Keep your home organized even though your partner is not

Long weekends are great for catching up on things you’ve been meaning to do or simply doing nothing at all. Over the three-day-weekend, you probably spent more time with your spouse, partner, roommate, or kids. During that time, you may have also become intensely aware that he/she/they don’t exactly do things the way you do. You may have even started plotting ways to get them to change, to become a bit more orderly.

It has entered my mind on a few (okay, many) occasions that, as the more organized person in my relationship, I should help my husband to be the same. There are many good reasons for this. Here are the three I always reference:

  1. There will be less work to do. If we’re putting in the same effort in keeping our home clean and organized, that means neither of us are burdened by the majority of work to be done.
  2. We’ll find things quickly and easily. I get giddy thinking of all the time we’ll save looking for things because we’ll put things back when we’re finished using them. We would eliminate the dreaded scavenger hunt for important items and documents.
  3. We’ll be happier. People are usually happier when there’s less work to do. We’ll be ecstatic when we realize all the time we’ve saved can be used to do fun and relaxing things. We will actually do those fun, relaxing things.

I know that if I talk with my husband about these three reasons, he will agree with me. He might even try harder to do things my way.

And, he will probably revert to what he’s comfortable doing. I know you can’t make someone be an unclutterer if he doesn’t want to be an unclutterer. He will let me handle the organization of our home. But, that’s okay. I don’t want him to be me AND we can still have a (mostly) organized home even if he doesn’t 100 percent change his ways.

Because, as the unclutterer, I’ll continue to:

  • Respect our differences. His way isn’t wrong, it’s simply not my way. Life would be ridiculously boring if the two of us were exactly the same. It’s good to remember that he possess other qualities I don’t, and we complement each other in different ways.
  • Take the lead on keeping our home organized. Being organized is more important to me, so it makes sense for these responsibilities to lie predominantly in my camp. It’s not that he doesn’t care, he just doesn’t see things the way I do.
  • Ask for help. This means no nagging is allowed on my part, and my husband knows he’ll be called upon to handle his share of the non-organizing household chores.
  • Be specific about the type of help I need. Asking, “Can you clean up the living room?” won’t give me the results I really want. Instead, I’ll say, “Please vacuum the living room carpet and put the pillows back on the sofa.”
  • Agree on simple house rules that match our skills.
    1. I will primarily be responsible for keeping our home organized, in particular the common areas (e.g., living room, kitchen, and dining room).
    2. He’ll be in charge of cleaning the bathrooms. This is not my favorite thing to do, but it doesn’t bother him at all (thank goodness). I’ll take care of making sure the towels are clean and the soap dispenser is filled.
    3. He’ll be in charge of cooking and I’ll clean up. I can hold my own in the kitchen, but he’s a great cook and I love whatever he whips up. Since I’m the queen of clean, this trade off works well for both of us.
    4. I’ll take care of simple household repairs when possible. If it’s not something I can take care of easily, I will hand it off to my husband or call a professional tradesperson.

We won’t be able to avoid getting frustrated with each other at times, but this plan is easy to follow. Would I like him to do more? I think we all dream of having a butler and maid, but my husband is not either (and neither am I). Can our home be comfortable and organized with the the current division of labor? Yes. We’ve reached our happy medium. It might not work for everyone, but if you’re in a similar situation, talk with the other people who live in your home and come up with ground rules that work for you.

17 Comments for “Keep your home organized even though your partner is not”

  1. posted by "B" on

    This is all well and good if your spouse is agreeable to letting you take the lead on organizing things, but mine will not let me touch the piles of stuff (because even with it unorganized and junky, they still “know” where they put stuff and don’t won’t it messed with) or basically throw out anything without their consent. So frustrating, and is beginning to cause a real rift in our marriage! I know in my heart that they will not really change, so I guess I am going to need to start taking some anti-anxiety drugs or something and try to let it go. Going to be a struggle though!

  2. posted by cv on

    One difference in my household is that my wife, who is certainly not a slob, just doesn’t notice certain details in the way I do. If we’re engaged in conversation when coming home, she may just not pay any attention to where she puts down her keys or kicks off her shoes. I am naturally more detail-focused, and I think I have a more visual memory, so often when she can’t find something I just happen to have noticed where it was and stored that information away without realizing it. We also have different thresholds for deciding, say, when the carpet needs to be vacuumed, since I just notice the dirt more. It makes sense for me to be the more organized one, since I honestly believe that it’s just a difference in how our brains take in and organize information, not something that nagging will change.

