Find out how to create organizing goals and habits with your partner so you can both feel more calm and comfortable in your home with this open and honest guide. Updated January 2023
It’s exciting whenever the organization bug suddenly bites, because you finally want to get your space in order, no matter what anyone else says. Until, of course, your spouse, who is not having this organizational epiphany, changes everything. Cue the Real Housewives meltdown. The problem isn’t your spouse, though.
Just because you watched every episode of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show doesn’t mean that your partner shares the same drive to tidy up as you do. And while you may have turned the junk drawer into a perfectly curated necessity drawer, they may not be as inclined to keep it that way. The minute you see them put the cereal box where the crackers go in your perfectly organized pantry, you feel the wires starting to fray in your head and your blood starts boiling.
“Why do they keep messing up all the hard work I did???” runs through your mind as the frustration starts to build. Then you find clothes in the floor instead of the new hamper you bought. And the toothpaste in the wrong section of the bathroom drawer organizer. Then the ketchup is on the shelf in the refrigerator instead of the condiment tray you just added. At that point, you’re taking it personally. “My partner doesn’t respect me or the time I took to make this home neat for our family!”
Before you go feeling resentful and starting the “you’re a big ol’ slob” fight, here’s 5 tips to help get (and keep) your spouse on board the Tidy Train.
5 Tips To Get Your Spouse Involved With Home Organization
1. Start Small And Ease Into It
Unless your partner has been begging you to turn off the TV and go clean out the kitchen drawers, I’m going to guess that they may not be as excited about decluttering as you are. And that’s totally ok. You probably weren’t as excited about buying that new jigsaw as they were last week.
Here’s the deal…if you go telling your partner that you’re about to rearrange the entire house in seven days, I guarantee they’re going to shut down right then and there. And they’re definitely not going to volunteer to be a part of this mass-confusion.
Instead of turning their world upside down by moving around *everything* in the kitchen all at once, start with just a couple of drawers. Nothing is going to make your partner more irritated than spending 5 minutes looking for the coffee mugs in the morning.
2. Be Respectful Of their Belongings
If you’re sitting at the table on a Sunday morning with a coffee in one hand a newspaper in the other, and you peek up over the paper and say “I’m going to organize and clean out the whole house,” the first thing your partner is going to think is “they’re about to throw out all my stuff!” And rightfully so. Because the last time you “cleaned out the closet” that’s exactly what you did.
You may not see any value at all in the old T-shirt they haven’t worn in years or stack of books on the shelf that have never been read. But just like things are sentimental to you, your partner may have those same feelings. They just may not show it like you do.
If someone were to throw out a kid’s doodle on a napkin, you’d flip your ‘ish, right? They see a napkin. You, as a parent, see a memory. But it works both ways. That old T-shirt from college reminds your partner of their glory days during a super important part of their life. And those books are a collection from an author that inspired them.
Try to be mindful that their stuff isn’t just junk taking up space, and they own it for a reason. Instead of going on a war path with a trash bag, turn a decluttering session into a fun date at home. Spend time together reminiscing on what each item means to you. And the stories that go along with it.
3. State Your Case
Some people are very logical. Others are very emotional. If you are in a relationship with someone who is on a different emotional level as you are, that can make communication more difficult. So when you’re trying to explain to your partner that you need that hundred dollars worth of stuff in your cart at The Container Store because it’s going to make the closet pretty, they might roll their eyes and say the closet’s fine.
But if you come at it from a logical standpoint, they’re so much more likely to see your point. When you explain that it stresses you out when you can’t find things in the closet, and it slows you down in the morning, and the new organization system you’ve planned will maximize the square footage of the closet as a whole, that makes a lot more sense, huh?
By stating your WHY, instead of just your WANT, you’re much more likely to get your spouse on board. And when they understand why a space in your home has been cleaned up and organized, they’re also so much more likely to help keep it that way.
