How to hire a professional organizer for the holidays

Holiday organizing sometimes means calling in a professional.

The winter holidays represent a busy time for many people. In addition to the day-to-day tasks of running a household, you may take on:

  • Traveling
  • Hosting visitors
  • Planning/hosting a party
  • Decorating the house
  • Shopping
  • Cooking

…and so on. Add to that the general cleaning, laundry, maintenance, homework, etc. of a typical month and it’s very easy to get stretched way too thin. When that happens you might consider hiring a professional organizer. This extra set of hands can be a real life-saver, if you approach it carefully. Here are a few tips for finding, hiring and getting the most out of a professional organizer around the holidays.

Find the right organizer for you

Hiring the right organizer for you isn’t as easy as firing up Google and contacting the top result. There’s a lot to consider, starting with trust. This is a person who will be working in your home, and potentially be working with stuff you don’t often share with strangers. The truth is just about anyone can call themselves a “professional organizer.” There are, however, a few steps you can take to find a trustworthy, qualified professional.

Your best option is to start with an industry association such as the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are NAPO members all over the world however, many countries have their own associations. See the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA) for an association in your country.

Most associations require their members to have a certain amount of training and carry insurance before they can be listed on the association website. Additionally, members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.

It is also a good idea to ask around. Perhaps a friend, relative or coworker has used an organizer successfully. Create a list of two or three likely candidates and then schedule interviews.

Spend twenty or thirty minutes to spend talking with each candidate. Many will offer this type of consultation for free. During this chat, you can get to know his or her personality, experience, credentials, history and organizational philosophy. Get even more specific by asking about:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • What type of organizing do they specialize in?
  • What do they charge and is there a written contract?
  • Do they prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Can they provide references?

Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions about hiring an organizer that may be helpful.

Once you’re satisfied with that I think of as the “technical” aspect, move on to the tricker questions, like:

  • How do they deal with clients who have a strong sentimental attachment to items?
  • Can they remove items marked for donation?
  • Will they purchase organizing items like baskets and bins or is that my responsibility?

A consultation can help you get the kick-start you need, find the right person and most importantly, identify the person you’re going to get along with.

How much will an organizer cost?

Rates for a professional organizer can range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2–3 hour minimum requirement. You’ll want to know if he or she charges by the hour or by the project. Rates may vary between geographical areas and travel charges may apply depending on your location. While it’s possible to find that person who will work for $20 per hour, that “bargain” might not deliver the results you’re looking for.

Other considerations

This one might sound silly, but ask if they have advertising on their car. Perhaps you don’t want the neighbors to know you’ve brought someone in. Most organizers have confidentiality agreements to protect your privacy. If the organizer doesn’t mention this, raise the subject with him/her.

Also, know just what type of work you’re looking for. In this instance, you might want help with prepping for a party or organizing holiday decorations. Therefore, someone who specializes in bathrooms or kitchens might not be your best choice.

Pro organizer or personal assistant?

Perhaps you want to go in the other direction entirely. That is to say, hire someone to take care of the little errands while you stay home and organize the party, put the decorations away neatly and efficiently, etc. In this case, a personal assistant may be what you need. Websites like Care.com can help you find one.

In any case, best of luck with getting it all done. Hiring an organizer or assistant can be a great way to reach your goal and enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Let us know how it goes.

Being productive with Nextdoor, for uncluttering and more

About a year ago I joined my local Nextdoor community. For those who aren’t aware of Nextdoor, it’s a “private social network for your neighborhood.” Nextdoor is currently available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

As a locally focused network, Nextdoor won’t have messages about national politics. The following are the kinds of messages I usually see:

  • Lost and found pets: dogs, cats, and chickens
  • Other lost and found items, including keys, phones, and jewelry
  • Items for sale (or items being given away for free)
  • Items people are looking for (usually free or inexpensive)
  • Requests for a good painter, plumber, handyperson, house cleaner, etc.
  • Notices about local events
  • Notices about local road closures

As with any such network, taking time to use it effectively will pay off. If you’re using Nextdoor (or considering such use in the future), please keep the following suggestions in mind.

