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How to Declutter When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want To

Today I’m chatting about something a little different from my normal DIY topics – How I manage to declutter my home with a spouse who doesn’t believe in decluttering.

This might seem like a far stretch from my usual DIY topics, but ultimately my goal is to help you create a home that you love and are proud of. And in order for me to be proud of my home it needs to be clean (at least mostly clean). That starts with removing some clutter.

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how to declutter when your husband doesn't want to

If you landed on this post you’re probably in the same situation I’ve been in for nearly the last 9 years – trying to maintain an organized, clutter-free home with a spouse who never wants to declutter.

It has been a frequent source of frustration in our home starting when we first moved in together many years ago.

As time has passed my husband and I have learned to compromise when it comes to our differing views on what we want our home and ‘stuff’ to look like.

This has not been easy for me, my friends!

What Not to Do

Before I get started when how I manage to declutter with a husband who wants to keep EVERYTHING, I want to lay out some ground rules for what this article is not.

I am not advising you to ignore your spouse’s feelings when it comes to stuff. I would never advise anyone to throw away their spouse’s stuff without permission. And I am absolutely not encouraging anyone to shame their spouse because of their differing views when it comes to stuff.

Instead, if you’re living with a packrat spouse, I would advise you to approach decluttering with compassion. Instead of getting angry at all the stuff, talk to your spouse about why they want to keep it. (And know that this might be a long conversation.) And then, respect their answer.

Just because their motives for keeping things are different than yours doesn’t mean their feelings are wrong. And, y’all, it took me a while to come to peace with this.

Decluttering with a Reluctant Spouse

Just Start Decluttering

If you want to motivate your family members to start decluttering, the best thing you can do is just get started. Let them see you decluttering your stuff and oftentimes they will catch the decluttering bug, too. Seeing your spaces suddenly clean and more useable can be a motivator to start decluttering their own items.

This has not always been effective with my packrat husband, but he’s starting to see the light. I declutter my half of the closet and a few days or a week later I notice that his half is a little cleaner too. I organize my work bench in the garage and after a while his becomes more organized too.

Not only does jumping in and getting started decluttering help to motivate those around you, but it also just feels good! If you’ve been hesitant to start decluttering because you know that your spouse is not on board, I recommend just jumping in and getting started with your own things. You don’t need to wait for your spouse to be on board to get started.

Respect His Clutter

Don’t throw away your spouse’s stuff. Seriously!

I used to really struggle with leaving my husband’s clutter alone. I’d think, I know how to fix this! And I’d start sorting stuff into to trash, donate and keep piles. And then I got rid of that junk!

As you can probably imagine it didn’t go over well. And, honestly, I felt awful once I realized that the stuff I had trashed were things that he had been saving for some purpose down the road.

It took me a while to understand that if I threw away my husband’s items he wouldn’t see it as help. Because he didn’t view those items as clutter – he viewed them as necessity.

So I’ve taken a step back and stopped trying to fix my husband’s clutter by just taking over. Instead I try to see it from his perspective. I might think something is a piece of junk, but he sees purpose in it. And that’s okay.

And, really, I’ve realized that respecting my husband’s things is an extension of respecting him. I value his opinions, perspective and insight. And, I hate to admit it, but some of those things he insists on keeping because he swears they will be useful someday have actually proved to be useful.

So even though the box of 27 extension cords in the garage drives me crazy, I just put it up on a shelf and leave it alone. (But, seriously, who needs this many extension cords??!)

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decluttering with a reluctant spouse

Ask for Input

This is a slippery slope, but it’s a way to get your spouse involved in decluttering.

Once I’ve gone through all of the items I want to declutter in our home that are just mine, I’m ready to move on to the shared areas like the kitchen, bathrooms and garage. When I’m decluttering items that I think my husband might have a stake in I always try to ask for his input.

When I’m decluttering an area that we both use like the kitchen, I put items that I think my husband might have opinion about in an “Ask Dan” box. (His name is Dan.) Then I ask him to go through that box to give me the final okay to get rid of things.

Sometimes I even set a time frame for him to go through the items. I’ll say something like, “I’m going to take this stuff to the thrift store on Friday so be sure to look through it before then.” Then Friday rolls around and I go ahead and get rid of everything still in the box.

Of course you can ask your spouse about individual items as you’re decluttering, but I try to make it super easy for both of us and the “ask Dan” box (or pile) makes it super simple for both of us to declutter quickly.

