Ask Unclutterer: Clutter is causing marriage woes

Reader Jenny submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I am a 29 year old, married, full-time MBA student. I have ADD, and have poor time management skills and am usually scrambling to get my school work and TA duties done. Since my husband and I first moved in together 8 years ago, we’ve never been able to come up with a way of managing household tasks. I grew up with parents who were both lax with household stuff, and my husband grew up in a very clean house in which is mother did 90% of the cleaning. Because we haven’t figured out how to deal with this, there is a lot of resentment and our ability to communicate about the subject has deteriorated. We’ve tried a cleaning service (which now we can’t afford), but it didn’t help the issue with the clutter. Our house is big, and takes a long time to clean (but we can’t sell in this market). Any thoughts on how I can learn these skills?

Jenny, let me begin by saying I empathize with your situation. When my husband sat me down to talk to me about my clutter, I was working full time, going to graduate school, and completely clueless how to “keep house.” He was frustrated by how I was living, and I was completely overwhelmed by my mess.

The first thing you need to do is re-open the lines of communication with your husband. Sit down together on the couch, hold hands (I’ve found it really difficult to yell at someone if you’re holding hands), and start talking.

Share with each other how you want your life to look when the clutter is gone. What will you do together? How will you spend your time? How will you live in your house? Initially, don’t talk about the present. Don’t talk about what needs to be accomplished to get to the point in the future. Instead, define in concrete terms what your remarkable life looks like, feels like, and how you two will function as a couple. Both of you need to talk, and both need to listen. Be specific.

Write down your vision of a remarkable life so you can reference it later. There will come a time mid-way through the process when you are tired and don’t want to work any longer, and looking back over this paper will help you remember why you’re putting in so much effort. You’ll have to trust me on this, but once you know where you’re headed together, getting there will be a lot easier.

The second part of the process is more difficult because you’ll both want to express your frustrations for the way things are in the present. I recommend heading to your favorite bar or corner restaurant to work out this part of the plan. (Similar to holding hands, I’ve found being in a public place often keeps tempers under control.) The two of you need to decide what needs to get done around the house to get you to a manageable baseline, who will be responsible for each action, and when that action needs to be completed. Your list and timeline need to be reasonable (think weeks, months, maybe a year), so have a calendar and lots of paper for list making. Responsibilities should be divided as equally as possible. Even if one of you is responsible for a part of the house being extremely cluttered, the other one can be tasked with uncluttering, cleaning, and organizing the space. Your home is one of the physical spaces where your marriage exists, and you both are responsible for it from this point forward.

If your marriage is your biggest priority, and saving it is paramount to both of you, it means you’re both going to have to temporarily sacrifice something else to make that happen. You may have to stop watching television for a couple months or give up weekends camping with friends or stop procrastinating (the rush from finishing something at the last minute can be quite addictive). I’m not suggesting you drop out of graduate school and become a full-time homemaker, but you can likely find something you’re spending time on that isn’t important to the remarkable life you have decided you want together. You’re going to have to make difficult choices, but those choices are hopefully worth it.

Having ADD is going to make this process more difficult for you than your spouse (assuming he doesn’t have it). He needs to be aware of this and find fun ways to help you stay on track that don’t annoy you. He could hang silly signs in the house with phrases like “Honey, you are beautiful, especially when you’re cleaning out the linen closet!” He could tell you jokes every 15 minutes as a reward for staying on task. He could work by your side and help you maintain focus. The more support and compassion you have for each other, the better and faster you’ll work — ADD or otherwise.

Be sure you both eat right and get a decent night’s sleep throughout this process. Doing this will ensure you have the energy you need to go to work, school, and take care of things at home.

Once the major clutter is cleared, you’ll be ready for maintenance. What’s good is that the less you have, the less you have to clean, put away, organize, insure, and maintain. At this point, you can create a weekly chore chart to keep up with all the things around the house you both need to do. Get a copy of my book and check out pages 98 and 99 for an example of how you might structure your chart. In short, you’ll want to do 30 minutes a night of chores where you do a general cleanup around the house for 10 minutes and then spend the remaining 20 focused on a designated room of your house. As the two of you work, play upbeat music or make a game of racing each other through your chores. Find something positive to motivate each other. Check out “Exhausted after work” for more suggestions on how to handle these daily house-keeping activities.

Thank you, Jenny, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope that the two of you find a way to get out from under the clutter and get back to having a resentment-free marriage. As someone who has been where you are and is now living an uncluttered life, I can attest that it was worth every second of hard work. Good luck!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

48 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Clutter is causing marriage woes”

  1. posted by Angel on

    Having a large house in the case may also be a saving grace. In my relationship, I’m the minimalist and my husband can be a small clutter tornado. We’ve worked it out so that he has his own space in the spare bedroom, which he’s responsible for cleaning (or not). This allows him to have a designated area for his stuff which he can sort, use or dispose of at his own pace, and I can keep the rest of the house clean and clutter free.

  2. posted by Kim on

    Erin, good advice. I have a similar situation to Jenny, and am slowly making progress. I would also suggest Jenny check out flylady.net for help and encouragement in developing routines and decluttering. And remember your house did not get in this mess in 1 day or 1 week. It will take a long time to get it where you want it, but “Progress, not perfection.”