Choose your notification options carefully

Nextdoor lets you choose to get emails about every post from your neighborhood (and top posts from nearby neighborhoods), no emails at all, or something in between. You can also choose to get a daily digest, and the contents of that digest can be customized a bit. You can also select which “nearby neighborhoods” you want to see messages from, whether that’s via email or on the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

You can also choose to get mobile alerts about urgent items: missing children, natural disasters, etc.

You may not be sure which messages you want to get at first, so just make your best guess and then adjust as necessary after you’ve been in the network for a while.

Use good subject lines

Just as with email, you will make everyone’s life a bit easier if the subject line makes it obvious what your message is about. I get a lot of Nextdoor emails every day, and I want to be able to quickly scan to see which ones may be of interest.

I saw a message this week with the subject line “Hi all” — which wound up being someone who was looking for a vacuum cleaner. A subject line saying “Wanted: vacuum cleaner” or “Need a vacuum cleaner” would have been a whole lot better.

Similarly, a lost and found message entitled “Lost bracelet at or around Farmers Market” is much better than one that just says “bracelet.”

Include good photos when relevant

Just as you would with Craigslist, be sure to include good photos if you’re offering something for sale (or even for free). Even if it’s something where the looks don’t matter (such as tickets to an event) or something pretty standard (like a Kindle), a photo can help because the message will look better in the online listings.

This is one area where I want to commend my neighbors, who have generally done a good job of this. One person even included a picture of the “free clean dirt” being offered — which got taken pretty quickly!

Also consider photos when posting about lost or found items or pets.

I haven’t yet used Nextdoor to give things away, since my local freecycle group usually works fine for that. But I have some china to get rid of, and I just might try selling it on Nextdoor.

Unclutter the bathroom with these clever tricks

If you were to ask me which room is hardest to keep tidy, I’d say the bathroom. It is home to lots of small items that are used too often to be tucked away. Even the most diligent unclutterer’s sink or vanity can become a mess in no time as an endless parade of toothpaste, brushes, deodorant, razors, and floss makes its way into your home.

Fortunately, there is hope.

I spent a lot of time searching the internet for the best bathroom organization solutions. I don’t mean cutesy stuff that’s more clever style than substance. Instead, I’ve tracked down several useful ideas that you’ll actually want to put in place.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Let’s start with several items that love to congregate on vanities everywhere: toothbrushes and toothpaste. A cutlery sorting tray can keep these items separated and out if sight. I suggest using a plastic tray that is easily removed, as you’ll want to clean and sanitize it periodically.

Bottles

These things amass themselves incredibly quickly. Spice racks mounted to the wall will hold hair spray, lotion, mouthwash and more that would otherwise clutter up the vanity.

Bobby pins, tweezers and other metal tools

It’s tempting to toss these into a drawer (or, if you’re my daughter, anywhere at all). Adhesive magnetic strips attached to the inside of a drawer or cabinet door will corral these small, easily lost items.

Hair dryers and other bulky items

Now we’ll move from small items to larger ones. Here’s a fantastic idea for storing bulky hair dryers and curling irons. Some PVC cut perfectly and stuck to the inside of a door keeps them out of site yet at hand.

Of course, there’s no “miracle fix” for bathroom clutter other than diligence. Hopefully one of these projects will inspire you to tacking a particular cluttered area.

More advice for buying a filing cabinet

Dave recently provided some great tips for buying a filing cabinet. The following are a few additional suggestions from my own experiences.

Unclutter first

With any organizing project, buying the containers (in this case, the filing cabinets) is one of the last steps. If you don’t remove the paper clutter first, you may wind up buying more storage than you need.

So much information we used to keep in files can now be found online. And if you’re comfortable with digital files, many papers that you receive which have valuable information can be scanned, reducing what needs to be kept and filed.

But once you’ve decided what to keep, be sure to buy filing cabinets that can store all your papers without overcrowding the drawers. It’s nice to keep each drawer no more than 80 percent full so it’s easy to add and remove files.

Consider what size papers you need to keep

Many people just need files for letter-sized paper, but you may have documents you want to keep in paper form that are larger (such as real estate documents in the U.S., which are often on legal size paper). Some filing cabinets can accommodate multiple paper sizes.

