The Clutter Coach


Getting Organized - or How to Compromise on Clutter

Cynthia EstesBy Cynthia Estes, Mountain Democrat columnist
October 8, 2010
Reprinted with permission of the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA

Ok, I confess, our house is not always perfectly organized. It would take more time than my partner Jim or I care to spend at this point in our lives. But there are certain things that drive us both crazy if they’re not in order.  Unfortunately, they’re not the same things. For example: I don’t feel comfortable with “visual clutter” and can’t stand to see dishes piled up on the counter when it would just take one more step to load them into the dishwasher (Jim’s job).  He feels that rinsing and stacking them is enough for now because eventually he will load them into the dishwasher. On the other hand, Jim isn’t comfortable when the office floor gets piled up with the display paraphernalia I use for events. I can deal with that clutter because I just close the door and don’t have to look at it.

I found out that many people have the same frustrations when I participated in the Girl’s Night Out event on Main Street in Placerville. The most common thing I heard was, “I’m organized but my (fill in the blank) spouse, partner, child, or roommate isn’t organized at all”. It also seems that what women perceive to be important is not important to men. So, what do we do when one person’s clutter is another’s collectibles? Since I need help in this area, I turned to the experts.

Here’s the bad news. Don Aslett, America’s #1 cleaning expert, says “junk is a part of people’s makeup, an extension of their emotional state, and a cornerstone of their character. Junk is generally the hottest romance they have going, their security blanket.” But the good news is that there’s great advice out there that will not only solve your organizing dilemma, but may save your relationship.

You can explain to the person that keeping the place clutter-free means a lot to you. Compare its importance to something that's special or meaningful to him/her (like staying out of his garage!). Ask if there is any habit that the other person would like you to change, and be prepared to start changing it.

Let’s make a deal                                                                                                                        
 If he keeps his tools in the garage instead of on the kitchen counter, you’ll keep your stuff off his favorite chair.

Everyone needs his/her own space
Make sure that you each have a place of your own (no matter how small) that you don’t have to keep clutter-free.

How bad is it?
Ask yourself how serious the clutter issue is on a scale of 1 to 10. Choose your battles. It’s more important to me that the public spaces (where other people come into our home) stay organized than the bedrooms and office.

Offer a reward
Provide an incentive for the person to de-clutter. Suggest something he or she has always wanted to do.

Be a good example                                                                                                                                     
Demonstrate how organization has made your life easier. Before you talk about cleaning up his act, clean up your own. Walk your talk and it may catch on.

Praise progress                                                                                                                                                  
I have had only limited success with this one.  Every time Jim puts the dishes inside the dishwasher instead of on the counter, I thank him and tell him how much I appreciate it.  The next day, when the dishes are on the counter again, he says he “forgot”.  Good thing he doesn’t “forget” to feed the cat!

Include them in a garage sale                                                                                                   
Jim was willing to put his unwanted tools, etc., in the garage sale I was planning as long as I stayed out of the basement while he decided what to sell and how much to charge.

According to Peter Walsh, organizer extraordinaire: “If all else fails and you can’t get the person who lives with you to clean up their act, you have three choices: Do it yourself; hire someone else to do it; or leave it and get used to it.”  Above all remember, that this is a relationship not a contest of wills. The experts say that if you’re not compromising, you don’t have a healthy relationship. (You do want a healthy relationship don’t you?). I once read about a woman who constantly complained about her husband’s annoying habits. A short time later, he passed away unexpectedly. She said she would have done anything to have her husband and his habits back.  How important is it after all?

Cynthia Estes is a Professional Organizer, owner of Uncluttered for Life, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Uncluttered for Life serves clients throughout Western El Dorado County. 

Call (530) 957-2975 for a free 20 minute phone consultation and estimate!