Clobber the Clutter Not Your Spouse

How Manage Household Clutter

A couple of weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal posted this article on clutter.  The essence is that when couples fight over clutter, it  tends to be really about power and control. The article goes on to discuss some great marriage-preserving tips.

Early in our marriage Dr. D. and I had our own fights about clutter.  Oh hell, let’s call them what they really were full-scale, out and out Game of Thrones-style battles. Curse words were flying (usually from me),  threats were leveled (usually by me) and doors were slammed (usually by me). 

I agonized over whether our relationship could survive our differences about clutter.

The issue? I’m a  stickler for a tidy house while Dr. D. not so much. I like for things to be put away in their place, while Dr. D. is a champion piler. He likes to stack up papers, books, his gym bag and the like on any available surface.  He’d hang damp towels on the back of door knobs or simply throw them on the bedroom carpet when he was done. I’d run around behind him picking things up and putting them away.

He’d pile dirty dishes on the countertop even when the dishwasher was empty.

It. Drove. Me. Insane.

I begged. I pleaded. I tried to cajole him into cleaning up. Nothing worked.

The more I nagged, the worse it seemed to get.  To make matters worse, Dr. D. hated it when I put his stuff away because he wouldn’t be able to find it.

Sample dialogue.

Him: Where is that stack  of papers I had on the kitchen counter?

Me: What papers?  *snarky tone* Oh, you mean the ones that have been sitting there for the last three weeks?

Him: *fuming* Where. Are. They?!

Me: In the organizer I bought for you TWO months ago that you NEVER use!

Needless to say, these “discussions” were rarely productive.

Flash forward and we’ve now been married nearly six years and life is much more sane. We’ve both mellowed a bit and have learned to compromise and deal with each other’s idiosyncracies.

It’s probably worth noting Dr. D. and I are both eldest children (something my mother pointed out early on would become a sticking point for us as we both like to be in charge) and used to being The Boss. Except for, we dislike being bossed by one another. Dr. hated being told what to do. And I always felt like he was tuning me out.

I had to learn to deal with my own control issues, while still getting my needs met. I wish I could tell you that it was easy, but it wasn’t. With much trial and error, here are a few things that worked for us.

Get a Housekeeper.

I know this is a hot button with many couples. They agonize: To have a housekeeper or not? Waste of money or not? In my mind this is a no brainer and a must especially for working moms. Now I’ll do light cleaning every week to keep my house neat but toilet scrubbing and mopping are not my cup of tea.

I’ve had the same housekeeper for five years. Francisca comes every other week and scrubs the house down from top to bottom. I love it. Dr. D. loves it and it allows me spend more time with D2 and doing things that I love. I’d give up eating out before I gave up my bi-weekly house cleaning service.  A housekeeper is the ultimate marriage saver.

Have a designated space that is a no-go zone for both of you.

Dr. D. and I are fortunate to each have our own home office spaces. His is downstairs in his Man Cave. Mine is up stairs. Both of our spaces are off limits to the other. No matter how many dustballs and piles of paper stack up in Dr. D.’s office, I don’t touch it. When we have company and we go downstairs to hang out, I simply close his office door.

Dr. D. knows that while he might not be a fan of the family picture wall in my office (he thinks it’s cheesy) or my oversized-desk organizer, he won’t touch it.

Understand each other’s clutter hot buttons.

One of Dr. D.’s biggest pet peeves is when I move his stuff. The culprit tends to be his mail that stacks up on the kitchen counter. I  got him an Inbox and put all of his mail and papers in that. I pull out the bills to make sure they get opened but the rest I leave for him to deal with. I don’t know how often he goes through it but every now and then I catch him doing a purge and recycling junk mail and the like. He’s happy I don’t touch his beloved papers and I’m happy to have everything contained in a nice neat box. Score.

A strong relationship is better than an immaculate home.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that a little clutter is worth it if it means having a strong relationship. I’d far prefer a happy home life over a spotless house any day.

Becoming a mother has also forced me to relax my standards a little bit a lot. If  you are a parent you know that trying to keep a house super clean with kids around is nearly impossible. Any given weekend our family room looks like a toy bomb has gone off  with toys scattered everywhere. But even D2 has learned to pick up his toys at the end of the day and to put them back in his toy box.

These days Dr. D. has been really good about hanging up his towel and picking up his clothes off the floor. Does he fold them and stack them as neatly as I would? No, but I can live with it and when things get a little out of hand in our shared master closet, I simply straighten up and keep it moving.

Your turn. How do you manage clutter in your house?  How do you keep it from becoming a marriage killer?

Showing 2 comments
  • Arcj

    I did the one thing that is not on your list — got divorced and reveled in living alone, LOL! Wow, the arguments plummeted to a very peaceful zero that I enjoy immensely every day! No, but seriously, I’m the lone utilitarian minimalist in a family of magpies who range from “benevolent packrat” to “could totally be on that ‘Hoarders’ TV show”. I can see where this issue could absolutely tug at a marriage if your styles don’t mesh. Great piece, and great advice…

    • bossmomonline

      Arcj, I was surprised when I talked to friends how often clutter was a source of serious contention within marriages. It’s sort of funny – until it’s not. Getting a housekeeper really helped us alot but at the end of the day, you still have to come to some agreement about how to live together when you have very different habits. I can relate to your family story! I come from a family who hates to throw thing away – so I’ve become just the opposite. I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist but I have very little attachment to things and find I can purge quite easily without a lot of angst!

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