The organizing consultations I dread the most are the ones in which one spouse tries to hire me to fix the other spouse’s disorganization problem. I am expected to tell the other spouse to “clean up his mess” and “get rid” of this or that. This happens more often than you might think, and it never works — it just makes couples bicker even more. So what can you do if your spouse’s messy habits are making you crazy?
Let’s start with a list. You know you or your family member’s disorganization is wreaking interpersonal havoc on the rest of the family when:
You argue with your spouse over whose turn it is to wash the dishes (or vacuum the floor, clean the toilet, make dinner, etc.)
You fight with your spouse over whose stuff that is covering the dining room table.
You frequently find yourself yelling at your kids to clean up their room.
You or your spouse let the kids down because you didn’t follow through on doing something you promised to do (eg. bring cupcakes to the class party).
You or your spouse are constantly running late, which interferes with other family member’s schedules.
You and your spouse blame and/or resent each other for the lack of space to cook, craft, entertain, relax, etc.
You feel embarrassed in front of company due to the appearance of your spouse’s mess or vice versa.
All of these situations, when they occur frequently enough, cause feelings of anger, resentment or guilt in your relationship. They contribute to a lot of finger-pointing, criticism, passive-aggressive behavior and cold wars. But this is not a hopeless case.
The best place to start is by having a frank, but always loving conversation with your spouse. Explain the problem with as much calm and as little blame as you can muster. Maybe your conversation could go something like this:
“Sweetie, you know I love you and I think your railroad hobby is pretty cool. But we can’t eat dinner at the dining room table, because it’s covered with your project. Do you have any thoughts about how we could fix this?”
Chances are, your spouse is not making the dining room table unusable just to spite you. If you can have this conversation in a loving frame of mind, instead of an angry or frustrated one, you might just find that there is a simple reason for the problem.
Maybe he or she needs more time to clean it up before dinner each night. Maybe your spouse needs his or her own space in which to work. Maybe the dining room table is the only place that’s quiet enough or large enough on which to work. Maybe your stuff is covering the space on which he or she would normally be working. The point is, you need to stop the blame-game and get to the root of the issue, followed by some good ol’ problem-solving.
When You Can’t Fix It Alone
When you can’t agree on a solution to the problem, sometimes bringing in a third party, like a professional organizer, can help. But make sure your spouse is fully on board with this idea first. Pick out a PO together. Don’t expect a PO to take sides or fight your argument for you. Instead, she will analyze the situation, help you find the clog in the system and give you some tried-and-true suggestions for fixing it.
And When THAT Doesn’t Work
If you don’t like those PO’s suggestions, then by all means, find another PO. But if you find yourself disagreeing with that PO as well, unable to implement her solutions or still harboring anger and resentment at your spouse, you may find that what you really need is a marital counselor, not a PO. Stuff can become a symbol of your interpersonal problem with your spouse, which might explain why PO after PO is unable to bring domestic harmony to your home. If this is the case, make every attempt to find a counselor right away. The longer the anger festers in your relationship, the harder it will be to cure it.
If your stuff is driving a wedge between you and your family, then it’s time to do some soul-searching to find out why you put the stuff’s needs before your family’s needs. And if you are the tidy one in the relationship, then it helps to remember that a loving, helpful attitude toward your spouse will better solve the problem than a surprise visit from a PO.
It can be hard to cohabit with our spouse and our stuff. Both take up a lot of space. Both have needs. However, in order to have a peaceful household it’s crucial to remember that the people in the house are more important than the stuff, the people deserve more space than the stuff, and the people’s needs almost always trump the stuff’s needs.