Besides the flowers and the chocolate and the cards, Valentine’s Day is a great day to stop and reflect a little bit on your relationship with your significant other.

In my line of work as a professional organizer, one of the most common questions I deal with is: How do I get my spouse to get more organized?

The secret to getting organized with your significant other

Sure, there are lots of tips and tricks out there in books and online that can show you how to deal with your clutter but when it comes to dealing with someone else’s clutter, it’s an entirely different issue.

To me, the best relationships focus on sharing common goals and a shared purpose for the kind of life you both want for each other and for your family. So when two people are not on the same page when it comes to the way the house functions, then that’s absolutely worthy of discussing.

couple arguing

Sparking an Argument

Unfortunately, for many couples the problem is that a mess can quickly become the basis for a fight. A 2015 SpareFoot survey found that 48 percent of couples who live together say they argue over clutter, with seven percent arguing about it every day!

Typical fights start off just like this:

“How come you can’t pick up your dirty laundry?”

“Why do you need so many shoes?”

“Are you ever going to clean out this garage so we can park our cars in there?”

From there the conversation usually escalates: “Well, I’ll clean up the desk if you’d finally deal with the broken lights” (or something like that).

The escalation leaves no one happy and only further drives a wedge between the couple. What people don’t realize when they start with an accusation like this is that the only way there can be resolution is if there’s a winner and a loser. No one wants that in a relationship, no matter how ‘correct’ you think your position is.

Male couple in the kitchen preparing a meal, opening fridge

Get on the Same Page

The only way for there to be a happy peaceful situation when it comes to your house is not to concentrate on the stuff but, instead, to concentrate on the vision you share for the life you want to live.

That’s a big sentence – but I hope it makes sense to you. When you share a common vision for your lives, it makes decision making much easier.

If you’ve read any of my books you know that I DON’T believe in being organized for the sake of being organized. That surprises many people. In fact, people ask me all the time if my home is “totally”organized. It’s not. It’s not a mess, but it’s a lived-in space that my partner and I are really happy with. I believe that organization is about making sure that the things you own help you live the life you want from the vision you’ve established.

Successful relationships are all about honor and respect. On some level when two people in a relationship are regularly at odds over how the house operates, there’s often a bigger issue that needs to be handled. Here’s how I handle it. It starts with making sure you’re on the same page about that ‘vision’.

Couple Carrying Sofa Into New Home On Moving Day

Respect Each Other, Respect Your Space

Every couple needs to first decide what they want from their home. What do you want to feel when you step into a space in your house? This is the place to start.

Most couples that I work with can readily agree that they want their home to be calm, inviting, welcoming, relaxing, and a haven for them. Once a couple agrees on this, the question then becomes: Does the stuff that’s in a particular space move you closer towards that vision or further away from it?

If one person says they want a relaxing space but insists on filling the room with clothing, books, or other clutter then they’re not respecting the vision you two have established. In the same way a good relationship requires mutual respect, your house also deserves the same respect.

Starting with the vision for the space encourages and promotes a sense of unity in deciding what stays and what goes. I’m not saying this is easy, but in the same way that a couple experiences warmth and togetherness when they’ve made a major decision about where to live, so, too, does sharing a common view about what stuff to buy, what to keep, and what items you are both ready to get rid of.

We Need to Talk

If you feel like you’re struggling in a relationship where you’re not seeing eye to eye, you need to have a conversation with the following talking points:

  • Agree first on how you both want to use the specific space.
  • Agree on what items or groups of items belong in the space. For example, clothes only in the bedroom closet, books only in the living room, collectibles only in the den.
  • Agree on a reasonable limit for those items in that space.

Whatever you do, don’t let it turn into a battle where it’s more about who wins and who loses then it is about finding a solution to the current situation.

I’d love to hear how that goes for you. Good luck!

Peter Walsh
  • Carole Fortenberry

    Thanks, Peter!! You always have the answers!! I live with my husband and 3 boys, and they just are NEVER on the same page as me…. :(

  • Stephanie Bryant

    I just spent 4 hours with a professional organizer this morning, as a gift from my husband, and boy oh boy was it cathartic and uplifting. Less agonizing than it was in years past, so I am grateful that I am feeling more and more empowered in releasing items AND finding that all of the hard work over the years has slowly but surely paid off! In regard to my hubby and I, I feel that we have a similar vision but we have struggled with “life happening” on how to meet it together (what actions steps) or to dialogue about how to harmonize our mutual vision in our day to day behaviors. So, totally get the message of your blog and it is nice to see this perspective in writing… so affirmative, especially coming from you, someone I greatly respect and have learned a lot from over the years. God Bless you Peter and Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours Peter!