Getting Organized When Couples Aren’t On the Same Page

People rarely come into a relationship together and discover they’re on the exact same page in terms of being organized, cleaning and housework, and how they interact with their space in general.  Couples are made up of lots of combinations of styles, and each style has a positive side and a negative side. Get two styles together that don’t complement each other, and you can end up with conflict, power struggles, and disappointment over not being head, understood or appreciated.  Frustration and stress come out of this, or sometimes, even worse outcomes (like financial or health issues).  When people are mismatched in style, the outcomes and the daily pressure and environment can be overwhelming.

photo credit: marcolm,

photo credit: marcolm,


Why is understanding styles and finding a way to work WITH your styles, not against them, important? You both should be able to make a difference in the stress level in your home, and you both can be happier.  Doesn’t that sound worth pursuing?

Here are some styles you might find, describing you or what you think your spouse may be: 

  • neat freak: “everything must be just so, and I’m not shy about telling others when they haven’t gotten it right.”
  • messie: “I’ve always been messy. I’m not lazy, but cleaning just was never something I was good at or cared about.”


  • packrat: “I keep everything, for a whole host of reasons, regardless of what others think or feel about it.”
  • minimalist: “I don’t need anything or want anything. Get rid of it all, and stop bringing it in the house.”
  • piler: “just put that over there, in that pile… I’ll get to it, I promise”
  • filer: “everything has a home, and it goes into it, even if I’m not already done with what I was doing with it”

  • counter-clearer-offer: “I must have a neat surface, no matter what it means to everyone else.”
  • stasher: “I totally put it away… somewhere. I don’t know.  I just wanted it gone, and found a place it would fit.”

  • always-early: “If we’re not 10 minutes early, we’re late.”
  • super-prompt:  “I’m always on time. Not early, not late. Ever.” 
  • never-on-time: “I’ll just be five more minutes… which I know is what i said 15 minutes ago. I either got distracted or didn’t manage my time well. But people are used to it, I guess.”

  • trash-stager: “I’m just going to put this pile here BY the trash, but not in the trash. Someone else will do the rest, I’m sure.” 
  • dish-stager: “I’m just going to put these dishes here NEAR the sink, not IN the sink. Someone else will do the rest, I’m sure.” 
  • wardrobe-dumper: “I wore this today. I’m getting undressed now. I’ll just leave these clothes right here, next to what I took off yesterday.”
  • can’t-sit-stiller: “I just can’t rest while there are things around to clean or tidy. I can’t enjoy anything else until I know a mess is gone. 
  • pitcher: “when in doubt, throw it out… don’t bother asking anyone else what it is”
  • catcher: “I found this great deal, or someone else thought we might like this, so I said we’d take it from them because it still seemed perfectly good.”

  • clutter-blind: “yes, I just step over piles, because it’s not what I’m focusing on right now and it doesn’t bother me, even though  it would be less effort to put it away than to navigate over it.”
  • clutter-inspired: “Having all of these things to look at around me inspires me. I’m creative and what you call clutter, I call inspiration!”
  • clutter-abhorrer: “I just can’t get anything done in here with all this clutter.  It distracts me to the point of paralysis.”

  • seer: “If it’s not right in front of me, I’ll never find it. I need it to be out and visible.”
  • knower: “I know where everything is. I don’t need it displayed and out.”
  • nagger: “I don’t know why you never do what I ask you to do or what you know you should do, but I’m going to keep reminding you because it drives me crazy that it isn’t done yet.”
  • martyr: “If I want it done right, or done at all, I guess I’m just going to have to do it myself. And make that point out loud.”
  • cold-warrior: “I just don’t care how long that dish stays there; it’s not mine, and my spouse knows it. I can last weeks to not touch it just because if I do, my spouse wins. And I can sometimes a bit passive-aggressive about it.”

