Simplicity When Your Spouse Doesn’t Get It

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sandy Kreps of Modern Simplicity. She is the author of Fresh Start: 31 Days to Simplify, Declutter and Rein in the Chaos.


One of the biggest issues people face when deciding to simplify their lives is this: Can I simplify my lifestyle if my spouse or family doesn’t want to? How do I pursue a simpler life when my family won’t help?

I was very fortunate that my husband has been on board with simplifying since the first time I mentioned it (my kids are a different story). While the majority of the purging, organizing, and schedule maintenance falls to me, it is helpful knowing he supports my efforts. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.

I’ve talked to husbands who were adamant that their homes not change one iota, and I’ve talked to wives who refused to let go of anything. It can be a tough issue when you are the one who is overwhelmed and struggling to find a clearer path.

Here are some tips I have found helpful to deal with this disconnect between partners:

Find Common Ground. It is rare that a spouse or family member is completely inflexible about simplifying. Often times, it is the fear of what they might say that hinders progress. This is why an honest, open discussion about your household’s possessions, needs, schedule, and goals is so important. Focusing on what you as a couple or as a family want out of life can take the stress off of the decision to get rid of that old VCR or stack of unread books.

Focus on the Positives. List out the benefits of simplicity. Keep the list in a place that gets noticed. Focusing on the benefits will remind everyone of the positive changes you are seeking. Getting rid of a time commitment that’s not important to you can make room in the schedule for a regular date night or family time. Cleaning out the garage means you can park your car in there. Selling some dusty collectibles can bring in money to pay off debts.

Seek Input. Remember, people don’t like to feel like they are not being given a choice. If you want to get rid of something that’s a shared possession, such as a TV or a car, put it up for a vote and respect the decision that comes from it.

Start Small. But make sure you start. Simplifying is not a race, and the more you make it feel like one, the more stressed and combative your partner will be. Your home, your schedule, your life didn’t become cluttered overnight, so don’t try to declutter it in one frantic weekend. Take your time and be deliberate with your purging. Not only will you make more thoughtful decisions, your family will have time to get used to the changes little by little.

Start with Yourself. You can’t change anyone, only yourself. So focus on the stuff that is yours – your wardrobe, your desk, your schedule, your stuff. The best way to change the hearts of those around you is to lead by example – forcing the issue will not win you any allies. If it belongs to someone else in the house, keep your hands off.


Sandy Kreps is a green living/simplicity writer and graphic designer. She blogs at Modern Simplicity, which is dedicated to simple green living with a modern style. She just released her first book, Fresh Start: 31 Days to Simplify, Declutter and Rein in the Chaos. You can also find her on Twitter.

Image: Tampa Band Photos

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Anastacia says

    Great post, Sandy! I am still working on myself. I have plenty of bad habits I need to break before I worry about my husband’s or kids’. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. says

    Good article, thank you. I have been trying to simplify and I don’t think I have the wife on board yet. I like the idea of keeping a list around. I could see how having the benefits of being more simple, or even a list of goals that simplicity can help you accomplish, as reminder would be a great benefit. Perhaps I will be giving that a shot.

  3. says

    I feel very lucky that my wife has been on board since day one. Even though she’s always been on board, she hasn’t always known how to approach downsizing. I helped her downsize her closet last week, and I found that doing the work myself (pulling things out of the closet) and letting her simply make a yes or no desicion (to keep or purge) made it go a lot easier. It helps to make things as easy as possibly on our spouses when it comes to stuff like this.

  4. says

    Thank you for this helpful post. I am also lucky that my husband and I generally have the same simple living philosophy, but minimalism means something different to each of us, and learning to respect and honor those differences is sometimes challenging. But, in the end we work things out.


  5. says

    My husband was begging me to scale everything back. He finally convinced me. Now we live with very little distractions — no figurines on tables, a bare hardscaped patio in the yard, less gadgets and clothes. I do almost all of the shopping and housework and it has made my life so much easier — and even though it was his “idea” he thanks me every day for it.

  6. says


    Loved your post. It’s so important to get others on board to accomplish de-cluttering. And when there is resistance to move on to an area of none. Loved your book!

  7. says

    I am extremely luck to have a partner that is totally in sync with my minimalist and travelling mode. I really have to say I’m luck in that, we are both interested in travel, in minimalism and in becoming location independent. Thank you for the post. Hopefully everyone can find someone they are truly aligned with in every manner possible. I wish the best of luck to everyone looking to convince their spouse to join the minimalist movement.

  8. David Cater says

    I’ll add one more: “Be Patient” or “Just Wait”. The first time you bring up getting rid of a particular item (particularly something with some sentimental value), your partner may display a strong desire to keep it. But they may have a totally different reaction six months later after they’ve gotten used to the idea of not having it around, or simply start to realize that it’s not actually as important to them as they originally thought. I’ve gone through that process with my own items many times.

