Love

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

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

Organizing A... Marriage?

One of my major pet peeves is when people say that a marriage or long term relationship is “hard work.” This declaration is usually made by a married person to an unmarried person with widened eyes and a serious tone, and carries the mental weight of a thousand marital spats.

It’s not that I think that long term relationships are easy. In fact, I find it pretty obvious that when people coast along in relationships and don’t put any energy into maintaining them, bad things happen. And, uh, I’ve certainly had my share of marital spats!

It’s just that the phrase “hard work” seems so unjustly onerous. To me, a relationship is like a lot of other things in life: you get out what you put in. So, if you pay attention to your relationship and your partner, and put in effort at maintaining it, you won’t put yourself in a position where you need to dig yourself out of a deep hole with “hard work.”

Still, it’s not as though maintaining a great relationship is easy or effortless. It does require a plan, and follow through on that plan. Which means that, just like most other things in life, relationships require some organization! There are as many ways to organize a relationship as there are people on the planet, but my husband and I have found a process that works for us: we set and review our goals once a year.

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Like all the good things in life, the process of goal setting is as important and rewarding as the outcome. So, to make the process feel special, we carve out a specific time in a specific place each year. Said time and place is during our anniversary getaway and usually involves martinis, to be honest.

To get down to the nitty gritty, we have a shared Evernote notebook with a note for each category: things like health, philanthropy, finances, travel, work, and family. We go through each category one by one and review each item within the category. Sometimes we get to congratulate ourselves on a goal accomplished, sometimes we have to re-evaluate a goal or the timing thereof, and sometimes we add more plans for the future. The process reminds us of the things that are important to us - and at the same time reveals the things we’ve been dealing with that are just distractions.

Still, the thing I find most fun about our goal setting sessions is that it puts me right back into that feeling of discovery and possibility that we had at the beginning of our relationship when we were first getting to know each other. You know that time: when you’re starting to share your hopes and dreams for the future, and you get unbelievably excited when you find out that you have some of said hopes and dreams in common. You’re madly in love and the future feels limitless, no matter how cheesy that sounds.

Yes, I realize this seems somewhat implausible: a regular, systematic process of creating and benchmarking against goals sparks a romantic renaissance. But it’s true! I always leave the conversation feeling renewed, connected, and excited about the future.

Organizing: it can be for your long term relationship too!

LMW

On Long Term Love

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a relationship expert. I’m a professional organizer, which means I’m much more qualified to tell how to store your sweater collection than how to recognize true love.

What I can tell you is that I’m lucky enough to be living in a truly fulfilling marriage, one that just turned eight years old today. I can also tell you that the first indication that I’d found the love of my life was so simple that at the time I didn’t think much of it.  

It’s ridiculously simple, in fact: when I told friends and family about my relationship, the phrase “it just works” came out of my mouth.

From the first time I hung out with my husband, he fit into my life. There was no worrying over whether or not he liked me, no strategizing over how to get him to commit, no counting of pros and cons.  I had spent my high school and college years striving and searching and pining for love, and then when I met my husband, it felt like, “Oh, there you are. That wasn’t so hard.”  It. Just. Worked.

Nearly thirteen years after we first met, we are still just two ordinary people who were lucky enough to find each other and smart enough to hang on to each other. No Great American Novel will be written about our love... and if you grew up obsessed with the great literary love stories, as I did, the sheer normalcy of a real, lasting love may at first feel like something of a come down.

Photo courtesy of  Timothy Teague Photography

Photo courtesy of Timothy Teague Photography

But I promise you: the love that just works is worth everything.  It will give you new depths to find in yourself where you least expect them, challenge you to be your best even when life is monotonous, teach you how to give more to another person than you thought you ever had in the first place, and give you a bedrock of security from which to conquer the world in your own way.

Thank you, AVW, for all of it.

LMW

The Well Organized Wedding

As of July 10, I will have been married for eight years. Time really does fly when you’re having fun! Quite a bit has changed in wedding trends since then, but the basics remain the same. In the spirit of wedding season, I wanted to share a few tips that I think will make your entire wedding experience run more smoothly.

1) Cut out unnecessary extras.

The wedding industrial complex is so real. Weddings are high stakes events: you only get one and you want it to be perfect. This makes you extra vulnerable to the marketing of products you don’t need. Companies know this, and they prey on your emotions.

I am here to tell you that there are three things you should not skimp on for your wedding. Get these three on point and yours will be a party everyone remembers for decades to come:

Food. Booze. Music.

And there’s no need to complicate it, all of those things just have to be high quality and plentiful. If you feed people delicious food, provide tasty options for drinkers, and have music that makes people jump out of their chairs to dance, no one will care about anything else.

Look, no favors! All photos by the incomparable  Timothy Teague .

Look, no favors! All photos by the incomparable Timothy Teague.

We cut unnecessary extras, and we had a gorgeous wedding with zero regrets. For example: favors. Think about the last wedding you went to. Do you remember the favors? Did you keep yours (or if it was edible, did you eat it)? If you skip favors, you’ll save hundreds of dollars and a couple giant trash bags going into a landfill somewhere - not to mention the time and effort of putting them together.

