When Organizing Styles Collide

One of the most common challenges I come across in households is when two or more of the people sharing the living space have different organizing styles and neatness standards. For example, one of my clients likes to spread his papers out on the kitchen counter so he can see everything and choose what he wants to work on next. His wife likes the counter to be clear and doesn’t understand why he can’t just pull out one paper at a time. Ah, the joy of people with two different clutter tolerance levels living in the same home! Here are some ideas to keep the peace:

Create no-clutter zones. Establish areas within your home that aren’t available for anyone to stash their stuff. The kitchen table and main counter areas of the kitchen come to mind. As a team, identify the key spaces that everyone needs to access and make them off-limits for anything that doesn’t support the function of that space. Using this concept, my client who liked using the kitchen counter for paperwork had to find another area to spread out.

Create a personal space for each household member. Whether it’s a desk or table in a spare bedroom, a workbench in the basement, or a shelf in a closet, everyone should have space they can call their own and organize (or disorganize) in whatever way they wish – with no judgment from others.

For example, one person can use their personal space to stash their old magazines that others would prefer to toss. Someone else might prefer to use their assigned space as a home for craft projects in progress.

Negotiate how much clutter is tolerable. Even in the most organized of homes, it’s nearly impossible to keep things neat and tidy all the time. And I certainly don’t advocate that as a goal – it’s a home, after all, not a museum. Find common ground on a clutter tolerance level that will allow each party to function with minimal stress (e.g., no more than 3 books on the couch, no papers on the floor, etc.). If necessary, call in a neutral party to help with the brainstorming. When things move beyond the established clutter level, it’s time for the offending party to clean up.

Create a maintenance plan. A key step in the organizing process is daily maintenance – putting things back where they belong. Putting things away every day will help make sure the clutter doesn’t slowly creep up to an intolerable level. Having a home for everything and storing things near where they’re used will make this easier and help keep things under control.