A common question I hear is “What can I do about my spouse’s clutter?” Every relationship is unique, so I won’t even pretend to know what someone else should do regarding their spouse.
I can share what I learned from my husband Doug though.
Doug is not a sentimentalist, and he’s pretty tidy, but he’s a collector. He’s collected comic books, baseball cards, Star Wars toys, books, coins, rocks, and even vintage audio equipment. Whatever he does, he does well, so his collections are impressive…and extensive.
He’s gradually become less attached to those collections, but it’s been a slow process to find new places for them. While we work together on our stuff, we’ve settled on a few guiding tips.
- Find an incentive. If you say to your husband, “Let’s clean out the garage. Awesome, right?” it really doesn’t sound that great. You need to find a positive reason to do the work. What do you want to do with the new space? What do you want to do with the money you make when you sell something?
- Timing is everything. On Friday night after a long week of work, decluttering doesn’t sound like the best way to spend a weekend during football season. Still, maybe you can both find thirty minutes to work on it together. Set a timer, and then quit when time is up.
- Focus on belongings that are neutral. Don’t ask why he still has his college intramural t-shirt. Start with something like cooking utensils or scrap lumber, the things that are less likely to hold sentimental attachment.
- Break rule #5 and look for someone who really needs or wants your stuff. We listed audio equipment on Craigslist, and Doug started having second thoughts about letting it go. When he met the buyer and saw that this guy appreciated the speakers as much as Doug did, he was happy to see them go to a good home.
- Be patient with each other’s stuff. When I see my little piles of stuff, I don’t see clutter — I see my works in progress, my mementos and souveniers, and my collections of inspiration. If Doug decluttered my stuff for me, I would be worried he would give or throw away something that mattered. He feels the same way. Even though our tendency is to want to clean out each other’s stuff, it’s better to spend more time focusing on our own.