“He never returns the stapler, I always have to go searching for it…”
“They come racing in the door, throwing their school stuff down. It doesn’t matter how many different systems I put in place they won’t do any of it and then the mornings are a disaster…”
“My husband won’t throw anything out…”
“My wife’s messiness is driving me nuts….”
THIS, same same but different when I open the floor up for questions after delivering a talk on decluttering and getting organised.
Sideway glances from partners, children. The tension sits in the air, the frustration palpable and oozing out of tense shoulders, and ridgid folded arms.
What to do, when you are hell bent on staying organised and the rest of your family take defying you as a sport they want to win.
I get it! Being organised makes life so much easier, why can’t others see the benefit and help? In most cases, you aren’t asking for the world. Just for things to be returned, put away, actioned so that you don’t have to spend hours sorting it out later.
Mess and disorganisation causes stress for some and others aren’t affected as much, which is hard when you live with the polar opposite.
But what to do about it!
Here are some tips to help you navigate this challenging situation:
Don’t broach the subject when you are both angry
When we are angry, we don’t listen properly, arguments become more about winning the point than making changes.
Decide on non – negotiables
Take time away from the situation, when you’re not angry and list what drives you crazy and how it affects you. Make dot points if needed to help you prepare for a conversation. You can always say something like ”I’m feeling unsettled, I’ve made some dot points to help me stay on track”.
Have a chat
Find a time when you are both calm to chat about this, Be curious. Approach this conversation with respect and openness. Ask them how they feel about the situation and what they find challenging, if they have any thoughts on how to resolve some of the issues, what will make it easier for them, let them feel heard. Let them know how it impacts you emotionally as well as physically. Let them know you want to support them and to be supported, and what that means to you. Watch that your tone remains relaxed. If you can feel the tension rising, it’s time to step away. Remember change is hard and nagging is likely to have the opposite effect.
Base your side of the conversation on your experience, rather than what they are doing or not doing. Don’t start sentences with statements like “you keep throwing your stuff down….”, instead keep it to your experience and how you are affected “I find it really hard to relax when the kitchen is a mess…”.
Look at it from their view – there are many reasons people can be messy. Everyone’s brains think and focus on different things – they may not see the mess in the same way you do. If they are adults, they may have not been raised in a tidy home; had someone always do it for them; or had an adverse reaction to growing up in a sterile home environment, where nothing was kept. Do they work long hours, or have a high stress job and don’t have the emotional capacity to work out a system to stay organised? There could be an undiagnosed learning disability like ADHD that is hindering their ability to stay focussed. Find out what they find challenging. Do they have too much stuff? They could be feeling oppressed, constricted by your standards. You may both be feeling disrespected due to the others actions, or lack of.
What is your area, their area and which are shared areas? Does the disorganisation affect your ability to function? Consider what would be acceptable? For example – messy kids rooms, you might decide as long as the dirty laundry is put in the laundry and the dishes in the dishwasher, clothes, school items prepped the night before, then you will let go of the room being a mess. Letting go of the need for their personal spaces to be tidy and focus on the areas you share and that affect you more. Can they be allocated a messy zone, like a section of the bedroom or the kitchen, and if anything migrates it gets put there.
We need to think progress over perfection. If you are total opposites when it comes to tidying and organising, it’s likely that neither of you will want to become like the other. Look for a middle ground you can both accept. Know that this isn’t a one-time incident, you will need to work together and reframe each situation to reach an agreement. Is it possible to hire someone to do some of the tasks like the laundry or cleaning to help relieve the issue.
Keep it simple and easy
If you are coming up with a system for a messy family member, what would a simple solution be? For example, if you have a drop zone, is it over complicated? Based more on aesthetics than use ability? Rather than a drop zone that has separate sections for shoes, bags, coats. Could it be one container or locker instead. Get them involved with finding a solution. Think about what sorts of solutions will make it easy to stay organised. Keeping things close to where they are used, for example a hook for keys near the entrance.
Come up with suggestions – Suggest a couple of solutions for areas that impact you personally and get their input on whether they think it will work for them. It could be as simple as having a decorative basket at one of their dumping grounds. If they are a visual person (if you’ve been to one of my talks, this would be a seeker) it might need to be an open basket, otherwise it could be hidden below a lid. Start small and build on what works.
Work as a team – don’t make it a me versus you situation, the goal is to have a home you are both happy with.
Lead by example
Take care of your own things, seeing the benefits can help family start to make their own small changes.
Keep to your word – If you say you won’t help family find stuff if they didn’t put it back in the first place, but end up helping them. Then why would they change? If you say there will be consequences if something isn’t done, but cave most times. Then why would they change? Think about it, if it doesn’t affect them, then what’s the incentive? I get why you might do this – it could be because it will be quicker for you to do the task, or the consequences might affect you too, for example you will all be late to your commitments unless the item is found. But this doesn’t help with learning life skills. It’s about sharing the responsibility and not having all the responsibility on your shoulders. This tip is about making sure you look after yourself. Choosing when you will help them and when it would be good for them to learn the consequences. Using a colour coded system can help with determining what belongs to whom. If you can’t stop people from taking your stuff and returning it, maybe it could be under lock and key.
Celebrate the small wins
When you notice changes, it’s more effective and motivating to let your appreciation be known then to be negative and self righteous about the situation (even if you are thinking “why would I thank them for something they should have been doing all along”). It could be something as small as putting the plate in the dishwasher. It’s a step in the right direction. Change takes time. Saying thank you is the simplest way to show your appreciation.
Focus on the positives – focus on what is working, rather than what is being missed and build on it.
Build on habits and adjust
Once a family member has gotten used to a new way of doing things, think about one small tweak that can improve the situation. And if it’s not working, is there one small change you can make – like changing the location or type of storage used? When it comes to helping young children learn, one technique is to make it a game (“let’s see how many lego blocks we can put in the container before the music stops”) and be specific (rather than “tidy your room”, give specific instructions like “put all your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and …”). Instil the habit of tidying as they go (“before you can go out and play with your friend, put the crayons back in the blue caddy”).
Ask for help with completing tasks – it can be frustrating when you have to take the initiative, and remember everything that needs to be done, but if organising doesn’t come naturally they might not think to do the task. Nagging won’t have the same effect. Divy up the chores “How about you clear the table and I load the dishwasher?”; “I’ll make dinner if you’ll clean up afterwards”;“Do you want to dust or vacuum?”
Life happens – things will happen that can halt progression. Don’t give up, hit the reset button. Patience is needed.
Over to you, let me know your thoughts!
Don’t delay, start today