What to Do about Other People’s Clutter

I’ve asked my friend, Professional Organizer Aby Garvey, to visit us today with a post that addresses another question I get frequently asked:  how do I get other members of my family on board the organizing train? Aby offers some very good points on how to make this happen.  If you are interested in more in-depth personal organizing assistance, Aby offers online organizing workshops at affordable prices (especially if you compare it to the price of actually hiring a Professional Organizer to come into your home!).  You’ll also find a discount code at the end of this post.  Welcome Aby!

In nearly every session of my online workshops, Organizing 101: Learn How to Get Organized and Quick + Simple Clutter Control, someone asks: What can I do about so-and-so’s clutter? While “so-and-so” changes from workshop to workshop—sometimes it’s a husband, other times it’s a roommate, and often so-and-so is a son or a daughter—the essence of the question is always the same: If I’m going to put in the time and effort to get organized and declutter my home, how can I make sure my efforts aren’t undermined by the clutter bug(s) that live with me?

My answer may surprise you. What I always suggest is that at the onset, instead of worrying about the other clutter-bugs in your home, focus solely on you and your clutter. Now if other people in your home are contributing to the clutter situation, it’s very likely that their clutter is far more noticeable and annoying to you than your own clutter. This is why your instinct is to worry about them. But, here’s the thing: If there’s any clutter in your home with your name on it, if your so-and-so isn’t noticing it now, he most definitely will when you ask him to do something about his clutter.

When you start with yourself, you will be standing on solid ground when you ask other people to jump on the clutter-busting bandwagon later on. Furthermore, you start the process of showing your family what is now expected in your home. Begin by focusing on spaces that are yours and yours alone—such as your side of the bedroom or your craft space or your drawer in the bathroom or the laundry room, if that is your domain. This will help remove the fear that someone else will mess up your hard work—since they don’t use this space anyway — and it also shows that you’re creating these changes for you, which sends a very powerful message as well.

Share your journey. As you start with your own pockets of clutter, share your decluttering journey with your family. Explain why you’re putting in the time and effort to declutter your spaces and get organized. Tell your family members the benefits you intend to create. Then, as you make progress on your projects, share your successes and even your roadblocks with them. Share how good it feels to clear clutter and take steps forward on an important goal. Show your family members your organized spaces so they can see how great your spaces look. In short, share your enthusiasm…because enthusiasm is contagious.

Lead by example. When you declutter a room, the energy in that room shifts…and others will feel it, too, even if they weren’t involved in the decluttering process. As you continue on your personal organizing journey, you may begin to see, as many past participants of my online workshops have found, that others will naturally jump on the organizing bandwagon! As they hear about and see and feel the benefits you’re creating, they just may want some of that for themselves. But if not, don’t get discouraged. Simply continue on with your journey, tackling your organizing projects and creating new organized habits.

Getting your clutter-bugs on board. Once you’re in control of your own clutter, then you’ll be sending a consistent message about the new rules of engagement in your home. If the clutter-bug(s) haven’t jumped on board on their own, this is the time to sit down and have a conversation with him, her or them. Share what you want and review the benefits you’ve experienced as a result of your organizing journey. Tell them how much more energized, yet calm and peaceful, you feel now. Share with them how confident you feel when someone goes into one of your organized areas, and tell them how much more time you have now because you no longer search through stacks and piles for your things. In short, explain how worthwhile your decluttering efforts have been for you.

Ask and listen. Next, ask, and really listen to, what your family members want. Perhaps the people you share your home with have a different clutter comfort zone than you. It’s possible that your clutter-bugs don’t notice when their own things are out and cluttering up your space. If leaving things out is an automatic habit, then they may not even see it. Because of this, during your conversation make it your goal to reach an agreement that is a better place for both of you—one that gets you closer to your comfort zone, while recognizing and respecting that the people you share your home with may have a different perspective. You may find that your family’s comfort zone changes over time as they begin taking action on their own clutter.

Offer support. Once you and your so-and-sos are on the same page in terms of the goal you’re both after, then ask how you can support him, her or them in achieving the new goal. It’s possible your clutter-bugs may need help setting up new systems, as well creating new habits. In other words, after you talk about how you want things to be, it will still take time for those new habits to cement. If you know that up front and act as a support system, it will help all of you.

Take it one step at a time. When you’re at this point in the process, you’ll know that organizing is a combination of projects and habits. Just as you embarked on your organizing journey one step at time, give your family members permission to do the same. Notice their progress, and say thank you when you see them taking steps in the direction of your clutter comfort zone. As a past workshop participant said: “’Thanks’ makes a huge difference. It makes for a positive, cooperative atmosphere in our home, which is the ultimate goal.” I couldn’t agree more.

