What to do? Other family members obstacle to decluttering.

quasifishMarch 14, 2012

Okay, new question for you all...

First, thank you for all the feedback on my other question about sentimental items- you cannot imagine how much it has helped. The items I referenced in that thread are now donated and gone. Someone on that thread mentioned Peter Walsh's book "Lighten up." I looked into his books and ended up buying "It's All Too Much" which has turned out to be a fantastic read. It has given me a very clear path on how I want to declutter- recommend it for anyone who is getting stuck in the decluttering process.

One of the biggest issues I am running into now are my other family members, DH and DD. Neither is very good about purging stuff. DD is only 6 and I am working on her slowly, trying to help her understand that when we donate things we no longer use, they can go to help other people. She is very resistant to giving up anything, and I often fear I am raising a future hoarder. I get rid of her old toys and clothes discreetly after about a year of non-use.

DH OTOH should be beyond that point, obviously. While he will freely toss trash and broken items, anything he sees as "nice" he is resistant to let go. It doesn't matter if it's an item we never use and have zero interest in, if it is nice, he makes a case for keeping it. For example the most recent thing (but you could insert any example into here) was a boxed music set someone gave ME about 15 years ago. It is big, cumbersome, hard to store, and I never (nor has DH) listened to any CD in the set in full, and it's not even music I enjoy- yet when I told DH I was thinking about getting rid of it and that I could probably sell it for $25, he wanted to keep it because it was a nice looking set....????

I get tired of going around and around with him like it's some kind of high school debate just to get rid of one item that I KNOW we don't need to be keeping.

I won't even think about getting rid of things that are expressly his, and things that are "ours" I try to be considerate and ask his blessing before getting rid of, but it so challenging. Is it ever okay just to purge ordinary household items without telling your DH/SO? Example here: we have 5 corkscrews, I don't drink wine, DH drinks wine very rarely- we don't need 5! But they are all very nice! I think I could get rid of 2 of them and DH would never even notice. Is that so wrong? Do you think I need to run items like that by him before getting rid of them, or do I put myself through the it's-so-nice-we-should-keep-it debate ringer? Feedback please!

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In my similar situation, I found that getting rid of it was much easier if I didn't ask for his blessing. I suspect that if you tossed/donated/sold the item, he would never miss it. And, you are saving yourself a lot of hassle to use your best judgment in the item's disposal. One thing that you may present to DH is point blank ask him if he trusts you to make the right decision. Sure, that puts him on the spot, but he needs to realize that he DOES need to trust you and you will act accordingly.

The business about 'it looks nice'....looks nice for who? Himself? Visitors to your home? Boxed cd sets are usually not thought of as decor items for the home. Does he think visitors will consider him 'cultured' because he has a boxed set of cd's?

When purging my MIL's house while she was hospitalized, a neighbor had stopped by. I said something about 'should I keep this' for something, she said 'pitch it'. Her motto was it was much easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission!!!! It's now been my motto also to a great extent, for she was absolutely right!

You could alsways experiment by taking 2 of the corkscews and the boxed cd's and whatever else 'looks to nice' to pitch, box them up and stash them. See how long, if ever, it takes for one of the items to be missed.

Can you get him to read the book?

Good luck. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Been there, done that.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 4:01PM
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Quasi, you do not need anyone's permission to donate or toss things that are yours and yours alone! I totally understand you about not touching DH's things; my DH will not let me organize his desk, toolshop, or photo boxes, ALL of which are a mess.

I made a vow to myself to focus on my own mess, and that I would not say anything to him until my areas were clutter free. Lucky for him, I have not achieved that yet because of my hobbies. But when he sees me starting a box of misc for the thrift store, he sometimes adds things.

Baby steps!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 7:38PM
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Your posts are always so interesting to read!

It sounds to me like you haven't created a "hoarder", but rather that she has your DH's tendencies. I think a lot of personality traits are just genetic.

I think Barbara's idea to box up the items in question will work for both your husband and your daughter. I would put them in boxes(with a list of the contents taped on)and set aside for 6 months or a year. If they don't ask for the items, then it's safe to donate.