  • laterer: “I’ll get to it. I will. Later. It just isn’t important right now. To me, at least.” 
  • aggressive-ignorer: “If it’s that important to someone else, they’ll take care of it.”
  • frollicker: “Life’s too short to clean the kids’ rooms. It’s just going to get messy again.”
  • taskmaster: “cleaning up every day is just something that has to be done. I can’t live in a house of chaos.”


Not seeing yourself or your partner here?  Fill in your own answers on the list!  You see what I’m doing here, I’m sure…

So, you’ve got different styles; is all hope lost? No, of course not!  But to get to a point where conflict and stress isn’t an everyday occurrence at home, it’s going to take some communication and compromise, on both of your parts, to move forward. How can you work together to understand each others’ styles, appreciate the positive of each, and move forward with a plan that works for you both? 

  • Figure out your style, and what your own negative is. A key to starting towards compromise is to understand and take ownership for how you are contributing to the conflict. Does your style come along with judgment, harsh language, tone, hurting other people’s feelings, setting a “my way or the highway” tone? Does your style make others feel unappreciated, or like they’re having to take on other unnecessary work because your style has created an undesirable place to spend time in? Does it make the other person always feel like a disappointment and a failure? I’m just talking about how your style comes out when things aren’t as you’d design it. Know it, understand the impact, and own it. While you don’t have to change your style, you do have to be aware of it.  What is it that your style brings to the relationship that is contributing to the conflict? 
  • Choose to believe that the other person is probably not acting in a contrary manner JUST to annoy you. Here, you want to do what you can to understand their style, and why it is what it is. They’re not leaving wet towels on the bed BECAUSE they know it annoys you. They just took their wet towel off and moved onto the next phase of getting dressed.  Or he is not TRYING to make your morning completely chaotic by forgetting to take out the garbage (again) until it’s almost too late.  He just doesn’t have a reliable system to prevent that.  Or there is something much deeper going on underneath why things are or are not happening. Think about the buttons that get pushed for each of you, and focus on how they’re not doing it JUST to get a negative reaction. They’re doing it because that’s their style; they aren’t doing it because they hope to make the other person a victim.  
  • Find your common ground on what you both believe is important, or what you both believe living like this might cost you. I’m not just advocating for “being organized and always cleaned is the right answer” here. I’m really not. There is no right and wrong. But there could be some bigger things afoot that come from a difference in styles that are worth airing:
    • We’re constantly wasting money, because we lose track of paying bills and pay late fees, or lose track of items we bought and have to buy new ones, or forgot we owned something and bought a new one, or replacing items that get damaged because we don’t care of them, or we’re constantly eating out or taking in because we have a messy kitchen and no time to clean it or buy food.  Our money problems are something we both agree we want to get a handle on, and getting more organized can help us. 
    • One of us really wishes that our social life as a couple were in a better place because we think it is good for us individually and for our marriage. But because we are not in agreement that the house is clean enough to have company and entertain, we’re missing out on that part of developing our social lives. Getting better at that is important to us both, and so we have to make a change.
    • Time is really short, and we’re both really busy all week. When Saturday comes around, the idea that we’re spending our time cleaning or doing housework instead of enjoying each other and our families is really upsetting. We work hard all week and should be able to relax and enjoy life.
    • Honestly, yeah, maybe I am a bit lazy. Housework sucks, and I just don’t want to do it.  I do plenty of other things around here, and I feel like that isn’t appreciated at all. If I can get someone else to do this for me, I’m just going to try. Maybe it’s time that we think about how to get help so it’s not you vs. me on this all the time.  I want us to be a team, not opponents. 
