When neat and sloppy live together

A big part of why I write for Unclutterer is because an uncluttered life doesn’t come easily to me. I have to work at avoiding stacks of books, piles of clothes, and misplaced lists. Sharing victories and insights with you helps me discover and reinforce my own best practices.

While my default mode is “deal with it later,” my better half likes things neat, tidy, and sensible. I would’t say we’re Oscar and Felix, but my mess threshold is certainly higher than hers and over the years it has caused some friction in our relationship.

Differences in levels of tidiness can be problematic in a relationship, especially if the neat-adverse member is vilified by the tidy one or when the tidy party performs a disproportionate amount of the housework. Tina Tessina, a marriage and family therapist, told the Today Show that one in three couples she sees struggles with this issue, and that it’s most prevalent in young couples.

So what is a couple to do? If you’re one of those young couples and not yet living together, consider the advice from clinical psychologist and marital therapist Sam R. Hamburg: “The earlier you face up to differences like this and talk frankly about them, the better off you are.” In other words, talk about your expectations regarding tidiness before living together.

If you’re already living with someone and you have different levels of tidiness:

Compromise

I know there’s a saying that, “a good compromise leaves nobody happy,” but in this case it’s not necessarily true. One one hand, a drinking glass or two left on the coffee table isn’t the end of the world. Meanwhile, a mountainous pile of laundry on the floor isn’t acceptable. Both parties can learn to give a little. Instead of it being your-way-or-the-highway, discuss what is okay to leave as a little mess and what is absolutely not okay.

Designate messy and clean zones

I’m not suggesting you let one room devolve into the town recycling center, but not every room in your home needs to have the same level of tidiness expectations. The front room and kitchen might be your “always clean” zones and your garage workshop, sewing room, or game room can receive a little leeway and be a “messy” zone.

Motivate

My family has instituted the “hour of clean,” a time dedicated to giving the house a good once-over. Everyone knows when it’s scheduled and can prepare accordingly. Plus, it’s kind of fun with everyone involved and working together. Remember, too, that nagging has never motivated anyone, so leave that off your list of motivating strategies.

Have clear-cut responsibilities

I’m best when working from a specific list. When my wife hands me a list of chores or tasks, that’s great, as I have a clear definition of what needs to be done. For kids, you might take a photo of what an acceptable definition of “clean room” looks like and outline exactly what steps you want the child to take to get the desired result.

If a list would make other people in your home’s heads explode, use a less formal method of divvying up tasks. “I’ll do the laundry and mow the yard today.” “I’ll run the dishwasher and take out the trash.”

Have solutions that work for everyone

What works for one person in your home might not work for all. A three-step process for putting something away might be just fine for an adult, but a one-step process might be more appropriate for a toddler. When discussing your expectations, consider organizing and mess-busting solutions that everyone in your home can follow. You might be able to take off your shoes at the door and immediately walk them down to your clothes closet to be stored in labeled boxes, but your spouse might have trouble doing much more than taking off his or her shoes and not tracking mud through the house. A shoe storage solution by the main entrance of the house might be perfect for him or her, even though you have no use for it, and will help to keep the entrance clean to your specifications.

2 Comments for “When neat and sloppy live together”

  1. posted by Pat on

    I am neater than my husband and I am often taking care of things that I think he should have handled. Why should I be doing dishes for a meal I didn’t even eat? What has helped me immensely is reminding myself that I am doing it for ME. I will be happier, feel more peaceful if the place looks neat. I also remind myself of all the things that he does do, like taking care of the weekly grocery shopping.

  2. posted by ame on

    I wish we had a Felix to move in.

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