  3. posted by Jen on

    As far as cleaning – I used an online program to create a cleaning schedule for our apartment. We had been pretty lazy about cleaning, and I was overwhelmed at first. But, after a couple weeks, I started to realize that I was having to spend less time and effort cleaning because we weren’t letting things get out of control. I’m able to do little things every night and rotate my focus. I can spend one or two minutes dusting one piece of furniture, or a couple minutes vacuuming a specific area or wiping the dust from the corners in the bathroom.
    Hang tough through that initial phase and the pay off will be worth it. The mental well being I feel knowing that I’m living in a well cared for space is wonderful.

  4. posted by SadHubby on

    Wish I’d read this article before I got married 12 years back because it would have made me really think things through. God bless my wife’s heart, but she and my kids are awful with clutter, particuarly in the last 7 or 8 years. Have tried a number of ways to get them to evaulate their excruicatingly sloppy habits, but nothing seems to stick and furthermore they just don’t want to do it. I even took on the bulk of trying to clean around the house and they just trash what I have cleaned up within a day.
    For now, I am sticking around for the sake of the kids but make no mistake I cannot live the rest of my life surrounded by piles of crap. Not sure what will happen long term – please keep me in your prayers.

  5. posted by WilliamB on

    You have cogently laid out a really tough problem. I think you may have crossed the biggest hurdle: recognizing that there’s a problem and identifying (some of?) the causes. Does your husband agree with your summary? If so, that will go a long way to creating a solid foundation on which to build.

    The part that stood out to me re him is that his mother did 90% of the work – does he, consciously or unconsciously, expect the same from you? (A far less useful version of this thought is “Does he expect all the results while providing 10% of the work?”) Was his mother a SAH or a working parent, and did they have outside help/cleaning?

    As this readership may recognize, I don’t always agree with Erin’s recommendations. This time I do, 100%. With ADD, doing a little at a time and doing it frequently sounds like the right strategy for the condition. Can you husband help keep you on track, maybe by being the person designated to say “It’s time for our 15 min of cleaning”?

    Another thought is: the less you have, the less there is to keep organized and decluttered. How do y’all feel about being minimalist about possessions? Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle, charity shops, and the trash can are all your friends in this endeavor. If you can’t decide what to get rid of now, how about boxing it up and storing it in that large place of yours? That would at least get it out of your hair for the time being, reducing the workload and the irritation caused by too much stuff.

    Finally, if this subject has become so touchy that it’s hard to communicate about it, I strongly support the idea of getting someone to facilitate your communication. IOW, a counselor. Even a couple 1 hr sessions with an impartial third party can help create new, unpoisoned ways to come to agreements (BTDT). In this circumstance I think it’d be a really good investment.

    Where to find a counselor? Some possibilities are your doctor, employer’s or school’s mental health or counseling program, friends, crisis centers – ask these folk if they have a recommendation for someone to help you and your spouse communicate. Since it’s not yet a divorce-level problem (that you’ve said, at least), it should be easier for someone to help you with.

  6. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    It helps if you each have responsibility for things you actually care about, and not for those you don’t. So the person who hates dirty dishes does those, etc.

    If one person makes most of the mess and cares least about cleaning up, then perhaps that person needs to contribute in some other way – eg buying all the gifts for family, doing the groceries, or whatever. Both partners need to feel a sense of fairness.

    And as Angel says, if the house is large enough that each person can have a space to keep the way they want, that might also ease the tension.

  7. posted by Mo on

    Be sure to realize that this problem has two sources. You have ADD (and if you grew up in a lax house, one or both of your parents probably did too) AND your husband grew up with the expectation that the woman of the house will keep things neat without bothering anybody else about it. This is a recipe for trouble.

    Forcing you to take the lead on this, with your organizational impairments and a new and heavy courseload, isn’t fair. Having a less cluttered house would be a big help, but now is probably not the time to do a major declutter. I’d recommend a modified “box and banish.” Look around to see what you won’t be using for some period of time, i.e. books you won’t be reading/looking for until your program is done. Box them up, labeling when you will go through them. I did a school program and decided to do this, with the promise to myself of redecorating when done. A year later, when the house was painted and refreshed, it was really easy to open the boxes and see what needed to stay or go.

    It’s very easy for someone who grew up in a neat household that they didn’t have to work to maintain to slip into being judgmental about living in a messy house now. Really work to make this about solutions, not how things got this way, or how it makes you feel.

  8. posted by Jenny on

    Hi all — I’m still need to read through some of this and digest things and then I will probably comment more fully, but I feel like I may have misrepresented my husbands feelings that I should do the majority of the cleaning because I am the woman/wife, although he grew up in a house that was traditionally that way. I should also say that I was as well — although I did not grow up in a spotless house, my mother was solely responsible for cleaning, cooking, laundry, and child care and my father was the breadwinner. My husband’s expectations of my housework stems from my leaving my job to go to graduate school, and he doesn’t expect me to do 90%, just more than he does. He feels that cleaning currently requires “picking up after me” and dealing with my clutter.

  9. posted by Sherri on

    WilliamB: “The part that stood out to me re him is that his mother did 90% of the work – does he, consciously or unconsciously, expect the same from you? (A far less useful version of this thought is “Does he expect all the results while providing 10% of the work?”)”

    This stood out for me too. I am curious to know what his work/schedule is like. If he believes Jenny should attend school full-time and still keep an immaculate home, his expectations might be a bit lofty.

    Erin, your tips on communication are great.

  10. posted by Amanda on

    A similar suggestion: My husband and I had a roommate for a while. The two of us were used to doing ‘maintenance tasks” while she’d grown up in a house that was super cluttered and her parents just never had people over. She’d freakout every so often about the state of the house, not wanting to live in the same mess she grew up in and tidy up everything (while being mad at us for not getting the urge at the same time) but would never think to do the daily stuff, like load/unload the dishwasher or take out the trash.

