Since I started AMAZINGLY SIMPLE I have gotten the same question over and over. How do I get (insert name here) to get rid of their junk? For the purposes of this email we are going to talk about your packrat spouse. (Don’t worry I promise to help you with your kiddos too – we will handle the kiddo packrats a little differently) I have purposely been avoiding this question, but now I think it needs to be addressed. The short answer is you don’t. The long answer is if you don’t, they will. Let me explain.
Let’s start with you. You are excited, you are getting rid of clutter in your life and it feels good! You think everyone should immediately jump on board and “catch up” with the minimalism train. After all when you look around your house, it’s all their “stuff” that’s the problem, right? So you tell your spouse “get rid of this junk” “this house would be so nice if your crap wasn’t here” “my stuff is in order, why isn’t yours?”
Okay, let’s take a step back and pretend that the issue was weight instead of clutter. Maybe, your spouse was an amazingly overweight person when you met or maybe your spouse and possibly you, gained a lot of weight throughout your lives together. You could have always been very heavy or very thin yourself, or maybe recently you started exercising and eating right. In any case you are feeling good (or at least better) and you are looking good (or better than you were). You are so much healthier that you take a look at your spouse and well… You want them to help themselves, you want them to have what you have and you want them to do it now. So you say “You need to lose weight” “You are really fat” “Why aren’t you losing this weight? Do it now! Look how I did it. Look how thin I am. Aren’t I amazing? You should be like me. I don’t like you the way you are.”
Okay, so most of us would NEVER say that to our spouse if it pertained to weight. So, why would it be okay to say that to them about their stuff. The difference is how we look at this stuff. Some people feel that their stuff is a part of them. They may feel actual physical pain if their items are removed. Some people tie their memories directly to an object. They feel their memories will be removed if that item is removed. It is not unusual after a forced purge (where someone’s stuff is gone through and discarded without their approval) for the person to commit suicide. I am not saying that if you throw out your spouses worn out underwear that they will kill themselves, I am just saying that sometimes this can cause REAL PAIN. Plus the way we might be talking about their things (that they may see as an extension of themselves) might be REALLY MEAN.
So what do we do? Treat your spouse with LOVE. Accept this as you accept any of their other quirks. Have a real conversation (not when you are angry and definitely NOT when you have any items in front of you with a garbage can nearby). You can explain what progress you have made in your decluttering and how that makes you feel. You can also state that they might have some things that they might want to get rid of (do not state any specifics) and that you would love to help them if and when they would like you to. Then leave it at that. When you are going through your things you may need them to help you from time to time. Perhaps you are cleaning out the garage and you find a bucket of stuff that belongs to both of you. You can ask for your spouse to go through them with you to see what need to be kept and where it belongs (see how I did NOT say what needs thrown out) then be very upbeat if they say they need it all – help them find a place for it and move on. If darling spouse gets rid of anything (I MEAN ANYTHING) praise them for it – that might have been a really hard step for them. You can also offer to hire me to help them – sometimes a third party makes it easier on everyone – but know that I will NOT actually get rid of anything without their approval.
We wouldn’t put someone through gastric bypass and then expect them to keep off hundreds of pounds of weight without them WANTING to do it. And in fact, although most weight loss surgeries cause the person to rapidly lose weight, MANY of these people regain all of their weight and sometimes even more. I really believe (and case studies show) the same thing holds true for decluttering. If you choose to do it for the right reasons, you will succeed. But, no one can make that choice for you.
I’m sorry that this is kind of a tough love type letter for those of you with packrat spouses, so let me leave you with some good news. Your spouse is watching you. They love you and see the changes in your life. They will probably follow in your footsteps, after you have made the choice to let go of trying to change them. Their progress could be very slow and steady or having enough time to mull it over on their own they might choose to go rapidly through their belongings.
Be kind, be patient, pray for your spouse, and keep working on you!
Happy spouses the AMAZINGLY SIMPLE way!