Whether your home needs a complete organizational overhaul, or you have just a room or two that is outside of your clutter comfort zone, the six-lesson/seven-week workshop Organizing 101 shows you how to create an organized space you’ll love. With the help of  Aby you’ll learn simple to implement strategies, and be motivated to take action and create change in your home. The workshop begins next Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

Do you feel like your days are out of control as you bounce from one task to another? Do you feel like your to-do list is never ending with little room for guilt-free fun? If you’re dissatisfied with your current approach to managing your time and your to-do list, the six-lesson/eight-week workshop It’s About Time is for you! Learn how to make the most of your time—so you can have more fun and get more done!  This online workshop begins February 17, 2011.

About simplify 101: There’s a whole new way to get organized—simplify 101’s online workshops. By making the process creative and fun, simplify 101’s online workshops teach students how to implement organizing and time management solutions that really work, putting an end to disorder and the stress that comes along with it. Visit simplify 101 to sign up for a monthly organizing newsletter or take a tour of the online workshop system.

Filed under: Guest Bloggers, Organizing


13 Responses to What to Do about Other People’s Clutter

  1. 1
    Living the Balanced Life says

    I have found also, that surfaces and areas with small amounts of clutter and unorganized things will breed and grow. Others will leave things there without a second thought. However, if a space or counter is cleaned and organized, maybe with just a vase of flowers or bowl of fruit sitting out, *most* people would be not as likely to clutter up such a nice clean space. It’s not perfect, but it does help sometimes! I find that my kitchen table and my desk are this way.
    Great post!
    Assess your life for stress

  2. 2
    ChaCha says

    Great ideas! I loved all of them. It’s funny because my office, among other places, are in dire need of organizing or should I say – I AM in need of organizing! I did some this morning and then found your post so somebody is telling me something. And anyway, I feel so much better when I can declutter my life. Thanks.

  3. 3
    Sinea Pies says

    Thank you, Aby, for this great post. I especially am excited about the “lead by example” advice. Oh how important that is.

    I had a “nothing but the centerpiece” habit going for our dining room table but got off track myself. As soon as mom starts leaving stuff there, all the little ducklings follow. Before long you couldn’t see the top of the table. Well, I took it back again and it’s going to stay that way!

  4. 4
    Bibi says

    I really enjoyed this post.
    My clutter-bugs were driving me crazy till I designated clutter-free zones (no stuff on dining room table and kitchen counters) and invested in personalized baskets that I keep in the front hall so when my clutter bugs come home they put their stuff and treasures into their own basket and later they put them in proper spots or toss stuff they no longer need out.
    I love the baskets because when I walk through the house and see random items I just put them inside it’s owners baskets and it gets put away at the end of the day.

  5. 5
    Grace Brooke says

    Laura and Aby,

    Good advice, Aby! Other people’s clutter is always easier to see than our own. Getting yourself in tip-top shape (organized) will inspire others to do the same and help them to see the many benefits to developing these healthy habits.

    Happy Organizing to all!

  6. 6
    winston says

    Just from the way you organize your post there is no doubt that you do almost every thing you wrote in your post.actually one of my main goals this year is to organize my life.thanks for the info

  7. 7
    Garden Forum says

    Nice article.
    Awesome organizing suggestions.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  8. 8
    Daniel says

    I agree with these stuff. It really works if you stay out of each others way in the clutter space. I dont get in my wife’s way and her clutter because she let’s me do mine.. I love this kind of arrangement.. Haha! there is unity and teamwork!

  9. 9
    Heather says

    My partner and I moved in with his aging parents, and the house was, in his mother’s words, “A nuclear disaster zone got hit by a tornado in a hurricane!” Hence, us moving in to take care of them. My clutter comfort zone is lowest in the kitchen, so we started there. The dining room table has gotten to the point that people can actually do projects on it! Of course, that means it’s cluttered again, but it’s dynamic clutter, not static. Now we’re working on the garage and our bedroom, and helping to encourage the ‘Rents to declutter their bedroom and bookshelves in the dining room. I’ve found that adding little chores at a time that get done regularly has really helped–if the carpets get vacuumed twice a week, there’s not a lot of time for them to get unruly piles. Scrubbing the bathroom weekly means NO MORE ring around the toilet bowl! (Though that’s not a clutter thing.) Doing the dishes, wiping down the counters, and sweeping nightly means that everyone suddenly notices if the groceries get left on the counter after doing the shopping. Just maintaining a certain level of clutter-free cleanliness has REALLY run over to other places as well as broken certain habits that were contributing to the clutter. So much awesomeness happening around here! It’s difficult for me to not be frustrated with how long it’s taking, but when I take the time to really look around and think back to how it was 8 months ago, we’ve made soooo much progress.

  10. 10
    Diane says

    I have found that clutter is most times no more than having multiples of stuff. I beat the need for everything-all-the-time mentality by collecting ALL the same items into one area, looking at the amassed collection, and asking myself “Really, how many pens (Substitute whatever stuff it is here) do I need in each room to get by (Survive). Keep the best stuff and get rid of the rest (Trash, donate, pass on, etc.). But be careful your piles of pass-ons don’t stay around too long! Small steps works for me!


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