Choose to use hanging files — or not

Most filing cabinets come with rails for hanging files (or have high drawer sides designed to accommodate hanging file folders without the use of rails), so that’s what most people use. However, David Allen of Getting Things Done fame used to recommend a different approach:

I recommend you totally do away with the hanging-file hardware and use just plain folders standing up by themselves in the file drawer, held up by the movable metal plate in the back. Hanging folders are much less efficient because of the effort it takes to make a new file ad hoc.

This advice seems to have been removed from the latest edition of Allen’s book, but it might still appeal to you. If you want to go this route, you’ll want a filing cabinet that has those movable metal plates, often called follower blocks.

Make sure the cabinet drawers have full-extension slides

Some filing cabinets have drawers that don’t pull all the way out, making it hard to reach the files in the back. Be sure to look for cabinets with full-extension drawer slides (rather than something like three-quarter extension) so you can easily reach everything without scraping your knuckles.

Don’t create a tipping hazard

If you’re at all concerned about the cabinet falling over — because you have small children or you live in earthquake territory, for example — get the materials needed to anchor the cabinet to the wall.

Be sure a filing cabinet is the right tool for you


Just because so many people use filing cabinets doesn’t mean you need to do the same. There are other options, such as file carts, which may suit your organizing style better. Or you may prefer to keep at least some papers in binders rather than in file folders.

Do you maintain a clutter preserve?

Earlier this week I was reading a nice series of posts at Organized Home on “Decluttering 101.” It’s always good to brush up on the basics. The author, Cynthia Ewer, shared some good advice, as well as a concept I found quite interesting: the “clutter preserve.” I’ll let her explain it.

“Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it’s thrown on the chair.”

A part of me shivers when I read this. If I create a clutter preserve — even one that’s out of the way — I fear it will foster others. As if it is tacit permission to make a tiny, obscure stack here, an unobtrusive pile there, and so on.

I see the logic in it, too. As Cynthia says, no one is squeaky-clean all the time. “Even the tidiest among us tosses clothes on the floor from time to time.” I can even relate this to email processing. Sure, it would be amazing to read and respond to every message every day, but for many of us that is not possible.

Now I want to ask you: do you maintain a clutter preserve, or maybe more than one? If so, do you attack it on a regular basis or is it there to offer sanity-saving permission to not be 100% perfect? Sound off in the comments, I’m eager to read what you think.

Knowing when to change

150714-room2Our driveway turns in from the road, runs along the western side of our property and ends near the rear of the house. Upon exiting the car, the walk to the back door is shorter than the stroll to the front. As a result, all traffic — and in and out — happens through the back door.

This wasn’t always the case.

When we purchased the house in 2000, the driveway didn’t exist. Cars were parked in front, and I hung a series of hooks by the front door. It made perfect sense: walk in, hang your keys on the hook. That is, it made sense until we stopped using the front door.

I’m a real proponent of “A place for everything and everything in its place,” because my sieve-like brain will forget where I’ve placed the keys (or the wallet or the kids’ snacks…or the kids) if they’re not in their designated home. So I’ve been insisting that keys go on the front-door hooks like a stubborn mule.

I’d find keys on the butcher block, which is quite near the back door, and grumble to myself as I carried them across the house to the front door. Sometimes I’d find them on the kitchen table, an act that was loathsome to me. “Ugh, who put these here?” I’d cry, shaking my fist as if I’d witness an unimaginable injustice. “The keys go on the key hooks!”

The problem wasn’t people ignoring the “rule.” The problem was that the rule no longer made sense.

I learned to let go and succumb to what the situation was trying to tell me when we repurposed the back room. There’s now an old dresser by the back door, onto which I’ve placed a small leather box that is the new home of keys. We’ve regained the enter-and-drop ease of the old days and more importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the situation.

It’s possible to become blindly dedicated to an organizational system. I insisted that we employ a strategy that was no longer effective, simply because I was afraid I’d be lost — or more accurately, my keys would be lost if that system was abandoned. It wasn’t until I stepped back and observed how the situation had changed that I realized the solution should change too.