When my daughter and I were cleaning up her room once, I wanted her to pare down her stuffed animals. They were all important to her. So, we put them in a plastic garbage bag and stored them in the basement. These were all her sentimental or nice stuffed animals. I was pretty sure she would want those animals eventually but she never did. She forgot all about them and I donated them.

Maybe you could ask your daughter when you are cleaning up if you can just box the toys up to "save". That way you won't have to sneak them out of her room.

I also think that getting rid of you and hubby's things without his consent depends on how mad he would get if he asked for something that you got rid of! :)

My husband tends to keep stuff too but at least he's not much of a purchaser/shopper.

I'm taking the tack that Colorcrazy is. I'm not going to ask him to get rid of his stuff before mine is all cleaned up. I have a long way to go as I'm a hobbiest too and I also love dishes and decorative items so my closets are full and I have way more than I need. Sometimes when I ask him about something of he reminds to focus on all my stuff not his. He's right.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 11:00PM
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I have a 'hide then toss' program I use at work & at home. Luckily DH doesn't complain, he's pretty good about getting rid of unneeded stuff.

I'm a secretary & everyone comes into my office to make copies, pull docs they need, etc & my office was a literal dumping ground when I came here. Old sprinkler heads from when they updated them 5 yrs ago? Check. Paperwork for programs we're not involved in any more? Check. On & on like that.

So what I do is take the offending item & put it away for a couple weeks. If anyone asks for it, well it's right here. But nobody EVER asks for this stuff. Now when I used to ask my boss what to do with this junk, he's hem & haw & say keep it. He's gun shy that someone may need things & for a long time I went along with it, stuff piling up in my office.

Now the tops of all the cabinets in my office are basically clear & the counters are just a daily area to deal with.

I bet if you quietly hid 3 of your corkscrews & wait a month, he'll never notice they're gone. Then you donate them & go on to the next area. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 9:34AM
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I will tell you that I have a "benevolent dictator" approach to this.

Somethings I know he'd mind it if I got rid of them. Since I'm benevolent, of course I don't mess with those. Stuff I'm genuinely unsure of, I leave alone, or I ask.

But if I genuinely think he wouldn't notice, AND if it's "household" as opposed to "his," I get rid of things without mentioning it. I'm a dictator.

W/ the corkscrews, you might sound him out, "this corkscrew is sort of annoying to use, don't you think?" or "Which corkscrew do you like most?"
And keep an eye on what HE picks up to use.

And then get rid of the ones you think can go

Stuff that's mine, I often don't even ask. Or I ignore him if he says something. It's mine. Out it goes.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 6:43PM
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I love your responses. You all tell me what I want to hear.

I think I'll start boxing household stuff up for a short period of time before getting rid of it. I needed a little kick, and some reassurance, that it was okay to get rid of stuff that is non-sentimental household stuff without his permission.

I don't like being dishonest, even by omission, but we have had some incidents over the past few years when DH or DD was thinking about something we use to have and I feigned ignorance as to where it might be- even though I know I got rid of it. I feel very guilty about doing that sort of thing- "I don't know where that went." Is that wrong? When that sort of situation comes up, should I take responsibility and say, "no one ever used it, so I got rid of it." Usually the item in question was something that was so unimportant that a few minutes after looking for it, it is forgotten again. It's these few incidents that made me wonder if I wanted to take more chances with getting rid of household items.

I love that line about asking for forgiveness is easier than asking permission- that sounds like it was designed for DH.

I have also thought about not hounding him too much until my personal clutter is well under control. Has anybody found that as they organize and thin down their possessions, that their spouse is more inclined to do the same?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 9:44AM
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I think it might be helpful as a teaching tool, to say, "nobody was using it, and it was in the way, so I got rid of it." And then GO ON to say, "and we've been able to use that shelf for these things we do use" in a non-defensive way, more of an explanatory way.

And also it's a chance to coach people through the "how to do cope when it's gone?" concept. You can buy another one; you can do without.

Be prepared for some tears or upset, or whatever, and don't get defensive or upset in return. Just model how it is someone OUGHT to act when they realize they wish they hadn't thrown something out or lost it.