No monogram, no problem! (Cake by  Robyn Loves Cake , it appears she has moved to Orlando so check her out, Florida brides! The cake was SO good.)

No monogram, no problem! (Cake by Robyn Loves Cake, it appears she has moved to Orlando so check her out, Florida brides! The cake was SO good.)

We never even considered having specialty champagne flutes and cake cutting utensils. Cake cutting takes about five minutes, and the pictures are just as beautiful without an engraved monogram. Plus, if you do drink champagne at home, it’s far more practical to have a full set of glasses on hand that go in the dishwasher so that you can pour bubbly for all your guests and clean up easily after they leave!

This one's framed in my living room. Dress and veil by  Peter Langner  via  Marina Morrison , suit by  Ralph Lauren , tie by  Thomas Pink .

This one's framed in my living room. Dress and veil by Peter Langner via Marina Morrison, suit by Ralph Lauren, tie by Thomas Pink.

We also didn’t take engagement pictures. My sister snapped a few pics of us so that we had something to put on our website, but that was it. Our rationale was this: we knew we would get beautiful photos from our wedding, and exactly how many photos of yourself displayed in your own home do you really need? I think it’s lovelyto have one or two framed wedding photos, but I much prefer being surrounded by pictures of my family and friends than glamour shots of myself!

2) Hire a day-of coordinator, or, if you can swing it, a full-on wedding planner.

When I got engaged, I strongly suggested (well, more like insisted) that we hire a wedding planner. To say that my parents, who had very generously offered to foot the bill, were not wild about this idea was an understatement. They have thrown many parties before - what could possibly be so hard? Plus, why waste the money?

It did, in fact, rain on our wedding day! My planner had the staff (enthusiastically assisted by my dad) out there cleaning off the dance floor plus a backup plan in place, and it became a funny story to tell instead of a disaster.

It did, in fact, rain on our wedding day! My planner had the staff (enthusiastically assisted by my dad) out there cleaning off the dance floor plus a backup plan in place, and it became a funny story to tell instead of a disaster.

Fast forward to the day after my wedding, and my parents are the biggest evangelists of wedding planners that you will find. Weddings, even if they are small and simple, have a lot of moving parts, and if you want to truly be present and enjoy your day, you don’t want to be the one dealing with them. 

I talk a lot about organizing being a way to buy yourself quality time with the people you love. On no day is that more true than your wedding day! And this is also a place, much like organizing, where you want to look to your friends and family for referrals, and be aware that you get what you pay for!

3) Someone is gonna get weird. Be prepared.

Again, a wedding is high stakes. Everything from the amount of money spent to the numbers of people involved to the fact that this is (ideally, anyway) a one-time only event conspires to spike everyone’s stress. So it makes sense that someone you’ve always been able to count on to behave a certain way suddenly veers off in a totally unexpected direction.

Classic suspects for this kind of behavior are brides themselves, moms, and wedding party members, but sometimes it’s a special guest star like a groom, dad, or random aunt. You won’t be able to predict who your weirdo is, but once they surface, you’ll realize this is happening to you!

It doesn’t matter who it is, or what they’re doing that’s so inexplicably off kilter - what matters is that you understand that this person’s unusual behavior is probably coming from a good place and will pass once the wedding is over. If you can, be patient, listen, and try to figure out compromises.

Engagement is a joyful time, but there’s also a lot of pressure involved. If you’re getting married soon, I wish you low stress, helpful friends and family, and the wedding of your dreams!

LMW

What I'm Reading

Image courtesy of news.nationalgeographic.com (Central Intelligence Agency)

See Historic Maps Declassified By The CIA

My dad and I would get out his giant atlas and just pore over maps for fun when I was a kid (nerd alert!), plus I'm a bit of a history geek, so I found these declassified maps incredibly fascinating.

Photo courtesy of modernluxury.com (Nadia Lachance)

The Bay Area's 50 Most Essential New Dishes

I have friends who traipse all over town trying to catch all these dishes while they're still being served, and I know that's never going to be me, but there is an ongoing conversation with a couple of friends of ours about pursuing item #21...

The Mistakes We Make When Giving to Charity

Having worked in fundraising as both a volunteer and a staff member, all I can say is that this should be required reading for all Americans engaging in philanthropy.  If you really want to make an impact with your charitable donations, this is a must read.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Ok, I'm a little behind the times.  I just powered through this book on a lazy, rainy Sunday and really enjoyed it.  It was less funny than I thought it would be, in a good way, and more thought provoking/less obvious than I expected as well.  Highly recommend, especially for my friends navigating the dating scene!

Organizing as a Couple

Most of my clients are women. For what I’m sure are myriad and complex reasons, women feel pressure to have organized homes, that they are responsible for said organization, and that they need to research how to do it best.  Men, on the other hand, tend to fall into two camps.  Either they are self-professed neat freaks, or they don’t really seem to care.

Home organization can be a huge pain point in a relationship, and mine is no different. I’m, well, me, and my husband is the second kind of guy. 

