When I first started decluttering my home I was totally on my own. My husband wanted nothing to do with it; even my kids were absolutely fine living in their cluttered mess. It was all me, all on my own, all by myself. Not even the dog wanted anything to do with it. And let me just say there is nothing quite as unmotivating as trying to declutter when you have a messy family.
So when readers email me about the frustrations they have when their family is simply not on board with their decluttering dreams, I totally understand how frustrating it can be.
My husband and I fought for years when I first started working on our own home. He would watch me like a hawk and take things out of donation boxes and bags totally appalled that I would ever consider getting rid of a perfectly good purple checked dress shirt that hadn’t fit him in years.
At first, I used to declutter in private. Fill up boxes while he was at work and drive them to the donation center before he got home. But I soon realized that wasn’t fair to me or to him.
Here’s the thing. When you make a change to a home that you share with another person, doing it without their approval or, at the very least, their acceptance is not only wrong for them but it’s wrong for yourself as well.
You need to find a halfway point. A place where you can both meet in the middle. A solution that you can both live with even if one person is ready to make a monumental change and the other person is not quite there yet.
Here’s the thing. Decluttering a messy home is a project, one that you can’t do in a weekend or on your own. It takes time and requires help. But not all is lost. There are things you can do to get started with your decluttering plans while you wait for your spouse and your family to “catch up”.
How to Declutter When Your Family is Messy
These are the tips I used when I started decluttering my own home years ago. The same tips that I used on my reluctant husband and boys, so trust me when I say…they work. My overall advice to you is to be patient. It takes time to make a change and you were able to get to this point on your own, so try to allow them some time to also get to where you are now.
Tip #1. Give your kids a space that is all their own.
It took me a while to figure out why my family was so opposed to me cleaning out my home. They were scared. They were worried I was going to make decisions about their own personal things. That I was going to remove something that meant the world to them without realizing it because I did not see the value in that item. What it meant to them.
I realized what I needed to do was give them their own space. A place where they could keep their things out of my reach. An off-limits area where they could store stuff without worrying that I might give it away to charity.
For my kids, that meant giving them permission to keep their room as their own. What I mean by that is I would no longer nag them to clean up the room or make their bed. I wouldn’t bang on their door, trash bag in hand, at 8 am on a Saturday morning announcing…today is the day we clean out this mess! By giving them a room that was truly all their own, that meant that they could keep it just as messy and as cluttered as they wanted to as long as they followed a few ground rules.
Rule #1. Food and drink.
They were not permitted to keep food or drinks inside of their bedroom. I was not going to risk an ant infestation from a half-eaten pop tart or a spilled bottle of Mountain Dew.
Rule #2. Dirty clothes.
It was their responsibility to get their dirty clothes to the laundry room if they wanted them to get cleaned. I seriously don’t mind washing their clothes, but gathering them up and putting them away, was something my kids were old enough to do.
Rule #3. Door shut policy.
This was a biggie, their door needed to remain shut at all times. If they want to live in a pigsty that was just fine with me but I absolutely did not want to see it.
Tip #2. Give your spouse space that is all his own.
My husband, on the other hand, was a different story. He is a collector. A collector that loves to set out every single item. He has shelves and shelves of sports memorabilia, in particular the Pittsburgh Steelers. This collection used to be spread out all over our home. He also has a few other collections he has gathered up throughout the years. Yes, it’s true these collections are a total eyesore to me, but they are a love for him and I knew he was worried I might secretly remove things here and there.
To keep the peace and to save my husband’s worries, I gave him full reign of our rec room. This way he could display as many items as he wanted as long as his collections did not spill out into the rest of the home. This was a compromise we were both willing to live with.
I also gave him an area in the kitchen. A section in the kitchen that he could use to keep his things sorted out in his own way. This space consists of two upper cabinets, counter space, two drawers, and two lower cabinets. No, it’s not a large area but it was more than enough for him, and it helped him relax knowing I would never go into this area and touch or move his things.
Tip #3. Sit your family down and have a conversation.
Usually, when our family is not as excited about a project as we are, we tend to stomp our feet and get into a yelling match. Okay maybe that’s just me, but I’m banking there are a few of you out there that feel the same. You want them to get excited by the change you are promising them. You want them to be as ready to dive in as you are, and when they’re not, it can be frustrating and annoying all the same time.
What you can do is have a conversation. Let them know why you want to declutter your home. Let them know how you feel when you walk into the kitchen and the counter is buried under a complete mess. Explain to them your need to have calm and peace in your family room instead of wanting to pull your hair out in frustration because you can’t see the couch.
Be honest, let them know how you feel, and explain to them what you hope will happen once you get started.
Please know, that having a conversation with your spouse and family, will not be what gets them on board. What it will do is let them know why you are going to start turning their lives upside down. Give them a bit of a heads up what is coming their way, and they might just be a bit more accepting when things do look worse…because they will.
D/M PRO TIP: Remember, when you first start decluttering things will always look worse before they start to look better. To help, what you need is a plan. A plan of attack that you can follow along to and work your way around your home room by room in a more systemized way. This will help to keep your home from looking like it was hit by a tornado while you are trying to clean things out.
Tip #4. The rest of the home was fair game.
Once my family had a space that was safe and out of my reach, they completely relaxed and allowed me to go crazy in the rest of the house. I was able to work my way through the kitchen, the family room, the office, even our bedroom. I did it at my own pace, I worked on things at my own speed, I set my own rules, and I celebrated my own victories.
Tip #5. Start out slowly.
Pick one room or one space in your home to work on, I suggest the nightstand next to your bed. That is not only a simple spot to focus on first, but it will also be an area that you will benefit from most.
Once you have that little success and major win under your belt, you can focus on a larger area like your bedroom.
If you find boxes or piles of his things set them off to the side. When you are able, ask him to relocate those items to “his” area so he can work through those things on his own time. Remember slow and steady is not only the best approach for you but for your spouse as well.
Positive Results you can Hope to See
As I worked my way through the home a funny thing happened. My family started to notice.
They slowly began to see the beauty of an uncluttered room. How easy it was to find things for both them and myself. And how quickly it took to pick up a room at the end of a day.
They started to notice that my once short fuse was now much longer. I no longer got frustrated by the state of a room. I no longer got annoyed because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I no longer jumped on one foot howling in pain after trampling on a random piece of something sharp and pointy.
Then, something even more magical happened.
My family started to declutter too. My husband actually started to go through some of his collections and pare down on the vast amount that he had. Some got relocated out to the barn, other items got relocated to the garage. And before I knew it the rec room that used to give me the heebie-jeebies was now a room I actually wanted to hang out in.
Then, even more mind-blowing, my kids actually started picking up the rooms. Now don’t get me wrong, they didn’t turn into Martha Stewart overnight! What did happen however was the floor became noticeable, something I hadn’t seen for years.
It is still amazing to me how much my example change their entire viewpoint. And maybe that is the biggest tip of all.
Lead by example.
Help your family to see the results of your hard work and the positive changes that take place in your entire mentality.
When you can show them the benefits of living with less, even if it is only in one room, that might be all the proof they need. And, get ready for what happens next. Your family taking the reigns and cleaning out a bit of their own clutter and stuff.
It’s true, they may not become your partner in crime ready to clean out the entire home from top to bottom, but they may be more willing to keep things put away and off the floor for good. And that right there might be a victory worth fighting for.
Lead by positive example and let your family work their way over to your side in their own time.