    I let them both know I was unhappy with how housework was going and scheduled a time for us all to sit down. What we ended up doing was partially based off flylady.com, but tweaked. We discussed each room and what each of us felt needed to happen in them to make them clean. Things like in the kitchen I felt the crumbs needed to be wiped off the counter, but that would never occur to my husband. Then we split the rooms so we’d rotate through them (with someone always in the kitchen). It works a bit differently with just the two of us, but knowing what the other expects a clean room to involve all spelled out has helped.

  11. posted by Ash on

    I also have ADHD, work, and am going back to school. My husband and I were also building up resentment regarding the household chores. Our solution? A chore list. It was embarrassing at first but it works.

    In listing out the things we wanted done around the house, we found he wanted things to look clean (no clutter, neat piles, etc) and I wanted things to BE clean (forget the piles, did you wash the kitchen table with a CLEAN towel??). We made 2 lists: one with chores that declutter and one with the scrubbing-type tasks. At first we switched lists every week.

    After a while, however, we realized we were looking forward to a particular week so we’ve just stuck with the kinds of chores we like best. My husband picks up the toys, books, clears the table; I wash everything down, mop, and dust. And we’re aware of what the other person does because we put it in writing in the beginning.

  12. posted by Jenny on

    @Sherri My statement that his mother did 90% of the cleaning was not meant to suggest that he has that expectation of me. He works extraordinarily long hours — often 10-12 hour days and he has a 60 mile each way commute. He leaves early, and often doesn’t get home until 8 or later exhausted. He also is in a band that he is attempting to do more with to try to supplement our income and that requires practice time and rehearsal.

    Additionally, I don’t think he feels that the house should be immaculate, although I’m sure he’d prefer it. It is just at a state that is embarrassing to have people over and when we do entertain we end up having to stress and scramble to get the house ready. The clutter gets in the way of a regular cleaning routine (which I don’t know how to create). He hates cleaning because he feels like he has to pick up and move my stuff. I end up shoving the excess stuff into my office to get it out of the way, which makes my office completely unusable and effects my studies.

  13. posted by Sooz on

    Jenny, having grown up in family that is riddled with ADD sufferers, I will suggest one other thing (which is not directly about uncluttering, but which can make getting uncluttered a lot more do-able for a person with ADD), namely: look into getting a prescription for an ADD med like Concerta or equivalent. It can help you stay focused and “on task” to do what you need/want to do.

  14. posted by Elizabeth in Yuma on

    Jenny, I am delurking to comment. I am a single mom with a nine year old son. I was working full time, completing an MPA (full time) and writing my thesis, being a Scout leader for my son’s Den, carting him to baseball, et al. My point in this list is: I understand busy (and poor!).
    Erin noted that you will have to give something up something you enjoy doing. This is true: I barely read a non-school related book for two years. I also didn’t sew or craft or work on my house. I focused my attention on getting the things done that I needed to do (including, unfortunately, house work). Then, I scheduled housework just like I scheduled a doctor’s appointment. Literally WROTE IT DOWN on my calendar, 4x a week. I had to acknowledge that having a tidy house took time and energy, just like my other activities. Then I made time in 20-30 minute increments. You will be surprised at what you can get done in that time period.
    I will note that my house was never cleaner than when I was revising my thesis. I would do ANYTHING not to have to look at that blasted paper. This included, apparently, washing baseboards and ceiling light fixtures.
    You can do it, Jenny, I promise you! Both the degree AND the housework are within reach! 🙂

  15. posted by chrisbean on

    @ash – it sounds like your husband is a clutter person and you are a filth person.

    “Clutter people” assume that things are clean only if they look clean, while “filth people” don’t mind visual clutter, but are super-filth-averse.

    Clutter people aren’t necessarily unclutterers, though: they actually had a clutter-person on the TV show Hoarders recently: Sir Patrick, whose museumlike home looked orderly, but the rooms didn’t perform their functions, and the place was full of mold and vermin.

    I’m a filth person, too: piled papers and clothes don’t bother me (too much), but unwashed dishes or dirty floors drive me crazy. Over the last three years, I’ve noticed myself drifting towards a firmer anticlutter stance… while maintaining my anti-filth (defined as anything in your environment that can make you physically ill) standards.

  16. posted by Annette on

    Interesting topic. My daughter has ADD but as we homeschooled we never got a diagnosis but just worked around her disorder.

    I am the declutterer in our house. My hubby’s den was what we used to illustrate the word entropy (the tendency of the universe to slide toward chaos) one week. In our house my hubby, who has mobility issues, is mostly unable to do any housework or cooking. Sometimes he is able to shop. Daughter moved out a year ago so her left over clutter is in the closet and probably going to join her this December.

    We have a short list posted on the fridge; days of the week and a room each day to clean. An X on the list under the room is in blue ink if I am responsible and red ink if Hubby is the one in charge of cleaning it. Smaller amounts of cleaning every day work better for us than huge amounts once a week.

    Just a short note: It took over twenty years for us to get to the point of a short list and red and blue ink. Starting out that way would have been a treat!

