Posted by Sue on Feb 15, 2009  

This seems like the right time to respond to a question about OTHER
people’s stuff. Very often those other people are those closest to
you- the ones you love the most! But what about when their stuff
drives you nuts!

This will feel familiar to many readers- I’m sure!

“OK, Joanna, here’s my big challenge – how to keep the house
organized and tidy when I live with three very untidy people. I
know the philosophy  ‘as I declutter and tidy, they will follow
suit.’   Well it hasn’t worked! Any other suggestions??

Disorganized space works for them, but it doesn’t for me. Hmm, so you’re probably going to suggest we all talk about it….my needs,theirs…tricky when I’m in the minority! You’ll sense I’m feeling rather defeated with this one! Over to you…”

First- thank you for your honesty! By now you may well have
resolved the issue. If you have- DO let me know how!

Also- sorry it’s taken me a long time to respond. It’s partly
because I’ve been questioning my own thinking on this one.

Just the other day in my “DECLUTTER” workshop I heard myself giving
my standard advice … ” 1)Each person should have one area that is
totally theirs – to keep as messy or tidy as they wish- with no
comment or interference allowed from ANYONE! 2) The degree of order
vs. disorder in shared space needs to be agreed upon in a way that
the tidiest person can live with it.”

Hmmmmmmmmm.  I’ve been realizing that that is how I’ve managed the
issue over the years and it’s worked pretty well for me. But I
haven’t had a three to one ratio. And recently I’ve begun to question
my theory.

I would still start by asking if you have claimed any space that is
TOTALLY yours to enjoy- which you can maintain at exactly your level
of order?  A refuge? And do each of them have a space clearly
allocated as THEIRS – which they can keep at their level of clutter
with NO complaints from you.” THAT remains the first step in my books.

But then- there’s the shared space! One of the problems is wanting
more than one thing at the same time — loving your family and wanting
to share time and space with them WHILE feeling drowned in their
clutter and wanting them to CHANGE!!!  This is where I think my
answer is shifting …scary! I’m not sure any more that the tidiest
person should rule. RADICAL

Yes– I WOULD talk with them again(especially since you have 2
nearly grown kids) but this time, try discussing the matter without
the thought that your way is definitely the right one. MAYBE since
there are FOUR competent people in the house – each person in the
house gets one week out of 4 being IN CHARGE and during that time is
the BOSS of the space and RULES what the shared space looks like.

This is just an idea. But since what you have been trying is only
discouraging – maybe try this. See what happens. At least you will
have 12 weeks plus a few days in the year when you can be absolute
boss and have your home as you want it. Those are the weeks
when you would have guests over. The rest of the time would be more
or less what it is now .. OR maybe not. Who knows?

How about trying this for Valentine’s Day. Start this Sunday!  Give someone else dictator status for the first week. You could probably survive the experiment for one month – all of you would know more by mid -March.

Try it?


Patti Steffens:

Hi Joanna! This article speaks right to me! My sister and I share a house, but in the last couple of years, her messiness has reached shall we say volcanic proportions. One could literally not see floor in her bedroom. Now, unfortunately, in a bizarre and aborted attempt to “clean”, her stuff has taken over the former guest room – and stopped there. No further action at all, just things and things covering the guest bed, the guest floor etc. At this point I am on the verge of a furious and insane breakdown – hyperbole yes, but you get the picture. I understand the above concept, of “your space messy as you like, my space my own sanctuary” but this is beginning to affect the atmosphere of the entire house. I think she needs professional help (well, at least organizing help) and I’m simply not willing to pitch in. I don’t know what to do, though she’s one for whom everything is a treasure, a Junque expert/afficionado. Any suggestions before I hire a dumpster? :-) Thanks!

August 28th, 2009 | 10:57 am

Dear Patti– I HEAR you. I KNOW this is really hard for people. Very often it’s the issue that makes someone call.

It’s a truly serious matter for many households. What I used to always say was that the SHARED space needs to be kept to an agreed upon standard. This has worked in many of the homes that I have worked in. e.g. book lover/artist(messy)partner with the other being a beauty loving sanctuary maker.

What usually works best is a serious “family meeting” and negotiating an agreement. You might want/need to have a Professional Organizer come in to help with that meeting. I don’t think either of you should be miserable in your own home.

I’d be glad to have a brief chat with you about this if you want to call 802-258-4800. Personally, I NEED a tranquil space! With all best wishes, Joanna

August 29th, 2009 | 7:34 am
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