New approach to others' clutter--wish me luck

Frankie_in_zone_7July 21, 2009

I am about to go in a new direction, and it may not be all good. So, I'm already aware of warning bells in my head.

I am lucky in that my DH is nowhere near a true "pack rat"--but has a problem with incoming mail and daily papers. We get a lot of financial documents that he keeps but cannot keep to an organized approach. A few years ago we moved to a home in which one small bedroom is now his "study" and all of this goes in there in boxes, and you can't even walk in it. That room may be something I try to tackle eventually (would have to be WITH him) but not right now.

But, he piles it up on our only table for meals, and in several chairs, and boxes plus large piles of newspapers have crept into our bedroom. I've asked and discussed, and he agreed that dining table was important so we could have family meals, but if anything, it's getting worse. The reason the above room problem is going to come up is that, it's reaching max junking capacity so that, we used to be able to toss stuff in a box, before a meal or visitors, and place in room "to be sorted later," but now there is not much later going on.

Part of the dealing with it problem is that, as many of you know, it takes more than 10 minutes to clear something like this up, and now his backup plan of tossing in study is failing, and that was one of my coping methods--but now I feel bad about it, because now if I put a box in the study, it may be teetering on edge, or hard to find, so I don't feel as good about that, as these are "our" bills and important papers.

So, So I have to ask myself--do I live with it? I go over all the same arguments--he is a great person--I mean really great. He does huge amounts of stuff for the family--works hard, does bills, invnestments, trash, car maintenance, computer maint, just loads of stuff. So, he is not sitting around like Archie Bunker.

But, part of what I do is the cooking and cleaning and work at demanding job. We used to have a cleaning service, and I want to get one back. The reason I let the service lapse was, it was a hassle to get my family--and me-- to "clean up" for the service when I had 2 kids at home and all of us not so neat. Even though, that was a kind of organizational strategy that kept you on your toes--but was hard if had a tough work day the day before cleaning crew was due. And I would find that I was usually the one that did that final hour of picking up, usually making me late to work.

So, I struggle with accepting----since of course I know I am not perfect, and who knows how many things I do are not what DH would prefer. I should be happy with live and let live. I mean, if I was finally successful at bartering instead for some favor in return, what if what he wanted was something I couldn't stand to give up or stop doing or do or whatever?

To return to the point, I decided to stop discussing and nagging, but found things only piled up more and if I then asked for a special occasion, he did not or could not take care of it.

So recently, I was trying to clean these areas, and of course there were too much papers and stuff piled up, and so I just decided I was going to move it and act like that was okay. One approach, though this can just be self-serving, I know, is to assume that he doesn't really intend for the house to look like that, and it's just my job to clear it up, to clear the table and then cook and serve a nice dinner; to move all the stuff out of the BR and then vacuum--the same way that he takes care of certain things without going over it all in detail first.

Interestingly, I am so not a very neat person in terms of BEING very neat all the time, but I love how I feel when my home looks neat and clean--I feel so good and calm--so I have the ability to, at intervals, clean up and enjoy everything tidy. And I have trouble thinking I have to accept not being able to have that. And that means really everything I can see--so, dining table is piled up and unusable, I'm okay with that for a day, or week, but not forever, not every day of the year, even if the adjacent kitchen and den is neat.

Along with this, I am paying a lot of attention to clutter or mess of my own. Duh! Meaning, it's doubly important that I don't say, my magazines are okay on the table but your stuff isn't, etc. And, I am trying to focus on the moving stuff as part of cleaning, not just picking on someone else's pile for no reason. Have any of you had to refrain from just focusing on someone else's mess? That is so much easier and more fun than your own! So, because I can only tackle things in stages, I had to keep reminding myself, leave his pile alone until it is the only place left to clean.

But it partly boils down to, what junky families don't understand is, you can't take advantage of most cleaning services if you're junky--they're not personalized enough to move your stuff and they won't clean well around it. Plus, if you work full time +, you can't clean up everything in one day, and you have to plan. For example, I spent 2 evenings de-cluttering surfaces and have yet to "clean"--that is stage 2. So again, part of me feels like I'm just returning to the idea of, I'm a professional woman and this is how I keep house.

The "study" itself is another issue. I've offered to work together , taking a couple of days off from work even, to organize, buy shelves, and do whatever. Hmmm-hmm, he says.

After we'd lived here a few years, I just decided, let that room go because he deserves to have a room of his own for that--I have a similar room I keep pretty neat as a combo guest room, and he doesn't bother me about it.

