Many people who try to simplify their lives and declutter their
living spaces find that the most difficult obstacle in their quest for
simplicity isn’t the clutter itself … but a significant other or
roommate who isn’t on board the simplicity train.
Living with a packrat can be downright frustrating for many simplifiers.
Recently, reader Jasi asked:
I live in a big house with tons of things, mostly my
husband’s. He’s not on board with my lifelong minimalism and quest for
a simple lifestyle. Damn shame I adore him so. Any suggestions for
finding peace with a pack-rat?
This is actually an issue that many people making positive life
changes will face: they want to make changes, but others in their life
don’t want to make the changes. If you have a spouse who likes to spend
a lot but you’re trying to be frugal, or a spouse who eats fatty,
sugary foods when you’re trying to eat healthy, it can be very
But there are ways to live in peace, instead of constant war, with a
packrat. Let’s look at several strategies — and you should find the
strategy that applies best to you.
Strategy 1: Win them over.
This is the strategy I’ve used with success with my wife, Eva, and it’s
the ideal strategy, of course. I didn’t force Eva to join me in any of
my changes, but partly because of inspiration from me, and partly
because she’s a strong-willed person herself, in the past year or so
she has joined me (or worked on her own) to eat healthier, exercise
(for the first time in her life!), reduce clutter (it’s a blast!),
become organized, and achieve her goals. I am extremely proud of her.
The strategy is to inspire your significant other to join you in
your positive life change. You cannot change someone, or force them to
change. You can’t nag or bully. However, here’s what you can do:
- Inspire. Show them what a great thing this change
is for you, how it has helped you and made you happier. Show them how
much of a burden is lifted when you get rid of clutter, how simplicity
is so much more calming and pleasing. Show them how excited you are
- Inform. Talk to them about what you’re going
through, why you’re doing it, what it requires, how it makes you feel.
Offer to give them some reading material, ask if they’re interested. If
not, don’t force it on them. Just encourage. I have sent Eva links from
time to time that she might be interested in, and she actually reads
some of them. :)
- Ask for help. Making a positive life change is
always easier and more likely to be successful if you have support from
a loved one. Be direct and ask your significant other (or roommate if
that’s the case) for their help. Many times, people will give you help
if you ask for it. Don’t make it seem like you’re trying to change
them, but that you just want their help in making your change.
- Make it a team effort. If they are open to the
change, and want to read more about it, ask them if they’d like to join
you. Sometimes, they will! Suggest that instead of you making this
change alone, the two of you do it together, as a team. It can be great
fun! Eva and I love decluttering together.
- Be patient. Just because you’re excited about
making a change, doesn’t mean your partner will be. You have to expect
that — people move at their own pace. Just be encouraging, and months
down the road, you never know — your partner might start to come
around. Until then, don’t be negative at all if you can help it —
negativity works against you.
Strategy 2: Zone defense.
If the first (and ideal) strategy doesn’t work, or at least hasn’t
worked yet, and your partner or roommate refuses to join you in
decluttering, work out a compromise.
A compromise is not ideal — compromises never are. But it can keep
both of you sane, so you might give it a try: split up the house into
zones. For example, the living room and kitchen might be yours while
the home office and bedroom are theirs, or you might even have zones
within a room. Again, not ideal, but it’s workable, and I’ve heard of
people doing this with success.
Within your zone, you are free to do with it what you want.
Declutter, or hoard, it’s up to you. Decorate it how you want. Keep it
as clean or as dirty as you want. But no one is allowed to violate the
other’s zone, and if you make a mess in the other person’s zone, you
must agree to clean it up right away.
This can be a permanent or a temporary solution.
Strategy 3: Find Zen in the center of chaos.
This is much more difficult than the first two strategies, but I’ve
also known people who have learned to use it: just learn to live with
their packrat ways. Accept that you cannot change them, but that you
love them, and just accept their clutter and mess.
It’s difficult, I know. It takes a lot of meditation, a lot of
soul-searching, a lot of deep breathing. It may take months or years to
learn this, but consider that if you don’t, you may lose your sanity.
Accept what you cannot change, and change that which you can.
One way to live with this strategy is to ask your packrat loved one
if you can declutter certain things, and keep their clutter hidden in
cabinets. Then, you just need to worry about them leaving things around
the house — if you don’t like it, you’ll need to clean up after them.
If you can live with it, then don’t clean up.
If you choose this strategy, I suggest 1) doing some daily
meditation or exercise to find your center of peace; and 2) having at
least one corner of the house that is your own, that you can spend time
in, reading or meditating or working, without clutter. Your little zone
Strategy 4: Ditch ‘em.
This, of course, is the most drastic of the strategies, and is strictly
a course of last resort. There are times when two people grow apart,
and their lifestyles and views on life and hopes and dreams are no
longer compatible. In these cases, it could be beneficial to both
parties if they go separate ways, especially if staying together causes
more harm than it does good.
Now, I’m not recommending that you get a divorce. I would never
recommend that — although I have heard of people who have done this
because they can no longer live together (due to clutter and other
issues). I think this strategy is usually more appropriate for
roommates, as they don’t have the issues of a relationship and legal
and financial ties to separate. But if things have gotten so bad that
you are no longer happy in your relationship, you should consider all