Two goats with horns locked, butting heads

If you have ever lived with another person as an adult (kids at home have their own challenges), then you know that successfully sharing a space isn’t always simple. It often requires a level of compassion and compromise we only wish world leaders would exercise when creating policies that affect a nation’s neighbors.

When you first decide to move in together, whether as roommates, colleagues, or more intimately, you are likely merging years’ worth of stuff, which can lead to tension, fights, and in some cases the end of an otherwise happy relationship.

Wakefield Research released a study that shows within romantic relationships:

34% would consider breaking up with their significant other if they threw out a sentimental item of theirs.

46% frequently stop their significant other from throwing something of theirs out.

90% would get rid of something of their significant other’s if there would be no consequences.

Ouch.

If you’re one of the lucky 10%, hats off to you. For the rest of us struggling to live together and not break up OR dig through the trash looking for discarded treasures, here is a simple plan that works.

When you first move in together, the easiest thing to do is identify everything that you commonly own—and bring that in first. 

Then you can fill that out with a modest and equal number of personal items that you each treasure that adds to the decor or serves a useful purpose. The rest can be put into temporary off-site storage with the goal of integrating everything else or letting it go within 30-60 days. While that might seem like an unnecessary expense, consider the following:

A) You get to create your home as a vision of how you both want to live with enough time to move slowly and deliberately so there are no resentments or broken hearts when someone’s collection of ________ ends up in the recycle bin.

B) How much more expensive and demanding would couples’ counseling be?

If you decide to go this route, a great one-stop resource when looking for temporary storage is SpareFoot.

If you are already sharing space and feeling crowded by all the stuff and ready to make some changes, here is a simple five-step plan to decluttering that guarantees you’ll still be friends when it’s over.

1) Speak up and tell the truth.

Whether you are sharing a home with a roommate or significant other or an office space with a colleague, the first step to reducing clutter is clear, honest-yet-kind communication. When talking to with your cohabitant about what to do with THEIR stuff, remember that the stories and feelings they have about their stuff is no less irrational and ridiculous than the stories and feelings you have about YOUR stuff.

2) Establish simple ground rules.

The Organizational Triangle® is a great place to start. Assign homes to everything and group all like objects together. If something doesn’t have a home, agree beforehand on how you will deal with the orphans, the left overs, the broken, and the mismatched. And then make sure that the rules apply to you both without exception. What’s good for the goose …

3) Use a timer and a calendar.

If you want to stay in the relationship and not get lost in a never-ending project, set weekly or monthly goals for this process based on time, not unpredictable outcomes. You can’t know how long it will take you to go through everything in your space, you can always know how long 3 hours is when working together. Use a timer for every work session so the clock and not your stamina is responsible for determining when the task is finished. A simple egg timer will work or something more app-based like the excellent Toggl. Work no less than 15 minutes per session or longer than 3 hours without a break.

4) Don’t get lost in story.

When sorting into 3 piles—stay, go, and “on the fence”—just sort. Don’t start defending your choices by lobbying your partner with a sad story of the object’s life and its significance. If you can’t let something go, put it in the “on the fence” section and return to it later. When everything has been sorted into one of three piles, sort the stuff that’s staying into its common piles and put it away, then pack up everything that’s going and get it out of the house ASAP. Only then do you turn your attention back to the fence. 

Chances are, some of what you couldn’t decide about before will now clearly be stuff that you can let go of. I promise. Once you’ve touched everything once, it becomes really easy to let things go you swore were deal breakers just hours ago. For the rest of the stuff, you have two choices:

A) Each of you gets to pick an equal number of items and keep them, as long as you can find a home for them.

B) Play a lightning round and set the timer for 3 minutes and convince the other person why you should be allowed to keep each item before the timer goes off. After 15 minutes you should be laughing hysterically at the stories each other tell about these leftovers and racing each other to the recycling/giveaway/trash.

5) Celebrate your success.

When you finish this project, you will know each other much better than you did before and if you are still fond of the other person, this is definitely worth celebrating! Do something fun that you both enjoy and acknowledge your intimacy and your courage. You were willing to be vulnerable and it paid off. For bonus points, find the next project you want to collaborate on and start making a plan.

I guarantee that if you follow this simple plan, you will immediately feel a positive impact, not only on your space, but within your relationship. Stuff carries such psychic weight it often brings us down and closes us off, leaving us less emotionally available for the people we love. There is no better way to live your values and embody the idea behind “More Love, Less Stuff!”

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About The Author

Andrew Mellen's picture

Andrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!

Andrew has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide to declutter and simplify their lives while regaining time for the things that matter.

A sought-after authority on organizing and productivity, Andrew's addressed audiences from The Great British Business Show to TEDx. 

Corporate clients include American Express, Genentech, NetApp, Time, Inc., and the US Depts. of Education and Homeland Security.

The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America.” He writes a featured column called “Ask The Organizer” in Real Simple. In addition, he has written for and/or appeared in: The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

He leads workshops and speaks internationally while maintaining a private practice working with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies, trade associations, and non-profits to CEOs, award-winning filmmakers, and authors, as well as overwhelmed parents everywhere. 

In 2013, Andrew founded Unstuff U®, the world's first completely virtual personal organization training center, offering classes, workshops, and other online resources for businesses and individuals. 

Andrew is a member of the Experts Collective and serves on the faculty of the New York Open Center in New York City. He speaks frequently on the intersection of spirituality and organization at places including Omega Institute, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, All Saints Church, JCC Manhattan, and the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, among others.

Previously, Andrew was an award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and director and the former Artistic Director of Alice B. Theater (Seattle), DC Arts Center (Washington, DC), and Shuttle Theater Company (New York). He is a contributing author to Yes Is the Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).

Andrew lives by his motto: More Love, Less Stuff!® 

Find him on the web at andrewmellen.com.

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