Tips for Living With Someone Who Isn't Minimal

October 16, 2018

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Boy, do I get this question a lot - how do you deal with someone else's stuff?  How do you live with someone who doesn't want to be as minimal as you?  As much as you can go through and declutter your own things and sort out your house, you can't aways get it as minimalist as you want if you live with other people who aren't on the same wavelength.  That can be frustrating, but I promise that you can get it to a state you're going to be happy with.


John is not a minimalist, so I do have some tips to share.  I'm lucky in that he does like an organized and neat house.  He doesn't like clutter out in the main living areas, so he's good with that lack of stuff.  He's not so good with the closed off areas though.  Namely, his closet.  That man cannot get rid of clothes to save his life.  He's got over 100 t-shirts, easily.  So let me explain some of the tips that have really worked in our house.

Designate spaces and what you expect for each.  The person who is minimal needs their own spaces, the person who isn't needs their own spaces, and then there are common spaces.  In one person's own designated space, the other person cannot tell them what they should or shouldn't keep or how neat it should be.  That's right - you have to give up control over certain areas.  But they should be areas you aren't really in that often anyway.  The minimalist can do whatever they want with their own areas, including keeping absolutely nothing if that's what they prefer.  For example, anything that is my own space is, well, basically empty.  This includes my area in the closet, my bathroom, and the room where the treadmill is.  John's areas are his truck and the garage, which are absolute pits, I assure you.  He also gets his own TV stand in the basement to keep all kinds of video games and batteries and other odds and ends, his bathroom, his section of the closet, and certain kitchen cabinets.  He has 100% control over those spaces, and he likes having space to keep things without having to justify them to me.  Then we have common spaces, which are all the main rooms and living areas and just generally the places that other people would see if they came to our house.  For those, we go with the lowest common denominator, which is me, because it's easier to control and keep neat.  But we do have slightly more decor and furniture than if it were truly up to me.  This has been a good compromise for us.  He still gets his little pockets of disorganization, I get my perfectly empty areas, and then the rest of the house always look well-kept.

Lead by example.  You cannot throw out someone else's stuff.  Read that again.  As tempting as it is, I cannot get rid of the shirt I know for a fact John has not worn since we moved into this house 2.5 years ago.  I want to, but I can't.  You can only lead by example.  The best way to get someone else to clean up their mess is to make sure your own areas are beautiful so they can see how nice it is.  People aren't born knowing how to organize and clean and get rid of things when they're no longer needed.  It's something you have to learn.  You can teach them, by example.  I know that when I make sure my planner and pens are put away, when my makeup is under the bathroom sink instead of on the counter, when my laundry is put away, John makes more of an effort to make sure his shoes are in the closet and he's not leaving mail all over the dining table.  It's much more noticeable to someone when there's a mess and they see it's only their possessions.  If it's a whole family's worth of crap on the kitchen table, no one feels the need to clean it up.  So get the process started and make sure you're on top of your neatness game.  Generally, if you're itching to declutter someone else's things, chances are you aren't done with your own journey.  Focus on yourself first.  And if you are perfectly decluttered, then also remember this:

Never volunteer to continually sort out their mess, especially if it's going to drive you crazy.  This gets people in trouble.  Like not touching their stuff without them knowing, you also shouldn't always put it away it even with their permission, because it will just annoy you and let them off the hook.  Part of owning things is being responsible for them, and if you don't want that burden then you shouldn't have the item.  If you take on that burden, especially for items that aren't yours, you just get angry and resentful and the other person could potentially acquire even more because they aren't experiencing the ramifications of having too much stuff.  So let them experience it.  Even if it gets worse before it gets better.  It might be very tempting to just say that you'll handle it yourself, but if you hate doing it and find yourself annoyed every time you're sorting out the linen closet to clean up a mess you didn't make, stop volunteering to do it.  Yes, it will get 10 times worse before someone else in your family takes control.  But you have to let it happen.  Nothing makes people minimalists like continually having to clean up their own messes and clutter.  If you're always filing away your husband's papers or picking up your kid's toys, and getting frustrated about it, they will never understand why you're mad or realize what a huge job it is that you're doing for them.

Hopefully these tips can help you live happily with someone who isn't quite as minimal as you.  It'll take time to get to a common ground, but soon your home will be looking great.  Which area of the home are you currently at odds over?  If you have any particular questions, as me in the comments.


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