When You’re a Minimalist But Your Partner Isn’t

when-you-are-minimalist-but

“Where there is love there is life.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

People who choose minimalism as a lifestyle may face any number of doubters – these may be friends, colleagues, or parents. But what do you do when the biggest doubter of all is usually your biggest supporter? When the person you have chosen to live life with the closest, doesn’t see the benefits to your decision? When the person you love the most doesn’t support the new you? And the fact that you live together only complicates the issue… you share one space and so does your stuff.

When my wife and i decided to become minimalist, we agreed together to pursue this new lifestyle. But, we’ve still had plenty of disagreements along the way about how much stuff to unload, how much stuff to keep, and how our purchasing habits would change. Our two most common areas of disagreement seem to revolve around clothing and childrens’ toys. Because we are not always on the same page, we have learned to compromise together.

But what should be done when your partner is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum – you are pursuing minimalism but your partner is a self-described hoarder or packrat. What steps can help these two lifestyles coexist?

1. Refuse to let stuff separate you. I have heard from a number of people who have taken steps to minimize their life, but in the process they have become so frustrated with their partner that they have allowed strife and resentment to set in. Refuse to let that happen. Remember, you chose minimalism for a reason – most likely, you chose minimalism because you were frustrated with material things cluttering your life and preventing you from truly living it. You decided that you valued other things more than your possessions… like relationships with the people you love. If that is the case, it would be foolish to allow things (even if they are your partner’s) to again come between you and your most treasured relationship. Your loved ones are just too important. Realize that you can’t change someone else. Instead, rest patiently being assured that 50% minimalism is better than 0%.

2. Begin by purging your personal items. Resist the temptation to remove your partner’s belongings without permission. Start with your own stuff and minimize as much as you can without treading on shared territory. You may be surprised how much clutter you can remove from your home just by removing your own things.

3. Let your example speak for itself. Certainly, explain to your partner why you have chosen a minimalist lifestyle. But as much as you desire to debate and verbally convince your partner to choose it too, your actions will always speak louder than your words. Allow the benefits of your clutter-free life to do their own convincing. A clean, clutter-free side of your closet will always be far more convincing than a thorough explanation of the 80/20 principle. And a refreshingly stress-free desktop or nightstand will begin to look very attractive to your partner the first time they misplace something important.

4. Find common ground. Likely, there are some commonly used areas in your home that you can both agree need some uncluttering. Whether it be a junk drawer, a linen closet, the kitchen counters, or the garage, even the worst of hoarders can typically come to the rational conclusion that something can be better organized (no matter how small the area). Ask your partner about specific areas in your home that you would like to declutter. You just may be surprised how verbally supportive they can be when you get specific about what you would like to accomplish.

5. Be patient. Remember, one of the greatest markings of love is patience.

6. If the refusal to minimize their possessions is systemic of deeper issues, tread wisely. It is very possible that there may be some deep heart wounds that are causing your partner to be a hoarder. Your partner may be insecure and find their security in the things that they own. Your partner may have such a strong desire to impress others that they depend on their belongings for their purpose. Or their hoarding may be a symptom of OCD or another medical disorder. In any case, the correct step is to tread lightly and find your partner the support and help that they need.

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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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve learned this the hard way (sort of) once (with a g/f, not wife). I’ve always led by example but for some reason when I got turned on to minimalism and personal development I seemed to drop that style of leading. I vowed to never let that happen again and am now very conscious of living the way I want to live and not worrying about anyone else.

  2. says

    Thanks for posting this. It’s very helpful.

    After my boyfriend and I decided to move in together I started to get really anxious. He was envisioning a 2 bedroom apartment to hold all our stuff together, while I had begun to go minimalist and purge many of my belongings. It was increasingly difficult for me to understand his attachment to some objects, and he confessed he started to feel indirect pressure to get rid of his things.

    While we’re looking for a place, we’re sharing one bedroom and a storage space that is filled with primarily his stuff. That in itself actually has had more of an impact on him than anything I could have said. He’s been watching my example and then looking at all the stuff he has amassed and will have to find a home for and has begun his own weeding out process.

