You’re tired of your spouse’s clothes strewn all over the floor. You wish your crafty daughter would clean up the unfinished craft project from the dining room table. You cringe at the increasing clutter in the basement—nobody knows what to do with it, but now there’s nowhere to walk. This is an extremely common but delicate issue. Everyone’s situation is unique and must be approached with sensitivity and patience.
The truth is: we all have a relationship with our stuff. You don’t want another person, however well-meaning, to make decisions about the things which are yours. So whether you’re at the end of your rope, or only on the fringe of annoyance, here are a few important guidelines to consider.
1) Start with You
Do you have your own areas of clutter that you could remedy first? It’s easy to focus on someone else’s messy spaces. We are tempted to compare and decide, “His piles are worse than mine.” But if you determine to get your own things in order, your family members could be gently influenced to take steps. After feeling the calming effects of a tidy hallway or a well-ordered drawer, they might resolve to tackle their own looming paper stack. While this is not a guaranteed result, you will at least have your own areas organized.
No one wants to feel controlled, even by people they care about. If you are dealing with teenagers, young adults, spouses, or parents, it is important that you do not make decisions about things without the owner’s permission. You can respectfully ask if he would allow you to tidy a given area, but unless he asks, never discard or give anything of his away. Making decisions about someone else’s things breaks down trust. You risk sending a message that you don’t care if it’s important to him.
Karen wanted to clean out her son’s room after he left for college. She lovingly straightened his closet and proceeded in clearing out the old Lego sets which were tucked under his bed. To her, they were a childhood pastime that could make other children happy, so she donated them to a local thrift shop. When her son Jason discovered they were gone, he was angry she had not consulted him.
Even when we have the best intentions, if we don’t give our family member the freedom to make decisions about their belongings, our loved one may very well respond with
Let’s be honest—it can be challenging for any two people with individual habits, likes, and perspectives to share a common living space. That’s why it’s vital to communicate when something like cluttered corners is causing tension and strife. It’s important to listen to each other and to feel heard.
Seek to understand why your family member lives with areas of clutter. Simple questions to ask are:
- How does it make you feel when things are in order and everything has a home?
- Do you mind when things are cluttered or disorganized?
- Does it bother you when things are not put away? (Why? / Why not?)
Really listen to their answers. Perhaps the intention to be organized is there, but the clutter is overwhelming or they feel powerless to solve the problem. It’s possible that they don’t feel disorganized and their standard is lower than yours. If you’ve taken the time to sincerely listen and understand, the communication lines will be open enough for you to express your own desire for order.
Alex liked to keep his living spaces tidy. He couldn’t figure out why his wife’s areas were always disorganized and overflowing. His frustration was growing because to him, the solution seemed easy: she just needed to get rid of things or put them away. When he took the time to listen to her, he realized she desperately wanted to be more organized, but keeping up with the kids, their home, and her part-time job meant things often piled up.
Frankly, she herself felt stressed and helpless over not being able to keep up. With more understanding, they were able to tackle some areas together and eventually hired a professional organizer.
4) Peaceful is Better than Perfect
Having an orderly home is a process. With a greater understanding of each other, your ultimate goal is to develop a strategy to work together. It’s important to build unity, to learn to compromise and think of this as a team effort. Invite your family members onto your team and encourage them to take ownership to make your home a more organized and inviting place to live. Keep in mind that habits and behaviors won’t change overnight.
Sometimes it may feel as though you’re the only one working towards the goal of an organized living space. And sometimes you might be.
However, keeping healthy lines of communication open and striving to work together with patience, respect, and understanding will make a home more peaceful, even if it is not in perfect order.