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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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