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How to Get Your Spouse on Board with Decluttering

You love your spouse. You hate their dirty socks on the bathroom floor and their random schtuff on the kitchen counter.

I get it.

As a woman married to a man who for years believed he could finance our kids’ college educations with his collection of unopened Star Wars toys in the attic, I have a heart for those of you who struggle to get your spouse on board with decluttering.

Next week is Valentine’s Day, the holiest of high days of love (also known as the day we scramble to buy a card and some flowers at Kroger on our way home from work). In honor of this sacred day, I’d like to share with you some “Do’s & Don’ts” to help you get your ever-loving spouse on board the minimalism, simplicity, and decluttering train.

First, the DON’Ts:

DON’T wait until they leave.

Nobody enjoys coming back from a weekend conference in Salt Lake City to find that their spouse has plundered their college T-shirt collection in their absence. Not only does this engender resentment in a relationship, but it also pretty much guarantees that your spouse will never, ever, ever want to cooperate with you on a decluttering project again. You wouldn’t want your spouse to do this to you, so don’t do it to them. Let them enjoy their conference, leave their T-shirts alone, and come up with a joint plan to address your excess stuff together.

DON’T hide stuff and hope they don’t ask about.

I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here, buuuuut… Just know that if you hide a cast iron pan in the hopes that your spouse will forget about it and thus (in your mind) give you implicit permission to declutter it, things might not go so well for you. You might have to endure hearing the tale of your cast iron decluttering transgression for YEARS to come. And you probably won’t be able to say anything in your defense, because, ya know, your spouse is probably right on this one.

Decluttering subterfuge is not a good simplicity tactic. Don’t do it.

DON’T pressure them.

But wait, isn’t marriage basically a legally binding agreement that allows us to impose our values and beliefs on another person?? Well, maybe. Sometimes. Okay, sadly, yes in a lot of circumstances, like what to name our kids or which football teams to root for.

But when it comes to decluttering stuff, DON’T bring out the high-pressure sales tactics. Nobody loves to be pressured because it feels like judgment (which it is). Your spouse has their stuff. You have your stuff. Pressuring them to get rid of their stuff is not going to make them feel good, and worse, it’s going to encourage them to really dig and declare that YES, godammit, they really DO want to keep all 3 of those old printers in the event that the current printer breaks down and you need a backup!!

You don’t need me to explain further on this one. You can see it’s not going anywhere good. Save the high-pressure tactics for relationship decisions that really matter, like which pizza toppings to get and what to watch on Netflix.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered what NOT to do, let’s talk about the things we should DO if we want get our spouses on board with decluttering.

Next, the DO’s:

DO deal with your own stuff first.

Yeah, I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. But hear me out…

Ask yourself… Is all MY stuff decluttered and put away neatly? If not, address this first before talking to your spouse. Otherwise you’re in one of those “pot calling the kettle black” type situations and the hypocrisy will be duly noted.

Remember the wise words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

I like to amend this to:

Be the change you wish to see in your house.

In other words, if you want to live in a tidy, decluttered, simplified home… just start doing this with your own stuff! You’d be amazed at the power of your example to ripple out and positively affect others. I’ve seen this happen in my own life (for example, Josh now follows a one in/one out rule with his pint glass collection… which I never asked him to do) and I’ve seen it happen countless times in my clients’ and students’ lives.

I know we don’t always like to acknowledge this, but it is true…

All change starts with changing ourselves.

So dig into your own closet, personal care products, and clutter in the garage. Deal with your own stuff first and I guarantee you, you’ll be amazed at the “monkey-see-monkey-do” effect this will have on your spouse!

DO invite your partner to help you

This was one of the best compliance ninja tricks I learned as a teacher. Whenever I had a difficult student who didn’t want to go with the “sit down and let’s learn” program, I’d ask them to help me with something. I had unruly kids fixing staplers and electronic pencil sharpeners and helping me with tech issues on the smart board. They LOVED it and I often wished more things in my classroom would break to help me with discipline! 😂

Why does this work? Because of yet another universal truth…

People love to be asked for their advice.

I love it. You love it. We all love it.

You could ask me right now for my advice on anything and I’d try to give you an answer. Let’s try it:

What color should I paint my child’s nursery? Yellow, obviously.

What type of car should I buy? Clearly a Toyota. No question.

See?? I have no actual expertise on these subjects, but since you asked, I couldn’t stop myself from giving you my opinion!

Your spouse is exactly the same.

So try this: “Honey, I need your advice… I’m going through some of my old clothes and I’m not sure what I should keep and donate. Could you tell me what you think looks good on me?”

I guarantee your partner–given this express and probably rare invitation to dispense their wisdom–will be too tempted to say no. And as they help you declutter, you’re giving them a chance to participate–in a very nonthreatening way–in the decluttering process. Decluttering compliance ninja trick achieved!

DO offer to help them.

Once you have all your own stuff under control and you’ve invited your sweetie to help you **then and only then** do I recommend you ask (note that I said “ask”) if your spouse would like your help dealing with their stuff.

If you want your spouse to declutter, approach with an offer, not a demand.

Nobody likes to be ordered to clean up their stuff. This always leads to resentment and defensiveness.

Try something like, “It seems like you’re having a hard time finding the tools you need in the garage. Would you like me to help you go through them this weekend?”

Since this is an offer, not a demand, your spouse may say, “Nah, I’m good.” In which case, let it be for awhile and try again later.

Also, note that the offer always starts with WHY, not WHAT. People get on board with WHYs. You started by expressing concern for your spouse because they’re having difficulty finding the right tools in the garage (the WHY). Then you offered your help to go through the tools this weekend (the WHAT).

All of this exudes care and concern, not annoyance or expectation.

And if you’re not perfect at this? Join the club! I’m sure Josh would tell you that he’s been on the receiving end of much annoyance and expectation from me over the years. We’re human. We’re married to other humans. We behave in ways that don’t always result in the outcomes we want. Such is life. We try and try again!

I hope this list of “Do’s & Don’ts” helps some of you who are struggling with getting your spouse on board! I’d love to hear any suggestions or ideas you have for encouraging those you live with to tidy up. 🙂

To getting your spouse on board… ❤️

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PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to declutter your home, simplify your work-life, and calm your mind… Sign up for my FREE 30-Day Simplicity Challenge!

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