    I’m trying the 100 thing challenge, and while I don’t think he will ever go quite that minimal (he’s an avid collector), I can see that he is making an effort to meet me in the middle, and I always reassure him that anything he feels is truly important will always have a guaranteed place in our home.

  3. says

    Thank you for this very timely message. I’ve been trying to slowly reduce the clutter in my life, and I like the ideals of removing the non-essentials in my life, but my family and my wife continue to collect – and then pass along to me – things they consider valued because of some emotional connection I just don’t have. It’s not easy.

  4. says

    Great post and pointers.

    While my wife and I aren’t exactly on the same page when it comes to living simply — she definitely doesn’t complain when I get rid of my clutter.

    Imagine if we took these pointers and put them to use in all our relationships — with the key being — lead by example and don’t try and force your ideals/beliefs on others.

    Love wins!

  5. Carla says

    I will never go the 100 Things route; however, I am in the process of culling out my stuff. I have not touched my husband’s things and I think (can’t remember for sure) if I’ve even asked if something of his can go. Well, that’s not true, I did ask about some books. He kept nearly all of them. At the moment there are two dressers in our bedroom. “Mine” is clear of clutter and readily dusted. “His” is currently somewhere between 8-10 inches high, piled with junk. This is in addition to two ever-growing floor piles. I flat don’t know what to do but I do know I cannot simply clear his things out. That is not fair to him or to who he is.

    Sigh. All I can do is take care of myself. I can’t change another soul.

    • jDeppen says

      Maybe you could tell him you want more of a neat and tidy bedroom and be clear that you’re not asking him to get rid of anything. That’s what happened with my wife and me.
      (did I miss the point of this post? lol)

  6. says

    lead by example is great advice in this area! i had been of the minimalist mindset for some time before i met my partner, and after three years together it’s finally sinking in and rubbing off on him. :)

    • di says

      On a daily basis, I take good care of my things and pick up after myself.

      For more than ten years, my partner has said that he wants to do the same, but never has.

      I find this lack of ambition, effort and courtesy to be immature.

  7. Leo says

    This may help some of you. Recently we bought new furniture. After researching online I found this site http://homereserve.com/ . All of the furniture has underseat storage. We’ve been removing “stuff” from the house but for those things we must keep, the storage in the seating is wonderful. I love the furniture we bought from that site. It’s stylish, very sturdy, and helpful.

    • di says

      This idea can be utilized with most furniture. I hide containers beneath my bed, couch and chair.

      I find vertical storage to be claustrophobic.

  8. says

    That last tip is key. I had to realize after beginning my own journey that my then-boyfriend held on to things because he grew up in an impoverished home. He lived on food stamps and was never able to buy things or receive gifts. Now that he’s able to experience those things he missed as a child, he clings to them fiercly. It’s important to recognize when your partner is hoarding for psychological reasons.

  9. says

    This post really hits home right now. Family with a 5 yr old child, 2 dogs, and a cat. And I think I am the only one embracing minimalism. I think it becomes an exercise in learning patience and acceptance for me. Thanks for this!

  10. says

    Excellent post for those of us with minimalist leanings and partners with clutterlust. Long ago I made a commitment to “live as long as possible with as little as possible”, and somehow managed to marry a woman with the opposite view of “stuff”. Sigh. Its true, I can only tend to my own belongings. I try to keep the things that are “ours” to a minimum but it isn’t easy. Good to hear I’m not the only one.

  11. says

    I think I’ve been evolving as a minimalist for the last 10-15 years, I just didn’t know what it was called. But, I’m married to a wonderful man who is very sentimental and have six kids – a few of which have inherited this sentimentalism. When something cannot be found, I’ve often been accused of giving it away or selling it at a garage sale. But I hope that my kids are learning that the most important things in life aren’t things. I’ve learned to compromise and will simply try to organize the items my husband feels a need to save.

    • di says

      I refuse to take care of my boyfriend’s things. Luckily, he keeps most of his things in a back room.