Make Decluttering Easy

If you want to ease your packrat spouse into decluttering you have to make it easy for them. Super easy.

Easy to Find Donate Boxes

One way I encourage decluttering is by keeping ‘donate boxes’ around the house.

For example, in our closet I keep a cardboard box that we can easily toss clothing items into that we no longer want/need. When it’s full I drop it off at a local thrift store and replace it with a new box.

This makes getting rid of clothes so easy! As soon as we decide that something doesn’t fit or isn’t our style anymore we can just drop it in the box and be done with it.

I also keep a box on the first floor of our home to toss in things we no longer need while we’re downstairs. This is usually random kitchen items, books or whatever else we come across.

Admittedly, I use these boxes way more than my husband, but I do occasionally find his items in there and I totally count that as a win.

Trash cans in every room

So much of our clutter comes from paper trash!

A piece of mail gets opened and the envelope is left on the table. A package is opened and the box and packing materials get left on the floor. A magazine is read and then left by the bed to never be read again.

It drives me crazy!

So I try to encourage getting rid of paper trash right away by making sure there are trash cans in every room of the house. This way even if someone else is leaving paper trash around the house I can clean it up in just a few seconds.

Set Boundaries for the Clutter

Respecting your spouse’s love of stuff doesn’t mean that you have to live in a cluttered, messy home. It’s your home, too! And it should be a place that you both enjoy and feel comfortable in.

Over the years my husband and I have learned to compromise when it comes to what we decide to keep in our home. I have become less rigid in my belief that everything repetitive and not immediately useful needs to be thrown away or donated. And my husband has become more sensitive to the fact that keeping huge amounts of stuff just stressed me out.

Here are a few of the boundaries we’ve set around clutter that seem to work for both of us.

Give Your Packrat Some Space

We are so fortunate to live in a house that is big enough that my husband can have a whole room just to himself.

Initially I was very resistant to giving up our spare bedroom for my husband’s stuff, but it has been one of the best decisions for us when it comes to compromising on the clutter.

Much of my husband’s stuff comes from the fact that he has many, many hobbies. And all of these hobbies have lots of different tools and gadgets that go along with them. I couldn’t declutter that stuff even if I tried – I don’t even know what most of it is!

So we make it work by using the spare bedroom as his hobby space. All of his stuff has to fit in that room and it doesn’t matter if it looks like a total mess because I can just close the door.

If his hobby items end up left around the house, when I’m tidying up I just put the things back in his room and close the door.

I feel like the key here is the door! Not having to look at the clutter frees me from stressing about the mess.

Initially we kept many of his hobby items in our bedroom, but they always looked disorganized and I just hated it. Giving up the spare bedroom has not only given me a more clutter-free home, but it has given him the space he needs to actually pursue his hobbies. And a space where I’m not nagging him to clean up. I’m sure he appreciates that.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of space and, trust me, I am so grateful for this spare room.

Here are some alternatives:

  • A cabinet (with doors)
  • Attic space
  • Garage space
  • Shed
  • A portion of a room with a divider

Schedule Big Decluttering Projects

When it comes to decluttering areas that are going to take a long time I try to plan a whole day to tackle the clutter and let my husband know several days in advance of my plans.

Sometimes the decluttering just has to get done whether my husband is ready for it or not.

When I’m planning to tackle big projects (like the garage) I try to let him know about a week ahead of time. This way he can decide to clear out his stuff ahead of time or plan to be there to help me with the big declutter. Or, he can just give me full reign of decluttering and organizing, but usually he’d rather be involved.

Planning these big projects ahead of time helps me to be ready with things like boxes, tubs and trash bags. It also gives my husband the heads up that “hey this area has gotten out of control and even though we don’t want to, we really need to take care of it now.”

It feels like the most fair way to make sure he has a say in what we choose to keep while still making sure that we get the job done.

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how I declutter with a husband who loves stuff

Decluttering When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want To

So this is my gentle approach to decluttering with a spouse who never wants to declutter. These are the methods that works best for us and give us some harmony on a subject that we totally don’t agree on.

At the core of all of these strategies is respect. While I love a clean, organized, clutter-free home, I love my husband even more. (Even if I have to remind myself of that many times when I look at the clutter.) And respecting his attachment to things is just an extension of respecting him.

Over the years we’ve learned to compromise when it comes to the amount of stuff in our home. It has not been a fast or easy process!

I hope this insight into our struggle with decluttering gives you some ideas for how you can tackle decluttering with a spouse who just doesn’t want to!