The point is to look around at the solutions you’re using at home and at work. Are they still the best, most effective answer to a clutter issue? Has a situation changed that should prompt a solution change as well? Perhaps that one thing that drives you crazy — a constantly cluttered kitchen counter, the jam-packed junk drawer, phones and tablets piling up to be charged — is simply a symptom of a broken system. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Ask Unclutterer: Donating vs. freecycling

Reader Happy Mum asked the following question in the comment section of my prior post, The power of 15-30 minutes per day:

What are considerations re: offering via freecycle vs. donating to charity shop?

For those unfamiliar with freecycle groups, they are local online communities whose members offer things to each other, for free.

Happy Mum, while you got many good responses from other readers, I thought I’d share a list of questions to ask yourself when making the donate-vs.-freecycle decision.

Which method is most meaningful to you?

I’m often donating on behalf of clients, some of whom are interested in the tax credit for making a donation. Some are happy to support the charity running the thrift store, too. But others prefer knowing their items are going to someone who can use the item, right now, and they enjoy seeing the thank you notes from freecyclers who get their items.

What is convenient?

I happen to have a good freecycle group in my neighborhood. (I’m biased, since I’m one of the group owners.) I also have a charity thrift shop very close by, with hours that work well for me. There’s also another charity that does curbside pickups of donations every month or two. But not everyone will have all these choices, and sometimes picking the easiest method is the best.

Is it worth a little extra effort to donate to a specific charity?

There’s a group in my area called Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere, where the bras it collects go to women in homeless shelters. I keep a donation bag going and drop it off when I happen to be driving near a drop-off site. My neighborhood also has an annual charity book sale on Labor Day weekend and accepts donations throughout August, so if it’s getting close to August I might set aside books to be donated there. Another example: If you have a functional but unused activity tracker, you might like to send it off to RecycleHealth.

What items does the charity shop take?

Mine will not take toys, electrical items, large furniture, etc. But it’s a great place to donate clothing and kitchen items such as glassware and serving pieces.

What items go well on freecycle?

This will be location-dependent, but I know that craft items, non-fiction books, and pet supplies are some of the things that go quickly on my group. Women’s clothes can be challenging to freecycle due to fit issues, so I almost always donate those.

Freecycle can be useful for getting rid of things most thrift stores won’t take. For example, my own group has recently found new homes for moving boxes, amaryllis bulbs, cans of coconut water, a frozen turkey, and a console (missing the back panel) with a non-functioning tube radio and a record player. Freecycle is also good for getting rid of bulky items that are hard to move (and often not accepted at charity stores), such as file cabinets and exercise equipment.

To find your local freecycle group, simply do an online search for the word freecyle and the name of your city. Freecycle.org lists many groups, but some excellent freecycle groups chose not to be part of this network. For local giveaway alternatives, you can also look into Nextdoor or the free section of craigslist. In the U.K., you might look at Freegle. And in some neighborhoods, just putting something at the curb with a “free” sign is a good way to give things away.

Organize a home recycling station

When I deliver our recyclables to the town transfer station, I must root through my bins. I’d like to just dump them in the proper receptacles, but the kids sometimes put glass in the paper, or plastic in the glass, and so on. The sorting was annoying enough that it inspired me to create a home recycling center that worked for all the members of my family and consistently remained organized and uncluttered.

Getting started

If you’re interested in doing the same, the first thing to consider is if your county/city/recycling service supports single-stream recycling (also called “single-sort” recycling). If so, things will be quite easy for you, as you’ll need only two bins: one for recyclables and one for trash. If not, you’ll need as many bins as types of materials you’ll need to sort.

Where will the recycling be stored?

Your answer to this question will depend on your home. Do you want your recycle bins hidden away or can they be in plain sight? Tucking them away reduces visual clutter, but they’re more convenient when in the open. If you dislike the look of your bins or if you only need that one (you lucky, single-streamers!), then find a spot that’s away, like a pantry, enclosed porch, or garage. Just ensure that the location isn’t too inconveniently placed or the temptation to toss that plastic bottle into the trash will be larger. Also, if you choose a garage, porch, or other semi-outdoor location, ensure that critters cannot get at your bins.

