Are you the only minimalist in your household?

I was so jealous when I read Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. She writes “my husband’s lifestyle is so compact that his belongings filled only four cardboard boxes when he moved in” and “whenever he’s done [cooking], the kitchen is so clean it makes me wonder when he used it”. That has not been my reality as a minimalist during my dating years or living with my messy husband.

I often recall my bachelorette days in my first house, no husband, no pets, and no clutter.

My house was a modest 3 bedroom, 1500 square feet, but that was too much space for me and my things so I always had one or two rooms rented out. I had no attic or garage but also no need for additional storage. Opposites must attract because I can not remember dating a single tidy, minimalist, organized man in my 20’s and 30’s. I cleaned out 3 apartments, a house, a storage unit, and even organized 5 years of tax paperwork so one boyfriend could file years of back taxes. Ok, I guess I’m a certified “fixer” or maybe growing up with messiness has uniquely prepared me to create order in a messy world.

So here are my rules for keeping your sanity when sharing a home with a messy.

How to be a Minimalist

1. Create your own space.

If you live in a one-room apartment this could be a corner facing a wall with a calming piece of art and headphones handy. I’m blessed to have my own room (also my office and our guest room) that is 100% uncluttered, organized, and only filled with items that have a purpose and bring me joy. All our household papers of importance live here in a one-drawer file cabinet. My husband describes it as “boring.”

2. Give your messy partner their own space.

In small spaces, it may be a closet or bookshelf, but never organize this space unless your messy partner asks for help. My husband has his “dork den” filled with action figures, movie posters, art supplies, Nerf guns, and comic books. I don’t clean this space, I don’t organize it, and I try not to stress when it is in disarray.

3. Organize common spaces.

The most used space in our house is the kitchen. We eat a WFPB (Whole Foods Plant Based) diet, and I use a lot of gadgets and ingredients, but it is perfectly organized. I could be in another country and tell someone in my house where to find the stevia, black beans, tomato knife, avocado prep tool, or whole peppercorns. Because everything has a strict home, my messy spouse can help put things away. And with kitchen items it’s easy to identify what does not fit in – aluminum foil, yes; dog leash, no. If my messy spouse invades this space with a no-kitchen item, I simply make a pile of the contraband and the messy spouse or the minimalist can move it to the messy’s space at the end of the day or during weekly clean-up.

4. Set rules for common spaces.

When living with a messy partner, random things will pile-up in places where they are not supposed to live. Some basic rules I have are:

– Trash/Recycling is put in receptacles on a daily basis (in my perfect world this happens immediately, the compromise is it does not stay sit out overnight)
– Dishes are washed within 24 hours of use. I dream of a day when my full time housekeeper washes a dish within moments of it being used, but until then my compromise is that the dishes from yesterday’s dinner are washed before I make today’s dinner.
– Dirty laundry is assigned to baskets and clean laundry is put away weekly. We established “his and hers” laundry baskets. We have 6 baskets: 1. whites 2. husband’s clothes 3. wife’s lights 4. wife’s darks 5. dog clothing, towels, blankets (if you have kids create a hamper for each), and 6. household linens (non-white). It sounds like a lot, but pre-sorting saves so much time and we put away all the laundry in 90 mins/week or the time it takes to watch one SNL episode. “His” laundry basket is often a half-filled basket with laundry trailing next to it, but it is scoped up on a weekly basis and strategically placed in an area where I don’t notice it.

5. Give up some control and find peace where you can.

In addition to my messy husband, my hoarding dad lives in an apartment on the first floor of our house. Thankfully he has a separate kitchen, bathroom, and living space and need only come upstairs to our home on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, this does not prevent him from cluttering our yard with totally random things – plastic straws from fast food dinners, empty paint cans, and blankets by my herb garden, a bowling ball next to my asparagus bed, as well as more coolers and tarps than I care to count. My priority is safety over perfection. I can’t live my life cleaning up after him, but I do regularly check for fire and trip hazards, monitor chemicals and toxins, and ban insurance risks like broken down cars and appliances from the yard. He is 83 at the time of this writing, living with congestive heart failure, and has no savings that allow him other living choices. When the time comes for a clean out I will fall back on my talent for creating order in this messy world, until then find peace in the organized spaces in my home.

What has been your experience sharing a space with an opposing organizing style?