Couples

Little Adjustments, Big Impact

I am not a fan of productivity hack culture. I find most of the ideas hawked by self help authors, podcasters, and vagabonding entrepreneurs to be less impactful than they seem and more work than they’re worth. I’m especially skeptical when it becomes obvious that the productivity hacker in question doesn’t have a clear vision of why they’re saving all that time. They just seem to be wedging more work and more hacks into the day, rather than taking that extra time and using it on something meaningful to them.

However, there are three tweaks to routine that my husband and I have made together that have moved us forward on three important shared goals: to read more of higher quality stuff, to get more, better sleep, and to spend more, better time together. If you share any of these goals, I’d recommend considering the following small changes to your routine.

1) No phones in the bedroom.

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I resisted this one HARD, you guys. And I made all the excuses you’re probably thinking of. My phone is my alarm clock! We don’t have a landline! I like to check email and social media in bed as a transition into my day each morning!

But the fact of the matter is that having access to our phones in bed meant that we were accidentally staying up too late and spending lots of time technically in the same space but ignoring each other. Plus, I was more likely to run late in the mornings because I got distracted scrolling through somethingorother before I even got out of bed.

We used the occasion of moving into our new master bedroom to start with a clean slate - and light assisted plug in alarm clocks. I have read more books in the last year than I probably did in the three preceding it, but I have to confess… if it’s a REALLY good book, I WILL stay up!

2) No drinking during the week.

I have never been particularly concerned about my relationship with alcohol. So when I read an article about the idea of only drinking on weekends, I resisted this idea too - what fun would it be to give up the pleasure of sharing a glass of wine to unwind at the end of a rough day? 

A little moderate abstention makes The Best Martini In The World all the more delicious!

A little moderate abstention makes The Best Martini In The World all the more delicious!

But the fact is that two things are true. The ritual of drinking causes me to check out mentally with the first sip - which means that any time after that is a wash in terms of any meaningful activity, including reading. And even one drink makes me more sluggish in the morning.

So, I brought up the idea to my husband and he agreed to give it a go. We have used the same rules from the article - abstain on school nights except for social events and vacations - and the better evening and mornings are totally worth it. I even dropped about five pounds without thinking about it!

3) Close the office door on evenings and weekends.

I have a nasty habit of retreating to my home office whenever I’m bored to check email, scroll through social media, and basically doodle around and waste time. I hate that I do this, but I couldn’t find a way to stop myself. Until that is, I was having coffee with Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity expert, and she told me that she physically closes her home office door to be able to focus on her family and personal life.

We’re still testing this one out, but early signs are good. We’ve been spending at least a couple evenings a week curled up on the couch with the dog between us and either noses in books or both looking over a laptop to do some planning. A far cry over retreating to our separate spaces to consume separate sources of media!

What seemingly small adjustment have you made that had a big impact on your life?

LMW

4 Powerful Strategies for Getting Organized As A Couple: Couple Struggles Part 5

You may see yourself in one or more of my previous articles on struggles that couples face when trying to get organized:

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

  • Part 4: Just Get Rid of It!

If so, know that you are very much not alone! You’re also probably wondering how to tackle your organizing struggle with your loved one. Here are some strategies that I both use and recommend to keep the organizing process smooth and as low on conflict as possible.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

1) Acknowledge that it takes two to tango.

Both of you got your home the way it is today, and both of you are going to have to work together if you want it to change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each of you contributed 50% of the mess or have to do exactly 50% of the work during the organizing project! It does mean that it isn’t productive to spend time and energy blaming one half the couple (whether it’s yourself or your partner!). Instead, team up as co-conspirators in the organizing process.

2) Avoid placing a value judgement on organizing skills.

Some people are good at organizing. And some people aren’t. That’s ok! Organizing is not an inherent trait, it's a skill that can be learned. So, if you’re already good at organizing, that doesn’t mean that you’re better or smarter than someone who isn’t - and the reverse is of course also true. If you can separate your feelings about your partner’s organizing skills from your feelings about them as your love and partner in life, it will be at lot easier to work together!

3) Give each person their own space.

I find that a lot of organizing struggles stem from objects being commingled at random. Of course, many items in a home are shared among everyone that lives there - kitchen tools being one of the most obvious examples! But by mixing up things that clearly belong to individual people, you muddy the waters about who is responsible for organizing those items and the spaces they live in. And in a vacuum of responsibility, nothing gets done. The more you can separate belongings and give them dedicated, designated locations, the easier it is to assign responsibility and the more control each person will feel over their own belongings.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

4) Think about how tradition has affected your approach.

In pretty much all the heterosexual couples I work with, the female partner is in charge of the home - whether or not she works and/or earns more than the male partner. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s of course up to each couple to divide responsibilities in the way that works for them. However, this traditional division of labor can become a problem when it happens by default and/or puts a greater total burden on the female partner.

(Note: this dynamic can also exist in homosexual couples where the partners have defined their identities based on traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.)

So, I really encourage you to talk to your partner about the goals you share for keeping your home organized and how each person can contribute to reaching them. This keeps the focus off divvying up major, well known tasks like laundry and dishes, since this traditional approach can obscure the many smaller tasks that contribute to a home but are often automatically picked up by women and unnoticed by men.

In conclusion…

All of the above are strategies, but none of them can be implemented without a shared vision. So Step 1 should always be to get on the same page about what you want your home to look and feel like, and how you want to use your space. After all, it’s impossible to properly share the load when you haven’t defined it in the first place!

LMW

Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.

LMW

Who's Responsibility Is It, Anyway? Couple Struggles Part 3

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

Today, we’ll explore what happens when one partner either doesn’t acknowledge that organizing is a problem, or doesn’t want to participate in the organizing process. It’s really tough to organize your home when one half of your partnership doesn’t want to get involved in the process or see any value in the result! I actually see quite a bit of this, and the pattern is fairly similar. 

