What If My Spouse Won’t De-Clutter?

When I do speaking engagements, this is one of the questions I get asked a lot.  No difference male or female there is usually one partner that won’t de-clutter and the partner asking the question is totally frustrated and at their wits end.

What I find interesting many times that while I’m doing an actual organizing project in someone’s home, they will blame the clutter on their spouse.  “He just won’t throw anything away.”   “She’s such a packrat.”  As we are going through the process, I can clearly see the items belong to the accusing individual.  I believe this is a way for them to “save face” and not be embarrassed by all the clutter.

But there are many instances when a partner absolutely refuses to let go of any of their belongings.  Then over time, the clutter becomes paramount.  To add insult to injury, they inherit their parents’ items (for some reason they feel they can’t say no I don’t want your items) and the clutter grows exponentially.

So how do I answer that question, “What do I do if my spouse will not de-clutter?”  It’s a simple answer but painful … not much.  I know that’s not the answer they want to hear but it’s really the truth.  You cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to do.  Many times, people’s clutter represent many issues that would take a great deal of time to delve into for answers.  When a spouse nags the other to get rid of the clutter, it gets them nowhere but with much resentment, bitterness and anger.

With that being said, there are some strategies you can attempt to do to help your partner understand how you feel and hopefully make some changes.

  1. Sit down with them and lovingly (and I mean lovingly) tell them how all the clutter is making you feel stressed. There was a study done by UCLA Professor Rena Preetti and Southern California regarding clutter.  They found that woman who lived amongst clutter had high cortisol levels whereas the men who lived with them didn’t.  Continually living with high Cortisol levels will only introduce long term health issues into your life.  Explain to them that as much as you understand their need to keep all their belongings, it is causing a great amount of stress and you are concerned long term how that will affect you.
  2. Do not under any circumstance tell them their belongings are junk. It will only create resentment and put a wall between you.
  3. Ask them if they could localize their belongings to one room of the house or one area of the house?
  4. Lastly, and this is my favorite, tell them you understand that the belongings have great meaning to them and there are great stories to be told. Ask them if they would be willing to take pictures of each of the items and then write the memory or story behind the item.  Encourage them to get the stories on paper so other family members can enjoy them.  Then create a Memory Book for all to enjoy.  Once the picture is taken and the story written, ask them if it would be ok if you could find a loving home for these belongings?  There are many people in your community who could benefit from these belongings and your partner would be “paying it forward.”

One of the things I do for clients is create Memory Books for those that want to pare down their belongings but don’t want to lose the memory of the story behind it.  Here’s an example of one of those items.  I created a Memory Book of about 26 items this client was willing to let go of but didn’t want to lose the memory behind them.

This cookie jar has been in my family for at least 3 generations.  It’s not really a useful item because the cookies don’t stay fresh.  But the memories from this cookie jar are hard to leave behind.

My mom wasn’t a cookie maker but she would buy our favorite cookies and store them in the cookie jar.  We were not allowed to just help ourselves and had to wait until special times to have this treat.  When we could, my sisters and I would cherish this time.  We felt special as the special cookies were given to us.

What a treasure this book became to this specific client.  It enabled her to still have the items via photos and read the memories that were so precious to her.  But she was able to remove the items from her home as she and her husband were beginning the downsizing process.  Her family would also be able to share in those memories.  If we keep those memories inside and do not share them, they will be lost forever.

Does this sound like a strategy you could implement with your spouse to help pare down on the clutter?  Let me know how I can help and coach you along.  Feel free to Contact Me

Your Health, Wellness and Organizing Expert … Believing in You!




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