  17. posted by Jen on

    Freecycle on Yahoo, Craigslist, Amazon, half.com, and eBay have been tremendously helpful with decluttering for me. Freecycle was a great place to get rid of stuff that people would find useful, but that you wouldn’t necessarily want to donate to charity, and the people are usually more reliable than on Craigslist, at least in my experience. I’ve made a couple hundred dollars selling my old books online. Decluttering was always easier for me if I could find someone who could use an item instead of just throw it in a dumpster. Sometimes I worry that I’m just contributing to someone else’s hoarding, though.
    I have three things that I feel need to be done every day to keep our home manageable – scoop the litter box, sort the mail, and wash the dishes in the sink. The bathroom and the kitchen floor are cleaned every ten days. I clean the fridge every week. I vacuum part of the apartment every other day (we have birds that throw seed everywhere). Getting our apartment to a spot where it was as clean as I wanted it wasn’t something I did all at once, but a gradual build up as a result of the cleaning routine. Figure out a routine in your mind, and use trial and error to figure out what’s optimal for you.

  18. posted by Sunflowergrrl on

    All I can say is Flylady Flylady Flylady. Best cure for ADD overwhelm as it relates to house and home. May seem overwhelming at first, but as she says, baby steps. I don’t do everything they suggest every week, but the simple routines saved my sanity and keeps our home running pretty smoothly with 2 teens and 2 working parents.

  19. posted by jbeany on

    For those going back to school, be sure to remember the rule of thumb for college level homework. For every hour you spend in class, you need to expect a minimum of 2 hours of homework time outside of class. If your spouse is thinking you only have 9 hours of classes so you should have plenty of time to devote to the house, you have to be sure to add in the 18 hours of homework, too. And that’s only a bare minimum, for weeks without tests or special projects.

  20. posted by Sue on

    So your husband works long hours and has a long commute, and is trying to start up a band to make up for lost income?

    Meanwhile, you are a full time MBA student? Does your husband realize that you probably have more demands on your time now than you did when you were working? Graduate school is no joke.

    It also sounds like your arguments started long before you went back to school, only now you don’t have the funds to pay for cleaning service.

    I don’t know how to help, except to suggest that both of you need to adjust your expectations.

    You need to make an effort to improve your time management skills, which will help you succeed in school. If your house is as big as you say it is, is there a room besides your office where you can quickly dump your clutter and still have it out of the way and out of sight? If you have a space like this, you can get your stuff out of the way so your husband can do the cleaning that he tries to do but can’t because your stuff is in the way.

  21. posted by WilliamB on

    Have you guys done a profit analysis of a band as a profit generator? Don’t forget to generate an hourly wage for time involved that includes travel time as well as practice and playing time. If you want to support his band membership as a hobby then you should do so, but I think the argument that it’s a worthwhile investment of time to make money won’t hold up. One is likely better off at Starbucks or the local hardware shop.

    Especially as compared to an MBA.

    The rule of thumb about hours of class and hours of work varies depending on type of school. For business school it’s 3-for-1. Then you need to add in your TA time.

  22. posted by Christine on

    I agree with the demands on your time. Just b/c you might be around the house more doesn’t mean you have time to deal with it. I quit my full-time job after my 2nd child turned 1, and I have more demands on my time now than I did when I was working. It was also less stressful b/c work was a “mental break” for me. (I also am more stressed about clutter now than before b/c I see it more since I’m home more.)

    The fact remains that you have ADHD and although you should work on this problem together, your husband should take the lead on organizing things. If you have to spend your time in class, doing homework, going to/from school for class/studying/library, studying, special projects, etc., how much “spare” time do you actually have? How much spare time does your husband actually have? Will he be able to “unwind” during his spare time while you’ll have to use up every bit of yours doing stuff around the house.

    Do you have anything in place to support you with your ADHD? Programs/behavioral tips for managing time, studying,etc? Medication? Depending on the severity of your problem you might need just the behavioral mod support. Have you checked out resources at CHADD? All this might be another item that consumes your time at least initially, but that might help you in the long run.

  23. posted by Jenny on

    Wow, so much great advice here. Here are some answers to the questions.

    My husband currently does do a great amount around the house — he does all the yard work, a lot of the cleaning and some of the cooking/shopping. I don’t think he is unwilling to do a fair amount of the work, his issue is that he doesn’t think he should have to clean up my mess. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. Because of this, I have moved much of the mess into my personal space so that the rest of the house looks somewhat presentable clutter wise, but we are having a hard time keeping it clean.

    I have no support with the ADD nor am I medicated. I was diagnosed as a child, but even then my parents had a difficult time finding a treatment plan as I was not symptomatic in ways that made some doctors question the diagnosis — I was a high achiever in school and not hyperactive. However, I was disorganized in my school work, a constant procrastinator, and causing a lot of undue stress — but I’ve been a straight A student since kindergarden.

    My husband isn’t starting a band. Playing his bass is the only stress relief he has — he had given up every other hobby due to time constraints and expenses. He is playing occasionally with his dad’s band which does bring in extra income, but mostly it is a hobby. It is not unusual for him to work a 10 hour day, have a 2 hour commute, and then work a few hours from home.

    The arguments have been around since we first moved together, and discussions usually turned into fights and nothing was resolved. The cleaning service helped keep things clean, but were a MAJOR source of stress for me as I was scrambling to get the house in order for them to be able to clean.

    This is getting quite long here, but my house isn’t that big, just bigger than the 800 sq. ft. apartments we used to have. It is a 3 bedroom house (master bedroom, and we each have an office), and about 2200 sq. ft. I’ve tried Flylady in the past, and while I like it in theory, she is just too hokey for me.

    @Elizabeth – thank you for delurking as your comment really stood out to me. Some of it is that I need to stop making excuses and just do it. My husband notes that I spend 10x more time reading books and websites about how to deal with the problem, and not enough time just trying to do it.