One partner is responsible for the upkeep of the home, and they’re at the end of their rope. It might be because they don’t have enough time, they’ve outgrown their skill set, or life circumstances have added complexity to a routine that used to be comfortable. Either way, their home isn’t working for their family, and it’s stressing them out big time.

The other partner isn’t stressed at all! Their day to day experience hasn’t changed much, so they don’t see the problem as significant, or something that requires their input.

I’ve been working with one couple to declutter an all-purpose storage room and garage in preparation for a remodel to create a home office. The husband is really successful, driven guy whose career demands that he spend very little time in the home, so it falls to the wife to run the household. She’s also incredibly busy with growing her business and parenting two young children, and she feels a significant amount of guilt and shame that she’s allowed parts of her home to become cluttered.

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At the beginning of our first organizing session, my client and I couldn’t walk very far into the room. About halfway through the second session, we started discovering boxes of the husband’s old school work, papers, and memorabilia, and by the end of that day we had cleared approximately 3/4 of the floor space.

I encouraged the wife to show him the progress, and ask him to take the time to go through his own belongings to contribute to the success of the organizing project. She was realistic - he doesn’t have time, she explained, and when he’s home he wants to be with the kids. All fair, I told her, and we’d organize the space no matter what happened with his stuff. But as I left, I encouraged her again to invite him to participate in his own way.

When I arrived for the third organizing session, the room was even clearer - the husband had been impressed by our progress and inspired to contribute! He had sorted through all of his papers and downsized the collection significantly.

This only happened because we showed him what was possible in the space, rather than trying to convince him of the value of organizing or forcing him to participate during the organizing sessions. We respected his ownership of his own things, and inspired him to engage.

As a matter of fact, I still haven’t met this husband, and that’s ok! The point is that the space that was completely stressing out my client is getting organized, and enabling her to move forward on the remodeling project.

It’s not for me to dictate who should handle what in a household - those sorts of negotiations are not in my scope of work! Instead, it’s my job to meet each member of a couple where they are, and to move the project forward productively while respecting each of their time, needs, and belongings.

LMW

Who's Really "The Organized One"? Couple Struggles Part 2

If you’re just joining us, take a peek at my introduction to this series on how differences in how people approach organizing their homes can cause relationship strife!

Today, I’m tackling the most common flavor of imbalance between partners when it comes to organization: the partners have accepted their roles as The Organized One and The Disorganized One, and The Organized One is in total control.

But, you might say, doesn’t this make sense? The person who’s better at something should be in charge of it! Well… not necessarily.

In many cases, the more organized person blames the less organized person for 100% of the clutter. Guys, if there’s one thing my mom taught me, it’s that it takes two to tango. Sure, it’s possible - even likely - that one person contributed more to the clutter than the other, but I have never worked with a couple in which one person was in fact perfectly organized.

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

One couple I worked with was dealing with what they affectionately referred to as “The Pile.” This was an ever growing and changing heap of things they didn’t know what to do with and didn’t have time to think about. The wife was suffering quite a bit of guilt about it and using humor to deflect… and the husband wasn’t exactly absolving her of that guilt! They both were totally devoted to the story that The Pile was her fault and hers alone to deal with.

Well, imagine both of their surprise when we found quite a few items belonging to the husband in “The Pile” - and not only that, but things that mattered to him that he had been looking for.

No one’s perfect, especially when it comes to organizing. And this is a key component of my work: showing my clients what’s really going on in their homes, and how everyone who lives there can contribute to creating a more organized environment no matter their natural organizing aptitude.

In the case of the couple above, the root of the problem was that they didn’t have designated homes for all of their stuff in places that made sense to both of them. During our time together, we edited their collection of belongings and created systems that both partners committed to using together. Was the process tension-free? Certainly not! But when I arrived at their home a year later to reorganize their spare bedroom for their new baby, most of the systems were still working.

So if you’re The Organized One and frustrated with The Disorganized One, it might be time for a little self-self-examination about how you might be contributing to organizing problems. And hey, Disorganized One - you might have more desire and talent for organizing your space than you thought!

Next up: what happens when one partner just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about?

LMW

Couple Struggles Part 1: Everyone Has Them

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There is a fundamental truth I have learned: if there is a couple that exists, one person will be more organized than the other, and this discrepancy will cause strife.

I’ve lived this conflict in my own relationship! I’m sure you can guess who the more organized person in our household might be… and it used to drive me crazy that it seemed like my husband was either blind to clutter or just didn’t care that he was living in the middle of a disorganized whirlwind. 

Notice that I said “seemed.” Because how we perceive things in our own heads is very rarely the same as the way other people see them! What to me looked like disorganized chaos looked extremely unremarkable to my husband, and he was completely confused as to why I was so upset by something as simple as stuff.

If you’re curious about our personal story, I talked about it here, way back in 2016!

So, given the fact that I am, well, me, you might assume that I always side with the more organized partner when I’m working on organizing a space with a couple. You would be wrong! I treat each client with same respect and trust and take that responsibility very seriously. This is just as relevant across projects as it is across household members within the same project.

So, for the next couple weeks, we’re going to take a deep dive into the various delightful flavors and variations of organizing imbalance in couples, the kind of trouble it can cause, and some strategies to help you rebalance the concept of home organizing in your own relationship.

Everything in this series is based on my professional expertise and my experience of organizing homes for couples over the past nearly five years. I’m not a counselor or therapist, I’m just sharing what I’ve seen in my work in hopes that it might help you!

First up: the classic story of the couple consisting of The Organized One and The Disorganized One. Surely it’s all The Disorganized One’s fault… right??

LMW