Living with a disorganized partner or roommate can be challenging, regardless of how tidy and organized you are yourself.
If you and your partner or roommate both struggle with keeping your house clean, you may be stressed out by the mess and feel unsure about how to get on top of the clutter. If you’re organized but your partner or roommate isn’t, you may feel that an unfair amount of work falls on you by default.
There are lots of reasons why your partner may not be as organized as you are, but regardless of what the reason is behind your partner’s untidiness, what matters is that this is something you both want to work on—it’s important that everyone involved buys into the new plan so that ongoing organization is easier to maintain. It also helps that, in most instances, getting your clutter under control is something that can be improved by following some simple practices:
- Take the lead with organizing
- Communicate openly & fairly
- Work together to create a realistic cleaning routine
- Declutter your home to make organizing easier
- Create and maintain your boundaries
- Have compassion and understanding
- Seek outside help
Let’s dig in.
Take the lead
In most relationships, one person will likely have to take the lead when it comes to organizing. If the messiness and disorganization bothers you enough to be reading this blog post, that person is very likely going to be you.
Ideally you won’t have to manage the house once you get your organizational system set up, but you may have to push the process along in the first couple of months in order to settle into new routine while the other person adjusts to the changes.
Communicate openly & fairly
Communicating can be challenging, especially when it comes to potentially emotional or contentious topics like home organization, or if you’re communicating with children.
To make these conversations easier, try to identify the messy areas of the home that bother you the most, as well as the reasons why those specific areas bother you so much, and bring this information and insight to your conversations. While discussing cleaning your home, it is important to be clear about your desires, how the messiness makes you feel, and how you would like things to change, but avoid insults and demeaning or accusatory statements. Remember that the goal is not to hurt each other or accuse each other of laziness—you are trying to work out a shared problem together.
Compromise and adjust your expectations
In any shared living situation, you will have to make compromises. It’s unlikely that you will find someone who shares your exact same organization and cleanliness standards, so you will both have to learn to meet your partner somewhere on the spectrum between each of your preferred levels of cleanliness. You will have to decide together what is realistic to ask and expect of each other, and work to build solutions around that. This could mean scheduling cleaning and organization sessions, tackling tasks together, or dividing tasks up.
Work together to create a realistic cleaning routine
Your cleaning schedule will need to take into consideration your unique challenges, such as work schedules, how physically demanding your job is, whether you have kids, what is realistic to expect of each other, and your individual level of tolerance for mess. It’s important to develop this routine together so that it is realistic in what it is asking of both of you and everyone can be fully invested in making it work.
Here are some key things you can build into your plan to make things easier:
- Establish frequently travelled common areas as “mess-free zones” that should be kept clean and organized (within reason) by both partners, such as kitchens or entrances.
- Conversely, establish one or two “messy zones” where things can remain for the messier person to tidy at their leisure without nagging.
- Work together to figure out which tasks you each prefer doing and which tasks you absolutely hate.
- Create a monthly calendar that outlines which tasks need to be done, when, and how often. These can be broken up in whatever way works best for your situation, but a room-by-room approach is a common one. Agree upon the tasks and include a reasonable, mutually acceptable deadline for completion, then assign each task, switching off regularly so things are fair (unless you both conveniently love/hate opposite tasks).
If you find that the calendar approach doesn’t work, or that your partner is not aware of all of the work required to maintain an orderly home, you may want to consider creating lists of tasks on a white board, arranged by duration. For example:
- 2-5 minute tasks: Making the bed, unloading the dishwasher, wiping down the kitchen counters, taking out the garbage, etc.
- 5-10 minute tasks: Vacuuming, cleaning the toilet and bathroom sink, etc.
These tasks don’t need to be assigned—they can just be there so you and your partner are aware of what needs to be done. If you or your partner feels motivated, you can look at the list and see what needs to be done with the time you have available, and cross that item off the list.
Make organization easy
The best way to keep your home organized is to make it as easy as possible for everyone to stick to the new system. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Make sure items you use often are easy to access and put away.
- Don’t stress about labelling—your system may need to change as everyone adjusts, and labelling drawers and containers only increases the chances that something will be put in the “wrong” spot.
- Invest in furniture that doubles as storage, such as storage benches, ottomans, or coffee tables.
- Maximize storage space using tools like lazy susans, stackable containers, tension rods, drawer dividers, or adhesive hooks.
- Use baskets and other attractive containers to store items on open shelving. This can reduce the visual clutter and contribute to a sense of calm throughout the house.
Declutter your home
One of the easiest ways to get on top of disorganization in the home is to get rid of belongings you don’t need or want. It’s a much simpler process to keep things organized if everything is needed and has somewhere to go. Begin by sorting through your items—tackling the process room by room helps limit the mess—and placing them into four piles:
- Keep: These are items that are still useful and you still want or need.
- Donate (or sell): These are items you no longer need or want, but are still in good enough condition for someone else to use.
- Recycle: These are items that are no longer useful and can’t be reused.
- Store: In some cases you might want to move certain items into storage if you don’t have space in the home but need the items.
Once your items have been sorted, make sure you actually follow through with donating, selling, or recycling them—learn more about what to do with your decluttering pile.
Create and maintain your boundaries
If one of the issues you struggle with is that it feels like your partner or roommate takes your cleaning for granted or expects too much from you, it’s important that you set appropriate boundaries around home organization and cleaning tasks.
Try to resist doing jobs assigned to your partner because you feel they are taking too long. Instead, agree to routinely discuss the cleaning schedule you have created so you can figure out which parts aren’t working and what areas may need adjusting. Scheduling regular check-ins makes it easier to have an open conversation without the pressure and awkwardness of initiating the conversation.
Have compassion and understanding
It’s all too easy to find yourself furious if you come home from work only to discover [insert your specific pet peeve] hasn’t been cleaned or put away properly. It’s especially frustrating if this is something that happens often and is a repeated point of contention in your house. When faced with this scenario, it’s important to take a moment and have some compassion for both yourself and your partner.
Change takes time and there will be some issues to work through. You may even need to take some time to identify new organization needs and acquire new tools to help you keep your clutter under control, such as closet organizers or storage containers. Remember that failing to follow a new plan or forgetting a new schedule does not mean they don’t care about you or your household. While it can be immensely frustrating when it feels like you are the only person cleaning the house, your partner may also be struggling to stay on top of things. Be mindful of any challenges they are facing and help support them where possible, while still maintaining your boundaries.
Seek outside help
If you find that things aren’t getting any easier after taking some time to try different organizing solutions, it may be worth looking into hiring outside help. Depending on where you are in your journey, this can mean something as serious as seeing a couples counsellor or something smaller like hiring a professional home organizer or a cleaning service. If you and your partner can’t quite reach the same level of cleanliness, paying someone else a few times a month to help offload this issue may be worth the money.
Living with someone who has an entirely different idea of what “clean and organized” means can be an exercise in patience. It can be hard to balance your differing expectations, especially if your capabilities and contributions aren’t equal, but it can help offload some of the pressure if you:
- Take the lead
- Communicate openly and fairly
- Compromise and adjust your expectations
- Work together to create a realistic cleaning routine
- Declutter your home
- Create and maintain your boundaries
- Have compassion and understanding for each other
- Seek outside help if appropriate
Read more TSI tips about how to get and stay organized:
- How to Stay Organized After Decluttering Your Home
- How to Organize a cluttered House: Easy Solutions to 6 Common Home Organization Problems
Ready to get organized?
Read our organization resources for expert advice on decluttering, organizing, and more.