Does clutter create friction in your household? If so, you are not alone! Many of our clients and workshop participants struggle with what to do about their spouse’s, children’s, or live-in parent’s clutter.

I recently spoke with a woman who had 6 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and birds that her family inherited when her grandmother died. She and her husband work opposite schedules so that one of them is always with the kids. She was so overwhelmed she didn’t know where to begin! All she knew was that she wished the rest of the family would pitch in and help with household chores.

Sometimes the discord created by clutter is obvious and out in the open. At other times, it can be unspoken and seething under the surface. Either way, it’s a drain on your energy and that of others in the home.

The Impact of Clutter

“Clearing clutter not only frees up physical space, it frees up emotional, psychological and spiritual space as well. Releasing things that no longer serve you is an act of self-love, an affirmation that you deserve to live in a sacred space.” – All In The Family

Decluttering and organizing is sacred work, allowing you to create the mental and physical space to let your passions and talents flourish. Unwanted clutter creates stress, overwhelm and even depression. No wonder it feels so good to get rid of clutter!

But there’s more to it than that: decluttering and organizing often bring up beliefs and feelings about control.

Clutter and Feeling in “Control”

While decluttering with our client “Laura,” we excavated our way through layers of stuff that had accumulated since her first child was born. After this process Laura said, “I could see exactly when I lost control. It was the year my daughter was born and I had health complications. After that I felt like I never got a handle on my life again until now.”

You might feel shame and embarrassment about your own clutter because a part of you believes that clutter and disorganization means you lack control of your own life. If this resonates with you, know that having clutter doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent or “failing” as a housekeeper. Sometimes, due to life transitions or personal growth, our organizational systems simply need to be updated. Plus, there’s plenty you can do to feel ownership and power in your home, like working with a decluttering and organizing professional!

You might feel intense frustration and resentment towards your family members because you CAN'T control their #clutter. If that's true for you, read on! Click To Tweet

(Note: for a funny and interesting read on this issue, check out How to Live With a Messy Person (or a Neat Freak) and Not Go Insane)

Be the Change You Wish to See…

The best way to teach anyone, young or old, is to lead by example. Karen Kingston, in her book Clearing Clutter with Feng Shui, maintains that the energy of decluttering can be transferred even if you are not physically located near a person! By putting your “house” in order first (pun intended), your family members will reap the benefits of your burst of energy and experience of freedom from decluttering. More often than not, they will be inspired to begin decluttering and organizing on their own!

In All In The Family, Clutter and your Primary Relationships, I outline strategies and offer exercises to bring more harmony to your home. The first strategy that I offer all of my clients, friends and folks I meet in the locker room at my pool may seem counter-intuitive, but here it is: the best way to bring other family members on board is to begin by decluttering and organizing the areas that are your responsibility.

What, you don’t have any clutter or disorganization of your own!? If a part of you is protesting or feeling defensive, I invite you to take a close look at your clothes, your books, your memorabilia, and see if there is one area that could be improved by just 1%.

Our knee-jerk reaction to gain “control” over others’ clutter is to criticize and complain about it. But demonstrating your own willingness to make positive changes regarding clutter and disorganization is much more likely to make household members feel supported and encouraged to do the same.

Case Study: An Artist & Marriage

This couple had combined households, which can be tricky! They had done an excellent job of organizing their possessions in their one bedroom DC condo, but the husband’s love of art and reading created an abundance of art supplies, along with more books and magazines than the condo allowed space for.

There was friction in the relationship due to art materials and piles of reading material routinely ending up on the living room floor. The couple identified a need for a more robust bill paying system and centralized storage solutions for the reading material and art supplies.

We decided to use a storage ottoman to organize and contain his art supplies. This not only pleased his wife, but also made it easier for him to find supplies when he wanted them. By keeping all his sketchbooks, markers and containers to decorate together, he was able to see that there was no need to purchase more.

Next, I helped him recycle magazines that he realized he was not making time to read. We first created a schedule for times to read and to do what he called “stack maintenance,” then slowly eliminated some of the magazine subscriptions and created a central location for storing reading materials.

The wife was extremely pleased with the results of our sessions and shared that the decluttering and organizing work was an excellent compliment to (and sometimes more pleasant than) their couple’s therapy!

3 Tips to Heal Your Home and Relationships

These tips come from All In The Family, Clutter and your Primary Relationships, our book dedicated to managing clutter in a multiple-member household or family.

1. Listen Deeply for WANTS

If you’re experiencing conflict within your family around decluttering and organizing, start by listening from your heart. Instead of thinking about how to respond or what your agenda is, listen deeply to hear the feelings of others, without judging, blaming, or criticizing. What do they want the home to look and feel like? Where do they want their possessions to live and be treated?

If you think you may have identified a want, check by reflecting it back to the person speaking. For example, if a family member says, “I hate it when I have all my things out to finish a project and you put it away where I can’t find it,” you might ask, “Are you saying you want to be able to keep all of your things out until the project is completed or are you saying you would like the opportunity to put the supplies away yourself?”

2. Accommodate Different Clutter Styles

The fact is that not everyone in your home has the same clutter style. You may want all surfaces clear of clutter and sparse furnishings or decorations on the wall. Your partner might prefer to have an exuberance of books and knick-knacks around, and rooms full of furniture and art.

Consider designating a room or even a corner or space in a room that each family member can have for their own, that they can decorate and organize the way they want. Even if you consider it a mess, it’s important that each person you live with feels a sense of ownership and belonging in the home.

3. A Homeless Things Box

In our abundant lives it’s common for stuff to drift from room to room or in and out of the house, without having a designated “home” of its own. Consider creating a “Homeless Things” bag, box, or basket for all such items you find scattered around the house. Perhaps create a ritual for after dinner or once a week for each family member to check the container and remove the items that belong to them.

Over time you may realize that certain items collect in this container: pens, papers, spare change, etc. This is valuable data you can use to set up storage systems to collect these specific things, thereby giving them a home!

Finally, you can periodically announce that anything not out of the container by a certain date and time will be going to the thrift store, be recycled or go into the trash.

Decluttering for Family Health

Decluttering is a powerful way for you to create the kind of life and home you want, for every member of the family. It is a way for each of you to process and honor your feelings for different objects and what they represent. It is a way for you to give your family the gift of mental and physical space so passions and talents can flourish. What are you waiting for!?

Discover more ways to mindfully declutter and organize your home!

Note: We love recommending books. If you purchase Clearing Clutter with Feng Shui on Amazon, we receive a very small percentage of the sales price as a member of their affiliate program.

Note from Pam:  This is the book that inspired me to become a professional organizer back in 2005!

Discover more ways to mindfully declutter your home or office here >>