You might also consider that learning the willingness to declutter is a PROCESS, and offer learning opportunities.

So you say to DH, "I'm thinking of tossing that CD set." He says, oh keep it, it's a nice set! And you say, "Yeah, but I don't even listen to the type of music, and neither do you. And sure it's nice, but that doesn't mean WE have to be the ones to keep it. That's actually a reason TO give it away, because it's nice enough that it'll still have value to someone else."

I find that my kids personify the stuff. They think somehow they're being RUDE to the stuff to reject it.

So I also say, "yes, it *is* a nice CD set. That's why I'm giving it away, actually; there's someone somewhere who will really value it and be glad to have it, instead of being annoyed that it's taking up space."

Then as they live through a few of those things, they'll start to be more comfortable with the idea.

I find that I've taken to thinking out loud about WHY I'm willing to get rid of things, so my kids and DH can see the thought processes. I didn't get in this position (mentally) without some practice.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 1:49PM
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I, too, have a DH who likes hanging on to things. I think he got into this habit while growing up on a farm, where his family had plenty of barns and outbuildings to store stuff that "might come in handy someday."

After 20 years of marriage, I've learned that I don't really need to ask him about the extra household stuff (for instance, we had 4 vegetable parers). What happens is: I've already made the decision that an item should be donated or tossed, but if I ask him, he might want to keep it and then I have to reluctantly put the clutter back where I found it, knowing he didn't know we had it until I showed it to him. So I make executive decisions about my stuff and household stuff. He never seems to miss the household stuff I've shed, probably because we weren't using it to begin with. I leave his belongings alone, although I might encourage him to address certain piles.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 5:44PM
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Taking a tip from FlyLady (you either love or hate her)-Housework done imperfectly still blesses your family, a swish and a swipe, a lick and a promise. You (the female, wife,mother) are a powerful example to your family. If you clean up after "yourself" you are showing them a good habit. The children will one day smarten up, see that Mom is neat and tidy, it's Dad who leaves the messes behind. Keep yourself and your own belongings under control, and your children will (eventually) do the same. I've got a similar problem with my husband. He hates me to throw out anything "good". Anything with potential, future value. An example, just yesterday, I took a half-burned candle and put it in the wastebasket. Hubby objected "We'll need that if the power goes out." No, we have other unburned candles and plenty of flashlights. I told him, I bought that candle, I'm throwing it out. I promise to ask you first if I want to throw out anything of yours." Nuff said.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 8:05AM
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Talley Sue, I do go through a whole process of explaining how we are not using an item and that it could be a treasure to someone who needs or wants it. That just does not click with DH and I am hoping it will with DD in the future. Maybe if I keep doing it, over time the out loud thought processes will pay off?

skywatcher, my DH was raised on acreage, and the inlaws still live on it. While they didn't have much in the way of outbuildings, they did have the space to keep a lot of things that I think should be junked. For example, they have every fireplace grate they have burned through in 30+ years, piled out behind a shed. What is the point of that? They also have a tendency to keep old vehicles that they no longer use- vehicles that were running when they parked them, but are in no condition to run now and have been chewed apart by varmints and the elements.. I just don't get the mentality of keeping something so useful that you are not going to use, when somebody else could probably really use it. Instead it rots and nobody can use it. My SIL did this with her baby clothes and supplies too- let them rot in an attic instead of giving them a second life. But I digress and vent... Not to sound holier than though, but at a point one can easily let be destroyed something they claimed to value.

Jannie, I hope you are right and maybe they will catch on if I set a good example.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 11:01AM
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Quasi, I can add a few ideas -
Some people have a rule that if one item comes in (is purchased) a similar item must go out (trash or donated). This is justified if there is a limited amount of space, like in my house.
Is your daughter tidy? If anything was on the floor when it should have been put away, my mother would put it in a bag and hide it. We had to do chores to get it back. If your daughter has too much stuff, she might decide some items are not worth doing a chore just to get them back.

