Reader Jennifer sends in this question:
I wonder if you can address what to do when one person in a relationship is content to be a clutterer, and the other person desires to be clutter-free. Obviously, I relate to this problem. I’d really like to get rid of a lot of the crap we never use (especially since we’re moving soon). However, my partner freaks at the suggestion of throwing stuff out, and I don’t want to dictate which Shiny New Gadgets he can and cannot buy. I’m really averse to preaching.
Jennifer, I feel your pain. I am in an otherwise blissful relationship with someone who is, shall we say, less neat than I am, and we’re moving in together soon. I’m very lucky because she is very understanding and accepting of my OCPD. That’s wonderful, but it does little to address the number of shoes in the apartment.
So what do we neat-freaks do? My first instinct is to nag, but that’s not very fair since it’s our obsession as much as anything else that causes the conflict. Your aversion to preaching is probably right because I don’t think you can ever command someone to stop being how they are. Something you learn in management 101 is that if you want someone to follow a course of action, you can’t just command them, you have to convince them that it’s the right course. You have to have “buy-in.” Otherwise you’ll just get lip service and resentment.
So how do you convince your partner that neat and minimal is the way to go? The same way you would convince them about anything else. Hopefully that’s lovingly and using reason. It also doesn’t hurt to explain why it’s in their best interest and how their quality of life will be improved.
Once you have buy-in, since you’re the neat one, you have to help your partner keep their commitment. Again you want to avoid nagging, so instead use the same tips and tricks you use to help yourself stay uncluttered. Maybe you can agree on what is a reasonable number of shoes to have and then commit to each other that for every new pair that’s bought, and old one has to go. Schedule joint purge days a couple times a year. Who knows, you might even make it fun.
Any other tips for dealing with a not-so-neat significant other? This is one dilemma about which I’d love to hear Dr. Ragan’s advice.