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. My husband is in the midst of a project at work, exhausted and delirious but I emailed him some of the questions to think about so we can sit down and discuss when he has the ability to give me his full attention.

  24. posted by Tammy on

    I got my MBA over a 4 1/2 year period, one class at a one time, three classes a year. just finished 2 months ago. During that time I also worked full time plus a little overtime as well. I understand the emotional energy it takes to get a graduate degree.

    I now work about 50 hours a week, high stress job, middle management, with a 30-40 minute commute each way depending on traffic. My work is never done, I just decide to go home at the end of each day. So I understand your husband also to some degree.

    I am a naturally neat, organized, and minimalist person. I scheduled in the laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping, as someone mentioned above. I also delegated a lot of it. During the MBA years, our 3 kids were just getting out of high school, entering college, moving out, getting married, and making us grandparents. Lots of fun but so busy, and expensive.

    The best decisions I made during those years was delegating. It was a hard one for me, cause I like to keep a clean house, do my own shopping, control my life!

    By the end of the MBA, my husband was doing all the shopping, my daughter in law and husband were doing 90% of the cooking (I often paid my daughter in law for this), each member of the family was doing their own laundry (no problem for me to do 1-2 loads a week just for myself), and I learned how to ask my husband to clean the house.

    The difference is that I was really busy with work and school, and he only had work. so it seemed fair for him to do a lot of this stuff.

    in your situation, it’s different cause your husband is working so many hours.

    Could you find a family or close friend who would like to live for 1-2 years (while you finish your MBA) in a bedroom in your house as their own space, in exchange for being the organizer, shopper, cook, and maid for the household? The first task could be to declutter enough for you that this person then had enough space to move into the one room that was newly emptied!

    I know you only have 3 bedrooms, but if this mystery person is talented as an organizer, I bet your home could feel roomier with 3 people than it does now with 2 ….

    just brainstorming with you ….. answers to problems can pull from other people’s strengths to cover our own weaknesses. We don’t need to be good at everything just within ourselves or within the smallness of a two-person partnership.

  25. posted by sf on

    Jenny, speaking from experience, I’m going to second what the previous poster said about considering medication. From the sound of it, I’m a lot like you. I’m a graduate student, always did very well in school, and never had problems with hyperactivity or disruption. But — until I started taking medication, I couldn’t handle clutter at all. There were a lot of times when I’d spend a whole weekend on a room, only to end up putting a bunch of stuff in a big old box to get them out of the way.

    I couldn’t process the stuff in the box! I’d often start up trying to declutter with that stupid box, and at the end would have moved about half of its contents to other locations, and re-filled it with new junk. It was miserable.

    It’s still a big struggle for me to handle clutter, but I make a bigger dent in an hour now than I used to in two days without the medication. Obviously you have to make this call yourself, considering your doctor’s advice along with your own needs, priorities, and health history — but it really might be something that could spare you some unnecessary suffering. Or, at least, it could give you some perspective into how much of your clutter comes from cognitive limitations, and how much comes from habit. If you’ve never really treated your ADD, I wonder if you realize how much of an effect it’s having. (I had no idea, personally, until very recently.)

    I hope that helps!

  26. posted by Lou on

    I also find Flylady hokey, but so what? I don’t read her mails, just subscribe to the daily task e-mail and copied the room by room task lists onto word documents, put each into a plastic sleeve and once every day or 3, i pull out one page and start at the top. After my 20 minute timer rings, I quit. Next time I go to that page, I start at the first unchecked item.

    I have a brain injury, which amounts to acquired ADD, untouchable by meds. But getting started and deciding what to do are the biggies – and a Flylady list answers both of those questions.

    One more tip – develop a morning checklist to get the day started totally on automatic pilot. This creates 2 good thing – an organized, functional start to the day – and a tidy bedroom — HEAVEN!

    E-mail me off-list if you want a copy of my daily routine list for a sample. Good luck.

  27. posted by Jenny on

    I have no family who can help. Nor does my husband, nor would either of us feel comfortable with a roommate.

    I don’t even know how to go about getting medication? Do I go to my family practitioner and ask for it?

    The resentment is really deep here — it is very difficult to discuss, and my husband is unwilling to “pick up after me.” Right or wrong, this is a deal breaker. I need to get to clean slate alone, and then he would be willing to help and split work equally. Divorce is not as far off as I would like it. A lot of the resentment is based on my promises — I tend to overpromise and underdeliver in the house department. I told him I would have the house completely in order in the 3 weeks between when I left my job and graduate school, and nothing got done because I was totally overwhelmed. The marriage has been very strained since then.

  28. posted by Jenny on

    @Lou – I would love your daily routine list but I don’t know how to get your email.

  29. posted by javamonster on

    You might need to hire an organizer to help you out for a few hours. If it saves your marriage (and you think your marriage is worth saving) then it might be worth the cost, whatever that might be.

    A straight out list of what to do when you get home every day could help, too, if you remember to look at it. Simple things, like, “Pick up papers on the side table” “Put away the books on the dining room table”-actually list the process down.

    Flylady may be hokey, and God-driven (yeah, too many purple tears, I get you there) BUT she does have a really good plan on blitz-cleaning. Pretend you’re going to have guests on Sunday, and do a blitz on Saturday. Or a one hour blitz each day, but with the goal of having it presentable for…I don’t know, the Dean of your department, or the professor of one of your classes who you NEED to impress.

