Skip to content

DIY: How couples with different decluttering styles can get along

Professional organiser Robyn Reynolds on decluttering, organising and styling as a couple

By The Washington Post | June 25, 2021 | Category

Picture: Unsplash
Picture: Unsplash

Robyn Reynolds is a professional organiser in Los Angeles who founded her business Organize2Harmonize in 2008.

She is a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, written the book "A to Zen, 26 Tips to Inspire Organization," has worked on the television show "Hoarders."

Q: How do you prioritise what stays and what goes when combining each other's stuff?

A: It will depend on what the item is. When it comes to furniture, you have to consider the style and age of the item. If you really can't choose, maybe the answer is to get rid of both and purchase something you both like. If it's about kitchen items, I would say the newer pieces should stay.

Q: What's the best way to manage and merge art and decor when you don't have the same taste?

A: Compromise. Keep a few pieces each of you likes, then get some you both want. There's always something you can find that will work for both of you. You could also work with an interior designer. They're great with this type of conflict.

Q: What is the best way to let go of stuff?

A: Ask yourself these questions: Where is it from? Do I use it? Does it serve a purpose? Do I have space for it? People often get caught up in "it was a gift" and think they have to keep it. It's now yours, and you can do with it what you like. Then there are the expensive items; either stop buying expensive pieces or accept what you spent for it and how long you've had it. Most importantly, you should love what you own, or it should at least serve a purpose. (I don't love my hammer, but it is necessary at times.)

Q: I think my partner and I both have similar tolerances for clutter, particularly when we're stressed. But then one of us will decide it's time to tidy, and nothing else can get done until the space is spotless. Is a standing weekly or daily organising schedule our answer?

A: With any situation among couples, the answer is always to compromise. You both will have to agree to a plan on when the best time is. Maybe one likes it in the evening after work and one at the weekend. You can try different options and see what works best. Alternating days and times might be a good compromise.

Q: What task can I tackle on a day off that gets most accomplished in terms of time? I'm tempted to take my kitchen shelves down to nothing and reorganise, but I'm wondering whether flat surfaces with magazines and mail would be better to handle.

A: When clients ask me this, I ask them what bothers them most. This has to be your decision because you live in the space. If you have a chunk of time, try the kitchen shelves, because reorganising them will take longer than getting piles off tables. The other areas can be done in just 15 minutes a day.

Q: Sometimes, when my better half is not around, I tend to organise their stuff, meaning I put it in an out-of-the-way place where it may not be seen again. I forget where I put things, and when they come looking, they get angry. How can I prevent this from becoming a full-blown argument?

A: I'm not going to get into the right or wrong of this, but I will offer a potential solution. Depending on what their "stuff" is, try putting items in a bin or container, so they'll know where to look when they need it, and you won't have to remember where everything is. Try to agree to set aside even 15 minutes a day or week to organise, so you can cut down on the arguments.

Q: I've browsed so many jewellery and makeup organisers, only to never be happy with what I'm finding. I don't want to display every piece and product, and the available containers look too much like items for a college dorm. What do you suggest?

A: There is no shortage of organising products for these items. There are stackable trays that you can keep in drawers or on a surface. There are also jewellery cabinets if you have a lot of jewellery. These are great because everything is hidden away, but they're only necessary if you have a lot.

Q: What's your favourite surprising tip about organising?

A: Most people don't realise that organisation is truly a brain-based trait. Some people are naturally better at it because that's how their brains work. Others struggle with it because their brains work differently. When couples argue about organising, it's not as simple as just doing it.

Q: What tips do you have for organising a garage?

A: There's no easy way to organise it. You have to take everything out and put items into categories, like sports equipment, beach items and tools. Purge what you don't need or want, then put everything back and organise it. It's best to have some sort of shelving or cabinets and bins with lids to store items.

Q: I moved into a new place with open shelves in the kitchen, and although I'm excited to show off my housewares, I'm nervous about keeping it all organised. Any tips?

A: Open shelves are meant to showcase items and not serve as cluttered storage. With that said, I would keep items such as your dishes, glasses or decorative items on the shelves. Maybe incorporate some nice serving pieces if you have them. Less is more when it's all in the open.

Robyn Reynolds founded her business Organize2Harmonize in 2008 and has written a book, “A to Zen, 26 Tips to Inspire Organization.”. Picture by Angelica Marie Photography /The Washington Post

Q: I have a huge file drawer stuffed with papers. What's the best way to deal with invoices and receipts?

A: I'm not sure whether these are personal or business-related, but you only need to keep receipts as proof for what you write off on your taxes. Maybe you don't need to keep as many as you think. There are also apps for managing receipts, or you could scan them into your computer.

Q: I'm sure I'm not alone in holding on to clothing items that no longer fit, but they hold memories for me, so I can't bring myself to get rid of them. Any tips?

A: Holding on to items from the past is often a way for us to live in the past instead of moving forward. It's not an awful thing to keep a few pieces depending on how many items you're talking about. If there are many, try taking a picture of them, so you'll have the memories. The reality is that they don't fit, and even if they did, they would probably be outdated and you wouldn't wear them anyway.

Q: Can the messy partner have a dedicated space that stays unorganised?

A: That will depend on whether you have the space for that. If so, then I would say yes, because it would solve a lot of conflicts.

Q: I was the child with the messy room and piles of books and notes. Now I'm a mom and I have a son who is this way, even as I've realised that a neat space is helpful. How do we help our 10-year-old organise and declutter? His rock, bottle cap and baseball card collections are sweet, but the clutter is stressing me out.

A: The way we do things is based on how our brains work. You can learn different skills, but you have to make the effort. Children like to hold on to their stuff, so allow him to keep some of it. Teach him to keep it organised in a bin or container and to store like items together. Putting items in bins will at least get him in the habit of thinking of organising a different way. It will give you peace of mind because you won't see it all over the house.