    And, thankfully, she’s not all that messy. I one had a roommate who, due to a higher degree of this sort of oblivion, would do things like leave the tv remote in the fridge when he got up to get a snack. Great guy, but impossible to live with!

  3. posted by Andrea on

    @”B” marriage and any other committed relationship requires a certain amout of compromise on the behalf of everyone, including your spouse. If his unorganization is bad enough to require you to be on medication or presents a potential fire hazard or other safety issue, then he truly needs to make SOME changes to his habits. If he isn’t willing to compromise with you, I’d recommend hireing TWO professionals: one professional organizer, and one marriage/relationship therapist. Both of these people will help ease the “my way is better” feelings while hopefully working towards a end result that suits both of your organizing styles.

  4. posted by AES on

    @B. I used to think my marriage was like this. Then I sat down with my husband and told him how the clutter makes me feel. I can’t believe your partner wants to cause you so much anxiety you have to take meds. If they do, you have a bigger problem than clutter.

    It takes compromise. My husband, like your partner, can find things in the pile in seconds. (I challenged & timed in one fit of disbelief.) So, I decided I have to live with him having what I think is a cluttered work area. The kitchen & common spaces that I also work in stay relatively uncluttered.

    As he’s mostly in charge of the bills and such, the organization of those files distressed me some. Rather than force my system on him, I asked him to make me a “in case of emergency” file that is stored with my documents. Now, if I come home and the power is out while he’s away on business, I don’t have to hunt through the entire file cabinet, I just go for the one document.

    Again, I was clear to explain why I wanted this document. I don’t work well under stress. I tend to overlook what is right in front of my face. Also, my family has a history of early-onset dementia, so I need to start setting up good strategies now. He was more than happy to spend an afternoon going through the files & making the document. A week later, when he was travelling & the wind had once again knocked out the power, I thanked him for making up the document because I didn’t have to stress at all to find the number for the power company.

  5. posted by Liz on

    My husband and I are a lot like this. He’s great at cleaning, where I’m better at tidying. So, he cleans the bathroom and the kitchen, I put stuff away in the living room and dining room. He dusts, I vacuum. He unloads the dishwasher, I load the dishwasher. He strips the bed, I remake the bed.

    It’s important for a couple to play to their strengths when it comes to household duties!

  6. posted by Sarah on

    This article spoke directly to me today. Thank you!!

  7. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    I wonder if anyone has a cluttery partner quite like mine (we are all unique, aren’t we?). He is very organized. He is a master at packing a lot of stuff into a small space. He is not untidy as a general rule.

    HOWEVER he has been known to “lose” things, not because he doesn’t know where they are, but because he can’t get to them. Because there is just so much Stuff.

    And he is one of those who not only doesn’t want to take the time to address the stockpile himself, he doesn’t want me to touch it, and he doesn’t particularly want to talk about it either.

    I have been dithering for years about whether it is worth having an out-and-out fight about this, because I see him sliding into behavior that his own father indulged for a long time (to the detriment of his parents’ marriage) and that he himself – DH that is – sees as wasteful.

  8. posted by Malena on

    Well, you’re blessed. Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband. He is a great guy, a great and loving dad. He loves me. Neither of is very neat. I walk into a room and by the time I walk out, it looks like a couple of wild chimpanzees were let loose. I try. I do. But I still have all of the house cleaning, all of the laundry, all of the cooking, all of the shopping, all of the “business” to take care of. Besides my 40-hr week job. At this point in my life I think I’ve learned enough skills to keep things relatively organized if I could ever get them that way. But I just can’t seem to get them that way.

  9. posted by MessyMom on

    @Malena – Have you checked out FlyLady.net? I started using their methods about a year ago. It sounds really simple and I was a little bit skeptical because it seemed like that was what I was trying to do anyway, but somehow just following their daily e-mails has kept me more focused and I have made a lot more progress than I expected. Also, and I don’t mean this to sound critical at all, but you said you are messy, too, so maybe in a way that is giving him permission to be messy as well. My husband was out of town for a long stretch for work when I first started following FlyLady, and when he came back he commented on how much smoother things seemed to be going so I told him what I was doing. And when he saw that I was walking the walk and not just talking the talk about keeping the house in better shape, he started pitching in more, too, and at least keeping neat the areas I had already decluttered and organized. I have even noticed that my four-year-old has started to pick up and put stuff away without being asked.