Things came to a head early in our marriage. We had purchased our first home, decorated it as best we could on our budget, and were enjoying entertaining as often as possible.  And it was driving me absolutely nuts that my husband would leave stuff everywhere and stall when I would ask him to take care of it. Getting mad wasn’t working, so I started asking some questions, and the answers were seriously illuminating.

Question 1: Did you have to pick up after yourself as a child? 

The answer: no.  My husband had chronic health issues as a child and his mom took care of him the best way she knew how, which included cleaning up after him.

Question 2: Do you want to live in an organized house? 

The answer: yes!  My husband was incredibly proud of our home and actually rather hated when it was messy. 

Question 3: Who should be responsible for organizing our home given that we both want it that way?

The answer: ohhhhhh…

I’m not going to tell you that my husband was cured of his messy habits overnight, because that would be a total lie.  But he started to realize that the more effort he put in to creating organizing habits, the better our house looked and felt to live in.  That was also the point at which, as he says to anyone who will listen, he became my first client.  He realized he didn’t actually know how to get organized and he wanted to learn.  To this day, he will periodically come to me and ask for my help organizing his closet or home office.

Last year, on the West Highland Way in Scotland

All that said, let me be 100% clear: just because I’m more organized doesn’t make me a better person than my husband.  I mean, if we’re talking intelligence, drive, integrity, listening ability, and a million other things that make a wonderful person, he’s way ahead of me.  Organizing is a skill, not a value judgment, and I can teach it to you!

LMW

Happy Thanksgiving!

I didn't love Thanksgiving as a kid.  Turkey wasn't that exciting, chocolate was not involved, and there were no presents.  A fine greedy little girl I was!

I like to think I appreciate it now.  Neither my husband's family nor mine has any regular Thanksgiving tradition, so we spend it differently each year: we hosted a Norman Rockwell style feast our first year married, two years ago were in Berlin and London with my family (featuring an epic case of food poisoning for me on Thanksgiving night...), and spent last year in the Santa Barbara sunshine.  No matter where we are, all that matters is that we're with each other and people we love, and ideally that there's some delicious food.  I'm not a seconds person, but on Thanksgiving all bets are off - especially if there's cornbread stuffing!

Covent Garden, London - in a country without Thanksgiving, Christmas comes early!

Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin: home of Christmas market, mulled wine, and... a disco ball?

Wherever you are in the world this year, I hope you and your loved ones are happy, healthy, and safe.  Have a wonderful holiday!

LMW

Weekly Peek

Petunia, positively delighted by all the attention she got at Fleet Week

Doing Fleet Week?

I was alerted by a friend who recently moved here from NYC that the phrase "doing Fleet Week" has a different meaning there.  Here, it means going to Marina Green (or someone's rooftop, if you're lucky) to watch the Blue Angels air show.  There it means... not that!  Cue me turning bright red.  Anyway, a really good friend celebrates her birthday by taking a picnic to the air show every year and she has it down pat: she and her husband go early, bring lots of umbrellas and blankets and coolers, and stake out a prime spot behind the VIP viewing area.  It's a really relaxed, good time to catch up with friends, and we even get in a little exercise since the parking situation is so insane we walk the 2+ miles from our house with Petunia.  Every year I think maybe I'm not that excited so see the Blue Angels, and every year they blow me away!

Photo courtesy of yelp.com

Neighborhood Spot

My husband and I have recently been lamenting that we haven't been trying enough new restaurants.  Living in San Francisco, home of foodies and organic local everything, we could never hope to keep up with all the openings, but still we find ourselves going back to the same few favorites.  It's hard not to, when there are so many great options within walking distance!  We recently headed out for a leisurely weeknight double date to Tataki.  This Japanese restaurant is a local favorite, partly because it only serves sustainable seafood, but also because everything is just so delicious.  It's the perfect place to go when you're craving authentic Japanese food (as opposed to your garden variety cheap sushi joint) but not looking for a big deal omakase experience.

Still smiling at the reunion tailgate!

10 Years Later

We recently attended my husband's 10th Stanford reunion.  Although I'm literally the only person in my immediate family without a Stanford degree (plus a couple of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents... we're one of THOSE families), the place is very special to me because that's where we met and fell in love.  So, in a way, his reunions feel like coming home!  In order to make sure we could attend all the events without going crazy, we spent all our hoarded American Express points on a room at the Rosewood Sand Hill for the weekend.  And we're so glad we did: the hotel is gorgeous, even the basic rooms are big and luxurious, and the service is truly stellar.  

Family Friendly Halloween

One of my friends throws a Halloween open house every year, and this was the first year I was able to go.  She lives in Cole Valley, right near the epicenter of trick or treating and Halloween decor gone crazy - they even shut down multiple city blocks by her house for the festivities!  Her house was warm and fun and full of families with rambunctious toddlers - there was a sword fight going on between Superman and a Ninja Turtle in the foyer for about half an hour!  And after the kids were all taken home for bed, a couple of the girls and I stayed for a last glass of wine and a chat.  Since I didn't want to be a party pooper, but also knew the event was all about the kids, I went with a half costume: wore my tiger ears, pinned my tiger tail to my orange t-shirt dress, and called it a day!  You can see more reasonable day to day (and party) outfits on my Instagram: @lmwedits.