Kelly's side: He has too much junk
Living in a small Cape Cod house without an attic or a garage doesn't leave us much storage space. Since the basement serves as a much needed workshop, everything finds its way into our closets upstairs. Every time I open a closet I'm disgusted by the jumbled mess of clothing mixed with odds and ends. But every time Bob and I try to clean them, we wind up arguing over what goes and what stays. In the end, everything stays and we've accomplished nothing.
I've been involved in a lot of activities and have many mementos. Bob insists they're junk and need to go. But when I look at the pile of his things, I can't understand why we should keep them either. He saves even the plastic cups from sporting events!
"Why can't you get rid of these work coats?" I complained one day as we attempted yet again to organize the coat closet. "You don't wear most of them and they take up too much space."
"Look who's talking!" Bob retorted. "Your shoes fill this entire rack. I have to keep mine upstairs."
By the time we finished, the only things we'd lost were our tempers.
There must be a way to organize our house without winding up at each other's throats.
Bob's side: She won't get rid of anything
When it comes to filling the closets, it's not my stuff that takes up the most space. Kelly keeps things for sentimental reasons. Yet when it comes time to clean a closet, she's quick to get rid of my stuff. She forgets I have sentimental attachments too.
Kelly has all her old prom dresses, college notebooks, and childhood stuffed animals. She can't see that just because we get rid of the items doesn't mean she won't keep the memories.
What's worse is that she's claimed the larger of the dresser drawers, so I have to hang most of my clothes in the closets. My shirts are so wrinkled from being crammed in the cramped space, I have to iron them a second time before wearing them.
Trying to clean the coat closet was the last straw. Kelly has nearly 20 pairs of shoes on the rack downstairs, and my 3 pairs are forced to live in the upstairs closet because there's no room. My work coats bother her, but I earned them as service awards by striving to meet safety and quota standards each year. Many of them are brand new, so it would be a waste to give them away. There must be a way to live with my wife without all her stuff.
What Bob and Kelly did
Bob and Kelly's breakthrough came while watching a home organizational program on television. The couple on the show were cleaning a messy room.
"They put everything on the lawn so they could see as they sorted," Kelly relates. "We laughed at first because the entire lawn was covered with the contents, but then it seemed like a good idea."
So they decided to start by emptying and organizing their coat closet. "We spread out everything in the living room," Bob recalls. "Almost in unison we exclaimed, 'We're those people on TV!'"
Visualizing how much was actually in their closets not only embarrassed Kelly and Bob, but convinced them both to do some serious purging.
They laid ground rules to keep things fair and to eliminate arguments. First, they'd remove all items from the closet and divide them into "his" and "hers" piles.
Next, they'd determine together what was functional and necessary. For instance, the hallway closet had to contain the vacuum, the step ladder, and the dog food.
Finally, for every one item Kelly put back in the closet, Bob put one item in as well. When the closet was full, everything left would go to charity. It made decisions more crucial but fair. In the end, they found themselves bending to accommodate each other.
"When my appliquÉd seasonal flags took up most of the hanging space, Bob volunteered to store his hunting vest in the basement," Kelly says. "It made sense to keep it with his fishing and hunting equipment."
"And when I needed to keep my bowling bag accessible, Kelly agreed to part with some stuffed animals," Bob adds. "She kept a few that were really special, and we took pictures of her with the ones we donated to a children's charity. It helped knowing they were going to a good cause."
Tackling the clothes closets brought new challenges. While it had seemed a good idea to share the closets before, keeping folded clothes in one and hanging clothes in another, this no longer worked. Instead, they decided to designate a "his and hers."
"Neither of us is allowed in the other's closet," Bob says, grinning.
They purchased and refinished a used chest of drawers to have his and her bureaus as well. This allows both an equal number of drawers and the onus is on the owner to weed out what needs to go and what needs to stay.
Within a few months every closet had been transformed. "It was contagious," Kelly says. "Once we got one in order, we were eager to try another."
Sometimes they're still tempted to haphazardly throw things into a closet, but they work to keep each other in check.
"The house looks so good that I'd hate to mess it up again," Bob says.
Listening to each other's feelings and setting up ground rules has strengthened their communication—and eliminated a lot of disagreements.
"Before, when something simple like finding work boots took too much energy, we'd take out our frustration on each other," Kelly says. "Now that our things are organized, our marriage runs more smoothly."
Through compromise their house has finally become the organized haven they both desired.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.