Survival Guide for Living With a Messy Person

You’ve finally done it. You cleaned out your closet, burned your ex’s love letters, and bid farewell to old books - but not without thanking them first!

Even your pantry makes you so happy that you shared it on Instagram #Nofilter!

Yes, every remaining item in your home now has a designated spot and you're finally filled with inner peace.

That's until your partner walks through the front door, plops down a stinky gym bag and proceeds to leave a trail of clothes all the way to the bedroom.

Inner peace turns to rage, which turns to resentment, which turns to having another Ex and therefore more Ex's letters.  And so the clutter cycle repeats.

This clutter lover could be your partner,  roommate, parent or child (time to move out you lazy millennial!).  No matter who, it's hard to stay motivated when you know all your hard work will be undone in a matter of hours. Silently picking up after them is neither fun nor good for the health of your relationship.

But don’t lose hope yet - here are some tips on how to make it work.

1) Have the Talk

I know, sounds too simple, right? But before taking any drastic measures, take a minute to chat with the messy one in your life about how it makes you feel when they create a mess.

Try to calmly explain what’s bugging you and give specific examples.  Rather than saying, "Stop leaving your crap all over the place!", you might want to try, “Hey, sometimes I almost trip when your bag is on the floor.  Do you think you could put it in the closet?” 

Tell them how their carelessness makes you feel and give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it didn't occur to them that it would bother you so much. Either way, talking about it is definitely a start.  See what happens.

2) Adapt

Have you noticed that when you are at a friend’s house and offer to help in the kitchen you have to ask where certain items are?  You might even be surprised by how they have decided to organize things. Believe it or not, the same could be happening in your own home.

For example, I used to split my cutlery into separate containers (forks, knives, spoons). But every time my partner finished unloading the dishwasher he would jam all the utensils through the 3 different dividers with no regard for what went where and which way was up.  Cutlery chaos!

After being annoyed a few times I realized that I had made my system too complicated and added unnecessary steps (dividing the utensils before putting them away). I replaced my system for a single pretty container where you can just place all utensils upright. You may need to compromise to get to a mutually acceptable solution.

Sometimes I still day-dream of shiny, neatly separated spoons and forks, but then I'm overtaken by a feeling of divine gratitude that he chooses to eat most foods with utensils rather than his hands.

3) Re-frame and Persuade

Readers of this blog may identify with reducing clutter and mess through the lens of the KonMari Method.  I think it's stating the obvious that more women than men have read the book and bought into the theory. For whatever reason, most guys don't pick up books with the word Tidying in the title.

But there is another framework that fits nicely with KonMari that might be more appealing to a resistant counterpart.


Both guys and gals seem to resonate with the basic theory of minimalism: Reducing stuff means less stress, more money, and more freedom.  Now we're talking!

Try sending them a blog or TED Talk on the subject and see if you get a response.  Follow that up with a suggestion that you purge and see if it has seeped into their mind.   If they go for it, at the very least your home will have fewer things for them to mess up. 

4)   Relax and Reflect

You tried talking, tinkering and even TED. 

You might still not get the response you wanted, so it’s on you to decide how to respond.  Think about all the wonderful parts of your partner, roommate, parent or failed to launch offspring.  Hopefully they have enough redeeming qualities to keep you from packing their mess and tossing it out the front door.

You may never be able to change their ways entirely, but hopefully, you can at least find some common (clutter-free) ground.