Another trick is to make sure that the things you use and really need is in the cupboards, drawers, shelves where they are easily found. Everything that no one uses can be boxed up and go in the attic/basement/garage, where-ever. It gets people more accustomed to enjoying an uncluttered environment and makes it easier to find the important stuff.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 10:19PM
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haha love the idea of being a benevolent dictator!

Quasi, you're making good headway, be patient and stay the course.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 11:47AM
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I think you need two different approaches, one for your DD and one for your DH.

If the idea of letting something go so that someone else can use it and treasure it isn't working, I'd stop that and move on to something else.

In dealing with your DH, first I'd declutter your stuff as much as possible, which it sounds like you are doing. Then I'd tackle joint things.

Let's take the 5 corkscrews. Let's assume they are rattling around in a kitchen drawer. And let's assume that no one really needs more than 1 corkscrew. And let's also assume that you are the main cook and bottle washer in the family, and that the kitchen is largely considered your turf.

Approach your DH about the corkscrews. This time, give him a goal that you are working toward. "DH, I'm going through all the kitchen drawers. My goal is to clear them out enough so that I can easily reach into a drawer and grab exactly what I need without having to search for it. This will make cooking easier and faster and more pleasant for me." He should be willing to buy into such a goal. Why would he want to make cooking more difficult for you?

"Now, DH darling, we have 5 corkscrews. They are all very nice. Can you tell me which one works the best? Which one means the most to you (sentimental value, actual value, whatever)? How would you feel if we kept only those two?"

Note that you are letting him choose which ones to keep. If he fusses, let him pick a third one to keep. If he really fusses, "Okay, I can see that you don't want to let any of these go. That's okay. I will continue to work on the kitchen. Maybe I can create enough space so that we can keep all five. If I can't, then we may have to revisit this. Is that okay with you? Can you think of another solution? Would you like to think about it and get back to me?"

I've found that if you make it clear that you are honoring the other person's wishes, *sometimes* they will, in a few weeks or months, voluntarily offer to get rid of some the things you were trying to toss.

If they don't, then you make that thing theirs. You can do this with the CD set right away. "Okay, you want to keep these CDs because they look nice. I am giving them to you. They are now yours. You will decide whether to keep them or let them go at a future date."

"But, I need to warn you. I am decluttering the family room. My goal is to have a neat, organized and easy to clean family room that only takes 10 minutes every night to pick up. In order to do that, it needs to be easy to put everything away, which means that we can't double-shelve the CDs and books anymore."

"These CDs will need to fit on the shelves that we have decided will hold the CDs. That may mean that some other CDs will have to go. But we don't have to make that decision right now."

What underlies making the contested object his, is that at some point, you will designate space in the house for all his stuff. A study if you have a room to spare. Certain shelves in the family room and garage and basement. His half of the bedroom closet. You also designate a certain amount of shared space for CDs and DVDs and books and so on. He can keep *anything* he wants in his areas.

The kicker is that he's not going to be able to keep *everything* he wants. He's going to run out of room.

That's when, in addition to the goal argument, you pull out the cost argument. Storage costs money. You need a certain size house to hold your family and the things it needs and wants. You need to buy storage furniture (shelves, cabinets, etc.) to hold all the things. Sure, you can keep adding more shelves, more cabinets, but at some point, the rooms are crowded and don't look attractive, because of all the stuff in them. Your choice is either to declutter or to buy more storage--rent a self-store unit, buy a bigger house.

Storage costs money. Present your DH with a goal that costs money, money that could be spent on storage or that could be saved for your goal--a new car, a romantic cruise for two, college for the kids.

And then, if all else fails, take the two corkscrews that DH has determined are most important and leave them where they are. Box up the others along with the CDs and store them somewhere out of the way. But not in a self-store unit, because you are saving money for that romantic cruise. And when the basement, attic and garage are so full that no more of DH's boxed-up extras will fit, some of them will probably be damaged enough that he will let you get rid of them.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 12:50PM
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I completely understand, my husband wasn't speaking to me for getting rid of the old sink and faucets that I let the installers take when they put in the new ones. I knew if I didn't let them take them they would be put in the basement along with other faucets and sinks and an old king mattress and furniture that has been down there for at least 10 years. The other day when I was in the basement I looked around and realized there was not room to put even one more item along the walls. There is something everywhere. The middle of the floor is fine it's just that everywhere has something along the wall in great numbers. He really gets mad at me for getting rid of things. He can be quite nasty about it and then holds a grudge. I feel your pain, I can't function with too much clutter. It makes me feel smothered, even though our house is far from hoarder status it's not that we go out and get stuff and just toss it in the basement it's just that when you get a certain age and your husband refuses to get rid of anything over the years you can end up with quite a pile at the end of the day.

