As professional organisers, one of the questions that we are most frequently asked is: “How do I get my spouse/children/housemate on-board with decluttering?” In this post, professional organiser and coach Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson of Declutter With Hannah gives us some guidance, and shares what has worked well with her own family.
You may have ‘seen the light’ yourself and be reaping the rewards of living with less stuff – more space, more time, improved mental clarity and feeling freer. But it can be challenging when others in your household either can’t let go of their clutter, or simply just don’t feel your enthusiasm. Some people aren’t adversely affected by mess and clutter. But if you are, and it impacts negatively on your well-being, this can lead to tension in the household. So, what can you do?
Firstly, you can lead by example by continuing to let go of your own belongings and enjoying the benefits. You need to “walk the walk” yourself before expecting others to make big lifestyle changes. Have a think about why you find clutter overwhelming and try to communicate that to the other people in your home. Start requesting experiences or consumables as gifts instead of “stuff” so that less is coming into your home and you show that you are serious about wanting to live with less.
Allocate zones in the house that are clutter-free (for example, your side of the bedroom, a select number of shelves, the kitchen table) and ask people to respect that these areas should not be piled high with stuff.
Start to implement some systems in the house for where things should go. Have a place where keys belong, where the post goes, where bags and coats should be hung up, etc. This encourages other household members to put things away and keep communal areas tidy. Set up an easy-to-use filing system so that paperwork doesn’t pile up. And try to comment when positive changes occur – how much better you feel and how great the house looks – so that your family start to recognise that the whole house is benefitting from being more organised.
If your family is willing – sit down and set some goals around what you would all gain by having less stuff. If you all agree to stop buying as much, you can put saved money towards a family holiday or a summer ice-cream fund. Or if you declutter the spare room you will gain extra play space or a home office. Encourage your partner or housemates to sell some things to make extra money to put towards your goal.
Encourage family members to gather up unused toiletries and donate to food banks and refugee centres. Children are often motivated to declutter if they know their toys are going to families in need. Children also respond well to making decluttering a game. You could create a treasure hunt for the whole family to take part in where you collect broken toys, unused clothes and unwanted gifts. Whoever wins can choose an activity for you all to take part in – a family bike ride or baking a cake together.
Finally, set some family rules together like “one in, one out” so that when members of the household buy something new, they must let go of something else. Or ask people to use the “one minute rule” – if something can be put away or dealt with in under one minute then do it so that jobs don’t build up.
Remember, learning to live with less and changing habits can be a slow process and it can be an even slower process changing other people’s habits. But don’t let that put your off. Slow and steady wins the race.
If you and your family would like to get some help with your decluttering, you can find your local professional organiser here.