How to Motivate Your Partner to “Get Organized”
In sickness and in health…and sharing a home office during a global pandemic.
My husband and I think, work, and organize very differently. We discovered this early on in our courtship when we partnered on a school project. Let’s just say it’s a small miracle we continued dating.
I know we are far from unique because one of the top questions I get as a Professional Organizer is: “How do I get my partner on board with ‘getting organized?” Let me take you through a recent personal experience.
Like so many of you, when work and school shifted online, we scrambled and set up temporary solutions to get us through the first few months. However, when it became clear that my husband would be working from home for the foreseeable future, we knew our shared home office space needed a redesign.
So, how do you negotiate a living space with someone whose organizing style and threshold for clutter is very different than yours?
Schedule a time to talk.
Another meeting? Yes. Treat it like you’re planning a date night! Look at your calendars and schedule a mutually good time to talk. Otherwise, it’s too easy to put off and the tension will continue to build.
Discuss the differences.
You’re beyond frustrated. I get it. Believe me. I was sick and tired of hurriedly picking things up so my clients (who hired me for help with organizing!) wouldn’t see the mess behind me on Zoom.
Take a lap around the block. Scream into a pillow. Have a class of wine. Whatever you need to get into a good headspace so you can come from a place of curiosity instead of intensity when talking with your partner about the clutter. Leading with “I” statements like “I feel like I can’t focus when the desk is full of stuff and there are piles of books and papers on the floor” encourages a dialogue instead of a Bravo reunion style confrontation.
Admittedly, we’ve had many of these types of conversations over the years and here are two truths I’ve learned (read: am still learning):
My husband’s clutter has nothing to do with me. Read that one again.
I can’t make someone “get organized.”
Cool. So there’s no hope and I’ll be angrily grumbling under my breath while I pick up after him/her till death do us part. No.
Two other truths I’ve learned from my personal experience and work are:
More often than not, the “mess” is serving a function and if you can understand its purpose, you can problem solve for it.
You can motivate someone to “get organized.”
What function or purpose is the “mess” serving?
My husband is an “out of sight, out of mind” person i.e., if it’s not out it might as well not exist. It’s easier for him to work when everything he needs during the day is in view and within reach. He’s also more at ease knowing something won’t “get lost.”
You can tap into your partner’s motivation for “getting organized” by asking: “What is the clutter costing you?”
In my husband’s case, he didn’t feel great that I got angry every time I walked into the office and blamed him for the mess. Additionally, he felt frazzled and frustrated when he couldn’t find what he needed because I had put it away. And significantly, it negatively impacted his mood and productivity at the start of the work day.
That’s powerful information – the kind of information that can drive change more than “If you don’t start putting things away, I’m grabbing a trash bag!”
Turn the motivation into a shared goal.
Your individual hopes and visions for the space may be different but what’s your ultimate goal?We didn’t want to spend our work time annoyed with each other when there were plenty of other things to stress and worry about. Our shared goal was to minimize frustrations.
Take joint ownership of problem solving and solutions.
It’s obvious, but it’s true. If you’re sharing the space, you have to work together toward solutions that support your individual habits and styles.
We listed what we each need and want in the space to figure out where we aligned and where we didn’t. This allowed us to brainstorm solutions that would meet our individual needs and wants and get us to our ultimate goal. It turns out, we both listed a long, standing desk. This was a fun surprise because as different as we are, we both like to spread out when we’re working through a solution. There’s always common ground. Sometimes it’s small but it’s something to build from.
We compromised on the use of the desk and created clear work zones for each of us. Specifically, I created a corner (angled away from the desk) with a chair, ottoman, small table and closed storage for my work supplies since I have a low tolerance for visual clutter. If this corner of the office is in order, I don’t care how many tablets, chargers, books, or cups are on the desk. His papers are still out and stacked but we found a storage solution to keep them off the floor. When I need the desk to plan and sketch, we’ve got a system in place to clear the surface so his stuff is still “out” in a rolling cart.
The result is a home office that we both like and, more importantly, a space that works well for us both. What’s more, the motivation to “get organized” didn’t end at the planning and putting the space together. Because we worked together, the expectations are clear and we’re equally invested in keeping it up.
This is one example but these tips and techniques can be applied to any shared space. No question it’s work but, it’s also an opportunity to get closer to your partner as you learn more about each other and work together to create spaces that support your lives and hopes. I say that’s worth the commitment.
Catherine Belzile-Gibel, MSW
Less is More Organizing Services Naperville