• Erica Lucas

How to Get Your Spouse to Declutter: 3 Ground Rules to Start the Conversation

Updated: Sep 20

In my experience, there is not an easy, step-by-step guide for how to get your spouse to declutter items from your home. Decluttering is a personal experience and best forged with respect, kindness, and consideration. Grab these three ground rules to get the conversation started.


minimalist summer wardrobe

In this blog:


 

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When is too much stuff actually a problem?


Some of the readers of this particular blog post may not like this part, but your spouse’s stuff may only be a problem for you. I will start by pointing the finger at myself.


My “husband’s clutter” is only clutter to me, and he does not see it that way. He likes having dozens of t-shirts in his closet and has zero interest in decluttering from his closet. It seems like keeping a wardrobe inventory full of shirts is like keeping excess stuff that he does not even wear… TO ME.



how to get your spouse to declutter
Can you agree on a yard sale to declutter?

To him, a few of the shirts are actually sentimental stuff. Since they are his own belongings and within the space limits of our closet, I have to think about his stuff differently than I think about my own stuff.


Letting go of anything can be very difficult. Letting go of my desire to have less hanging in our shared closet is my problem, not his problem. He’s perfectly happy with his side of the closet.


When safety becomes a concern, then stuff takes on a new and more stressful meaning. If items are piled high, doorways are blocked, and family members risk tripping and falling over stuff, then living with less stuff could be considered necessary.


Sharing a home with a hoarder, or someone with hoarding tendencies, can be very hard for everyone. Seeking professional help from psychologists and organizers experienced with working with hoarding could be the right direction to get started.


Watch this video about how I get my spouse to declutter... it's not what you'd think.



 

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35 Best Books about Decluttering

 

Three Ground Rules


Finding common ground during the decluttering process between two different people requires three ground rules.


  1. Use kind words to show respect for each other’s personal spaces.

  2. Know that it may take hard work to declutter common areas together.

  3. Be willing to compromise so you both feel like a simpler life is achieved in the end.

Ground Rule #1

Use kind words to show respect for each other’s personal spaces.


Sometimes we feel compelled to address our spouse’s clutter when we are fed up with an overly cluttered space. We want a clear space but cannot have it.


Clutter has been connected causing stress. Using negative tones or words when dealing with your spouse’s stuff will come with an additional cost: resentment.


Finding a way to communicate with kindness about how you feel about the clutter can kick off a productive conversation. Here are few examples:


  • When I walk through the garage to get into the house, I am afraid I am going to trip on something and get hurt. Is there a way we can work together to create a safe path by removing five items today?

  • Our messy home frustrates me and makes me sad. I want to find a way to get rid of some stuff and keep this dining room table clear for meals more often. What can we change to try that out this week?

  • I feel we have too many blankets in this closet, and I cannot fit other things that need to be stored in there. Can we decide on four blankets to donate so that we can clear a shelf?

Easier written in a blog, than done though, right? Pair ground rule #1 with ground rule #2 to break through some decluttering roadblocks together.


Ground Rule #2

Know that it may take hard work to declutter common areas together.


Tackling the living room, dining room, kitchen, or laundry room together may feel difficult. I’ve been there. I once thought it would take us a weekend to unpack and store items from 250 boxes after a move.


The hard work required by addressing the emotions that come up during decluttering is an important thing to recognize, own, and follow through with in common areas. Guilt, shame, fear and plaguing questions can hold you back from letting go of something.


  • We don’t need it right now, but what if we need it later?

  • My mom gave us that last year. I know we don’t like it but what if she asks where that gift is?

  • We spent too much money on that item to just donate it now. Why can’t we keep it and try to use it later?


Lastly, pair all three ground rules to set a baseline of how to talk to each other and what to say.


Ground Rule #3

Be willing to compromise so you both feel like a simpler life is achieved in the end.


Striking a balance between your own stuff and your spouse’s stuff is hard. Courtney Cox tried to even make a show about it once. Claiming your own space in a shared home is one thing a lot of people need to do to start.


