Finding partnership in life is a journey. And when we do find that spark, thinking about how well we’ll live together is often the furthest thing from our minds. But when time passes and we settle into our routines our most relaxed selves come out. And so do our habits at home. If differing organizational styles at home have caused stress in your otherwise loving relationship, it’s time to step back and try new tactics. And what better time to do so than Valentine’s Day? With the air cleared between you, you can enjoy the holiday for all its cozy goodness.
Try these five simple steps for how to work with your partner to get organized at home. And let me know how it goes. I can’t wait to hear!
#1. Step into your partner's shoes
Sharing love and sharing space with a loved one can be two different things. We all know what it is like to fall in love, only to learn later that the person we love lives like a slob. Or the opposite, lives with stricter rules about keeping order at home than we’d prefer. Before you pass judgement or pick that fight, take a moment to step into your partner’s shoes.
If you are the neater partner and strongly believe your way of creating order at home is the ‘right way to go’, keep in mind that to your partner, you might be someone with ‘one too many rules’. Keeping the sink clean, the clothes folded and the bed made daily might be just too much for your other half and be causing unnecessary stress. The same goes for the less neat partner. If you are OK with clutter, messy countertops, and overflowing laundry bins, take a moment to visualize these parts of your home through your partner’s more orderly eyes. See how your preferred chaos might upset them or adversely affect their mood.
#2. Have a chat
With both sides in mind, it’s time to get on the same page about finding balance at home. The best way to do this is with a chat. Ask your partner to share with you how they like to keep themselves on track and stay organized at home. Ask with an open mind, and be prepared for answers that have nothing to do with sticky notes and to-do lists. Give them time to get it all out. Once your partner has shared, it’s time for you to share right back. Tell them how you like to keep yourself on track. And be careful not to point fingers as this is not about their habits, it’s about yours. Don’t forget, a good conversation is about sharing and listening. Asking without listening isn’t going to do anybody any good.
#3. Share your 'uncomfortable' list
Now that you both have shared, it’s time to get down to business on what can change around the home. Start by asking each other what areas of the home make you uncomfortable. You might be surprised by what you learn. The organized partner might assume that clutter on countertops makes everyone uncomfortable. But the messier partner might share that an object free kitchen doesn’t make them feel at home. Learning to embrace differences is the glue that holds couples together. So share openly what you’d each like to see shift, as this will be your first step towards positive change.
Keep in mind that your partner might be a more creative or intuitive thinker. And if they prefer to have things out in the open, they are likely a visual thinker too. I see this a lot where one spouse is more left-brained and logically oriented and the other more right-brained and visually oriented. In the home, this can show up as one who loves containers and file cabinets and the other who prefers to see things out. If this sounds like your partnership, try recognizing and using these terms with each other as a way of keeping the conversation light.
It’s time to work towards compromise. The best place to start is to look at what already works. So take time to share with each other areas of the home that already make you both smile. Perhaps how well you share space in the bathroom? Or how you are able to share a computer in the home office with no problem? Search for common ground, then talk about why these areas of the home work so well. Talking first about what works will help you figure out how to translate these same skills to the more challenging areas of your home.
As you go through this process, keep in mind, it takes two to tango. Your intention can’t be to change your disorganized partner to your more orderly ways (or your more orderly partner to messier ways). But, to find a way to meet in the middle. Accept that your way of keeping home – tidy or loose – is not necessarily the right one, it’s just the way that works for you.
#5. Use new words
Finding balance at home with your partner is all about clear and non-judgmental communication. With your differing styles out in the open, it’s time to introduce new language to use around the home. I recommend a technique that I teach to parents for communicating with their kids. Parents often get a sour response from kids when they tell them to, “Put that away” (even when they add “please”). That’s because this language can be perceived as an order. This isn’t fun for kids, and it’s less fun for adults.
The next time you’d like your partner to pick something up try saying, “Can you put this where it lives?” Or come up with your own fun terms that resonate for you both. Introducing neutral organizational language into your relationship allows you and your partner to communicate information freely without pointing fingers. It’s no longer about who did what, but about the home. And jot down effective language in a shared journal or notebook, as writing down a good phrase both honors and reinforces it.
The more you work together to understand each other’s habits, the easier it will be to find compromise with your partner. And don’t forget, enjoy this process. And be sure to celebrate your work together with something loving and fun.
Have a tip about how to communicate at home with your partner? Share in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2015. It has been updated to include new content.