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Decluttering Other People's Things

What to do when others in your house don't want to declutter when you do...

In this week's Declutter Challenge, one of the participants asked a very important question: What do I do about decluttering someone else's things?

Our "stuff" is about SO much more than just the physical items, and each of us has a different connection to our things.

This abundance of "stuff" is a worldwide challenge we're facing, and it's a beautiful opportunity to dig deep into our Selves and practice vulnerable, kind, honest communication with those we love.

It's also a common source of stress and frustration among families, sometimes intensely so, so it's worth really thinking about, and maybe getting support with.

This is something I've worked with many couples and families on, so please reach out to me if you read the article below and still struggle. You can set up a free Discovery Call with me, e-mail me at, or send me a personal Facebook or Instagram message.

Here's my answer:

The quick answer is to focus on your own things...

But I know from my own experience having a husband who was just fiiiiine with 1000 things strewn around our house rooms all willy nilly...

Sometimes we need to declutter other people's things to save our sanity!

If you want to declutter someone else's things, I recommend 4 things:

  1. Dig deep into yourself

  2. Have a clutter conversation

  3. Help them feel safe

  4. Pre-sort and set up a 'yard sale'

1 - Dig deep into yourself

This is in preparation for #2, but they're good to think about even if you don't share your space with someone...

Ask yourself how clutter affects you - maybe journal about this:

  • When spaces are cluttered, how do you feel? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Irritated? Sad? Bad about yourself? 

  • Why do you think this is?

  • What's your personal story about clutter?

Ask yourself how these feelings, thoughts and experiences affect you - life, health, work, concentration, happiness...

Then think about how all these things affect the person or people whose things you want to declutter. 

Dig deep, then dig some more.

2 - Have a clutter conversation

Gather up your courage and non-judgmental love, make a personal pact to speak from the heart...

Then talk with them about what you came up with in #1 - and invite them to talk about how clutter affects them, and anything else around "stuff" that comes up for them.

(See my story below about how this went with my husband. Spoiler alert - it involves talk about sex!)

We never know what can happen when we get vulnerable and honest...

If you're concerned about how this will go, get support - reach out to me or talk to a therapist/coach first.

3 - Help them feel safe

We all have different connections to our "stuff." Some people are VERY concerned about having things thrown or tucked away, so it's important to reassure them that their stuff is safe with you. 

(More about this in my story below)

Is this always easy? Definitely not.

Is it worth it? If you have a healthy relationship, my experience is yes. (Even though it can take a saint's patience!)

They may need time to think about it.

You may need to have more than one conversation.

You may need to compromise and put their things in boxes set to the side.

If you get the go-ahead to declutter their things, move to #4.

If they're ok with you decluttering but don't want to help, I recommend not arguing about it and just doing what it takes to get it done - even if it means hiring professional help.

If they refuse to have you touch their things and it's driving you nuts, I recommend setting up a free Discovery Call with me or talking to a therapist.

 4 - Pre-sort and set up a 'yard sale'

The idea is to make it SUPER easy for them to see what they have - and be ready to manage what they don't want to keep.

If it's just a few things, you can set them out where they can see them.

If it's a lot of things, I like to put things in categories on a long counter, on a table or bed, or on the floor. 

Sometimes I put the categories in boxes or baskets and take them to them so they can sit comfortably and sort. Whatever it takes to get it done!

I like to have trash, donation, recycling, donate and take elsewhere containers close by with open tops so things can be thrown in.

I often start by holding things up for them to see, and eventually they get comfortable doing it on their own.

Then I have them walk through choosing what they want and don't want.

Sometimes this is easy as slicing pie. Sometimes it takes a few times of trying. Sometimes they just do NOT want to participate. 

Often it starts out challenging and gets easier with patience, non-judgment, maybe some chocolate and a promise of a favorite meal, and commending them for what they do.

(Yes, this can be HARD, but we can do hard things!)

If they do NOT want to participate, I recommend not arguing about it, but instead setting up a free Discovery Call with me ASAP. 

I did this in my house with my husband's things as I decluttered, and I do it with clients when we're decluttering areas full of things and/or they're busy doing other things. 

I've even done this while clients were at work - I texted photos to them and they texted back what they wanted to keep, toss and donate.

I've also taken my husband's things and put them in boxes, then tucked them away to come back to when I had the time and patience.

Please let me know if you have ideas about this or have experienced challenges like these! I'm always eager to learn...


When I moved in with my husband, his 4 bedroom house was FULL of things - 3 dining room tables with full sets of chairs, an entire room dedicated to his 5 cats, at least 12 end tables, a broken dishwasher in the dining room and cat litter with a sideways mattress in a spare bedroom...

I had a lot of soul searching to do, a lot of courage to dig up, a lot of patience to have with myself and him...

And I'm happy to say we're VERY happily married 8 years later! We both absolutely love our home.

When I asked myself the questions above (How does clutter affect me? How do I feel

when spaces are cluttered? Why do you think this is? What's your personal story about clutter? How does all this affect our relationship?)...

I found that when I felt the house was cluttered, especially the kitchen, I felt more anxious, tired and overwhelmed in all areas of my life, I got irritated more easily, and I didn't want to cook or invite people over.

I felt like my health was suffering in many ways.

This, in turn, meant I didn't want to cook dinner for my husband, I wasn't as fun and relaxed with him...

And all this, in turn, meant I didn't feel sexy - and didn't feel like having sex.

I decided THIS was something he could get behind!

I said it wasn't his fault, that this was my personal reaction, and that I was working on my thoughts about 'messiness' and clutter. I talked about my upbringing by VERY tidy parents and a Dad who thought messes were a sign of major character flaws.

Now he knows I think it's super sexy when he declutters, cleans the kitchen, and helps out around the house.

He even organized a corner of the garage while I was away once, and was so excited to show me he made signs for me to check it out! (One said Thank You!)

It took him 5 years of feeling safe before he completely turned the inside over to me - and before he did so, we walked through as he pointed at the "must stay" furniture. (some of it has now gone - some things take time!)

I would get so nervous talking to him at first, but now we have fun inside jokes about that time...

Eight years after he still says to friends, "She put all my things in the garage when she moved in!"

But you know what? He LOVES what I've done with the house!

We can do hard things. Love is worth it.

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