It was a garlic press that we never used. Every time I opened the cutlery drawer no matter what else was in it, the press was all I saw. Staring back up at me with it’s menacing silver head. Taking up valuable space in my otherwise “minimalist” drawer.
I considered it a problem.
However, to my husband, it was much more than a generic garlic press. It represented his control over what stayed and what went in our house after so much other items had been removed already.
He was barely holding on.
Most of us know that it’s a lost cause to blame our clutter on our spouses, but really, it’s just so easy.
It becomes second nature for us to nag at our spouses about their stuff.
We’re able to turn a blind eye to what still lingers behind in our secret hiding places because theirs is out in the open, staring us in the face.
Yet, when we turn to our spouse’s clutter as the cause for our stress, we do more harm than good.
There are major problems with this:
1. We can’t control what others do
The only personal we have control over is ourselves. We’re sure to end up disappointed when we try and make others listen to us.
Just as we wouldn’t want to be forced into doing something we weren’t really interested in, the same goes for our spouses.
Which leads directly to the next point.
2. When we nag and push our spouses about their clutter they’re way less likely to listen and actually deal with it
Ever notice how the tenser and more forceful we are, the more stubbornness we create?
Flow is the opposite of force, and that’s where all the magic in life happens.
When we harden and become tense, we rarely get what we want.
And then we make the mistake of forcing our beliefs and our accomplishments on our partners.
What comes next?
3. We can come off as “holier than thou”
When was the last time you were motivated because someone made you feel bad for not doing it?
This is no way to get our partners on our side.
Bragging, boasting and putting spouses down about clutter won’t inspire or motivate. It creates more discontent and tension. No good comes of it.
Many a happy relationship has been stressed by a disagreement about clutter.
Remember that garlic press? Well, when we moved into 112sq ft, I did the unthinkable and donated it without telling my husband.
It didn’t matter that we didn’t use it. To him, it should’ve been his choice. I broke trust in my quest for simplifying.
Sure, it’s “just a garlic press” but it points to deeper parts of our relationship. In that decision I disrespected him.
Luckily, we can laugh about it now, but it still was not cool!
When we focus on our spouse’s clutter instead of our own we divide rather than unite.
But more than that we prevent the teamwork so needed to progress. A team effort is needed when decluttering and simplifying. Otherwise, discontentment will continue to breed.
So, how can we deal with our spouse’s clutter in a positive way?
1. Forget about their stuff until your work is done
Take an inventory and if you have even one more item that you’re still holding onto, continue your work and leave your spouse alone.
While I was annoyed by the mere existence of that garlic press in our kitchen, I had many items of my own I could’ve been concentrating on.
2. Be an example
Why do you want to remove clutter from your life? What are the positives that come from it? Time, money and energy to spend on what you really love like family, friends and inspiring activities?
Now’s the time to live by example. Enjoy the fruits of your own labor rather than focusing on your partner’s lack of effort. Let them see how much clearer your physical space and your mind are.
Show them a more relaxed and focused version of yourself because your closet doesn’t stress you out anymore.
Live your life and live the benefits of your efforts every day, and eventually there’s a high chance they’ll come around.
3. Be compassionate
We all have lived very different lives leading up to our relationships. Maybe your partner grew up without much money and their family kept items out of necessity. Perhaps they have other things weighing on their mind and they don’t understand the connection between their physical belongings and the state of their headspace.
Whatever it may be, use compassion and accept them for who they are in this moment.
4. Use “I” language
If you want to talk with your spouse about clutter, try this classic communication technique.
When we’re frustrated with our spouse, we tend to make the conversation all about them.
“You need to get rid of this crap, It’s always there, you never deal with it and I’m tired of looking at it!”
Yikes. How would you react if someone spoke to you this way?
Instead, get really clear on how you’re feeling and explain it. This can be difficult at first, so rehearse what you’re going to say to your spouse about clutter ahead of time.
Be sure to choose an appropriate time to have the conversation. If you launch into this during a stressful time or when your spouse isn’t relaxed and open to hearing your message, the conversation will have little chance of being a productive one.
Begin with an “I” statement and avoid using accusatory statements like “always” or “never”.
“I’d like to talk to you about something”
When they’re open to listening, help them understand your “why” for the conversation.
Keep your emphasis on you and your feelings. The “When I ________ , I _________” is a helpful format to follow.
Here’s an example:
“When I walk into the living room and see clutter everywhere, I feel overwhelmed and frustrated.”
You’ll be amazed at how much co-operation can come from using this conversation technique.
NOTE: I’ve stopped writing this post and asked my husband what I did right in our years of decluttering and simplifying.
Want to know what he said? Read on…
5. Wait until they’re ready
You can’t force someone to be ready to face their clutter before they actually are. It may take longer than you like. But in the end, if you love them and couldn’t dream of replacing them with a minimalist version of themselves – you’re going to have to be patient and wait.
In the meantime, focus on easy.
6. Listen to what they need and make it easy on them
If you’re patient and the “I” conversation was a success, you’ll get to a place where they’re ready to take more action. This is where your skills come in. Find out what they need from you and help make it easier on them.
After years of waiting for my husband to come around, he was ready to pare down his wardrobe.
To make it as easy as possible on him, I held each clothing item up one at a time. He gave a quick “yes” or “no” as I threw them in growing piles.
To show compassion, I didn’t push him to donate sentimental items. This was his first big purge, and I remembered how tough it can feel in the beginning.
He made the decisions, but I handled all of the actions he hated – folding clothes and organizing. I even took them to the donation drop off (although he’s become quite the pro at this now)
It’s our nature to put pressure our partners to have the same interests in us and to support us. But when we’re at different stages in our clutter clearing, it’s inevitable that a stress and disagreements happen.
Instead of blaming your spouse for the clutter in your house, use the above techniques as a guide to get them on your team.