      However, he gets angry with me, because I’ll clean the entire house, but never clean his room. I feel like I’m doing more than my fair share, because he rarely works.

      How do you convince someone that they need to grow up? Maybe it’s just time to move on…

  12. JGM says

    I must admit I am the slob at our house. I leave papers about and I do not always get around to things. My Husband and my son are both Autistic so they love to organize by shape, color ect. . I have to learn from them.
    For me it’s not things I won’t give up, it’s ideas. I have a cluttered mind and Menopause has not helped. So I am just going to let this soak in for a wile and reach out when I can. This is a big change for me.

    • KLS says

      I must admit… I am the slob at my house also. I read about being a minimalist all the time, and love the idea, but I never get started. Thanks for the article… and the advice!!!
      Lynn

    • di says

      Start with a list of what you do want. Then, just discard the rest at Good Will. This is a lot easier than thinking over each individual item.

      However, it does require “effort” on your part.

  13. Eugene says

    I would bet a lot of relationships consist of a gatherer and a minimalist. Our marriage of 47 years is such a relationship. I tend to be the minimalist and try to work only on my own stuff. I do at times struggle to see why my wife likes a lot of stuff, so it is difficult. A particular hard area are items that we inherited from our parents or that our children made or gave to us. Both of our parents went through the depression so we heard the stories “you better keep it because,,, I remember well the pain and work of going through our parents possessions and do not want to do that to our children. Some of these possessions are fine, however for me there is a limit.

  14. lynne says

    My oldest is an minimalist, everything he owns fits in the trunk of his car. My other child is 14 and lets say she is not. I am showing by example how this lifestyle is a good one. She is not embracing it… YET!

  15. says

    The hard thing for me about living with a collector is the example that it sets for our 4 year old son. Our son melts into a pile if he can not find a particular toy, but, yet, he still has toys that are not unboxed from last birthday and christmas. My husband becomes upset when I attempt to rehome these things, part with outgrown clothing (someone in the family may want it some day) and encourage clutter free gifts. i can live with my hubby’s collection of 300 shirts, but do not want my little boy to grown up stressed out by his stuff.

    • di says

      The more I read, the more I wonder how many couples actually come to a compromise. If it’s too stressful, it may be time to consider moving out.

  16. Patch says

    I am 59 year old female and have been in a relationship with a hoarder for almost 3 years. I am not particularly sentimental, and get rid of things that have no purpose or value readily. I would not call myself a minimalist, but clutter makes my brain shut down. If there is mess everywhere, i can’t get my mind in gear. I love this man very much, but it seems like no matter how much room i give up, how many closets and storage bins i purchase, the clutter grows. I can no longer get my car in the garage. I find myself going to bed when i get home from work because anything else means navigating all the piles. The bottom line, if it’s this bad at 61 (his age), what will my future be. We negotiated space that was all his, but i don’t want a future with him sitting in squalor while i hang out elsewhere. I have asked him to find a place, and he is going to do that. I guess the reason i am writing now is because i am feeling the loss of all his good qualities. When he does clean up, he goes on buying binges and fills up any clear spaces. I am emotionally spent.

    • Caroline says

      Just 3yrs…I’ve had over 30 yrs of this! My husband is EXACTLY the same in his behaviour. I have now agreed to move 300 miles to his hometown in the hope that he will start to sort out the clutter. No sooner do we have space and it is filled with cars/ car parts or other nostalgia that he never uses or even looks at. I have started to try to just put some order to family photographs today and he is accusing me of getting rid of items, yet he is not willing to try to help sort photographs out with me!
      It is so emotionally draining…I do know!! I feel quite ill already. I know that he will never clear the house and I fear the result of this! I do not want our boys to inherit the problem but no doubt they will and he will get attention from this. As one of my husbands teacher’s once said “He will do anything for attention”.

