HOW TO DECLUTTER WHEN YOUR SPOUSE DOESN’T WANT TO
Deciding for yourself to clear clutter in your home and life is one thing but what happens when others in your home aren’t as keen? In this article I’m sharing some helpful tips on how to declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to.
DECLUTTERING WHEN YOUR SPOUSE DOESN’T WANT TO
I’m passionate about decluttering. My husband isn’t. Clearing our clutter has been a source of contention and frustration as we are polar opposites. I’m a minimalist and my husband is a hoarder.
If you want to declutter but your spouse doesn’t want to, I’d like to share some personal perspective and tips to help you declutter without argument, frustration and confrontation!
MY HUSBAND – THE ‘JUST IN CASE’ HOARDER
Although my husband can see the benefits of decluttering he is still an outright hoarder – the polar opposite of me. He can see that clearing clutter and simplifying my life has had many benefits for me, for example, in how less stressed I am, that I have more free time (despite still juggling work and kids) and that our home is clean and tidy with minimal effort.
In some areas of his life my husband has seen how decluttering and simplifying can make a difference to him too. We have more time to spend together as a family, more money in the bank and more freedom to do fun stuff on a whim…
But, he would still find it difficult to identify how ditching clutter would directly help him any further. Whilst his focus is work, my focus is (wearing the many hats of a working mother) work, kids and managing the home. (Side note: He’s still very much a hands-on parent but he works longer hours so I pick up more of the housework for the time-being).
And, after all, to manage all these things it’s easier when I have less clutter, have more wiggle room and better systems set up to help me get things done.
In reality, I have to face up to the fact that my husband and I currently have different needs. Whilst my needs are benefited every day by having less clutter, his are not so.
What if he needed that bit of wood or the third set of drill bits for a DIY project, my husband would say. His usual argument is that you never know whether we might need it in the future. Why throw something out because we’d just have to buy it again if we needed it. Tools are different, he would say to me, you can never have enough.
HOW NOT TO DECLUTTER – LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!
Knowing how to declutter your home when your spouse doesn’t want to is difficult. I know this from personal experience and I learnt some important lessons by making mistakes.
As decluttering my clothes (my first declutter project) was such a success, I turned my attention to my husband’s clothes. I removed things that he hadn’t worn or used for a decade, thinking that he’d never possibly know what’s gone from the bottomless pit of his half of the wardrobe. Why is it then that he always came to me a short while after, saying he could’t find the shorts or t-shirt he was looking for?!
Although I pleaded ignorance and asked him if he’d had a good look for them, I was secretly muttering under my breath about how he could possibly know what I’ve done and did he have some sort of sixth sense or a hidden camera set up!
MY KIDS – THE COLLECTORS
My children are more pro-decluttering than my husband. One of them, at least, is very tidy and organised. My other daughter is messy and creative but she will tidy things up eventually in her own time.
However, when it comes to Lego, stuffed toys and art things, they are mad collectors so this is another area where, if I pick the wrong moment or do it in the wrong way, I can bang my head against a brick wall rather than make spectacular decluttering progress.
Change my family’s life for the better by clearing clutter and creating space? When my husband and children are in full-on hoarding mode, it’s more like a recipe for divorce and disaster!
But don’t get put off, it is possible to declutter your home without alienating your entire family. You need a strategy so let’s talk tactics!
HOW TO DECLUTTER WHEN YOUR SPOUSE DOESN’T WANT TO
Here are some tips to help you know how to declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to. Some of them even work when your kids don’t want to declutter either!
1. Explain what you’re trying to achieve
One of the important foundations for making any changes, including decluttering, is to understand what you’re trying to achieve. Be open and honest with your spouse about what you want to do and why. Explain how your clutter is stressing you out, taking up your time and energy, and impacting your life. Your spouse might not be ready to declutter with you, but they’re more likely to support you if you explain why you’re going to start.
2. Map out areas
Work out which areas of the home are more under your control and agree which areas belong to your partner. Where do you each spend the most time? For example, are you mostly in the living room and they’re in the garage? Or maybe they’re in the kitchen and you’re in the garage! Declutter the areas that are yours until you both feel it’s time to move beyond that.
3. Start with your stuff and leave theirs
Start by decluttering your stuff. Focus on your clothes, shoes, make-up and beauty products, your books etc. Leave their stuff alone until they’re ready to either do it themselves or ask you to help.
4. Make it fun
Think of ways to make decluttering fun for your spouse. Create an incentive or reward they could look forward to at the end, or put on some music to lighten the atmosphere.
Encourage the kids to help you choose a time when you’re all in a good mood and make it a fun experience by turning it into a game. For example, who’s the quickest at bagging up 5 toys they no longer play with to give to charity? Depending on their age and ability, maybe you could explain to your children that there are many other children who don’t have so many toys and by donating some of theirs, your children are making other children very happy.
5. Implement the one in/one out rule
Make this a habit for all of you. If you buy something new then swap it out for something old. If you like clothes shopping but still like the idea of a clutter-free wardrobe then buy a new bag by all means, but maybe give one of your existing bags away to charity? That way you still get to go shopping and enjoy a new bag but your wardrobe doesn’t get bigger in the process. The same could apply to gadgets, tools or anything else that your spouse might like to buy instead.
