A couple’s clutter frustrations resolved

When two people live together and have different standards for cleanliness, frustration often ensues. Redbook magazine addresses this subject in this month’s issue in the article “We’re Constantly at War Over Chores.”

The article follows the couple Sally Cumberland and Paul Schmidt as they argue over when and how to do household chores. Expert Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., offers the couple sage advice throughout the article. Most of her advice is based on improving their communication:

“Sally and Paul have to sit down after the kids are put to bed and talk about what needs to get done,” Tessina explains. “For example, Paul should say, ‘Let’s create a solution about the pileup of newspapers in the front hall,’ and Sally needs to add, ‘I need you to appreciate all the things I did while you were at work instead of needling me for the things I didn’t do.’ This will ultimately take the criticism and accusations away and replace on-the-spot reactive fighting with a calm conversation.”

Sally and Paul will never quite see eye-to-eye about housework, but if they can learn to respect each other’s perspective, their marriage — and their house — will keep running smoothly for years to come.

At the end of the article, the couple admits that things have been better since they met with Dr. Tessina. Sally said:

“I feel relieved. We’ve always been too busy to talk to an expert, but it’s nice to hear a third party tell us that our issues aren’t so unusual.”

I agree that talking to a professional who can see the issues from a caring and outside perspective can do wonders for partners who are struggling with clutter issues in the home. Check out our previous articles for even more advice. And be sure to give the whole of the Redbook article a read!

Photo by Greg Ruffing for Redbook.

15 Comments for “A couple’s clutter frustrations resolved”

  1. posted by Barbara Tako on

    Differences in cleaning and clutter styles (levels of tolerance)between partners has come up in my classes and seminars for years.
    I like to suggest John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” book because it improves communication and understanding on these issues between couples. Using John Gray’s techniques can greatly reduce chore wars and clutter conflicts.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    Another thought about this issue … I wonder if people who lived together before they were married/committed argue less about clutter than couples who didn’t live together before they were married/committed??

  3. posted by Res on

    It’s just like anything else, you either learn to compromise or you don’t. I tend to be a neat freak (but not as bad as I used to be) and my SO is a recovering pack rat. We’ve learned to deal with each others differences after 10 years, it’s just not worth getting into an argument really.

    @ Erin – not in our case, we lived together for a few years and we still pretty much argued even after marriage about clutter and finances but you learn to sort it out and meet in the middle.

  4. posted by Sue on

    Same with my relationship. I lived with my husband for several years before we married, and we argued about clutter before and argued about clutter after. He’s neater than I am. He has just as much stuff, but is much more of the “everything in it’s place” type while I’m a human tornado.

  5. posted by Astralis on

    Healthy couples learn to compromise AND also live to make each other happy. When this happens, the pack rat happily clutters less and the neat freak happily lives with a couple of piles here and there.

  6. posted by Anna on

    This guy sounds like a real jerk.

    “When the house is messy, Paul will raise his voice or act defeated. He’ll suggest that we have a terrible marriage because we don’t connect on these matters.”

    I can’t imagine living that way. If he wants the house white-glove clean, maybe (gasp) he should do it himself. SAHM does not equal maid.

  7. posted by Erin on

    My husband and I lived together for 3 years before we got married. BEFORE we moved in together, he sat me down and said, “Let’s discuss chores. How are we going to handle them? How are we going to make sure the work is equitably distributed? How are we going to handle fighting over chores?…” – and I think that long conversation that we had BEFORE we lived together has helped to prevent a lot of potential arguments. Our decisions at that meeting included some permanent chores (me-laundry, him-dishes, me-grocery shopping and cooking), but we also decided that if one of us was ever really busy at work (me-grant time, him-closing a big deal), then the other picks up the slack at home, including permanent chores. But the best thing we decided to do was to always thank each other. He makes the bed 99% of the time – and I thank him EVERY SINGLE DAY, “thanks for making the bed honey.” And we aren’t going through the motions, I really am thankful. And he thanks me every time I make dinner and every time I do laundry. I didn’t really realize how much we thank each other until my siblings had to move in with us briefly (my brother for 4 months and then my sister for 2 months – one after the other). Turns out they (lovingly) mock us when they’re together “thank you for thanking me… thank you for thanking me for thanking you..” You get the point. I didn’t realize how often we both were saying “thank you”; it has just become second nature. But now that I reflect on it, thanking each other has turned the chores into less of a chore and more of a gift we are giving the other person. And finally, we decided to budget to have our home cleaned once every 4-6 weeks. We sacrifice new clothes and eating out, but home is where we are supposed to relax, and it is so much easier to relax when it’s clean, so we think it is money well spent. (In case we sound nauseating, we do fight too. This morning I saw that he accidentally rear-ended my car in our tandem parking spot and I’m very upset. We are normal. Please tell that to my siblings!)

  8. posted by Viv on

    My husband and I have been happily married for 28 years and lived together before that. I’ve always been the “logistics manager” as far as organizing and cleaning. He’s never enjoyed having me ask him to do stuff that he doesn’t think needs to be done but I could never think of any other way to do it.

    A few months ago, we had a fight and I decided to resign as logistics manager and see if things went into chaos. For a while they did, but then my husband started doing stuff without being asked. I have had to lower my standards a bit, but if I want something done, I either do it or don’t look at it.

  9. posted by Michele on

    I read this a few days ago, and I thought Paul needed an industrial-sized laxative. Unclench, dude.

  10. posted by Traci on

    i cannot even comment on the original purpose of the article, i am simply appalled that he washes the dishes with soap before loading the dishwasher. what a waste!

  11. posted by Laurie on

    I was thinking the same thing too Traci…what’s the POINT?!?!!?

  12. posted by Erika on

    Seems like Sally needs to go to work and Paul needs to stay home, since he seems to be the one who has to have the chores done his way.

  13. posted by Sean on

    ‘I need you to appreciate all the things I did while you were at work instead of needling me for the things I didn’t do.’

    Sounds like criticism and accusation to me. Even so, Paul seems too rigid. Communication, understanding and compromise will go a long way. You don’t need to compromise your standards, just your expectations of how those standard will be met.

  14. posted by Bill on


  15. posted by Joy on

    I find that listing everything that has to be done per week, on pieces of paper. THEN each of us like to do different cleaning, decluttering things….so we “sign up” for the things we like to do. Obviously there are tasks netiher of us, like to do: so then we split it according to rooms or type of cleaning.

    I do the majority of decluttering, except for in the kitchen, where my husband cooks, alot. I have to ask him to declutter though, but then he will. I’ll say, “let’s take everything off the kitchen counters except for what we use every single day.” That really eliminates allot. I also go to Goodwill/Salvation Army to take those things that we never use anymore, or don’t need anymore.

    It can be done! It takes work and one of you being the major structure person. I was the structure person.

    The kids: will follow suit. make a list that have to do rain or shine, every morning. With pictures on their doors or on the bathroom mirror. Put it where they can put check marks or stickers on them.

    The list would be bed: (picture of made bed); toys away (pic of toys in a bin): etc. etc. The visuals are for kids who cannot read, AND it makes it more fun. Tell them, if they get X amount of stickers by Saturday noon: they can take a trip to the dollar store and pick out a toy, OR go to the park with dad and mom: or something they like to do (and would do regulalry) but now, make it a reward for their good cleaning! Most kids love sticker charts! You just have to make a new one each week! Fun, if you are artistic! Or they can help with it!

    This worked for my family!

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