4. Stop Moving Stuff Around So Much
You may not be able to convince your partner to work side-by-side with you on every organization project. And you know what, that’s ok. Remember that YOU are the one that felt driven to make this change, and YOU are the one that ultimately will be carrying this project out.
Since they’re not going to be around while you move the knives to the other end of the kitchen and they won’t know that you want to keep the laundry detergent on the third shelf instead of the second one, you’ve got to leave a little direction.
Think of it as if your mother-in-law came to visit, and while you were at work, she rearranged your whole bathroom (I don’t know if that happens in real life but it always seems to on TV). You come home and you can’t find anything! You’re so mad because it feels like an intrusion of privacy and your sense of space. But reality check… that’s what your partner feels when they come home from work to see the bathroom all moved around. Ouch.
Be sure to give your spouse a heads-up before doing something major, and try to label everything to help ease the change. Even if it’s just for a week, try popping post-it notes on the drawers and cabinets so they can easily find what they’re looking for. They’ll be super grateful that you considered their feelings, and I guarantee they’ll be more likely to put things back much more often.
My Own Personal Experience With This
One thing I’ve noticed with my own partner is that if he knows where something goes, he’ll put it back. There have been so many times he has left something sitting out, and when I finally asked why he didn’t put it away, he responded with “I didn’t know where you kept it now.” Talk about a kick in the face, right?
Here I was, annoyed that he didn’t know where to put the extra toilet paper, even though I’ve changed its storage spot three times since we’ve lived in our new house. I’ve learned to quit moving things just to move things. I find the best possible home for our stuff, and I leave it there.
5. Lead By Example & Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
Here’s the biggie. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. If you’re telling your partner you want the towels folded a certain way and stored on a certain shelf, you better be doing that every single time.
And if you want all the cleaners stored in a cleaning caddy instead of scattered under the sink, you better not dare to put a bottle under the sink in a rush. If you’re going to all the trouble of setting up these new systems and monitoring them like a guard dog, you should also have all your ducks in a row all the time.
But I’m here to tell ya, treating your spouse like a child isn’t going to get them on board with anything. Marriage is a partnership and you’re equals. You’re going to mess things up sometimes, and so will they. You’re both going to get lazy sometimes. You’re both going to lose things. And you’re both going to put the keys in the wrong place, no matter how long the bowl has been by the door.
Give each other the grace of knowing that you’re humans with lives and obligations and feelings and you both have your own stuff going on. There’s no point in hounding them over putting the silverware in the holder the wrong way. If you think about it, they did empty the dishwasher. Whether they did it your way or not, they did it. And they may not have file-folded their shirts like you did the first time when you organized their drawers. But they put their clothes away, which is a win.
Start The Conversation
We all have different priorities, and we all have different ideas of what being Organized-ish is. Before you go tearing through your house with a trash bag, a donation box, and a drawing of a new closet layout, take some time and sit down with your partner with a slice of cake and a cup of tea. Have a real-life grown-up conversation about what is holding you both back from being organized, and what a tidier lifestyle would look like for you as a couple.
You may be surprised at what ideas they have and what they value. I think the biggest difference maker is just taking the time to understand each other. And once you do, neither of you will be unknowingly sabotaging the other’s organization efforts ever again.
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Lela Burris says
Hi Tee, I totally get it. You can’t really “make” someone who is a grown adult clean up after themselves so you have to get creative with how you deal with it. You could talk with her about how frustrating it is that things aren’t put away, or you can walk her around and show her where things should go (though I assume she knows). It sounds like she may have too much on her plate and is just putting things wherever because she’s busy. Maybe consider hiring a housekeeper to come every other week or weekly to free up some time and stress. It may also be a good time to schedule a therapy appointment together to discuss your frustrations with a moderator, or at least set up a call with an organizer who works with couples. I offer a 45 minute couples call virtually to help couples get on the same page when it comes to organization. You can check that out in my services page.