6. Spend money on making memories
Suggest to your family that you spend your money on experiences rather than material possessions. Encourage them to stop buying new ‘stuff’ and use your money to go out for a family meal or a day out. You can have a lot of fun and come away with memories and photos rather than yet more clutter.
7. Choose gifts carefully
Consider giving gifts that are for experiences rather than actual physical items. What about annual passes to local attractions, vouchers for a dinner date, a magazine subscription, or for kids – adopt an animal or name a star. There’s a huge variety of gift experiences on offer which may lead to exciting new opportunities rather than more stuff. Try these ideas for clutter-free gifts.
8. Go slowly and be persistent
Over time your family will hopefully appreciate the benefits of decluttering but you might have to take it slow with them at first. Be persistent but don’t throw away their stuff unless they’re totally on board and happy for you to do so, otherwise you’ll just upset them and they’ll dig their heels in for the future! I still can’t persuade my husband to declutter his clothes of his own accord, but he’s quite happy to nod yes and no if I hold up his clothes one by one. It’s a start and better than nothing!
9. Don’t pressurise your spouse
The more I nag my husband, the more he digs his heels in. This applies to several things in life but most notably decluttering. He’s perfectly aware of my love of decluttering, simplifying and organising, but he doesn’t want to hear about it all the time. And, he especially doesn’t want to be told to do it just because I think it’s a good idea and want him to declutter. He’d rather do things in his own time, because he wants to. In truth, this approach is much better because it’s more likely to be something he’ll want to stick to.
10. Don’t declutter for them
It’s very tempting but resist the urge to declutter for your spouse. Encourage them to be involved, ask every now and then if they’d like you to help them but give them time and space to decide to declutter for themselves. This avoids frustration on your part and annoyance on theirs!
11. Ask if they’d like help
We know ourselves that decluttering can be difficult. We don’t know where or how to start. Asking your spouse if they’d like help might prompt them into action but it might also be the opening they’ve been waiting for to say, yes, I’d like to declutter but I just don’t know how to do it. Be kind, gentle and if they say they’re not ready to declutter – accept it for now.
12. Start small
Sometimes we think decluttering has to be a big job or it’s not worth doing. Suggest to your spouse that decluttering can be done in tiny steps, one pair of a socks or drill bit at a time. They don’t need to get rid of bags of clothes or boxes of tools.
13. Make it easy
I put a box in my husband’s wardrobe. When he comes across something he doesn’t want to keep he puts it in the box and I empty it periodically. If the box wasn’t there, he wouldn’t be so ready to declutter. He wouldn’t put it in the bin because it might waste money and the effort of taking it for recycling or donation would put him off decluttering it at all. It would be easier to hang the item back up or return it to the drawer. Make decluttering as easy as possible.
14. Make it feel safe
My husband’s usual decluttering response is ‘What if I need that?’ So, to help him decide, I have a ‘just in case’ box which I keep under my bed. If he’s really not sure whether to keep or get rid of something, we put it in the ‘just in case’ box for a time. If he doesn’t need it after a while (set your own timeframe here) then he feels more confident in getting rid of it. Use this strategy cautiously as you don’t want everything to end up in this box!
15. Lead by example
Show them what a difference decluttering has made to your own life, whether it’s decluttering your home, simplifying your calendar so you have more free time, being mindful of how and where you spend money, being more organised and losing things less, reducing your stress and feeling calmer, being more grateful for what you have already and making your daily life feel generally easier.
16. No one-size-fits-all
Help your family understand that they don’t need to declutter everything and all right now to experience the benefits. Decluttering is not an exact science and it’s important you find a way of decluttering and simplifying life that feels right for you and your family.
17. Bag it all up
Once you’ve managed to put some items in bags, make sure that you deal with them, then and there, before you’ve finished. Don’t be tempted to sit back and think you’re done until the rubbish bag is in the bin, the donate and recycle bags have been donated and recycled. Otherwise you’ll find your family rooting through the bags looking for items which they feel must be kept and all your hard work (and theirs) will be undone.
18. Reward and incentive
If you’ve decluttered successfully, no matter how much or how little, treat yourselves to something nice. A cup of tea and a biscuit, a dance around the room, take-away pizza, family film night. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it’s a treat for a productive declutter session (just try to make sure it’s not a trip to the shops to buy yet more stuff)!
It may take time to find what works for you, your spouse and your family. Go slow with them if you meet resistance, be persistent and use every opportunity you can to help them understand and reap the benefits of a more decluttered and simplified life.
They’re more likely to want to give it a try, even if it’s just baby steps (one gadget or stuffed toy at a time) and hopefully your family will thank you for it in the end!
RESOURCES TO HELP YOU DECLUTTER
If you’re keen to see and feel the benefits of decluttering yourself, here are some articles and resources to help you declutter your home and life.
- 20 ways to declutter your home – simple projects to clear clutter, one step at a time
- Where to start decluttering – tips to help you know where to begin clearing your clutter
- How to declutter when you feel overwhelmed
- How to find the motivation to declutter
- Decluttering in midlife
- Types of clutter and how to deal with them
- Simplify Your Home – a guide and workbook to help you declutter your home, room-by-room. With checklists, further reading and lots of actionable steps and prompts to help you understand WHAT clutters your home, WHY it’s there and WHAT to do about it.