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!


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.


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!


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!


What I'm Reading

Image courtesy of (Emily Beri/Andy Chen)

Where Have You Gone, Angelina Jolie? Celebrities Vanish From Fashion's Front Row

I find the changing landscape of the fashion industry fascinating to follow.  And I wonder what this means for the world of Instagram stars and influencers if the fact that a celebrity is seen wearing a brand doesn't really move the needle in terms of sales.

Photo courtesy of (Bill Matlock/ABC)

Why A Black Bachelorette Is A Big Deal

I haven't been in the loop for a few years, but The Bachelor/The Bachelorette were my Monday-night go-tos during business school with my girlfriends. And it doesn't take a genius to watch a season or two of this monster franchise and realize that people of color a) are severely underrepresented and b) if they are present, exit stage left in very early episodes.

Photo courtesy of (Antonio Faccilongo)

A Million People Live in These Underground Nuclear Bunkers

I find pretty much everything left over from the Cold War a combination of fascinating and terrifying, and this is no exception.  This article also reminds me how little I know about the world - I had literally never heard of this phenomenon before!

Photo courtesy of (Miguel Reveriego)

Chrissy Teigen Opens Up For the First Time About Her Postpartum Depression

I've said before and I'll say it again: anything related to being less than perfectly maternal remains a huge taboo for women.  I'm all for bringing everything into the light, so that each individual can find her way and get the support she needs, whatever her motherhood status. (In related news, Glamour has been killing it journalistically in recent months.)

Stopping Clutter Before It Starts

Clutter doesn’t just magically appear.  Each object that combined with others to create a feeling of clutter came from somewhere, sometime, for some purpose.  This is why decluttering is only half the battle.  In order to maintain an organized environment, you have to be able to control the inflow of stuff as well as get rid of it when the time comes.

Image courtesy of (Carl Richards)

Image courtesy of (Carl Richards)

But we live in a culture that reveres consumption (although the tides may be gradually, slowly, infinitesimally shifting on that point) and shopping habits are hard to change.  This is why I loved Carl Richards’ opinion piece for the New York Times last summer: New Rule: All Purchases Subject to a 7-Day Mental Quarantine. He has come up with a creative intermediate step between his family’s current shopping habits and the eventual goal of acquiring less.

It seems like such a simple idea, but there’s a lot going on here.  First, he recognizes that his shopping decisions aren’t always well thought out.  Admitting you have a behavior you want to change is always the first step, and it’s a hard thing to do!  I have clients who I’ve worked with for months before they can start to see that their consumption habits are directly tied to their continued disorganization.

Second, he’s putting his household on the same team.  His wife, instead of being the policeman who tells him what not to do, is his “fellow customs officer.” I would say a majority of my clients are women who long for an organized home and have a spouse who either doesn’t see a problem or likes the idea of an organized home but doesn’t want to participate in the process.  I can do good work for these clients, but I can tell you definitively that I do my best work when both halves of a couple (and ideally their kids, if they have them) are involved every step of the way.

Third, he’s not giving himself harsh rules he can’t live by.  There’s nothing about the mental quarantine that says he can’t buy things – it just sets up a framework that buys him more time to think about it and encourages him to consume less.  When people feel deprived, they want to act out, whether it’s from a diet or from strict rules.

In a sense, the lighthearted metaphor of mental quarantine is standing in for the overall concept of mindfulness in consumption.  By slowing down and extending the process, Richards is allowing himself to be mindful about each and every purchase decision without getting caught up in the quick dopamine rush of acquiring something new.

Imagine a world in which you give yourself the time and space to carefully consider purchases.  They might be fewer and farther between, but they’ll likely be more useful and meaningful to you!


Can Organizing Save Your Relationship?

In many couples, one person is markedly more organized than the other.  I’ll give you about half a second to figure out which side I live on.  So, I know from personal experience that organizational disparities can cause a certain amount of, ahem, friction in even the most loving and communicative relationship.

That’s why I loved Sarah Burton’s tongue-in-cheek take on getting organized in a messy/neat dichotomy: I Hired A Professional Organizer To Save My Relationship.  I so feel for her boyfriend – I have been there! – and I feel for her, too, because many of my clients have experienced similar judgment and frustration from their partners.

The house divided: literally!  Photo courtesy of (Sarah Burton)

Sarah did the right thing by hiring a pro.  I’m not a therapist, nor do I play one on organizing projects, but a large part of the value I provide is in serving as an unbiased third party.  How do I do it?

First of all, I don’t judge the relative organizing skill sets of the people I work for.  Just because one person is more organized than their partner doesn’t make them a better person, or always right.  You can see this value judgment plainly in Sarah’s account: she refers to herself as “a mess” and “a typical fifth grader” while she calls her boyfriend “an adult.”  That kind of language makes both people feel like the less organized person is hopeless and can never change – which isn’t true, but becomes a self fulfilling prophecy!

Second, I never allow one person to make unilateral decisions about another person’s belongings or the stuff they share.  Doing so would only destroy trust: both the trust my clients have in me, and the trust they have in each other.

Finally, I organize spaces so they work for both people.  It may not be the more organized person’s ideal, but it will be sustainable for both of them, which is really the ultimate goal.

The best part of working with a couple is when they start to see each other as members of the same team instead of as adversaries.  They see the effort they’re each putting in towards the mutual goal of an organized home, and they start sparking ideas off each other about where and how to store things.  It’s pretty cute, honestly!

Could hiring a professional organizer help your relationship?