    My husband resents the clutter (really, it’s not much, but he has a fear of ending up living in a hoarder’s clutter *which I am not*!) in our house. I can’t always see it-sometimes I prefer not to see it, other times I genuinely do not consider clutter what HE considers clutter.

    And if I DO clear up the clutter, I like and don’t like it. I LIKE it because it *does* relieve my mind, and I do like living in a clear situation. BUT on the other hand, I *don’t* like because it feels like I’m being erased from the house-like he doesn’t want my presence there. But that’s irrational and based on my childhood living with a neatnick mother.

    Anyway, good luck, I do hope you’re successful in navigating this problem.

  30. posted by Claycat on

    Erin, what a sweet and compassionate response! Kudos, also, to the others who have added their amazing ideas! I have some of the same problems, Jenny. I can’t focus very long and I get bogged down and start procrastinating. I just don’t have the sort of demands you do. I empathize and sympathize with you. My hope is that everything works out for you!

  31. posted by Mark on

    I once read a funny flowchart about happiness which basically said: If you’re not happy, change something. I decided to change my housekeeping habits. I chose this because Men’s Health said I’d get more sex. It’s true. Now, I’m like a whirling dirvish. I do all the dishes and dusting. I move the furniture around constantly, giving the house a fresh atmosphere. I cook on weekends and the days I come home early.

  32. posted by Beverly D on

    Jenny, I’m finally going to put in my two cent’s worth, although I usually charge more (I’m a Nurse Practitioner :D). You need to find your nearest County mental health clinic or your primary health care provider. You asked how to get on medication and this is it. If you have insurance, you go to see your PCP. If not, go to the mental health clinic (it’s in the phone book or google it under county government). You sound like you have some depression along with nonhyperactive ADD, and you will need expert help to get on the right track. Every aspect of your life is impacted by this disorder so this should take a priority. Cleaning your house is the least of your problems. Good luck.

  33. posted by Christine on

    I would also go the medical route. They do provide behavioral and medication options. (Depending on what a medical professional would determine about your particular situation, you might need 1, the other, both, or both until the behavioral catches up.)

    What is known about ADHD as a disorder is much further along than when you were a kid. My son certainly has his hyperactive moments (he IS a 6-year-old boy, after all, and he does have some elements of it), but the majority of his ADHD is on the inattentive (vs the hyperactive) spectrum of the disorder. There are many kids who are overlooked b/c they do well in school and aren’t HYPER HYPER HYPER (this is often why girls especially are underdiagnosed).

    It sounds as if you excel academically, but obviously, this has had an impact on your relationship and other areas of your life. These are often unfairly blamed on your unwillingness to get it together rather than your inability to do so. I don’t say that as an excuse for your disorganization, but mostly as a way to urge you to get the help you need to function at your highest capacity to improve those other areas of your life and help some of the problems in your relationship.

    Please also consider getting a book about ADHD, written by Russell a. Barkley, who is an expert on ADHD (I’d recommend the book I have but it’s geared toward parents rather than adults). It will help you to understand it better and it would probably be a good read for your husband as well.

    I’d say the whole thing about cleaning up your own messes is baloney b/c if you have kids, that will go out the window. Plus, there are going to be different seasons in your life when one of you will do more work than the other. However, I can understand you wanting to deliver on the promises you’ve made.

    Setting up time to talk with your husband and seeking help with your ADHD will help get things going.

  34. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    Another great book is Dr CHRISTOPHER GREEN & Dr Kit Chee *Understanding ADHD*. It has a section on Adults with ADHD.
    My son (10) is ADHD. Not violent and only hyper in that he cant stop moving even when he is sitting. He is already shocking at time management and getting rid of things/cleaning. So I try to make it as easy as I can. We set everything out in stages, for example ‘Clean your room’ means start with picking up your clothes, then put your toys away (everything has a home, even if its just a tub for toys that dont have a special home), then deal with whatever is left on the floor. He is medicated but the medicine mainly benefits the school. On the medication he is doing beautifully at school. Before he was on it (he was diagnosed at nearly 7) he couldnt even put two words together without getting upset.

    The biggest help in my life was finding a support group. There’s an organisation over here called LADSWA (learning and attentional disorders society of Western Australia) that has monthly meetings that includes parents of ADHD children AND adults with ADHD. WE all learn from each other. I hear how other mothers cope and we listen to how the adults feel who live with the condition. one of the mums has two kids with ADHD AND both her and her husband have it but didnt know until they were in their late 30’s. She is a teacher and says she has never thought clearer than when she’s on the ‘dexies’. Seh knows when she needs the meds and just takes them on an ‘as needs’ basis.

    I believe my husband also has ADHD. He cannot finish anything he starts, leaves rooms in appalling messes and is never ready when its time to go out BUT refuses to admit he is any part of the problem. Thats hard. Whilst he is willing to help our son get organised, he cant see it also applies to him. I’ve tried establishing the 5 minute clean up, tossing about 50% of our belongings and writing down job lists but he doesnt play the game. And no, his mum did not do most of the cleaning – his dad did!!!!

    Anyway, good luck Jenny. I hope you find ways that work, even if you just change one little thing at a time.