Now the problem is as I noted above--you can no longer walk or add stuff. Again, while I can't do this right away, I'm wondering, do I just find some time I can take a very long weekend and just go after it myself. Ideally that job actually requires collaboration, because one has to decide on some rudimentary organization strategies in order to place new stuff into the re-organized room--these papers in a box or a file? Put the months mail in a box and line up a row of boxes floor to ceiling? Now, I have assumed that he would HAVE to make those decisions, but I am even re-thinking that. So in the "bad" way to look at it, it treads on control issues and my deciding, your approach isn't good enough for our family-- that's not comfortable place to be if I want to keep my good relationship, so hence, the bells going off. The naive do-gooder approach is to say, honey, I know you're too busy to be bothered, and I had time to do it, so I figured that's what you wanted (or you would not have let it get this way).

One might say, our personal papers and records deserve better. I tried not to use that excuse, because he somehow manages to keep track--I've told him he can't die and leave me to sort through it all though!

Now, another thing--and this is kind of funny--is that I've also started to think, am I really being kind and thoughtful and loving enough in other ways? So, I am working harder at that too. That is part of my concept of just saying, cleaning up is part of what I do for the family--I assume you want me to--and there is no nagging or trying to make DH change into someone who wants to do that himself.

Well, I guess this proves I'm all caught up in the typical go-rounds about how my organizational strategy is best, and not able to accept the great things I do have.

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Hi Frankie. First of all, good luck with this! I have a similar problem, as we work out of our home, and for one reason or another (one reason in our old house, another in this one-haha)the dining room table has become our office. It's not perfect, but I can't do anything about it right now. DH also piles papers. Sometimes, I do get sick of the piles. I know, since many of them have to do with work, that I can't get rid of them, but what I can do is organize them a bit. Go through piles and put them together in categories. This makes it much easier for him to just say toss that category, or back to a certain date, or whatever. And then it also makes it easier to see how much is left over to store. We have many filing cabinets, and at that point, I can make a new file if I need it. You know your husband. Would he be more likely to use a file cabinet or just throw things in boxes? If boxes are easier, once you get things categorized, you could put them in boxes and label them.

This is probably something you will have to initiate. If he doesn't care, he won't do it. He has his own room, but since he doesn't take care of it, the excess is infringing on your space, so it IS your problem. Also, if some of those bills & papers are yours, too, you may need to find them at some point. Better take control of it now than when you need them.

Just my opinion. Again, good luck!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 5:35PM
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Thanks, rjvt!

I do know that if I do decide to be a bit more, pro-active, as they say, I have to be very centered on gentleness and humor. If there is any chance of his "letting" me help, or even tolerating my bundling stuff up and moving it on my own, it can't be from anger, or you're a slob, or here's the deadline. He is very tolerant of others' foibles and very non-confrontational by nature. Also, it's pretty clear that he's a good guy, so I can tell when I spout off, at times, because I'm more emotional and don't think as much of it, that he's hurt if not appreciated for what he does. And we both like to laugh at the same things. So my best approaches are very much NOT the I can't take it anymore shrew, but just, I'm just cleaning the table before dinner, or, gee you're a wonderful but kinda paper-challenged guy, so I put those boxes in your study, or even some humorous (but not nasty sarcastic) approach to "the room". And I have to keep focused on my overall organization of home stuff as the big picture, a lot of which I CAN do on my own.

So my main problem is, I don't want to ask permission, at least for awhile, and he usually won't say what he's thinking, so I may not know how things are going....

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 6:22PM
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Is the major problem the papers? Do you have a filing cabinet, a large one? You have to have this and use it. As papers come in and DH or you look at them, pays the bill or whatever the disposition of the paper is--then it must be filed or thrown away on a weekly basis. You can have a "pending" file, but everything else gets put away. What about taxes, don't you need control of your papers for taxes? I do most of the filing for us. If you keep up with it, it's not so bad.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 9:51AM
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There are organization specialists you can hire to help with this kind of thing. It might be worthwhile to get you set up with a filing system since there is such a backlog.

Not knowing the personalities involved, I can only say that if it were my situation, I would broach it as something that needs to be done so you will be able to find the paperwork you need for doing taxes, keeping track of medical records, and other things along those lines. This is a disaster waiting to happen -- that is, if ever need to lay your hands on a particular piece of paper, it's not likely you will be able to do so.

