I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “opposites attract.” In my experience with home organizing, I’ve found that opposites do attract more often than not. One person is usually a neatnik — thrilled by clear surfaces and closet organization. The other is a pack rat — inspired by the endless potential of stuff, glorious stuff! When these two extremes live together, sooner or later, conflicts arise. How can you make it work? Surprisingly, it has very little to do with the stuff itself and a lot to do with mindset.
The first trick is to realize that neatniks and pack rats are two completely different species, so to make living together harmonious, you need to think about habitats. A bird and a fish may be able to live comfortably in the same house, but not in the same container. Put the bird in the bowl and she’ll drown. Put the fish in the cage and she’ll asphxiate. To make it work, both parties must agree on a standard for common areas and carve out a place where one can sing and the other can swim.
Nine steps to create a co-habitable household:
- Agree to the acceptable uses for shared areas. For example, you might agree that the living room is to be used for watching TV, reading, and playing games.
- Remove anything that is not associated with those activities from the shared area. In the example of the living room, this would mean no craft supplies, dishes, laundry, or egg incubators.
- Create specific homes for everything that belongs in the shared room — a bookcase for books, a drawer for videos, a cabinet for games. Labeling makes it easier for visual people to remember what goes where.
- Return each item to its home after each use. If it doesn’t have a home, it can’t stay.
- Make a sign to hang at the entrance of the room:
THIS ROOM IS FOR WATCHING TV, READING, AND PLAYING GAMES
Anything not used for these purposes must stay away!
- Anyone breaking the rule can be fined. Use the money to hire a cleaner or go out to dinner.
- Set aside a few minutes each day to patrol the room. Use a hamper or basket to collect items that don’t belong. If something has a home elsewhere, put it back. If not, hold an “auction” to give household members a chance to bid on it. If they buy it, they have to find a home for it.
- Anything not bid on is going … going … gone! Same for anything that repeatedly ends up back in the basket. Take these items to a local charity and feel good about having fewer items to take care of.
- Find at least one place in the home for neatniks to live unfettered by clutter and one place for pack rats to stash their collections. Respect these separate spaces!
How to stay positive when the going gets tough:
No matter how successful you are at establishing shared and separate zones, you are still likely to run into differences of opinion about both. Before becoming combative over any stuff-related arguments, remember why you are together — love, money, you lost the key to the handcuffs, whatever. The point is, there is a reason you are living together. Remembering that reason may help you calm down when you are feeling frustrated. Try the practice of gratitude, in which you intentionally focus on the blessings in your life, no matter how small. This makes less room in your head and heart for the negative voices and can improve your patience and sense of well-being. When you are in a good place, you are less likely to say snarky things that will get the other person’s defenses up. Let me assure you, once the defenses are up, change is just not going to happen.
Lastly, consider the fact that objects are like ink blots. Rarely do two people see the same thing and what they do see depends largely on past experiences and perspective. The overflow of crafting supplies looks like crazy-making chaos to one person, but is a beautiful harmony of endless potential to another. The clear counter-tops that make one partner hum with contentment remind the other of a sterile hospital stay when no one came to visit. So you must be patient with each other. Say what you see and ask the other person to do the same. Try to see the space through each other’s eyes, and, please, keep your sense of humor. If you need an outside perspective, ask a neutral third party or hire a home organizer or other professional to be your mediator.
With large doses of patience and humor, you will be able to see the other’s sleek scales or resplendent plumage and recognize how truly glorious our differences make us.
It is important to note that if the health and safety of household members is compromised by behavior at either end of the spectrum, the above strategies are not enough. Please consult a professional with licensed credentials in these extreme circumstances.