I hope you will take the advice of the post that says it's better to be forgiven than to ask permission or else you will never get anywhere. It's a long process and the sooner you can get started the better. One time someone said to me when we were moving that you keep dragging that stuff around with you, just dragging it around the country with every move. Isn't that the truth? There are boxes left unpacked from high school in our basement!!!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 8:58AM
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I'll be the voice in the wilderness here (and I'm sure I also have the messiest house...) but I value the happiness of the people in my life, and my relationships with them more than I value the state of my house. So I make compromises for them, just like I forgive myself for some of the things I want to, and do, keep.

With my kids, I want above all for them to trust me. I have done that little white lie thing, (I don't know where that went) but I always regret it because at least once I got rid of something that my son really wanted to have. So while I draw the line at saving candy wrappers (yes, my son was born a hoarder!), when something other than garbage is important to him I insist on it being packed efficiently and in a logical place, but yes, we keep it - and I"m even a bit liberal in what we describe as garbage (eg Lego packages) I don't want him to grow up frustrated or wishing for something I tossed. He's not unreasonable or unable to stay organized (at least periodically), so I don't need to be a dictator.

With my husband, I wouldn't want him to dictate to me or tell me what I can and cannot have, so I don't dictate to him. On the other hand, I wouldn't give him the option of telling me whether or not to get rid of a CD I am ready to get rid of. But if they're his corkscrews, I would not underhandedly give them away. I WOULD ask or observe which one or two he uses the most and ask him to keep the rest in the basement with his stuff so they aren't cluttering up the kitchen (or put the rest in the attic myself, without asking). I WOULD always have a place where stuff to be given away can be put. And I do tell him when something he keeps gets on my nerves, as he does with me. But we have argued so much over the years that we are starting to realize that we'd rather deal with excess stuff than have another argument. Forgiving each other is something we're cultivating.

What I find with everyone, me included, is that as long as the focus is on "get rid of" it always reads as a loss, a sacrifice. But when I want the space for something else, for example, then it reads as releasing myself from the old to get on with the new. I use that for myself, and will also do so with the kids - when my designated space for storage of their stuff runs out, then I will see if they want to get rid of the old to store the new - or to do something else with the space.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 8:08PM
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"I think I could get rid of 2 of them and DH would never even notice. Is that so wrong? Do you think I need to run items like that by him before getting rid of them, or do I put myself through the it's-so-nice-we-should-keep-it debate ringer? Feedback please!"

I think the way you need to look at it is asking your dh for permission on everything is counterproductive to what you are trying to do, and this is really small unimportant stuff that shouldn't need all this discussion and angst. Things like that i don't even ask dh about, I got rid of alot of my kitchen excess, small appliances we didn't use, multiples of utensils we didn't need etc like your corkscrews. I never even asked dh since this stuff is so unimportant in the scheme of things.

I'll only ask his permission if it's something I think might be important to him, and things that I know he won't miss just get tossed or donated. If he should ask "where did all the corkscrews go" just tell him we didn't need 5 so I kept the best 3 and got rid of the others, but it may never come up. seriously, he'll get over it. when I first started decluttering I used to run a lot of things by my dh, but I think I only did that because I was having trouble making decisions myself, but I had to stop doing that because it can just bog the whole process down.

Something else to consider is this, you have just as much right to a decluttered house as your dh does to his irrational attachments, and keeping some things is ok but you have to draw a line somewhere, and sometimes one person has to take the reigns and do the hard tasks like this if the other family members aren't able to. You are in fact creating a much more organised, less stressful home for everyone and you dh hopefully over time will start to see the benefits of that.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 10:55PM
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