“The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.” ~ Robert C. Dodds
I’ve worked with many couples as a professional organizer over the last 7 years. Many of them are married, some are domestic partners, others just roommates, etc. My background as a trained mediator often comes in handy during these client sessions. Often, during an organizing assessment, a client will mention that another user in the home cannot maintain an organizing system (or that the other user IS the organizing problem!). When I inquire as to whether the system was created with the other user in mind, the client usually responds in the negative. Therein lies the problem.
Here is some insight into why couples often have a hard time agreeing on organizing systems, as well as some tips for getting and staying organized when faced with the challenge of a perceived “uncooperative partner.”
Learn Each Other’s Organizing Styles: Yes, everyone has an organizing style, even if you don’t know exactly what it is! If you are familiar with the four learning styles, start there. They are Visual (learn by seeing), Auditory (learn by hearing/listening), Kinesthetic (learn by doing), and Tactile (learn by touching). Often times, couples have very different organizing styles, making it difficult to set up and maintain shared organizing systems. Give some thought to the organizing style of each person using the system so that it makes sense to both users.
Reach Compromise on Shared Systems: If the organizing system you are creating is to be a shared system, you must give consideration both users. Failing to consider both users is a common mistake and often causes the system to fall apart. So, do yourself and your partner a favor – communicate! Spend the time brainstorming how each person plans to use the system, and create a compromise that makes the most sense. The solution may be built around the most common user, or a combination of both users. This may take some extra effort, but usually results in a system that is maintained more effectively.
Tolerance for Clutter: Different people have different levels of tolerance for clutter. Some are “outies,” meaning that they like the exposed areas like counter tops, to be clear, but can tolerate clutter in hidden zones, like closets, drawers, closets, etc. They just want their outward appearance to look organized and they don’t want to see the clutter. Others are “innies,” meaning that the clutter can pile up on exposed surfaces, but their drawers, closets, and filing cabinets are pretty well organized. They are “pilers,” leaving clutter out for all to see, but keep their private, inner spaces orderly. If an “innie” and an “outie” live together, there is often a big disconnect in the way they tolerate and handle clutter.
Leave Judgment Out: I know it’s hard but you really need to make a conscious effort to approach your partner in a non-judgmental manner. Otherwise, your partner will just become defensive, and shut down to any creative solutions that could be reached. Try to approach your organizing projects with a sense of humor. If your partner has difficulty with setting up and maintaining organizing systems realize that organizing is a skill and can be taught. Show some empathy and be patient as you try to find each other’s organizing strengths and overcome weaknesses.
A Sanctuary of Disorganization: Just like Superman had a Fortress of Solitude (yes, I am a superhero fan!), couples may need to allow each partner to have one space that is off limits to the other partner’s organizing efforts. It should not be a space that is shared, and probably not in the most public areas of the home. Allowing your partner to have one place where he or she can be him- or herself and not worry about you organizing it will go a long way to keeping you two from driving each other crazy. Think of it like granting your partner a ‘free pass’ in that one area.