  9. says

    I realized I was actually helping my husband hold on to things by taking care of his stuff for him (cleaning, fixing, packing). Since I have stepped back, he is more interested in letting go.
    I couldn’t agree more that it’s important not to push your spouse, but to lead by example.

  10. says

    I can remember in the very early days of my marriage when my husband and I were dickering over whose spatula had to be donated to charity! In the years since, we’ve grown more and more in sync. We’re both quite good at streamlining now, without stepping on each other’s toes.

  11. says

    loved the post…It isn’t easy to rope in your family members but not impossible…just a little patience and leading by example is required!

  12. says

    This describes me and my husband. He’s a ‘prepper’ (the new survivalist), I’m a minimalist. After we sold our big house on lots of land I told him I wanted to build a tiny house. He said “great, I’m in!” But his idea of scaling down is three tiny houses; one for sleeping, one for an play/family room, and one for our office : / He has two shipping containers packed full in addition to a shop/equipment shed. Granted, we no longer have a garage and he needs storage for his equipment and tools for his business, but he has 10 of everything . . . seriously. He has easily three times more clothing than I do. and lets not even count shoes . . . I’m the one who tends the house so short of his office space I can keep things the way I’d like them to be. He actually likes our minimal home but there is just this deep-seeded need for stuff. I call him “gear man” for a very good reason. Although it can drive me silently batty, he’s the go-to guy when you need something!

    • Caroline says

      I can totally relate to this, although my partner is not a prepper! I think he has childhood issues about not having enough, understandably, as his family was….very poor. Things he has told, me, sheesh! But it means that now, he associates having lots of stuff, and being able to buy stuff whenever he wants to, whenever the whim takes him (ebay, grr!), our house is full of weaponry, leatherworking, and books books books! He has programming books that cost £60, for systems that don’t even exist any more. We have a tiny 2 bed cottage, so it all just sort of spills out from the book cases onto the floors.One time when I did do some tidying, rearranging, and cleared a space on the kitchen surface, his response was, ‘you’ve been tidying? What are you going to put in that space?’ And then he filled it with cookbooks. I just despaired. Why can’t it just be a clear space? He just doesn’t get it. It told me, that even if I do clear up and create a less cluttered house, he will just fill it with more stuff. So what’s the point?

  13. Annie says

    While my husband and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to minimizing our lives, we do agree that we have to respect each other’s view and minimalist comfort zone. I’m much more gung-ho when it comes to getting rid of stuff and he struggles with making such decisions, especially when it comes to his art studio. We have agreed that common areas/belongings in our apartment are up for discussion, but personal spaces/items are at the sole discretion of the owner. I might suggest he weed out his art supplies and such, but I would never force the issue, and as long as it doesn’t become a burden to me then I needn’t worry about it.

  14. lynne says

    My issue is not my spouse ( he passed away 2 years ago) but our 14 year old. She feels she needs things. I cannot blame her because it was all she knew her whole life because her parents over indulged her. She understands giving, but she is very selective about what she gives away.

    As I typed this, I am still the problem…. No more buying.I buy the clothes. I give her allowance in a lump sum. That gives her the money to buy the things that fill her room.

    Got it…..

  15. Jude Elias says

    Minimalism is Godliness and opens our mind to the universe.
    your thoughts help us at a time when we are packing our things to relocate to a new city.
    To encourage my wife to give away things i went and bought a nice big card board box
    and told my wife that i would help her to give away all unwanted cloths starting from mine. When i saw the first piece of dress from her put in to the box ,i know that we are on the way to simple life. To tell you the fact in an hour we managed to get two more boxes and filled with all kinds of things that are not in use including Electronic gagets like DVD,Camera,Mixer etc. Finally we called NGO to come and collect a small truck full of stuff . We feel so nice and cool…

  16. pinkangelgirl says

    Christina i totally agree with your idea of letting them deal with their own possessions. I was always organizing, maintaining and sorting out storage for my husband’s stuff. When i started giving him the responsibility for his own things he started deciding to throw or sell stuff. He’s also appreciating the space and order minimalism brings.

  17. says

    Lynne — I have the same problem with my kids. They want to keep everything! I can only start with me and my habits, and in particular my habits when I buy for them. My goal at this point is to set a good example so that one day they might come around, and until then, I’ll just hack away slowly at their excess with their input and involvement.

  18. says

    I’m thankful for finding this post. It comes at a time when I need to encourage a client to continue simplifying. One spouse wants to remove the clutter while the other does not. I’m hopeful that these words of wisdom from Sandy will be helpful to them. Thanks, Kerri.

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