Clutter Compromise

Hi Darcy, I really loved your column on organization [linked to here], mostly because it reflects the same kinds of values I have for the things that make up the home. Being a New Yorker (now outside of the City) I just have a rather objective view of "stuff". Most of it I just don't need.

My partner and I share so many of the same values, but not this one. We have had several conversations about it, but it's tough. The first compromise was that we'd keep our common areas neat and organized (and this has happened well) but that he could have a space of his own that he would get to organize later.

Well, later hasn't come. It's a project on an ever-growing to-do list, just as you've said. I've asked if I could help (once) and the answer was no. (I really could have that room in shape in a couple of hours!) I've asked if we could set aside a time over the weekend when we commit to getting it done and the answer has been yes, but it still doesn't happen...

I do believe that our spaces reflect our states of mind. His messy room drives him crazy, too - he can't find anything! I know he'd feel better if he just got it together, and with every bone in my body I resist just cleaning it for him.

Recently, after one of the aforementioned conversations, we visited our parents' houses. My parents' house reflects the values I've shared: deliberate placement of items, regular reassessment of what stays and what goes as part of a regular life's rhythm. His lovely, wonderful parents' house reflects a kind of cherishing of every object or document as if each holds the key to a deep, important memory. This really helped us both to understand each other's habits of stuff with more compassion, I think. So. I will love him anyway and I accept that the room may never change. My question is this: how do I get it to stop bothering me? (Of course I'd rather ask: "How Do I Get Him to Clean the Damned Room!" but, alas, I know better.)


I did not see your question coming! I absolutely thought you were going to ask me how to fix him. Well DONE!

You’re winning the war here. You’ve got a situation where common areas are clean and well-organized. You were smart to give him a room to call his own, and yes, now you need to let it go. So how do you do that?

I do not mean to insult your intelligence by what I’m about to say – sometimes the most useful advice is the most seemingly obvious:  Close the door to his room so you don’t have to see it as you pass.  And now for the hard part:

Let go of the fantasy that you’re going to recreate your parents’ perfectly organized home. It’s not going to happen. My home is not as organized or as neat as I wish it were. I was recently on the phone with one of my best friends, J, and we were talking about the challenges of living with partners who are not mirror images of our organized selves.  By the end of the conversation we were laughing at ourselves, marveling at what great problems we have… If my wife’s little piles are my biggest relationship complaint, I’m one lucky girl.

Now when you truly make peace with the idea that he is NEVER going to change, something miraculous may happen: He just may change. But that can’t be the impetus for you to let go, otherwise it won’t be an authentic letting go. It will be bullshit, and that miraculous thing only happens in the absence of bullshit and ulterior motives. So count your blessings and don’t focus on the battle that you think you’ve lost, because you’ve truly won the war.

Writer’s stats: Female, Straight.