At home, I opted for multiple white bins in the kitchen. We have the floor space for it, the bins look nice as long as they’re clean, and they’re terribly convenient in the kitchen.

Clearly mark each bin

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a crucial step. At first I tried keeping bins in a particular order: paper, glass, metal, and plastic. People forgot which was which. Next, I wrote labels on the lids with permanent marker in big, unmistakeable block letters. That’s been much more effective.

Effective, but not the prettiest solution. Fortunately there are many ways to improve the aesthetics. The Open IDEO has several great suggestions if you want to check out more attractive options.

Keep the area clean

A messy recycling center is like an irresistible party invitation for ants and other pests. Thoroughly rinse all containers for recycling before storing them, and occasionally clean out the bins themselves (I hit them with the hose as needed). If for some reason you miss a week’s pick up/drop off, either find a spot to keep what didn’t get picked up until next time (like a shed) or find an alternate drop-off site.

Lastly, line your bins. Your town might have guidelines for this, or even special liner bags that must be used. I just use brown paper bags from the grocery store. They keep mess out of my bins themselves, they’re free, and recyclable.

With a little time and attention, you can have a home recycle center that works. It’s relatively inexpensive and will save you time sorting.

The power of 15-30 minutes per day

Do you find yourself procrastinating about items on your to-do list? Do you keep meaning to do some uncluttering, but never seem to get around to it?

I’ve recently begun a new approach to tackling this kind of thing, and it’s working well for me. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I’m taking the slow and steady approach.

Every day, I do one small task that I’ve been procrastinating about completing.

One day I began the refund process for an expensive item that has been recalled. For some reason I had put this off for nine months! And although I feared it might be complicated, it was actually very easy, taking only about five minutes.

Another day I went to my primary care doctor’s website and asked the questions I need answers to before arranging some routine tests. This took about 10 minutes in total, because I needed to look up some information.

And on a third day I just went through a bunch of papers that had accumulated when I was dealing with my hip replacement. (I’m doing really well now.)

Every day, I see if I can find three items to offer to my freecycle group or take to my local thrift store.

My garage isn’t a disaster area by any means, but I wanted to use its storage space better. So I’m going through the garage and carefully evaluating everything I have stored out there. A lot of it makes sense: my toolbox, spare stuff (paper towels, toilet paper, cat food, and light bulbs), a small number of holiday items, etc. But I’m also finding things I definitely do not need: six dishpans (intended for sorting papers, but never used for that), an unused car trunk organizer, two hula-hoops, etc.

My freecycle group allows three offer messages per day, so I decided to look for at least three things per day that I no longer need. And it’s working very nicely. I don’t get overwhelmed with the task, and I’ve created storage space for things I do want to keep that I had no good space for before.

Several times a week, I spend 30-60 minutes helping a friend with her uncluttering efforts.

My friend’s husband died some months ago, and he was quite a packrat — so there’s a lot to go through. Although my friend wants to unclutter her home, the effort can sometimes seem overwhelming. So I’m spending a little bit of time with her as many days as I can to help keep the momentum going. Other people are helping her, too, and there’s substantial progress being made. It’s wonderful when we uncover something that had been missing for years!

This is not to say I won’t ever do any hours-long efforts, as those work well for me at times, too. But for now, doing a little bit every day has helped get me unstuck.

The least glamorous part of organizing

A significant uncluttering and organizing project can be exhilarating. You can see huge progress, and things that bothered you for a long time can find solutions.

But then there’s the ongoing maintenance: putting the toys back in place, dealing with the mail, etc. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part of the organizing process, but it’s critical. Sadly, there is no magical organizing fairy who can complete the maintenance work with a wave of her wand. Given that, the following are some suggestions for tackling maintenance activities.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Getting behind on maintenance happens to everyone I know at times, including myself and other fellow organizers.

Minimize the amount of maintenance required

If dealing with mail is overwhelming, you might invest some time in getting off mailing lists so there won’t be as much incoming mail. You can also look into going paperless for bank statements, bills, etc.

