How to Help Your Partner Organize Without Driving Them Crazy

Written by on September 25, 2012 in Relationships - No comments | Print this page


It’s natural to feel frustrated when your partner leaves piles of paper, dishes, and clothes lying around the house, or if your partner has a pattern of showing up late. Because of this, differences in organization skills can be more problematic than finances between partners. This is likely because when the arguments begin the disorganized person feels hurt and it can an turn into a vicious cycle. It helps to realize that any attempt to ‘help’ the messy person will probably be thwarted until that person is motivated him or herself to get organized.

Julie Morgenstern, author of several best selling books on organizing, including, Never Check Email in the Morning, and Time Management from the Inside Out, says you can’t motivate someone else to get organized. Morgenstern asserts it’s important to understand that the desk clutter or disorganized pile of papers or pile of clothes on the floor is not happening out of disrespect to you or anyone else. It’s, in a nutshell, simply a bad habit. Instead of taking it personally, find a way to tap into your partner’s own motivation, which can happen by asking the question – what are the costs of this clutter?

It can also help to find a nonjudgmental third party, such as an unbiased friend, or even a professional organizer, to help you both work on not just organizing, but communicating.

Yelling or blaming your partner is counterproductive. But by talking with your partner in a gentle and understanding tone of voice, you can help him or her understand better what you’re trying to say. But it’s not just the tone of voice, it’s what you say that matters as well. Being honest and respectful can be tricky.

Communication is key.

If your partner is willing, it may help to sit down and have a heart to heart talk about what you both can do together to keep the house or office more organized. It not only helps to realize the benefits of clearing your clutter, but also how the clutter might be serving your partner. For example, it could be that your partner opens the mail and then leaves it lying around to pile up on the desk or dining room table because he or she doesn’t know how to organize where different pieces go. He or she gets easily distracted by the two-year-old or the ringing phone, and before long, it’s a mess.

Define together how you want to organize.

Once you determine why the mess is happening, you can ask for suggestions from your spouse as to how you can work together to get and stay organized. Listen with an open mind and give up control. Trust that your partner has a genuine desire to build a new habit if he says so, and then start from there.

For example, you can work together with your partner to read the mail and sort it in separate baskets for such as Priority, Bills, Catalogs – and have easy access to a recycling basket for the envelopes and junk mail.

Understand that changing habits take time.

Understand and accept that this is habit building. If both people are willing to work with each other, then your partner will eventually, and often quite quickly, build a new habit that is much more organized and free of clutter. For example, you could offer to take on a couple more home management tasks for a specific amount of time until your partner gets into a rhythm with one simple organizing habit, such as folding the laundry.

Finally, consider a professional organizer who can help act as a non-judgmental third party.

Image by Rubbermaid Products, and licensed through Creative Commons.

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