Is it okay to declutter your partner’s things?

Have you decided to declutter, but your partner isn’t on board? It can feel so frustrating when this happens. Here you are, sleeves rolled up, ready to be ruthless and declutter your home once and for all.  But your partner is reluctant to get involved and tackle their stuff too.  You feel held back, so you’re left wondering is it okay to declutter your partner’s things?

The short answer is no.  It’s not okay to declutter someone else’s stuff. 

Decluttering isn’t just about removing things. It can be more complex than that.  Decluttering your home is a journey that involves changing deeply ingrained habits and beliefs. 

We are raised to feel differently about our possessions, such as never to waste things; to declutter a gift would be rude; to always honour all items from the past; be concerned over the environment; to fear change, and so on. No two people feel exactly the same about everything, so making the right decision for someone else is near impossible.

Decluttering can give you the chance to address your belief system and understand habits that need to change in order to live a more simplified life.  Through the process you’re given the opportunity to connect with what brings you joy, to establish priorities and values.  The emotional, spiritual and lifestyle benefits cannot be realised if you declutter your partner’s things for them. 

You may experience short term wins if you declutter your partner’s things, but you won’t be making changes that will last in the long term.  Before you know it, you’ll be back to square one again.

Instead of decluttering your partner’s things for them,do these things:

Start by being honest

Share with your partner why it’s important for you to live clutter-free.  Note I said ‘live clutter-free’, not just declutter.  Talk about your desire as a lifestyle choice, not a one-and-done project.  It changes the conversation from a list of chores to an important conversation to have.

If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of stuff, resentful of doing all the housework, feel like you’re wasting time and money: tell them. Express how you feel about clutter, without assigning blame. It’s key to approaching your home and lifestyle as a couple.

If this is the first time you’ve had this conversation, don’t expect them to understand straight away.  Just because you’ve had your lightbulb moment and are ready to make big changes, doesn’t mean they’re in the same place.  Be patient.

Agree what tidy means

Have you ever thought that your partner’s version of tidy is different to yours?  I don’t think I’ve ever come across a couple whose version of tidy is exactly the same.  In my professional experience, one partner is usually more relaxed than the other, one usually prefers less stuff, and one is more responsible for the home. Some people are comforted by a full home, others are frustrated by it. You could be extremes of one another and have very different tolerances for clutter. 

Therefore, it’s important to define what tidy means to each of you.  Then work out what the compromise is, so you can build a shared vision for your home.  This conversation plays a vital role in understanding opinions, creating common ground and establishing a shared goal.

Find out how you can establish a vision for your tidy home and lifestyle in this blog post.  

Always uphold trust

There’s likely to be tension and blame for who is responsible for the volume of things in your house, or what you perceive to be a mess.  But the tension, resentment and broken trust caused by deceitfully decluttering your partner’s stuff, is worse.

When you get rid of someone else’s things it can feel violating.  It causes anger, resentment and breaks bonds of trust. In some cases, it can cause people to hold onto more things, hiding them away in fear that someone will throw them out when they are not looking.

You may be thinking, it’s okay I’ll just get rid of the stuff I 100% know they don’t want. I’ll be doing them a favour!  The trouble is getting rid of the ‘easy’ stuff takes away a victory for them.  The easy stuff is a good win, fuels adrenaline, gets us in the mood for decluttering, makes us feel capable.  

If you remove the easy stuff they’ll never get to feel this. Instead, they will only have difficult decisions to make.  If they only ever have difficult decisions to make, they’ll never want to declutter.  Instead, set the easy stuff to one side and ask them about it.  Give them the choice.

Don’t declutter your partner’s things without them knowing!

Respects what brings joy

If home is where the heart is, then it must be filled with what brings you joy.  And the truth is, we all love and value different things. Therefore, respecting your partner’s choices is crucial, even if it doesn’t align with your preferences.  Judging them for what brings them joy can be hurtful and pressuring them to get rid of their things isn’t going to make them feel good. It definitely won’t help get them excited about decluttering.  

Make peace with the fact that what doesn’t bring you joy could be someone else’s favourite item.  Let their happiness be among the most valuable things in your home. Fully accept them for who they are, ugly mugs and all!

female decluttering her wardrobe items, sat on the floor.
I’ve had the conversations, I’m desperate for my house to be clutter-free. But my partner still doesn’t want to declutter, now what do I do?