  35. posted by Lou on

    Jenny,
    send a request for the lists to me at this location: mammaloo at ymail dot com
    substitute the at sign and the period as in a normal cyber communication.
    Peace
    Lou

  36. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    Though difficult, realize that once decluttered, it will be easier to keep house cleaner because there will be less stuff to clean or clean around.
    Since your house is larger than needed right now, you could try something that worked for us in a different situation.
    We did major renovation (disaster, another story) we rented a storage trailer and paked next to our house, emptied all but our very necessary items. As the project progressed and areas were complete, we only brought things in as we needed them. After time, we were able to just get rid of stuff we had not seen or used in 6 months or more.
    You could designate a space in your home for doing the same thing. Get rid of it after not needing it or using it for a time. Set aside short blocks of time each week to work on this project. An hour on Saturday or 2-3 30 minute blocks throughout the week.
    We have accumulated more stuff again, but now looking to minimalize even more, so hitting it hard and heavy!

    Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
    Bernice
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.c.....mplicated/

  37. posted by Sooz on

    Jenny, you wrote:

    “A lot of the resentment is based on my promises — I tend to overpromise and underdeliver in the house department. I told him I would have the house completely in order in the 3 weeks between when I left my job and graduate school, and nothing got done because I was totally overwhelmed.”

    And based on my ADD-riddled family, I totally hear and understand what you are saying. People with ADD have the best intentions and truly WANT to get things done, but can become overwhelmed very easily, resulting in over-promising and under-delivering. I’ve seen it more times than I can count among my family members who have ADD.

    Ideally, your husband would be interested enough to become informed about ADD; to understand & accept what your ADD means for the marriage. He needs to recognize that this is not something you are doing TO him, nor are you being uncooperative or lazy. Your problems in time-management and follow-through are classic ADD issues, and need to be seen & acknowledged as such. From my own family’s experience, people who have ADD need *extra* support & help from their partners & family members. For those who have ADD, this is often where the rubber meets the road in their close relationships.

    (And if you are hoping to have children, that’s another reason to get the ADD issue in the open and to have an understanding with your husband, because what if you have a child who has ADD?)

    The upside of ADD is that people who have it are often extraordinarily intelligent, creative & resourceful!

    IMO, ADD medication is very much worth a try, because you may be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.

    I wish you the very best in every aspect of your life.

  38. posted by Jay on

    Jenny,

    I feel sorry for the situation you and your husband are in. As you very well know, it is very complicated on both sides.

    If I were in your situation, I would try to stop my spouse’s resentment from getting worse. You have commented several times that your husband does not like to pick up your stuff. You even mentioned that you had to get your house in order so that the cleaning service could clean it.

    I would concentrate on that type of clutter and how to keep it from bothering your husband. I don’t understand what type of clutter it is or how long it takes to build up, so the comments that follow may be off base. My suggestion is simple: buy a box or several boxes. Seriously. (For example, Ikea sells a huge 34 gallon plastic box in its Samla series.) Instead of laying your clutter (clothes, books, knapsack, papers, whatever) down randomly or tossing them on the floor, put them in the box. This solution in not permanent, but it may reduce your husband’s resentment.

    Best of luck to both you and your husband.

  39. posted by Miriam on

    Flylady definitely rocks. She’s really good at helping people with home management skills.

  40. posted by Jenny on

    Thank you to everyone —

    I’m going to read through all of these comments more closely, and try to map out some things to try mostly in line with Erin’s post — Thank you so much Erin for choosing my note.

    I will definitely look into medication. To be honest, this is something that I hadn’t considered but I will. I guess I will start with my primary care physician. I was diagnosed as a child, and again as an adult but I don’t have any documentation.

    I think a major thing I will have to consider is putting a lot of stuff that I don’t have time to go through or that I find overwhelming in bins. That will clear out a usable study place for me, and also make my husband not feel like he has to pick up after me to clean and maybe we can start cleaning routines that are equitable so I have time to go through the bins.

    We had a party last night and cleaned the whole house (not clearing clutter upstairs) and we have a decent slate to start on. I think I need to do that before we can discuss the issues without things getting too heated.

    I also resigned up for Flylady — I’m going to try to weed through and ignore the parts that turn me off.

  41. posted by Kerri on

    Jenny,

    I also have ADD and have a hard time focusing on cleaning and decluttering. One thing that might help you out is having a laundry basket by the door for donations, so when you do feel like decluttering a little (every little bit helps!) you can put it straight in, and if it’s by the door it’s more likely to get out rather than just sitting around. That way, you can act immediately, and your husband can also see the progress you are making and that you are trying as the basket fills and as you two can take more things out. I do tend to keep changing what I’m cleaning or working on, but if I have a little system in place, when I am in cleaning mode it gets done better. I also have a little bin that I labelled recycling, and that helps a lot with mail clutter. You don’t necessarily have to force yourself to focus on cleaning for so long if it stresses you out a lot, just make it easier for yourself so that when you do find yourself decluttering, it gets done.

  42. posted by marie on

    I like everyone’s comments, and the ADD recommendations are ones to be considered. But I would add one thing. You stated, “Right or wrong, this is a deal breaker. I need to get to clean slate alone, and then he would be willing to help and split work equally. Divorce is not as far off as I would like it.” It sounds to me as if you have bigger issues than clutter. If your marriage is truly to the point of breaking up over the state of the house, than IMHO, you need marriage counseling more than you heed help uncluttering. Believe me, I FULLY understand how bad things can get in a house re: clutter. But marriage vows contain those pesky words “for better or worse”, and could be translated as “for neat or messy”. Might also bring to light some other issues that may be masked by the anger over the clutter, such as was he not happy with your quitting your job to get your MBA? Or whatever. I wish you the best.

  43. posted by newlywed resent on

    The article caught my eye as I am dealing with building resent for my wife’s clutter and general disregard for our space. It’s driving me up the wall, and although I have spoken to her about it, she has said to me that that’s the way she is, and why can’t I accept her?