For instance, you take all the drawers in this dresser and I will take the extra shelf in the closet. There is no right way to hurdle over decluttering together, but setting boundaries may help recognize your own clutter a little bit better.


Let’s say you want to keep 20 pairs of pajamas, but you cannot fit them in the agreed upon space. You agree that keeping them on top of the dresser is not acceptable because it causes stress for your spouse. Buying a bigger dresser is not feasible.


You agree to compromise and donate 5 pairs of pajamas to make the space work for both of you.


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RELATED BLOG:

6 Steps to Declutter Your Wardrobe and Curate a Closet You LOVE

 

Why is so hard to get your spouse to declutter?


Have you ever tried to make yourself eat an entire meal you didn’t like? Or tried to get a toddler to eat anything they didn’t want to eat? Getting someone to do something he or she does not want to do – or is not ready to do – is nearly impossible to do without ramifications.


Fighting.


Negative words you wish you could take back later on.


Stress.


Tears.


Regret.


Resentment.


how can I get my husband to declutter clothes?
How can you help your spouse decide what to keep?

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An example from my life...


My clutter is not my husband’s clutter. The kitchen counter cluttered with stuff that belongs elsewhere in the house drives me bananas. A cluttered kitchen counter poorly affects my mood. Cleaning dishes feels pointless because the clutter on the other counter remains.


Instead of seeing the clutter and allowing it to take over my mood, I now see it as my domino. When I clear off that counter, I feel better. Then, I tackle the dishes. Then, we clean up the toys. Then I can vacuum. The one action of clearing the clutter triggered me to do more things. Action usually prompts motivation to find me and I become more productive.


But I have to choose to clear the counter. I have to learn to accept that we live in our home and that the counter magnetizes clutter to it. It takes less than 10 minutes to deal with now and only has to be dealt with every few days when it starts to bother me.


My husband doesn’t see the clutter on the counter the same way. He doesn’t even see his stuff on it that is contributing to the mess. It frustrates me that he contributed to the mess instead of just putting his stuff where it belongs in the first place.


But the tables turn when he walks in the door after work, and shoes are blocking the door from being opened. He has to watch where he’s walking because they didn’t tidy up their toys. When I ask for help with connecting something on my computer, but he has to shuffle 50 disorganized papers out of the way to do it.


My clutter is not his clutter, and his clutter is not my clutter.


The delicate balance of stuff in marriage changes over time and being honest with yourself and your spouse is important. If you are the spouse trying to get your husband or wife to live with less, I have a few long-term recommendations for you: time, example, and grace. I have not discovered any short-term solutions (please tell me if you have one!).


his clutter is not my form of clutter
When his clutter is treasure...

Time

Two years passed before my husband agreed to unpack and declutter the hundreds of boxes in our basement with me. For the first two years of minimalism, I had unpacked hundreds of boxes of my stuff and the kid’s stuff. I asked his input when necessary.


One day at a time, one box at a time.


Once I was into my third year of decluttering, he walked along the road with me. Slowly, and one box at time, he held each item and decided what to keep. It’s still an ongoing process and he still has boxes in the basement to go through.


Lead by example

Dealing with your own things first helps. Talk through it out loud with your spouse as a witness may work. Set expectations.


  • “I do not expect you to declutter with me today. It would help me to talk through my own decisions, and I’m asking you to talk through it with me.”

  • "It’s too hard for me to get dressed. I have too many options."

  • "I wish I could put my shirts back in the closet easily instead of having to push hangers to the side and squeeze in my shirts."

  • "I am going to put these five sweaters in this box in my car for three weeks. If I don’t pull any out for the next three weeks, I’m going to drop it off at the donation center."

Grace

Giving yourself grace is as important as giving your spouse grace. Give your spouse the grace to find his or her own decluttering process. Give yourself the grace needed to find ways to accept that his/her form of clutter is not necessarily your form of clutter.


When all else fails, move into a tiny house and start over. Bring nothing with you, and only buy what you need when the need arises. I’m kidding. Kind of. That sounds like my form of clutter.


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