Don’t waste energy on what you can’t change

Accept right now that you have no right to expect someone else to declutter simply because you told them it’s time to tidy up the house.  Dragging that horse to water is an effort, and if it won’t drink, it’s a waste of both your energy and time that would be so much better being used elsewhere.  Accept now that this journey to living clutter-free needs to be about you.

Your partner doesn’t have to be on board for you to be able to make a difference.  Once you’ve been clear about what you want, you don’t have to wait around for them to join in.  Don’t wait for permission to explore a new way of living else you’ll end up resenting them for holding you back.

Focus on what brings you joy

You have the green light to make all the decisions on the things that you own that are 100% yours.  Remember, you’re not decluttering your partner’s things.

Go through your belongings and take time to discover what you love.  Learn about what brings you joy.  Reflect on what you learn so you know what your priorities are.  Maybe you’ll establish values that are important to live your life by.  Take care of your own desires and experience the journey as a process of self-care.

Lead by example and declutter your own things first

You’ll be amazed at how long it can take simply to go through your own things.  Once you’ve done it you may be surprised at the impact this alone has on your home and how you feel there.  Knowing all of your own things are in order is likely to make you feel less bothered about someone else’s.  There’s a beautiful sense of pride and calm, knowing you’ve got your own belongings in order.  

If someone else’s space is a mess, quite frankly, that’s their problem!  Give them the responsibility for that and relax knowing you’ve done all you can.  

Share the benefits you’re experiencing by decluttering

Nagging someone to do something because of your opinion isn’t the way to encourage someone to change. But letting them see, hear and feel the benefits of your decluttering might just inspire action.

  • Talk about the delights over discovering the things you love.
  • Mention how it feels good to let go of things that were holding you back.
  • Share how freeing it is to own less.
  • Express how much calmer life feels now you’re organised.

The ripple effect of your positive experience might be just enough to see them sorting through a few things.  They may never declutter or organise to your standards, but you may start to see a positive shift in the right direction.

Involve them in your journey

Maybe it’s the scale of the decluttering project that is overwhelming your partner.  If you’ve announced you’re going to sort your house out once and for all and want it done by next week.  Of course, they are running a mile.  Who wouldn’t be? 

But they might be okay with supporting you.  If you feel comfortable with it, you might like to bring them along on your journey. Ask for them to help you take stuff to the charity shop, list an post things for sale, and process the recycling.  Perhaps ask them to consider a handful of items with you now and again.

Accept that they might want to watch from the sidelines for a while.  That they will feel more comfortable if they can see what it means to declutter.  They might want evidence that it can make the changes you desire in your home. 

Go easy, take your time, make small changes. It may inspire action.

Agree common boundaries for belongings and habits

As you start to make changes, space starts to appear, and you begin to feel the benefits of your work, it may be time for another conversation with your partner.  You need to establish new boundaries.

These can be physical boundaries such as allocating each half of the wardrobe, a number of shelves for books for example.  Agree that you cannot fill one another’s space – that the space is allocated to a new function.  It now stores a feeling – the feeling of calm, ease, control.  Whatever emotion you want to feel in your home, this is what this space holds.  It’s not an empty space; it now contains the most important thing of all.

Boundaries might also be habit-based, such as no paperwork to be kept in the bedroom, the dining table is only used for eating at, shoes go on the rack, etc.  These won’t be based on decluttering for your partner, so not focused on removing items, more around tidy habits at home.  New habits need to be built slowly, so don’t aim for overnight success.

Decluttering is a personal journey

The only way to live in a home that meets every one of your standards is to live alone.  And if that isn’t on your wish list, you’re going to have to make some compromises.

Decluttering is a process that begins with self-reflection and takes you through a journey of personal growth. It’s important each person is given the space, time and encouragement to do this on their own terms.  We cannot control other people or ask them to live differently.  We can only encourage, guide and love.

Take responsibility for your own desires first.  Sort your own stuff out. Maybe your partner will become intrigued or maybe they won’t. 

You have nothing to lose either way.

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