  • Understand each other’s HOTTEST buttons in order to prioritize where behaviors that change might do the most good, and try to see if you can both get to the bottom of why it hasn’t been solved yet.  So often, couples don’t have the right system in place to relieve some of the pressure points. Mail gets piled up because the person who gets the mail out of the mailbox isn’t the person who does something with it. You run out of groceries because there’s no established way for one person to tell the grocery-shopper that they need something. Laundry ends up on a pile in the floor because, by the time the clothes are taken off, someone doesn’t feel like walking into a different room just to put them in a hamper. Keys keep getting lost because they don’t have an official home, or, even if they did, the habit isn’t there to return them to it. There are probably a hundred examples I could come up with.   But my point is that you’re not going to get on the same page for EVERYTHING, so identify the 2 or 3 biggest pain points, and see if you can make a difference in the overall stress level of the house each day by making different efforts.  
  • Agree on some spaces that matter, and spaces that don’t.  Maybe the living room matters, because you have company regularly, or the kitchen table matters, because you eat meals there every day, and cleaning it off each time is a pain.  But maybe other spaces don’t; your office can stay a mess because it doesn’t impact others, for instance. 
  • Allow for collections and messes: Agree on limits, and Give Freedom.  Allow for *some* messy spaces, *reasonable* collections of items (even if you don’t equally find them valuable) or *somewhat* loose timelines on things that truly aren’t important.  (Believe me — a lot of things that are dragging you into conflict just truly aren’t important, when you think about it!)  And clarify and agree what “some”, “reasonable”, and “somewhat” truly mean for you BOTH. Neither of you wants to feel like you’re living in a prison ward, and neither of you wants to feel like you’re being disrespected or taken advantage of. There’s a middle ground to find.  Then stand by your side of the agreement: 
    • Don’t just say, “I really don’t care if the laundry gets done as long as I have clean underwear” if you aren’t going to try to stand by that.  
    • Don’t just say “You can have the garage as messy as you like” if you’re going to make comments about the fact that it remains messy.  
    • Say, “I am totally fine with you having a craft supply collection, but it would be great if we could agree that it should take up no more space than one bedroom closet.”  
    • If you’ve asked to stop being nagged about something, pay more attention to when you’ve been asked the first time, and don’t just determine you can let it slide to “later” for reasons that will either not appear obvious to your partner, or not be valued by your partner.
    • If you’ve promised to do something, and it isn’t done yet, recognize that, with each passing moment, the freedom you’ve been offered may be regretted. There are consequences in letting someone down. 
  • Ask for help, and ask for specific help, don’t nag and lament.  We all know that “Can you please clean up around here?” is rarely an effective communication attempt, and probably won’t result in the outcome of “clean up” that you’re looking to achieve.  But, “Can you please vacuum the floor in the living room? It’s important to me that it gets done before 7 pm, because people are arriving at 8” might generate a better outcome.  
  • Managing the house takes a team, and it’s important that everyone on the team has the right roles. Figure out the jobs that match each of your strengths the best. cooking, cleaning up after cooking, bathrooms, laundry, common areas, paperwork, lawn care, car care, shopping, etc. — each of you will be taking on some collection of these, and the division of labor does not have to be gender-driven. In my house, Handy Boy does all the laundry, but I do all the financial management.  He wants to be certain that all his athletic/technical gear is taken care of in the laundry perfectly, and as a result, takes that on himself, and does the rest of the laundry. For whatever reason, we decided long ago that I was the one who would be best in charge of daily-money-management, so that responsibility all comes to me. Now, I’m perfectly capable to do laundry, and he could pay the bills just fine. Neither of us is saying the other CAN’T do the job; it’s just how we’ve divided our tasks at this point.

