Help - My Partner's Clutter is Driving Me Crazy!

You love your partner.  But you don't love her stuff.  (And she doesn't love your nagging about her stuff.)

It's a common issue for couples.  In fact, some surveys have found that nearly half of all couples argue about clutter.  A few even have the argument every day.

If you're in this situation, decluttering by itself isn't going to add to your peace.  In fact, it might create more tension in your household.  It's important to find ways to come together in this area.


Why clutter is an issue

One reason there's so much friction about this topic is that, for many of us, possessions are part of our identity.  Your husband's tee shirt may look to you like it's ready to become a dust rag, but to him it might be a reminder of the time he saw his favorite band perform.  Your attempt to downgrade it might feel like a personal attack.  It's not so much about the physical item as it is about the emotion that's attached to it.

How can this be resolved?  What do you do when one partner finds security and connection with her belongings, and the other partner feels stress when surrounded by too much?

I'm not perfect in this regard – not at all.  I've participated in my share of arguments.  I've nagged.  I've called other people's belongings "junk" and "crap."  None of that improved the situation.  Here are some ideas I have, either hard-won through experience or gleaned through research and asking questions.  See if any seem helpful to you.

8 ways to make peace when you disagree about clutter

1.  Designate clutter/no-clutter zones.

Neither of you is going to change overnight, so agree on which spaces will be clutter-free and which will be anything goes.  For example, your bedroom might be a peaceful, uncluttered area, with agreements that clothes will be put away or into the laundry hamper, piles are not allowed on the dresser or bedside tables, and work stays out.  On the other hand, you say nothing about the state of her computer desk.

2.  Establish physical boundaries.

Your partner may jam-pack his side of the closet, but he doesn't encroach on your minimalist side.  Or maybe one of you collects teacups, but you agree that they have to fit on one shelf.

3.  Choose one landing zone.

One of you may tend to scatter receipts, mail, keys, phone, wallet, jacket, and more as he comes in from work.  The other may prefer less visual noise.  So create just one spot (probably at the entry point you use most) with a tray and wall hooks for capturing these items.  Agree that everything lands there in an orderly fashion.  Meanwhile, once you've cleared off other spaces where these things used to collect (perhaps the kitchen counter, dining table, or bedside table), put one useful or beautiful object there to remind you that it's no longer a dumping zone.

4.  Showcase a few treasures.

Understand the emotions that make it difficult for your partner to give up stuff.  Maybe it was Grandma's, or it represents a past accomplishment.  Letting go can seem like a betrayal.

Instead of keeping 15 boxes of Great Aunt Edith's stuff in the garage or basement, choose one special item to display and remember her.  Maybe she was a great cook, and you'll display her favorite serving platter in the dining room.  Or maybe she taught you to crochet, and you'll place one of her lap blankets on the couch, ready for use.  Be sure to listen to your partner's stories, because sometimes sharing is what's most important.

5.  Do the heavy lifting.

Maybe your partner would like to pare down, but feels overwhelmed.  You can be the one to go through everything.  Let your partner sit there and say "yes" or "no" as you hold up one thing at a time.  Then bag up the discards for sale, donation, or recycle/trash, and get them out of the house as soon as possible.  Congratulate yourselves on your success.  No matter how much or how little you removed, you've achieved a leaner, cleaner home.

6.  Try labels.

Maybe your partner's tools are meticulously organized on a peg board, but he puts the groceries in random spots.  Her scrapbooking supplies are carefully stored in a compartmentalized bin, but she leaves grooming tools and potions all over the bathroom counter.

Obviously, each of these people possesses organizational skills.  They're simply not applied in every circumstance.  Try labels – in the pantry, the dish cupboard, the bathroom cabinet, the linen closet – and see if that sometimes-organized person becomes a bit more methodical.

7.  Agree to a "tidy time."

One partner only wants to neaten things weekly, or when they've become a real mess.  The other can't tolerate mess at all.  Try planning a five-minute period for you to tidy together every day – perhaps right after dinner or before bed.  Consider it a bonding time.  Put on music if you like, but be sure to set a timer so the session is finite – and short.

8.  Don't get stuck.

Everyone has tidying or organizing tasks they enjoy less than others, so why not swap with other family members so no one always has to do a chore they hate?  I don't like to empty the dishwasher, but my husband doesn't mind, and he's really fast at it too.  He dislikes dealing with the mail, so I'm usually the one who goes through it and recycles, shreds, files, notes on the calendar, or pays as needed.  Working together, we keep our home tidy and clutter-free.

Focus on the love.

Don't debate this subject when you're tired and cranky.  Sit down over coffee or take a walk to the park to discuss it.  It's important to remember that you're on the same team and you want to find ways to come together.

Focus on the love, and you'll be able to figure out the stuff.

Did you enjoy this article?  You'll love my just-published book, The Minimalist Experiment, the 6th volume in my new Minimalist Basics series.

It's useful to experiment with simplifying your life.  You can find out what's hard, what's easier, what works or doesn't work for you, and what you might like to make permanent in six life areas:  physical clutter, digital clutter, your mindset, your schedule, your finances, and your personal well-being.

The Minimalist Experiment lets you explore the possibilities, with plenty of inspiration and encouragement for your journey.  Big changes come from tiny steps taken over and over.  One or more of these experiments is sure to make a positive difference in your life.

Parts of The Minimalist Experiment were previously published as The Minimalist Challenge.  The work has been completely revised, updated, expanded, and reformatted to fit the Minimalist Basics series.  BTW, if you buy through my link, I may earn a small commission.


  1. Really great points, all. My husband is the cluttered one, and it really helped when I "gave" him his very own junk drawer. He can fill it to the rim, but if it overflows, it goes.


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