Can you win the decluttering fight with your husband if you’re married to a packrat?

Today’s guest post is from Sherry Gareis, author of Declutter Now! She’s going to share with us ten questions you can ask while you’re decluttering that can help avoid that big decluttering blow-out.

Declutter Now!: Uncovering the Hidden Joy and Freedom in Your LifeDecluttering, in and of itself, is tough stuff. Finding the time and energy to sort through personal belongings and deciding what to part with can be a taxing process. The challenge multiplies if you’re decluttering with your spouse. Even the most agreeable and workable couples can run into snags. But mix in an unhappy, unhelpful, fearful, or argumentative husband, and the stress level can quickly escalate.

There is a major rule that we, at Declutter Now!, teach and try to live by:

“You cannot declutter for someone else.”

I’m so grateful for this rule because while he won’t admit it, sometimes my husband, Lindon, tries to declutter for me – and I’m NOT having it! This boundary keeps us in line, just as much as it helps the people we coach.

One of our first decluttering tasks was to tackle my desk. More of a ‘collector’ (you understand this ladies, right?) at heart than Lindon, he didn’t see the need for the overwhelming stacks of papers and files I kept. Frankly, there wasn’t a ‘need’ for most of it, but I had to uncover that truth at my own pace. Sometimes ‘stuff’ represents WAY MORE than just ‘stuff’, and this was definitely true for some of the clutter that invaded and took over my desk. I was attached to the security of keeping old records and fearful at the prospect of letting go of these letters, documents, notes, etc.

What IF I needed them someday?

Hmmm….with the bulk of my ‘collection’ ranging from 10 – 20 years old, and largely untouched, I was definitely convicted when attempting to support my argument.

Luckily for Lindon, I was ready, and we made much progress on that first decluttering journey together. I want you to be reassured, though, that I understand the nature of this personal process. Even when critically necessary, it cannot be rushed.

Encouraged and supported? Absolutely!

Rushed? Not a good idea!

So how do spouses successfully declutter when items are community property or areas are common living space?


That’s not a solution!


SURE. But even the most committed prayer warrior isn’t going to clean out a closet just by praying about it.

Give Up?

NEVER. Throwing in the towel isn’t an answer.

You must take steps to ensure that decluttering is both courteous and productive. The secret? Constant communication – before, during, and after you declutter! So here are 10 discussion questions that can help you as you declutter:

3 Discussion questions BEFORE you start to declutter:

  1. What area(s), specifically, do we plan to tackle?
  2. Why are we decluttering? Is it a space we want to repurpose for another use? Are there boxes of memorabilia that need to be sifted through? Are we decluttering to gather items for our next yard sale so we can make a few bucks? Having a clear objective from the get-go will go a long way in aiding decision-making as you begin to work through the process.
  3. What type of items do we intend to toss? Donate? Keep? Sell?  Are we going hardcore or is this a light run-through? Will we each work on just our own stuff or will we sort through everything together?

4 Discussion questions AS you declutter:

  1. Why do you want to keep that particular item? What’s most important about this question is how you say it. If it comes out of your mouth as, “Why in the world would you want to keep that piece of garbage?” you’re going to get nowhere fast! Be sure your tone conveys sincerity.
    For an item of sentimental value – Is there a way we can better honor it rather than just having it packed away? Is there someone else in the family who might appreciate this item more than we do?
    For broken items, discuss whether or not it’s advantageous to splurge on the cost of repairs.
  2. How can we compromise? Perhaps we can each keep something ‘just cuz’, and then we’ll also each decide to get rid of something we know has no value or use. You’d be surprised how many things of ‘no value or use’ get kept for years and years and do nothing but collect dust and take up space. Even the seemingly meaningless can be a source of dissension.
  3. What can we do to motivate each other and reinforce the value of the process? While you work, have fun dreaming about the end result – more space to enjoy, extra money, a feeling of accomplishment, etc. Use words of encouragement to keep each other going along the way and to see the task through to fruition.
  4. How are we going to handle a difference of opinion? Convey a heart of compassion and muster up every ounce of empathy you’ve got. Consider what it would feel like if your spouse wanted to get rid of something very special to you. If at a total impasse, set the item aside and agree on a time limit with which to revisit the conversation. Perhaps enlist the help of a trusted friend. Sometimes a few brainstorming ideas from someone not directly impacted by the decision can do the trick.

3 Discussion questions AFTER you are done decluttering:

  1. How did it go? Not just in terms of actual physical progress, but how do we feel? Peaceful? Free? Accomplished? Did we achieve our goal?
  2. What would we do differently next time? In fact, what is our next decluttering project?
  3. How can we stay decluttered in the future?

Do you see a theme here? Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Open, honest, and compassionate conversation can make the difference between decluttering triumph and abysmal failure.

Overcoming Objections to Decluttering

Perhaps you have misgivings about decluttering with your man. Are there some sensitive areas to address but you’ve been hesitant to broach the subject? Even the closest of couples can encounter ‘touchy subjects’.

If your husband is nervous or resistant to the idea of decluttering, print out this list and use me as the instigator of discussion. Yes, I’m serious! Sometimes it’s easier to get the ball rolling if the prompts and directions are coming from someone outside the camp.

But what if the problem goes deeper than just working together and finding common ground during the process? Perhaps one of you has a severe clutter or hoarding problem? I advise to treat this as seriously as any other destructive, life-debilitating, marriage-destroying issue. Seek help.

The degree of help needed is dependent on the extent of the problem, but consider self-help material, life coaches who specialize in decluttering (Yours Truly!), and counseling.

The Benefits of Decluttering

For most situations, though, decluttering can be fun! Bonding and unification occur at the heart level when you and your spouse work as a team. There’s no greater feeling than when hurdles are overcome and positive results are realized together.

Decluttering, in and of itself, is rewarding enough.  Partnering together, declaring victory over clutter, and feeling the peace and freedom which comes from a job well done is gratifying on its own. But enjoying the benefits as a couple can quickly take decluttering from just a task or to-do on your list to a life-changing, marriage-enriching, incredible experience.

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