If you're struggling with your partner's disorganization, it might be tempting to jump in and throw out the clutter and organize his or her stuff. Your partner will see what organization looks like and will be inspired to maintain it plus you will reap the benefits of having a tidy space - except it doesn't work that way. Your partner will be angry because you threw something that was important (you didn't think so, but it was her/his stuff and therefore her/his call), your partner may very well feel devalued by your efforts, and that new organizing system may be confusing and difficult to maintain because your partner did not participate in it's creation. In short: don't go there. If your partner's disorganization is an issue, then it's important to address it in a respectful way.
1) Nurture empathy. Often the neat partner in a relationship feels that she is in the right and the spouse’s disorganization is due to laziness, defiance or apathy. What one partner might see as opposition may in fact be a difference in values and priorities. There may be significant differences in how each of the partners experiences the world, and each person may have different strengths and weaknesses.
2) Deal with the elephant. Rather than let resentment bubble and boil, talk about it. Be calm and use “I” language (I feel stress when I have to look for an important bill that is buried in the stack). Be respectful of your spouse’s opinion. It will take effort from both partners to arrive at a solution that is agreeable to each of them. Please do not throw away your spouse’s thing without consent; it’s very disrespectful.
3) Declutter together. It could be that your spouse needs some different decluttering strategies other than the traditional, logically ones. Ones to try:
a. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers: Keep the items that are “friends” and let the “acquaintances” and “strangers” go.
b. Take photos of items: Sometimes it’s helpful to take a photo of an item before letting it go.
c. Ambivalence box: When someone is truly ambivalent about an item, box it up and put an “expiration date” on the box.
d. Create a shrine: Create a display of a few things that represent an important person or event in your life so everything doesn’t have to be kept.
e. Does this thing need you? Sometimes it helps to switch the question around to gain perspective.
4) Organize together. Let aesthetics take a back seat to functionality. It will be easier to maintain a space if the functionality works for both partners.
a. Everything needs a home.
b. Locate items where they are used.
c. Label everything. Go beyond the physical label – name the space (examples: this is my art cabinet, this is the reading corner, and this is entertainment room).
d. Containerize. A simple container helps create a boundary in addition to keeping a lot of loose items together.
5) Maintain and celebrate. Maintenance takes less time than the initial organizing. Maintenance rules can simplify the process. Celebrate together your success and gently examine the setbacks.
a. Schedule the maintenance.
b. Have checklists.
c. Set a certain size limit to trigger culling. The size can be the number of items or the physical size of a container.
d. One in and one out.
Working together will require effort and changes from both partners. Communication skills will be strengthened. Stick with it and you will clear clutter and develop an organizing system that makes sense to both partners – and will last longer than wallpaper.