  • Create a clear action plan. Talk is essential, but real action is where change happens.  If you’re going to benefit from writing some things down or creating a schedule, or communicating what “done” really looks like, then you should do that. Being specific matters, and that only comes from conversation and planning.  


  • Be respectful, be patient and really try to make an effort on bending towards your middle ground.
    • Don’t toss each other’s belongings out the door because you’re tired of them being left on the floor.  Don’t belittle your spouse in front of his or her friends for not taking care of the home in which you would ideally like it to be managed thinking this will motivate different results. I promise: this is not going to bring out the behavior you’re looking for.  
    • Refrain from language like “always” and “never”, which makes the other person feel like any effort is unacknowledged and futile.
    • And those things you’re doing that your spouse wants you to change?  Remember WHY you’re doing this... so you both can be happier at home. It may not be how you WANT to spend your time and energy, but it is believed that it will make a difference.  Work hard to understand WHY it is important, and show the respect for the person you love by trying to figure out how to improve here. 
    • LOOK for evidence of success…  it’s easy to find when someone ISN’T doing something, and harder to notice when they ARE being successful.  Handy Boy HAAAATES it when I leave cabinet doors and drawers open, which I do a lot, because, once I get the thing out of the cabinet that I was looking for, I’ve moved onto the “what I’m doing with it” phase, and the cabinet is already out of my mind. It is how I am wired.  It drives him nuts, and I get that.  But he doesn’t know just how many times during the day I notice it, catch myself and say, “Oh, I better close this or else he’ll be upset to find it this way.”  I could do that 100 times in a day, but if I don’t do it one time, that’s the one he sees. He doesn’t realize I’ve actually been incredibly good at making an effort: success is invisible, failure shouts from the rooftop. 
    • Finally: be patient…. if each of you is trying to get to the middle ground and compromise a bit more, progress will be made, but slip-ups can happen, too. It takes time, and we all are motivated by different things to make behavior change.  Keep reminding each other you’re on the same team, in words and deeds.


Spend some time to think about yourself here, and think about how best to bring about some change at home. Remember — it’s about communication and compromise, on both of your parts, to move forward. 




  1. Sabrina Quairoli

    My husband and I have similar organization styles. We split up organizing responsibilities. For example, he takes care of organizing the tool room. I take care of organizing the kitchen. He takes care of organizing the computer, I am responsible for organizing the paperwork in the home. It works pretty well. And, because we have similar styles, we can easily understand the others organizing processes. Thanks for sharing.

    • clevergirlorg

      Great to hear you two are so similar. Handy Boy and I also have a great overlap… we’re 90% on the same page, which goes a long way! Glad you have your zones and your responsibilities in order!

  2. Seana Turner

    Excellent post, Kathy. This is pretty much the “norm” in relationships, and it causes so much tension. Glad you mentioned the aspect of timeliness as well as clutter styles. Also your point about them not doing it to be contrary. Having a space to call “your own” can help — zones where you can go and keep our stuff as we wish. This isn’t always possible, but nice if you can.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thank you, Seana! Timeliness, I find, is one of those aspects people don’t typically think of as being about organization, but it can sometimes be the biggest conflict in the relationship.

  3. Ellen Delap (@TexasOrganizer)

    Lots to think about when you and your partner are not on the same time zone or clutter stage. Your references to respect and compromise that are the first steps to working together as a team. When you acknowledge that each of us has different styles and then take the next step to use these styles as strengths is when you come together as a family team.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks, Ellen — acknowledgement is always the first step! You can only work with what you know you’re up against!

  4. Diane Quintana

    Wonderful post, Kathy. I really like the way you take into account both perspectives and that each partner needs to be respectful of the other’s organizing style and preferences. Communication is key!

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks, Diane! I think it’s so important that both sides work to understand each other… the good, the bad and the ugly… to move past the conflict and get to a place where it works for them (enough!)

  5. Autumn

    This post is AHHHHMAZING Kathy! I loved it and can’t wait to share it with my husband. You should actually make a printable with the difference so we can use it as a guide/conversation with our spouses! 🙂 It’s also very insightful for just me to read and think about how I have changed in the last 17 years since we were married. It really helps me to think about where he may be coming from on some issues so we can find common ground. My husband looks at clutter as wasted money. Money that he works hard for and that takes him away from his family. When I look at clutter like that it makes me stop buying and start purging! 🙂

    • clevergirlorg

      I’m so glad you loved this one, Autumn! I think your point about changing over time is important, not only that others recognize it, but that we recognize it in ourselves. Your husband’s view of clutter is an easy idea to empathize with… And it sounds like that empathy has helped you change your behavior. Hopefully, he too spends time finding the empathy to understand your path in how you got to that point in the first place; it wasn’t just about trying to waste money and devalue his time! Thanks for sharing!


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