Straighten Up Without Breaking Up: 4 Ways for Couples to Avoid Clashing While Decluttering

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Marie Kondo‘s new Netflix show, “Tidying Up.” Known for her best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the organizing guru has made decluttering a phenomenon on the small screen.

So with all the buzz, there’s a good chance that the early weekends of 2019 have seen you diving headfirst into decluttering. But if you’re doing it with a spouse or a significant other, sorting through your shared possessions can be a relationship powder keg. Disagreements about what to keep and what to ditch can get heated, especially when you start tossing sentimental items.

“Opposites do seem to attract when it comes to people’s thoughts and feelings about their belongings,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder and CEO of Gotham Organizers in New York. “Clutter is more stressful for some people than it is for others.”

So how do you keep the (life-changing) magic, and tidy up with your partner without killing each other?

1. Talk through your decluttering goals beforehand

When it comes to decluttering, it’s easy for conflict to fester before you even get started. There’s a good chance that you and your partner have very different ideas of what a tidy space looks like.

“With one couple I worked with, the husband wanted the kitchen counters entirely clear, with not even the coffee maker in sight,” Zaslow says. “His wife didn’t even notice, or care, if the counter was strewn with bags of chips, a fruit bowl, a pile of mail, and four appliances.”

Keep the magic: The key to identifying and working through these differences is to talk through your goals. Decide what you both want out of the process before the first garbage bag comes out.

“Setting goals and determining functional needs of your space together is an essential part of beginning this process and honoring both of your needs and desires,” says Jessica Salomone, interior designer and owner of Lotus and Lilac Design Studio.

Salomone suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • What isn’t functioning in the space due to the clutter?
  • What do you need to keep in the space?
  • What would you like to be hidden, but still accessible?

“Be realistic in your goals,” Zaslow says. “This is about creating a functional, pleasant home for both of you, not about being Instagram-perfect.”

2. Start by focusing on your own stuff

Once you’re aligned in your approach, the fun part (for some of us) begins: purging.

But before you go nuts tossing out your partner’s wagon wheel coffee table, take a step back—along with a good look in the mirror. You’ll want to ease into decluttering by focusing on your own corner of the room, not your partner’s.

“Since people are so different, it’s definitely helpful for each person to start by decluttering their own things,” Zaslow says.

Keep the magic: Think of it as a warmup: You can each begin with the stuff that’s clearly yours before you move on to work through common areas together.

But what if you’re raring to go and your partner hasn’t caught KonMari fever? Kondo herself recently told fans the best way to convert a skeptical partner into a tidying die-hard: Simply start decluttering your own possessions and let your S.O. witness the benefits. After all, who can resist the urge to organize after beholding the beauty of perfectly folded socks?

3. Withhold judgment on sentimental items

Eventually, you’ll begin to notice what your partner is (or isn’t) putting in the “purge” pile, and you might want to chime in with your 2 cents. Resist that temptation.

“The expression ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ often applies to couples,” Zaslow says.

Keep the magic: Even if you can’t comprehend why someone could possibly want to keep that ratty bar crawl T-shirt from college, remember that it can have sentimental value. Avoid accusatory language, and be mindful of the way you talk about items that are close to your partner’s heart.

“It’s not helpful to say, ‘You have too many CDs,’” Zaslow says. “It isuseful to point out, ‘With the bookshelves filled with CDs we rarely listen to, there’s no room to display our photos and travel mementos.’”

4. Set limits to your decluttering—and make it fun

Finding the right pace for decluttering can be rife with potential conflict. Maybe you want to clean the entire garage in a day, but your partner needs a whole day to focus on one corner of it.

Keep the magic: Give yourself a time limit for decluttering; try not to go more than a few hours at a time, to avoid burnout. Keep your favorite snacks and beverages stocked, and turn on some music or a podcast you both love. (Shameless plug: Check out realtor.com’s “House Party.”)

You can also plan a fun, nontidying activity for the two of you to enjoy after you finish decluttering a space—it never hurts to have a light at the end of the tunnel.

If things do get tense, remember that your stuff is just stuff—at the end of the day, your relationship matters more. Don’t lose sight of your love for each other over a disagreement about a box of Beanie Babies.

“Really listen to your partner to find out why certain things are important to them, paying attention to the needs and values that are connected to the stuff,” Zaslow says. “You may learn things about them that will make you fall in love all over again.”

Article by Lauren Sieben