Finding Common Ground

As the old saying goes, “opposites attract.” One of the most common questions I get is about how to live with someone who has different views about keeping and storing belongings. Often, one half of a couple believes “less is more,” and easily parts with possessions, while the other half is more of a packrat, preferring to hold onto everything. This situation can be further complicated by differences in organizing strategies, such as when one prefers to have everything “out” in piles lives with someone who can’t stand visual clutter. Obviously, this can cause a bit of conflict.

Whenever there are opposing opinions in a relationship, the best approach is negotiation. After all, the goal is for each person to feel accepted, respected, and loved. A good negotiator takes the time to understand where the other person is coming from. Below is an overview of 4 types of organizing profiles I typically encounter that result from divergences across two axes:

  • Visual Clutter Tolerance
  • Accumulation Tolerance
Organizing Profiles

Let’s look at each one:

“Minimalist”

This term is growing in popularity and now has many implications. For the purpose of this diagram, the minimalist is someone whose believes that quality of life is better with less. Minimalists are uncomfortable when their environment appears messy, and can easily donate or trash anything that isn’t adding value to their current lifestyle.

“Stacker”

This is someone who doesn’t mind if things are piled about, as long as they are being used. The most important factor is not how a space looks, but rather how it functions. The stacker can usually do periodic purges and get rid of anything that is no longer relevant. Items that have current priority can be piled up or hung wherever they are convenient.

“Stasher”

Stashers are most concerned with how spaces look. Visual clutter can be a source of anxiety, so stashers tend to sweep items in to drawers, closets, bins, and boxes. Stashers are comfortable with owning and keeping things as long as they aren’t left lying out and about.

“Keeper”

Keepers equate holding onto belongings with a variety of positive feelings, including but not limited to emotional connection, security, pleasure and peace of mind. Shedding possessions can be unsettling for the keeper, as is having items disappear at the hands of another into unidentified spaces.

As you can see, these 4 types have different priorities and different comfort levels. If one person tries to inflict his/her style onto someone else in the household who has a different profile, there is likely to be tension. When addressing the conflict, it can be helpful to remember that isn’t just about the “stuff,” but rather about how we define contentment.

In order to respect everyone’s preferences, I recommend:

#1 Give everyone a “zone of his/her own.”

This may be a room, section of a room, or a couple of disparate locations in the home. Even if this is just a chair and end table, it is important that each person feels he has a place where he can relax and keep things the way he likes. Those with a high tolerance for clutter need to be able to put things down without having them instantly put away, and those who don’t need some place they can count on to look good. Having control – even of a small space – makes us feel that how we feel matters to those we live with.

#2 Negotiate common spaces.

Sit down and define what each of you is willing to accept in the spaces you share. Stashers may need to be willing to have clothes hanging on the treadmill because that location is most convenient for their stacker mate. Likewise, keepers need to understand that 5 weeks of newspapers spilling onto the floor may make it hard for their spouse to relax and enjoy watching TV in the living room. Both sides need to give a little, finding comfort in the fact that their private zone will be untouchable. It is common for new systems to need a bit of tweaking, so be willing to keep working at it until you find something that is acceptable to both parties.

#3 Show appreciation.

People who live together typically like each other, and want to make each other happy. If you notice that someone in your household is making an effort to respect your organizing needs, express some gratitude! When we feel our attempts at selflessness are being noticed and valued, we are more likely to keep trying.

*     *     *     *     *

The good news is, if you are living with someone who has a different style from your own, he/she may be bringing needed balance to your own inherent proclivities. In addition, it is my experience that a couple who is willing to work to a mutually-pleasing solution typically end up finding a common rhythm.

Which profile do you most identify with? Do you live with someone who has a different profile? What tricks have worked in your household?

