get swallowed up in the mess.

As a professional organizer, I have seen first hand the stress that this type of situation places on a once loving relationship. I have seen couples brought to ugly words over a pile of stuff. I have heard ultimatums laid down like, "If you can't get this clutter under control... we are done. I can't live like this anymore." I have functioned as organizer, motivator, mediator, and marriage counselor on more than one occasion.

I have also delt with this problem first hand, let me share with you my own experience of living with a disorganized person.

My Story
I remarried a little over a year ago, to a wonderful man who adores me and my children. I felt lucky and blessed to have been given a second chance at love. The happiness was clouded quickly when I realized that my new husband was a MESS. Literally a mess... he too is a business owner- but unlike me, his papers, tools, and appointments were not in any kind of a system! Papers would get piled, tools would get tossed on the floor of the garage, and appointments were never written down.

As a professional organizer I was sure I could handle this problem and teach him new organization methods as I would with one of my clients... the only problem was- he was not one of my clients. He did not seem to mind the mess, he did not ask for my help- so when I surprised him one weekend with a complete garage makeover he was not excited. It only took him a matter of day to resume his "unorganized ways" and have the garage floor covered again.
The battle lines were drawn... and the war went on for several months with us fighting constantly about the mess, the piles, the state of the garage, the state of his truck, and the fact he never wrote down an appointment. Until one day, I realized that this war had consumed our marriage and was suffocating my enjoyment of spending time with him.

So I called a peace conference, we sat and calmly talked about the problem. This is the first key of dealing with clutter in relationships: Find a way to talk without anger or accusations. Once we stopped yelling we were able to actually hear where each of us were coming from. I understood that he did not feel that he had time to maintain a complex system because he was always rushing between appointments and needed his tools at hand all the time. He could see that he was actually wasting time digging through a pile on the floor when if everything had a place he would probably find it faster. I also realized something very important... you can't force someone to change who is not ready to change. So the question was where do we go from here?

Second Key to dealing with clutter in relationships: Find a compromise on clutter. The fact is, you will not solve this problem overnight... but you can solve the constant fighting in your relationship by finding a compromise. In our case the compromise was this: We would work on organizing the garage together for one weekend so that I could help him create a system that works for him. We also agreed that the garage was going to be his zone and the clutter in that zone was his mess and I was choosing to turn a blind eye to it when it got cluttered- in exchange he agreed to work harder to keep the clutter under control in the rest of the house.

In your home and relationship you can do the same thing: Give your clutter bug a space because it will do two things: One, it will prevent them from feeling like you are forcing them to part with things that they are emotionally attached to. It also keeps them from developing feelings of resentment towards the partner pressuring them to purge. The second thing it does is limit the amount of clutter that your clutter bug keeps. Once they are overflowing their space they will need to be willing to sort and purge so they can keep the most important and part with the clutter that is taking up their space.

Third Key to dealing with clutter in relationships: Take joy in small victories
I am happy to report that after almost a year... this compromise still holds our truce together. Yes, there are days that I catch a glimpse of the garage and cringe but I bite my tongue, because I have not had to ask or nag about clutter piling anywhere else in my home. He has done a wonderful job of being able to keep his system in place by setting aside time each week to straighten up the truck and garage so he can find tools faster and easier. It may not be a perfect solution but it is a victory!

I am finding that as disorganized partners, slowly begin to see a new way of living and organizing they may be willing to push further away from their deeply ingrained clutter bug habits. Be careful to always take the lead from your clutter bug so that you do not reignite the initial war - but if your partner shows interest in learning more about how to manage their area even better you can be supportive by finding a professional organizer in your area at who is experienced in dealing with people that are dealing with long standing habits of disorganization.

Fourth Key to dealing with clutter in relationships: Focus on what drew you to your partner to begin with. When clutter is taking over your life and your relationship, it is crucial that you find ways to reconnect with your partner to remind you that your love is built on much more than how you deal with clutter. My husband and I tried to take date nights... out of the house and away from the clutter that triggered arguments. I always suggest this to my clients as well... get out of the house and talk about life but discussion about your clutter is off limits for the night.

Remember that your partner could be hanging onto clutter for a wide variety of emotional reasons and those reasons are things that could take a long time to deal with together, but in order to be able to face the "why" your partner needs to feel that you are their partner in this battle and not their enemy. Implementing these four keys can bring the peace and be the first step to helping your partner win the battle of clutter.

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