  10. posted by Malena on

    @MessyMom – you might be on to something. We are probably giving each other permission! I realized after having my son that I’m the one who’s way ADD – that’s where my son gets it, and I realize now that my daughter is in college, she is too. I’ve seen FlyLady. I’m worried the emails will overwhelm me, but I might give it a go. I know she pushes that clean sink thing, and that’s what I made sure of last night. But after I picked up some of his paraphernalia he was using for a project, and he scattered more, I was just ready to bring in a dumpster and empty the whole house and start all over again! I’m determined to get a grip on things. Thanks for your comments direction!

  11. posted by Emery on

    @Malena – thank you for your comments. I can totally relate! I too have a great husband, etc and also “still have most of the house cleaning, all of the laundry, almost all of the cooking, all of the shopping, all of the “business” to take care of. Besides my 40-hr week job”. Our house is generally tidy but we both love paper and the papers always end up on my desk in the dining room. Sometimes I feel like it’s so unfair I do so much yet know I have a lot more capacity than my husband. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I understand your situation! (I tried fly lady for a bit but it was waaay too overwhelming to me; instead I tend to clean as I see something needing to be cleaned; the schedule was way too stressful for me!)

  12. posted by Sarah on

    Great tips. My bf is moving in this summer after five years of pharmacy school, so this move’s been a long time coming. Fortunately, we’ve had time to debate various household philosophies and who will handle what.

    When most people combine households, it’s more of an impromptu move (not one half a decade in the making). Still, the discussion about chores and what’s acceptable is a conversation worth having. And if your partner is someone prone to black-and-white thinking, be sure to emphasize that he/she needs to be flexible. Better to bring it up in advance than during a fight.

  13. posted by cathleen on

    At the age of 47 we have finally succumbed to a weekly cleaning person and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.
    We are both generally neat tidy people who care about our house and garden but our work schedules and some-time back issues finally caused us to bring someone in once a week and she has been wonderful.
    Last week I came home and my closets were completely organized by type and color, shoes organized, which has been on my Saturday to do list for months. I now keep it so much neater because I’m not overwhelmed with the entire project, just the maintenance.

    I now get to spend Saturdays gardening, canning, reading, exercising and not mopping floors. Totally worth the price (about $70-120 per week, depending)

  14. posted by Malena on

    @Cathleen – I foresee having someone in at least twice a month at some point in the future, but it’s not an option right now. It’s a goal to work for! I think it forces you to keep things a bit more picked up, also.

    @Emery – I’m hoping the FlyLady thing isn’t too overwhelming. Looks pretty, um, restrictive? I see where it might build some habits, though, like making sure the sink is clean – that does make a difference for mornings. I have a friend who is a bit OCD who is going to help me organize my pantry (one day she started to go in there to get something and when she saw it she said ooo! I’m not going in there!). I’ll admit, I just don’t think in compartments or straight lines. I’m pretty all over the place. And thanks for your support!

  15. posted by NutellaNutterson on

    @Malena, if you can get synched up in the flylady Google calendar, that can be a big help with giving a shortcut minus the many messages!

    I prefer unf*ckyourhabitat on tumblr for general motivation and inspiration. The before and after photos really make me want to clean and contribute my own pics!

  16. posted by Nicleau on

    I think these discussions speak to why it’s so important to start teaching uncluttering skills to children from the get go. While I can respect that people have different approaches to life and different ways of processing information/junk/clutter, I believe if many of us had been taught the skills as kids, we wouldn’t be driving our partners crazy!

  17. posted by Debbie on

    As my husband [describes it, he "would be just fine living in a home with a dirt floor. That stuff just doesn't matter to [him]. It is overwhelming, but after nearly two years of marriage, I am getting a grip on it. I am ultimately responsible for all of the laundry, cleaning, organizing (he had collected quite.a.bit of stuff before we married), pet care, etc. On the up side, I have quit my job and will be substitute teaching part time. I spent a long time trying to “get him to see things from my point of view” – how important what I do is, how much effort it takes, etc. He loves and adores me – just grew up with a mom who did everything home related, and can’t “get” it. So, I’ve compromised being satisfied with him completing specific requests (whether he understands or truly appreciates what I do ;) house-wise), which he will do – besides being very good at his day job, he is great with power tools, heavy lifting, etc. It works. I have my moments, but for the most part, this new attitude helps me retain my sanity. OH. And we live in the country, I garden, and deal with crazy amounts of bugs and dirt, LOL. And four dogs. I very much appreciated this post and the comments!

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