    Basically it’s the things she leaves out after using, shoes lying around, not packing away clothes and I on the other hand do all of that to my best ability. I have now started moving her clutter to one place, and expecting her to clean it then.

    I’m going to check out flylady.com – I need to speak with my wife more clearly, and let her know how this clutter is making me feel, and somehow get her understanding. Otherwise I just feel like I’m moving further and further away from her.

  44. posted by Rebecca on

    Jenny, if your husband is working 12-hour days + commute + band practice, I can’t see how he has time during the week to do his share of cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. I’m not blaming him, it just sounds as if neither of you has enough time at the moment to keep the house the way you’d like, and you need to agree a joint plan of action to get things under control.
    Is there anything he could do during the day, such as placing an online grocery order?
    It’s not helpful that he’s blaming you for a shared problem.

  45. posted by Elizabeth in Yuma on

    Jenny,

    I am glad that I said something you found helpful. I thought about your situation a lot this weekend (amid a birthday party AT MY HOUSE with 27 nine year olds!), and here’s the one thing I came up with: do what’s in front of you.

    That’s what got (and gets) me through. I wasted a ton of energy worrying about tomrrow, and the closet in the back bedroom, and the paper due in 3 weeks, and the meeting I have on Firday. This meant that I wasn’t particularly focused on dinner and discussion questions (both due tonight) and opening/sorting the mail.

    As I said, I scheduled housework, but I also started doing what was “in front” of me. I don’t have ADD/ADHD, so I don’t have any ideas about how to deal with that, but for me, focusing on WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TODAY worked much better than worrying about all those Things I Should Be Doing. As a single mom, the TISBD are innumerable, never-ending, and generally guilt-inducing. You can become immured in those thoughts. Focusing, very literally, on what is in front of you (sorting mail, hanging up your jacket, putting away your shoes, preparing/cleaning up a meal) is a way to deal with the here-and-now.

    Again: you can do this! Obviously, all of us here are cheering you on. Hugs!

  46. posted by Barbara on

    One more idea for you.
    Limits.
    Limit how much time you’re spending on projects with a timer. That way, when you get distracted, the timer brings your attention back. You can set the timer again if necessary. This also works for searching online for solutions (although you probably really have enough solutions to stop doing any more research).
    Another version is to put away 5 things. You can probably stay focused long enough to do that–and if you can’t, try 3 things.
    You can do it.

  47. posted by Anna on

    I’ve read some of the comments above, but not all. I’m also ADHD and I lost focus, so forgive me if I repeat what they said.

    I suggest a few things based on my personal experience fighting the cluttermonster and my significant other’s organizational tendencies. As someone who is also ADHD, and OCD, my hyperfocused moments tend to happen in cleaning-related ways. I end up completely cleaning a room – emptying it of all furniture and clutter, then cleaning all furniture and clutter, completely cleaning the room, and then moving everything back in – when I’m stressed. Not an optimal situation. (I’m also a grad student, so I’m with you on the homework stuff as well. Nothing worse than having to write a seminar paper but getting distracted by the vacuum.)

    My significant other, however, was raised to never clean like me. Or really in general. His mother cleaned everything.

    So what we do is acknowledge that we’re going to have different ideas of clean. We negotiate what is allowed (i.e. how far my OCD can go in his space) and what is not (big piles of man underwear). Then we work together.

    It’s never a party, but it isn’t as bad as before we started working together and communicating about it.

    What I’d do if I didn’t have my medications and needed to clean, though, is to sit down and write out a plan. You’re an MBA so you know about business plans – think about it like that. You’ve got steps, and with a business plan you have obligations to the bank, your employees, and your business partners. (Read: your man and yourself.) Write up a plan that goes beyond “Clean Bathroom” and lists what you mean when you say “Clean Bathroom”. This could include: wash rugs, clean window, scrub tub and sink, toilet bowl, sweep, mop, etc.

    Then down some espresso (yay stimulants!), turn on some music (or an audiobook or podcast – they don’t have visual distractions with them and reduce the tediousness of cleaning, so helping you focus), and get to work. Treat it as a checklist and make sure that you remove distraction. A timer might also help – if you have to get the bathroom done in twenty minutes, you’re less likely to lose focus in that amount of time. Give yourself realistic goals and break everything up into smaller, timed tasks. It’ll help you keep from losing focus.

    As for your man – he can take a separate room. Or, if you think he’d help you focus, you can work together. But you should be working at the same time to keep from resenting each other.

    A final note – because I want “clean” to mean “perfect”, I’m constantly trying to find where everything should go in some ideal way. I end up changing things around quite a bit. Don’t be afraid to try several different organizational systems over the course of a few years – you’ll find one that’s easier for you to maintain eventually.

  48. posted by WP @ The Conscious Life on

    I totally empathize with your situation, SadHubby. I used to live with someone who was sloppy, lazy and left things wherever there’s space, regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not. After trying to do all the uncluttering and cleaning single-handedly for a few years, I gave up. It was just too draining for the body and soul.

    Thankfully, my current flatmate is a much more responsible, hardworking and trustworthy person. We split the housework and we always fulfill our individual part, except for times when I’m ill or when he is away for vacation. And we have a schedule: we do cleaning together on every Saturday morning before we do anything else in our personal agenda. If he needs to go to the office on that day, I’ll do my part and when he comes back, he’ll do his part. Fair and square. Not sure whether setting a dedicated day for cleaning might be of use to your situation, but I hope you’ll be able to work out a solution without having to take extreme measures soon.

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