Do you share space with a loved one and find it challenging at times because you have very
different organizing or time management styles? I have a number of women and men who call
asking for organizing help, frustrated with their spouse/significant other’s habits. When I enter
the situation, many times it’s tense because the “unorganized one” feels judged and harassed and
the “organized one” can’t understand their love’s plight and seeming resistance to being “more
organized”. The “organized one” has threatened, cajoled, pleaded, tossed stuff, and tried to
organize their love’s space all without success. Can you relate? Whether you are the “organized
one” or the “unorganized one”, take heart and keep reading so you can learn the language of
First, look for desired outcomes that you can share in common and avoid negative/edgy
comments: If you have been in a relationship for any length of time, you might find the dirty
laundry left on the floor annoying but saying “What’s wrong with you -can’t you ever just pick
up after yourself?” rarely creates the desired change. You both need to look at the problem area
and come to a shared vision of how you want the space and relationship to feel.
Second, do not take it personally: We are all wired differently and as the old adage goes, many
times “opposites attract”. That being said, it’s easy when we live with someone to interpret
comments and habits as an attack on character and that starts pushing everyone’s “hot buttons”.
When you or you love perceives negative innuendos, real communication stops and the defenses
kick in. So, when you feel this starting to happen, resist and refocus on the desired outcome.
Perhaps it can be as easy as putting a hamper in the ‘drop location’.
Third, have shared space where you both make the commitment to keep it clear of clutter (yes,
you both get to define clutter). Typically this includes the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, family &
living rooms. Keep in mind however, each of you needs some private space even if it’s only a
drawer where you can keep it any way you choose without input from the other – ideally, each of
you would have a room or workshop where you can unwind and keep your space as you see fit.
Fourth, define your strengths and recognize your weaknesses (challenges): For a lot of my
clients, paperwork is the biggest challenge and many times it seems the partner with the greatest
challenge is the one who is “in charge” of it. Piles of mixed papers; ads, bills to pay, school info,
medical, things to follow-up on, banking, credit card info, magazines, articles, notes to self and
retirement information often clutter surfaces and it can be overwhelming to tackle it especially if
the two of you do not have a defined system for filing or know what to keep. This causes tension.
The one with the best skill set should take the lead on setting up the system with input from the
other because you both need to know how the system works.
Also, when it comes to sharing the work load, you do not have to fall into traditional roles. If
your spouse/partner is a great cook and can do a mean batch of lovely soft laundry and you
prefer landscaping and keeping the car detailed, swap responsibilities and don’t be afraid to ask
for or accept help. I work with a lot of couples where the spouse/partner wants to help but the
other rebuffs the offer feeling they ‘should be able to do it’. Stop shoulding on yourself.
Finally, if you find that your unique (polar opposite?) styles are causing distress to your
relationship, consider hiring an outside professional to help set up systems that will work for
both of you because many times, one can hear something from an “outsider” without the same
resistance as when it is said by a loved one. If this is the case, remember not to take it personally
but look for those desired shared outcomes.
Mary Dykstra Novess MBA, CRTS, CPO is a Certified Professional Organizer, speaker and
Time Management Coach. Mary helps corporate, residential and entrepreneurial clients get
organized long term and has extensive experience in working with people with ADD/ADHD. She
is past Director of Examination Development for The Board of Certified Professional Organizers
and past National President of National Association of Professional Organizers. (616) 453-2976