“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 a 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 children’s’ 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.
I’m the minimalist and my husband is a bit of a packrat. He has made good progress recently but he gets overwhelmed easily by decision fatigue.
I’ve offered to help but he’s resistant. He gets anxious when I give away my own stuff. He’ll make comments, “you’re giving THAT away?” but knows he can’t protest because it’s mine.
I try to be supportive and patient but inside it just frustrates me because he has duplicate, triplicate, and more of so many things because he’s stuffed them in a drawer, closet, box, bin, and doesn’t know what he has or where to find it. His desk drawer, toiletries drawer, and space in our closet is crammed with things.
I wouldn’t call him a hoarder, but would say he has hoarding tendencies, because getting rid of things makes him terribly anxious.
This is such a difficult relationship dynamic.
My grandma is, I suppose, a ‘minimalist’. She throws out everything including her children’s baby books, her mother’s heirlooms, etc. She lives in a white box with mirrors, completely neurotic and angry. My mom is obsessed with things, big into decor and ‘finding’ herself via stuff.
Growing up I kept all of my things hidden and minimized because, since they were mismatched, mom would usually toss them because they were ugly.
Grandma’s white box and mom’s ‘matching’ house both drive me nuts. I’m big into ‘love’ only, and most of my loves don’t match at all. I go out of my way to create chaotic Christmas wrapping paper, for instance, the crazy patterns make me happy. To each their own. I am writing this to point out the minimalist in my family is the one with ‘deeper issues,’ not the collectors.
But all the kids’ toys are the limit! How do I toss out the Little People collection no one plays with?! I guess I’ll just have to figure it out. Argh!!!
My opinion will probably be an unpopular one but I’ve read the same sentiments about being patient and accepting the person and their belongings time and time again. That’s just unrealistic when you’ve committed to live with someone for the rest of your life. Yes getting rid of another’s things may cause some distrust but I’d much rather be mistrusted for getting rid of a 30 year old, dust covered sports jacket or a broken weed whacker than feel resentful for living in someone else’s squalor. Yes, it would be the bigger thing to be accepting and not be resentful. But the way I see it, in my own situation, I’m in charge of the home and the state our home is in is a reflection of me. Someone has to set some standards on what is an acceptable living condition and I think the person with the higher standards should be the one to do that. I’m not saying force someone into minimalism. But expecting someone to have a reasonable number of belongings in the space they have and to put those things away is simply asking them to be respectful of themselves and the other people that live in the home. The onus is on them if they choose not to do that and then the other people in the home don’t stand for it and remove the packrat’s excessive belongings.
This article, along with the commenters was good for me. I’ve suffered from depression for many years. Mess was almost always a trigger. I was always tired of trying to downsize and make things work, only to have my efforts thwarted on a daily basis. I always gave up. What was the point of trying? I even went as far as telling myself I was the problem. I wasn’t good enough at being tidy and organized.
Every time I’d go on a cleaning rampage, I found myself resenting my husband. I don’t want to spend my life managing my things, let alone someone else’s things. It was too painful to keep going, so I’d stop.
My solution right now, is to create a clutter free zone in our bedroom. The closet is just mine, and he only gets a drawer/cabinet free night stand. He’s only allowed to keep two books, one charger and a small bowl on the table. No work related items are allowed. No dirty clothes. It’s a place of rest.
I started moving all of his things into our “office” including a wardrobe that I fully organized for him. In this room, he’ll be allowed to do what he wants with his things. If he starts messing up his wardrobe, I won’t bother folding his clothes anymore. If he creates dishes so crusty and hard to wash, I will eventually set those in his room too once I replace our dishes to be color coded.
My resentment is not good, and it makes me feel like I’m a mean-spirited person. Intolerant. I can’t and won’t continue to feel this, or blame him for my unhappiness in this area. I won’t try to change him, only myself.
The concept of minimalism clicks with me in a big way. I need less in order to thrive and create. I need to see empty spaces. I’ve spent far too much of my life managing other people’s things, and I’m so over it.
This year for Christmas, and all the past Christmases I’ve asked for no gifts. I just want to go from one end of my house to the other and not see a mess. No one listens to me, so I decided to not buy gifts and I’m spending my winter gifting myself the spaces I desire. I’m stating that it’s my gift to my husband and children as well.
” I give you the gift of less material items dear family. I love you so much!”