I Love You, But I Want To Throw Away Your Stuff

Couples, whether new or long-time committed, have a bevy of things to disagree on, fight about, or be annoyed by. How much stuff they have, what the stuff is, and how it’s organized (or not), is a common topic of such discomforts.

I’m usually hired by only one person in a couple. In these situations, one of two situations always occurs: (1) The partner who did not hire me has nothing to do with the project, and is generally resistant to the idea; (2) Both are engaged in the project but each finds a moment to privately tell me how the other partner is actually the really disorganized one. 

I try to play this straight-faced. Mostly, because I understand. There are reasons we keep the things we keep and why other things drive us mad. Some hate items on the floor … but maybe this only disturbs their sensibility in certain rooms. Some tend to keep things “just in case,” while others love the latest gadgets. Some are minimalists, others are maximalists. While we tend to differ in our preferences, we are likely similar at the root: we value certain items over others and prioritize time spent organizing (and the method for doing so) differently. Priorities and values are important to respect and diverge at all levels of life choices and preferences. But, as they relate to stuff, they can be just as divisive. Respecting your partner’s perspective, which includes making the effort to understand it, without judgement, is key.  

Your partner is not patently wrong, messy, or disorganized. Everything is relative. You might not enjoy their preferences. In fact, they may drive you crazy or tempt you to throw away their stuff when they’re not looking. But remember, that is your hang up, and a reminder that you haven’t yet fully dealt with your own issues. Perhaps it’s the unopened boxes with college papers or memorabilia your parents handed off to you. Just because they are tucked away in the back of the closet doesn’t make you right and your partner, who leaves their old tee-shirts scattered on the bedroom floor, wrong. We are all just different sides to the same coin. 

How partners inhabit the same space, creating the nest they both want to live in, is always tricky. But the “stuff” problem is highly magnified when we move past our own personal and emotionally laden issues, to dealing with our partners’. This is a place to become very sensitive to their needs, to their emotionally laden issues. This is where honesty versus lecturing or blaming is key to a healthy home and relationship. The place to start goes back to values and priorities. You may disagree at first, but then make your way toward common ground. There may be areas where you agree to disagree or find compromises. But as with most relationship issues, these are best addressed when not in the heat of the moment, when you are tripping over your partner’s unfinished project or can’t find something in the closet. Carve out some time to discuss calmly.

To all relationships we come with baggage: our past loves and all the messy things that make up our personalities. We also come with bags of stuff, the way we are used to being and all our preferences (the powerful ones and the silly ones). We need to be gentle with our partners and recognize that we aren’t as different as we think. Our preferences may manifest uniquely, but we all have idiosyncrasies, and complicated pasts. With time spent seeking to understand and calmly compromise, your partner can help you on this path toward less stuff, rather than be another obstacle.