The topic of getting messy spouses to clean up came up at a presentation I gave to a mom’s group on Monday. It came up again Tuesday in a discussion with a friend, which got me thinking more about the topic. I addressed this topic back in May, but it’s worth looking at from a different angle:
Everyone has a standard of tidiness for their house, which is reflected in their house’s appearance on any average day. This is the state you keep your house in when you are sticking to your regular cleaning routine and following your usual organizing habits (or lack thereof.) This is the state that feels most comfortable and most natural for you. You’ve lived in this state all your life, as reflected in your room as a kid and your dorm room as a college student.
Suppose we turn this state into a number on a tidiness scale. One equals squalor, the absolute messiest, disorganized state you can imagine. Ten is the neatest, most Martha Stewart-esque state you imagine. Where do you fall on the scale on an average day? Where does your spouse fall?
Maybe you are a 7 on the scale, but your husband is a 4. Maybe you would like your husband to be more organized, to put things away more often and to generally be neater. By asking him to come up to your level, you are asking him to step out of his comfort zone and live in a state that is unnatural for him. Likewise, if he wonders why you spend so much time cleaning and wishes you would just “lighten up” and let it go, he’s asking YOU to step out of your natural state.
Who wants to live in an unnatural state in their own home? That’s why trying to get someone to change is so difficult, and why you will be met with so much resistance. Messy spouses have to decide for themselves to change their living standards, and this will only happen once they see the benefit to them.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend letting the messy spouse have a space to him- or herself that can be as cluttered as he or she would like. Agree upon spaces, usually public spaces like living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens, that will be kept at the higher level on the clutter scale. That way you get your natural state reflected in part of the house, and your spouse gets his or her natural state reflected in the other part of the house.