When people make a commitment to share a residence, their respective positions on clutter often go uninvestigated. Yet, one of the greatest sources of marital and family discord can be attributed to conflict around neatness, order and what to do about junk. In cases where romantic entanglements lead to co-habitation, lovers, temporarily blinded by passion and novelty, can excuse or overlook qualities in the other person with which they may not be entirely comfortable. Nevertheless, nowhere does incompatibility rear its ugly head more ferociously than around issues regarding disposal of excess belongings. When a couple opts to downsize to smaller living quarters decision-making takes on an even more challenging dimension. Downsizing can transform happily married couples into bitter adversaries wrangling over possessions that become objects of contention.
Love may conquer all, but clutter may be its nemesis. As professional organizers, we run into situations that render us marriage counselors as well as clutter busters. Many a call has come from true-to-life desperate housewife driven to the brink of exhaustion from battling a husband unable to part with his boyhood collections of action figures, record albums and 4 decades worth of magazines. What about the distraught husband who has been unsuccessful in his attempts to prevent his wife from taking everything from a 3500 square foot home with a basement and try to make it fit into a downsized.2 bedroom condo? The circumstances may be different, but the problem is the same. How can you live with another person who is so tied to his or her possessions that it threatens the fabric of the relationship? Short of coercion, ultimatums or moving out, there are solutions to preserve your sanity
In essence, you can only de-clutter your own possessions, While you should never attempt to de-clutter anyone else without first seeking permission, you can justifiably make your case for your significant other’s support for your efforts.. Support means no active interference or sabotage on your partner’s part. He or she should not remind you of past failures in this department, or procrastinate when you make small requests that prevent you from moving forward in reaching your downsizing goals. For instance, rather than expecting your husband to clean out the entire garage this weekend, it may be more effective to ask him to help you by driving your stuff to recycling or to work on sorting through athletic gear. You can lead by example and hope that your hard work will inspire those closest to you.
You may also have to relax your own standards for the sake of keeping the peace. Once again, you need to pick your battles. Recognize your partner’s autonomy and engage when the situation is critical to meeting your objectives. Sentimental attachment can loom large in the downsizing process. Make sure that you allow for adequate time for making difficult choices where memories are involved. Instead of focusing on what is being discarded put the emphasis on selecting what to keep, within limits. If definitive decisions cannot be made within the allotted timeframe, consider renting storage space on a temporary basis.
Lastly, if you cannot compromise easily, it makes sense to bring others into the process. You may have a relative or friend who could provide an un-biased third party perspective who can be solicited. Or, there are professional organizers and senior move managers who can be hired to solve the logistical problems associated with distributing excess belongings and develop solutions for storing what you both want to keep.