One of the questions I get most frequently asked when I give a talk on the topic of clutter is how to deal with a loved one’s clutter. I’m not surprised because, having worked with many families over the years, I’ve noticed it’s quite common in a couple to have one half who strives for order while the other half doesn’t really mind the clutter, or doesn’t even see it. I also well know how it feels to look day in, and day out at a loved one’s clutter, in fact, that’s what got me into this line of business.
Dealing with a loved one’s clutter is tricky, to say the least, yet there are a few things you can do to stand a better chance of getting them to do something about it.
#1 | COME CLEAN
You can’t expect others, especially if they’re not inclined to declutter, to do it if you are cluttered. You need to set the right example.
Tackle your own areas and belongings before looking into others’: your wardrobe, your desk, your paper, your books, your sentimental items, etc. When you’re done, be living proof of the benefits that can be experienced for being clutter-free: having more time for the family, feeling more relaxed, spending less money on clothes, etc. It might inspire your loved ones to tackle their own clutter. And if it doesn’t, at least you won’t have your own clutter on your conscience when bringing the topic for discussion.
#2 | CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
When you speak with a loved one about their clutter, move the conversation away from the physical stuff as they will feel judged and become defensive otherwise. Nagging is certainly not going to help in this situation – well, it never does, right?
Instead, help them see the price they are paying for being cluttered and most importantly what they would gain if they were to let go of some of their stuff: maybe less time spent cleaning, better health thanks to a cleaner home, more visits from the grandchildren, etc.
Also, many people are quick to label their loved ones as hoarders. A hoarder is someone who accumulates excessively and is unable to let go, even an old newspaper or an old plastic bag, up to the point it’s difficult or impossible to use most of the living space, to move from one room to another, or to perform daily tasks, such as cooking, bathing or even sleeping in their own bed.
If that description fits your loved one, you’ll need to engage the help of a mental health practitioner (hoarding was recognised as a mental health condition by the WHO a few years ago) and review your expectations as it’s extremely difficult to change someone who suffers from this condition. Now, it’s estimated that hoarding affects 2 to 5% of the population so, in all likelihood, your loved one is more a clutterer than a hoarder.
#3 | BE RESPECTFUL
Although it can be very frustrating to live with a loved one’s clutter, never ever go behind their back, even with children, as it will create resentment, and trust issues and will end up being in the way of your relationship.
Ask for their permission before disposing of shared belongings. Ask for their input when setting systems in place.
If your loved one agrees to declutter their own belongings, support them but don’t make decisions on their behalf, nor judge them if they decide to keep things you believe they should get rid of. I know it’s difficult as a family member to stay detached (and that’s why people use professional organisers like myself in this process) but that’s the only way to keep them going.
#4 | REVIEW YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Accept the fact that they might not be able to let go of much at first. Decluttering is never a one-time affair anyway. The most important is to start and to learn the benefits of living with less so they build their decluttering muscle and are more inclined to revisit their choices and let go of more over time.
As Dana White, the author of the book Decluttering At The Speed Of Life, wrote “Imperfect decluttering is better than no decluttering. The goal is less.‘’ Celebrate their successes, even if they look like tiny steps to you.
I have to say that although none of my family members is cluttered, some areas in our home could be more organised. However, that would require setting up more stringent systems that my family, despite their best intentions, wouldn’t necessarily adhere to which would probably result in clutter. The good-enough might be the way to go with your loved one too.
If you need more tips to help you deal with your loved one’s clutter, check these articles:
- De-cluttering, the quick-and-dirty way
- Six Essential Decluttering Tips Everyone Can Benefit From
- Decluttering Tips For Those Who Really Struggle To Let Go
Also, I do offer gift certificates if you want me to support your loved ones but please do make sure they’d be open to the idea of tackling their clutter and getting help otherwise they might resent the gift. I’d be happy to have a chat with you or them to discuss the idea before you decide whether to proceed.