  17. Michelle says

    What do you do when you are ready to give something up and others pressure you to keep it. I was given a wonderful gift by my friends in college. They corresponded with my mother and got her assistance on the purchase – it was quite expensive for my group back then. I have the letters, pictures of the occasion, and fond memories of the time. It was nearly thirty years ago, and the gift has sat in my basement in a box for the last 17 years since I moved to this house. I wanted to sell or donate it, and my husband and mother freaked out! I tried to explain that my fondness for my friends hadn’t changed, but I didn’t need the gift to remember that! Needless to say, gift is still sitting in my basement 3 years after this.

    • Sally says

      It’s yours, you can accept that your husband and mother have a different view, but as it is yours, you decide.

    • di says

      My boyfriend’s messy junk creates unrest.

      There seems to be no place for my things.

      Just can’t live like this anymore…

  18. Karen says

    A very timely message for me too. I had already been cutting back on Stuff before my bf moved in. Unfortunately, it’s hard to benefit from the open space achieved by decluttering when his clutter fills it in again. When I voice it, he respects my request for him to move his stuff, but quickly his things “drift” again. Sigh.

    • Karen says

      (Just adding that BF is not a hoarder. He uses all of the things that he has (with the exception of paperwork he keeps forever), but likes to have specialty tools for everything he does. He doesn’t like the “multipurpose” concept.)

    • di says

      Honesty and independence are rare. Most people have acquired varying degrees of deceit and manipulation. It’s difficult to really know someone until you actually live with them. Once you do know, it’s your decision as to whether or not you wish to stay and tolerate the undesirable habits of another.

  19. Peggy says

    I love to see empty spaces, but some people seem to need to fill every empty space. Seems like everytime I clear out stuff, someone else fills it. I always remind my kids that they can throw it all away after we are gone. I find people have a hard time getting rid of other peoples things once they pass away.

    • di says

      For years, I kept storing things in the attic. One day, I realized that it may not be worth the time and effort to sell it. Thereafter, I quickly gave it all away.

  20. Joanne says

    Sometimes just taking action can be enough. When I first started getting interested in downsizing my possessions, my boyfriend kind of humored me about it like I was going through some phase. But I just focused on my stuff and didn’t impose anything on him. I think once he saw how much more space it created and how downsizing can make daily life less complicated, he began to get on board. I call it “Operation Downsize” and it’s something I started last winter. It started with paring down my wardrobe and unfolded gradually. Nothing was forced, it was a process. Once I showed I was committed, he got on board. He not only started downsizing, he totally cleaned out a storage facility he’s had for the last couple of years. Now he is a big proponent of “Operation Downsize.”

    • di says

      My boyfriend collects books from the dump. When his shelving broke, he finally brought the majority of them back to the dump.

      Thereafter, he became very sick from the dust and mold that had been collecting on the books for years.

      Lesson learned…

  21. says

    The minimalist lifestyle has appealed to me for a long time. I don’t understand the tendency for people to get emotionally bonded to stuff. That being said, I married a man who for whatever reason is very much attached to things (things in general). In our case, the underlying issue is the way in which each of us grew up–he grew up with very little, they were extremely poor, and his stuff was HIS STUFF, and nothing was EVER thrown away.
    On the other hand, we grew up with everything we ever needed and quite a bit of what we wanted. We always had more than enough and if we were missing something, we got it right away. Having stuff just wasn’t a big deal. I came across your blog looking for a solution for how to deal with living a minimalist lifestyle when your biggest supporter is a packrat and found this to be a godsend. Thank you so much. :)

  22. Carole Steinberg says

    I started getting rid of more and more stuff, mostly my own. It had always been organized and easy to deal with but I just wanted a more simple, travel friendly lifestyle. My husband got a little agitated at first and then I just decided to work only on my stuff. I put everything I own in one room and with it all out in my face, crowded in there, I began to edit all of it. I ended up with a cozy nest. I have a closet with my clothes and a shelf for my personal things and a small armoire for my crafts, a sleeping/resting mat and a sewing/craft table, all in a 13×13 room. I am just pretending to live as I would if we full timed in our RV (something we would like to do eventually). By setting this example, my husband has slowly started working on his man cave and keep only the things that are important. I would say just carry on doing what moves you to your goal and they will follow your lead.

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