Organizing 911: what to do if your significant other is a slob!

It’s a well-known fact that opposites attract. So don’t be surprised when you find that your significant other’s organizational habits are, shall we say, less than perfectly matched with yours! Chances are, you’ll overlook their untidy habits in the early days – or at least to think – “I can change that…” But then, there you are, five years later, up to your ears in some mess, desperate for a way to teach them once and for all how to clean up after themselves.

Sarah on “tornado chasing”

My husband and I are complimentary opposites – he always jokes that I help him do more and he helps me do less. When it comes to keeping the house neat, let’s just say it’s not always easy – or his top priority. He’s got what he calls “tornados” that follow him around, leaving little mounds of dirty laundry, papers and gadgets in his wake (and yes, he says that with a straight face!!). It’s hard to chastise him when given such a clever, creative excuse – but at 8:08 am when we’re racing to get out the door and he can’t find his office keys, it’s definitely not so cute!

Alicia on “yin and yang”

Life would be boring if we were all identical in nature. There are benefits to sharing space with a person who has different tolerance levels to orderliness than you do. Unfortunately, we haven’t been trained to celebrate those differences and “meet in the middle.” Too often, the neat nick takes on all the responsibility of keeping a shared space tidy, which can lead to pent up frustration (not to mention a martyr complex) that’s not good for anybody. It’s difficult to work to find a healthy balance that gives messier types some breathing room and tidier types a sense of order, but it’s worth figuring out.

We’ve got three tips for finding better balance:

#1: Ditch The Nag

Be clear: nagging is not a motivating concept. It makes the nag feel negative and harpy and the person being nagged feel guilty and under attack. You’re never going to magically turn your slob into a neat freak with negative reinforcement. To get them to stay a step ahead of frenzy, your messy mate will need to associate positive benefits with both the outcome, and probably more importantly, the process. So stop yourself before you criticize and complain. Instead use words of positive encouragement and think of ways to focus their attention on the enjoyable aspects of getting and staying organized. The old adage is right; you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

#2: Set Aside “De-Tornado” Time (yes, it’s a verb) Once A Week

Recognize that there is likely to be an ebb and flow in your significant other’s level of organization. Allow room for a little messiness during the week but put limits on how far it can go. By instituting a one hour window every week for cleaning up “tornados” from the previous week, you’ll accomplish both tasks. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly this little ritual becomes habitual.

#3: Quid Pro Quo

Literally, quid pro quo means “this for that” in Latin. When it comes to getting your loved one to alter their bad habits, you should consider altering one of your less than charming habits in return. Ask your mate what foibles he/she would appreciate if you worked on in return for their efforts to get more organized. As each of you work on your weakness, you’ll have more compassion for the other’s, and at the end of the day you’ll both end up in a place that’s far better than when you started.