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Q: My Spouse’s Clutter Is Invading My Space…

…and he gets upset when I try to organize it! For mixed-ADHD couples, the secret to sanity is designated zones — where piles are allowed and where they are not. For the spouse who needs to see everything — and the spouse who needs things properly filed away — this is the only way forward.

Q: “I am a very organized person. I get rid of paper and everything I own has a home. My question is: How can I help my husband get rid of his piles of stuff? I have tried filling for him, setting up different ways to organize his stuff, and helping him choose what stays and what goes. His desk, which is in our bedroom, is covered in stuff. He has a tall bookshelf and 6 plastic bins that I try to organize, but it’s all a mess and it keeps growing. My bedroom used to be my sanctuary from the chaotic rest of the house, but everywhere I look there is STUFF! And I feel trapped because it’s not mine to deal with. I know how to clean it up but it really hurts him when I try. He feels like a failure because he did not complete projects he was saving stuff for, or feels bad about himself because he keeps clutter. His mess makes me mad and causes contention. Yet I love him and have to remind myself that he doesn’t like it either but it’s just something he deals with. What can I do to accept him and help him so clutter does not come between us? What can I do about the clutter when it’s not my stuff but it’s my space?” — Pajamms

Hi Pajamms:

I applaud you for being so sensitive to your husband’s needs. You are correct in feeling that he might feel hurt when you try to clean up for him. And “for him” being the operative word. What I’m not hearing is you BOTH working together to tackle his clutter. Here’s what I mean.

1. Partner with your spouse. Your husband is the perfect problem-solving partner. As you said, he doesn’t like the clutter either. So, sit him down with a list of the specific areas causing you stress and ask him what he thinks would work best. Perhaps having this conversation out of the house might also help keep them calm and focused. Remember to keep it simple, short, and direct.

[Your Free Guide For Controlling Clutter]

2. Create custom clutter zones. You have the right to live in spaces that are clean and functional. So differentiate between his space and shared space. For example, let him keep the storage room or garage however he wants. But communal spaces like the bedroom or living room must be clutter free. To that point, perhaps moving his desk out of your bedroom should be the first thing you tackle.

3. Offer to work with him. Grab your husband and work together. Trying to make emotional decisions on our own is never easy. Emotions can get in the way of making practical or even logical decisions regarding keeping or disposing of stuff. Having you there can help your husband put some “distance” between him and the sentimental things he may be keeping. Also, hard work goes faster when we do it with someone else.

Good Luck!

[Free Guide: Organizing Everything Today]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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2 Comments & Reviews

  1. If he is not ready, he is not ready. For some folks just asking them to take a moment to really look at the state of the house will do it.

    For others, a helping hand will do it.

    For some, it is like an addiction in that they fear losing things and yet are overwhelmed by stuff

    For the person who lives with that person. I would get boxes or baskets in each room and dump all their stuff in it until it reaches the top and then place it all in their favorite room and tell them go to it or I send it to the dump. ( YOU GOTTA MEAN IT)

    Another way is couples therapy. Guys especially will do almost anything to stay off the hot seat.

  2. Actually I’d suggest that the first place to begin for you would be to consider what you are and are not able or willing to tolerate regarding clutter, regardless of whomever may be creating the disturbing level of clutter. Use a wide lens when doing this. Comsider parents, children, neighbors, co workers, and others as you consider the issue in order to help you determine where this bright line is. Pf course it will be different depending on how imitate those you use for this exercise. But that will help assure your confidence with the resulting threshold you set

    After this apply the results as they relate specifically to your spouse. Then actually write down what you will tolerate and what you won’t tolerate along with what you will do if said threshold is breached; but not to the other party in retaliation. Rather to yourself for your own well being. Not in order to try and change the other person.

    You may or may not recognize the above suggestion. Because it is an exercise in setting boundries. In order to effectively protect you from being negatively effected by others’ acts.

    And write the boundary (-ies) down give your husband a copy that he may know what your boundaries are.

    Then if he is willing, discuss your boundaries with him. How his violating them makes you feel. Get his assurance that he understands the boundaries and feelings when they are not respected. He may be more receptive to working together or on his own, to stop crossing the lime you set.

    Finally, I STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT YOU DO NOT THREATEN TO THROW ANYTHING OF HIS AWAY. Because rhat is an absolutes violation of the inheremt right we all hold; to be secure in oir own possessions. And it is also inherently abusive behavior. One which destroys trust. And is counterproductive to resolving the problem of concern.

    I speak from the clutterers perspective of so having had my rights and boundaries violated in such manner. I no longer trust my wife will honor her obligation to not throw away items I own and for which the disposal of is my decision, EXCLUSIVELY AND PARTICULARLY! Not a good way to keep your relationship healthy at all.

    Compassion is a trait ALL should possess, amd possess in abundance. Sadly the opposite seems to be the reality for most of those here in U.S. society at present.

    Good luck.


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