When Simple Saturday readers email me, a common problem they share with me is that they are wanting to simplify their home but their spouse is less excited about it.
I have some thoughts on this I hope will help those struggling with this . . . .
SEVEN TIPS FOR WHEN YOUR SPOUSE DOESN’T WANT TO DECLUTTER
1. HAVE A CONVERSATION
If you are inspired to declutter your home and create a living space that is relaxing and ordered, how can you bring your partner into this conversation?
We are most motivated by the vision we have for our home than we are for the chore of decluttering. So if you want to spread that motivation you are feeling to your spouse, then start talking about what VISION you guys share for your home: How do you want to use it? How do you want it to feel?
This is dreaming time! This is when you get to listen to one another and see where you can find a shared vision to work on.
Avoid laying down the law and demanding everyone in the house ‘get rid of all their crap!’. If you make it a chore and a burden, then that is all it will be. BUT if you encourage everyone in the home to think about the home the want to live in, decluttering is an action step to get there – and not some big intense chore being forced onto their day.
2. MOTIVATE WHO THEY ARE RATHER THAN MANIPULATE THEM TO BE WHO YOU WANT THEM TO BE
In marriage, we have a lot of expectations for our partner. Sometimes we know that we aren’t meeting the other’s expectations. Sometimes, it goes a step further, we know that there is something about us and how we approach our life that our partner wants to change.
It has taken me way too many years to learn that when you feel like someone wants to change you, that they are unhappy with you being you, it can feel pretty horrible and bring constant discord into a relationship.
Not to say we shouldn’t speak in to, encourage, motivate and support our spouse to unleash that superhero inside of them. But we shouldn’t nag, eye roll, manipulate, threaten them into ‘becoming a minimalist’.
So my first piece of advice is: don’t TRY to change your spouse. It makes them feel like crap and they will likely resent you and really, if ex-boyfriends have taught us nothing it’s that YOU CAN’T CHANGE SOMEONE ELSE.
3. START WITH YOUR OWN STUFF
There is a lot of advice on the topic of ‘minimalism when your spouse isn’t a minimalist’. Often the advice will start by telling you to focus on your own decluttering efforts. This is how I started out and I agree with this advice.
Do not underestimate the power of cleaning out a packed basement or the act of getting rid of over half your wardrobe. Or decluttering the guest room so you can finally use the sewing machine you said you would learn to use, and finally make Christmas stockings for the kids! Actions speak louder than words.
I could tell my husband how I was feeling about a newly cleared space or how I went through a process of letting go of things I never thought I would, but I didn’t have to say much to my husband to convince him that decluttering was freeing my mental space and physical space. He saw it. As a result, over the years I have seen him let go of things that I didn’t expect he ever would (like that weirdly shaped, unflattering company leather jacket from the early 2000s)
4. OFFER THEM A SAY ON COMMUNAL ITEMS
When it came to communal items like our kitchen stuff, or our 300+ DVD collections, or our basement furniture, etc. I set aside everything I wanted to get rid of and asked him to check the pile and take out anything he wanted.
Then I would leave so I wouldn’t let out any audible groans as he brought back items. At first, he would bring back a lot, but over time he would bring back fewer items.
I had to remember that this was his house too, and his stuff too and he had every right to keep things he wanted, just as I did.
Don’t try to sneak out items, or repeatedly put in that tacky leather jacket into every discard pile you make to drive in your point. Just give them a fair say into these things as you would wish from them.
5. LISTEN TO THEIR ‘WHY’
When my husband went through the items I wanted to get rid off I would ask him why he thought we should keep the items he brought back, not to talk him out of it but so I could understand WHY he wanted to keep it. Like WHY are you keeping the Pootie Tang VHS? Just, so.much.WHY?
But here is the thing, the WHY matters. Even if we don’t share their views, it is their ‘why’ and it matters to them so it can matter to us. It has helped me to focus less on what he has but instead why he has it.
Like everyone who has a collection of ‘something’ we hold on to these things mainly because it is something sentimental, inspirational, provides us security (we might need it), it is a lifestyle item (used for hobbies that we are interested in), or is part of how we identify ourselves (things like sports jerseys or posters).
Even if I don’t agree with everything my husband keeps, at least I can understand his ‘why’. Just like I don’t agree that my son needs half a drawer full of popsicle sticks glued into the shape of throwing stars. They are part of his ‘ninja base’, and he is obviously a ninja so who am I to argue with a tiny ninja?
6. OFFER SUPPORT
So, your spouse wants to keep all these ‘things’, then the best you can do is help them manage that.
My husband has like way too many fishing rods, in my opinion. And there are strange piles of wood beside our shed. And we could stock a small hardware shop with our collection of cans, jugs, nails, etc. But this doesn’t bug me like it did when we started minimalism because over time these items have found a home.
With giving them the space and respect to manage their own things, simply offer your support to them. You can ask your spouse if they want help cleaning out a space, or sort hardware with them into jars, or offer to frame their favourite sports jersey.
When things are organized you feel less overwhelmed and won’t worry so much about the things they are still keeping. And bonus, I’ve often found that giving them space, time and support to go through their own things results in them decluttering a little on the side as they sort.
7. ACCEPT THE DIFFERENCES
Okay, marriage is like really weird to me sometimes. Like, let’s take all our ‘stuff’, and our baggage, and our beliefs, and our routines, and our sleep apnea, and our ‘wrong’ way of cooking mac and cheese, and our random singing of the wrong song lyrics and smash it all together under one roof. Happily ever after!
Simply living together is a feat, let alone two different people having the exact same approach to all the possessions in their life. Instead of wasting your time wrestling to get your spouse on board, be OKAY with it being tough and not seeing eye to eye because that is what is normal married life.
Besides, when all is said and done it matters less what your home looks like and more how the people in it are making it feel like a home. Here is the thing, trying to change your spouse into a minimalist isn’t worth your time or the peace of your home.
“Peace at all costs is not peace”
Minimalism, like all lifestyles, isn’t for everyone and although we feel the benefits are so worthwhile, we really can’t tell other people that they must adopt our beliefs, even our spouses.