Reconsider who is doing the maintenance work

If you share your household with a spouse, domestic partner, children, or roommates, look at how the maintenance work is divided and see if there might be a better way to split up that work.

And if your budget accommodates it, consider paying someone to do certain tasks that are time-consuming or especially annoying.

Make the maintenance easier

Sometimes little adjustments, such as adding (or repositioning) a wastebasket, recycling bin, or laundry hamper can make a big difference. Using hooks instead of hangers can make it easier for some people to put away their coats, bathrobes, and such.

If your closets and other storage spaces are already quite full, minimizing new purchases (or instituting a one-in, one-out rule) will make it easier to ensure everything has an appropriate storage space, so it’s easy to put things away.

Determine what schedule works best for you

Do you do best with a short amount of maintenance work daily, or a larger chunk of time once/week — or some other schedule? Experiment and find a routine that feels comfortable for you.

Create holding places for items in between maintenance sessions

An inbox for mail, receipts, and other scraps of paper will keep them from being misplaced until you go through them to toss/recycle, shred, scan, or file. Maybe you’ll want a bin for things left laying around the living room (or other spaces) until your next scheduled time for putting all those things away.

Plan for ongoing uncluttering, too

Even if you’ve done a complete uncluttering exercise, it’s worth revisiting your possessions periodically. Children outgrow clothes and toys. Adults find their interests change. And almost everyone makes a few purchases that don’t work out, resulting in items that should be returned, donated, etc.

Look for ways to make maintenance time more pleasant

Having good tools (a shredder that doesn’t jam, nice clothes hangers, etc.) will make the work less annoying. A pleasant workspace for handling the paperwork can make a big difference, too. Some people enjoy listening to music as they do the work. Others give themselves mini-rewards after the work gets done.

Getting rid of someone else’s stuff

Last week an article by Nicole Hong in the Wall Street Journal focused on cargo shorts: their fans and their detractors. I don’t have any strong opinions about cargo shorts, but I did have an opinion about the following anecdote:

Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, “Honey, you just need a little help.”

Mr. Hansen, 35 years old, is now down to one pair of cargo shorts, and he guards them closely. He has hidden them in small closet nooks where his wife can’t find them. …

Mr. Hansen’s wife, Ashleigh Hansen, said she sneaks her husband’s cargo shorts off to Goodwill when he’s not around. Mrs. Hansen, 30, no longer throws them out at home because her husband has found them in the trash and fished them out.

I have no problem with someone discretely disposing of anything that is theirs, including gifts from a spouse or partner. But getting rid of another person’s items? That’s generally a horrible idea.

There are some specific circumstances when it’s okay to toss or donate another person’s possessions, including the following:

  • When that other person has given you explicit permission to do so. For example, sometimes one spouse will accept, or even appreciate, having the other manage his or her wardrobe. Or an elderly parent might appreciate some help with uncluttering — perhaps giving you general guidelines but otherwise allowing you to decide what stays and what goes.
  • When the other person is a child who is too young to make such decisions. But even children as young as three can be involved in an uncluttering effort, and parents are sometimes surprised at how much their children are willing to discard.
  • When you have the legal authority to make decisions for someone who can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.

But in general, it’s disrespectful to get rid of another person’s belongings, and it can build up resentment and distrust that have a wide range of negative repercussions. What can you do instead? The following are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about the items in question, where each party listens respectfully to the other person’s position. There’s always a chance that if you calmly explain why you’d like something to be discarded you can convince the other person to go along with you. Or maybe, when you fully understand why someone wants to keep something that you want to discard, you’ll change your mind and decide it’s fine to have it stay.
  • Reach a compromise. Maybe he keeps the cargo shorts but agrees not to wear them when the two of you go out together. If there’s a disputed item of décor, maybe it can be displayed in a spot in the home where you rarely go.
  • Agree on boundaries, where anything can be kept as long as it fits within a designated space: a dresser drawer, a storage box, a shelf in the garage, a basket for stuffed animals, etc.
  • Bring in a professional organizer. An impartial third party with recognized expertise can ask questions and make suggestions while avoiding the emotional landmines that can be triggered when a spouse or partner makes suggestions.