27 thoughts on “Finding Common Ground”

    1. And as kids become teenagers and adults, they have their own styles as well. Little children need instruction, but older children need respect. I do tell my parents that the teenage years aren’t necessarily indicative of what is to come. Closing the door can be a great solution at that stage:)

  1. This is the clearest explanation I’ve ever seen! I’ve always been surprised to discover the stuff I’ve packed away when my work and living spaces are so tidy – now I understand that I am a Stasher. I think my husband is a Stacker because he keeps tons of loose paperwork around his work area.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…ISTP Organizing ProfileMy Profile

    1. I love anything that can be boiled down into a matrix:) I think people often confused organized with keeping things and seeing things. Clarifying the issue is helpful for designing the best solution. Stashers and stackers are on different ends of the spectrum, so sending good wishes to you both as you negotiate. Normally, couples who have been together for awhile have figured out a workable middle ground, as I imagine you have!

  2. This was great. Loved the matrix. Our home currently has a representative living on each quadrant. Respect for the common areas of our home and allowing each person room to be in their “stuff” happy place have been the our biggest help to keeping the peace.

    1. I love to hear about recommendations that people have real life “success” with. I know it can be a challenge, especially with people in all 4 quadrants. But variety is the spice of life, and we can learn from each other, so kudos to you!

  3. Love the visual! I’d say I’m a minimalist while my husband is a stacker. We seem to make it work – we have communal areas we both keep neat and personally designated areas we can keep however we wish. It’s all about the compromise.

    1. It really is all about the compromise. I think it is possible to reach one, remembering that you want the person you are living with to be happy with the arrangement as well. I’m a minimalist and my husband is a keeper. Having an office with a door for him has been great! I will say, I think he is moving more in my direction than the other way around!

  4. I agree – it does bring balance. I have learned SO much from Cassidy. I’m more sentimental and he’s more “throw everything away.” And sometimes we reverse things and I get stressed and toss a bunch of things away, while he keeps them. There’s certainly a good balance in there somewhere, sometimes.
    We also like different baseball teams, but I’m so happy we like the same politicians!
    Tamara recently posted…How to Donate With Caregiving in MindMy Profile

    1. Sharing political views is probably more important to household peace than organizing styles… especially in a year like this one! You two are a good example of how we get better when we work with our mate, learning from each other. I am largely a minimalist, but I must confess to being happy that my husband has held onto some of the things he has:)

  5. What an interesting visual! I really love your “respect” process for working through various preferences for living and being. I’ve never been in a household where everyone was the same. And in fact, the differences are often what causes stress and tension. So following the process you suggest of having both personal and communal areas is key to creating peace and understanding.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Makes Your Days Happy, Successful and Joyous?My Profile

    1. The differences can result in stress and friction, and perhaps seeing these proclivities helps us understand why. WE aren’t inherently right or wrong, but we may have different priorities. I always think learning to appreciate different perspectives makes us better people, even when it is difficult. At the same time, we need to feel that we aren’t being pressured or bullied, but treated with respect so that we can come together over time, in an atmosphere of love.

  6. OMG!!! I just had the city waste come pick up all the things I sorted from the garage. My husband (who refused to clean the garage with me, and refused to sort through the rubbish to find things to keep) was so upset I had it all hauled.. but I was so tired of it piled on the side of the garage for FIVE WEEKS. I wish we saw eye to eye more on keeping our home tidy!! – http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com
    Gingi Freeman recently posted…Visiting Mount Saint Helens in Washington StateMy Profile

    1. It can definitely create some tension… and usually, it is harder on a day-to-day basis for the person who has a low tolerance for visual clutter. Hopefully, your husband will not miss the items you had hauled away, and this could lay the groundwork for clearing out more in the future. You are not alone for sure!

  7. I was a “stasher”, but now I am a minimalist. You inspired me—-I cleaned out everything just like I said I would. At first it was hard, but once I got started, I was into it 100%. THRILLED to be clutter-free now after all these years!! Thank you for motivating me, Seanna!

    1. I’m so happy for you, Marcia! It really is a very freeing process, hence my tagline, “Freedom Through Organization.” I feel like every time I come home from a client I want to get rid of more. I do believe your experience is quite common, in that it gets easier and easier to let go once you’ve started. Travellin’ light, my friend – good for you!

    1. Always worth trying to find a way to make everybody satisfied with the living arrangements. Sometimes it is the little things that end up causing the most stress. Hope that this helps, and thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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