Just take any blame out of it -- make it something you need to do to run your household and move on from there.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 1:28PM
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Going forward, are these things you can do online? Preventing all of the paperwork won't clean out his room, but at least it will stem the flow of new paperwork.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 3:12PM
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I think you need to be honest and say that it really bothers you and you would be happy to help him go through it. Right now you are giving him permission to do that as saying that you are only moving them to eat dinner, etc. He may be overwhelmed with all the paper. Does we really need all of it and if he does how does he find it when he needs it.

My husband thought we needed to say almost every thing. I got so tired of papers and filing and not throwing things away that I just took a file every night when watching TV and went thought. I got rid of almost every thing except for things that we really needed. I put most on a jump drive and only kept "paper" of things that we needed the original which wasn't many. Now if I get something I will put it on the jump drive that night or the next and shred the paper.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 1:41AM
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Frankie, you should be a diplomat... what a thoughtful, kind post. Could you somehow convey the concept that the de-cluttering is a gift to your DH? Don't know if this is possible or impractical, but I'm thinking of a big pink ribbon tied on the door of the de-cluttered space with a card thanking him for all he does do, and telling him that this is your way of saying, "hey I appreciate you and wanted to do this for YOU."? I may be on the wrong track here, but I take it from the tone of your post that you want to do this for him as much as for yourself and your family, so it is a type of gift. Even type out your post and the answers and give them to him to read? Radical...but in your post it was so clear how much you value him and his input, and why you want to do this. Can you share that with him? Just a thought that could be tweaked to fit your situation.
Look forward to hearing the outcome of what you decide to do.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 1:57AM
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Those are all good ideas.

I already have some experience with keeping track of various papers and with filing systems--I have "my own" filing areas for the kids, for family health records, for my hobbies, and when each of my parents (who were divorced) developed health problems and dementia, I kept all their accounts, papers, mail, sales of homes, etc in "my" study. And I have some idea of how I would set up a filing system for all of this other stuff if I were doing it all for me. What is a bit more difficult is first, getting to the point where I can help and second, trying to see whether "we" are setting up a filing system that works for him, or me, or both. Meaning, what's a bit new in my thinking is whether ultimately he might never be able to keep up any system and so I take over more of the system and the filing and then tell HIM where stuff is, or whether he would collaborate and let me be "the consultant" so if h e wants labelled shoeboxes instead of files, that's fine, etc.--what I am trying to go to a new level on is, how to "feel out" the situation as to whether he is overwhelmed and will never ask for help but really wants it, or whether it is some line I can't cross. So I'm moving into being more pro-active but trying (very hard for me, sometimes!) to keep saying to myself, remember the big picture, the long haul, and not instant gratification, and also, bite my tongue when I'm tired and cranky and feel like saying something that is accusatory. Since he almost never asks for help, with anything, we all in our family probably think of him as invincible, and I'm kinda hopeful that he might actually want help if it's done right.

harrietthehomeowner, I don't think outside help is right for him. But again, what will help me most in trying to do something now is to focus on family needs--that clearly I would never be able to take over, or even help out, with our papers and stuff if anything happened to him(illness or other) and I'm hoping even he can see that that would be a bad situation for our family. Whereas, if it's the guy's toolshed or hobby shop, you could just shut your eyes.

cocontom, great point about the electronic conversions--he is actually the most "on line" person in the family and is probably receptive to doing more--mostly we have the busy-syndrome, where you have to make yourself carve out time to do things that will save time in the long run.

One thing that is obvious is that I will have to find an extended period of time--don't have that until later in the fall--to actually start the project physically, but could be planning what types of shelving or filing equipment needed. I'm free to play around with floorplans on my own! This is one of those things where, since you can't move in the room, you need to haul everything out and say, what goes back in? It's like, you can't really sort through boxes of stuff until you have alternative destinations for each category.

Here is one more interesting point that may test how committed I am. When we moved to this house, "his study" was to be this destination financial stuff, tools,etc, and "my study" was the combo guest room, photo file repository, various family-use items, and whatever I wanted, I guess. So I have guest linens, out of season decorations, hobby supplies, gift wrap, family mementos from my parents, and just "stuff" of mine, pretty well organized. And folks can get and use stuff from there, or I can get it for them.

So--and wonder if folks can relate to this--I have a tendency to think I am using my space "well" for the family and he is not. You know how as the DW, you tend to think that ultimately all spaces are yours--it's hard to view any areas as sacred and off-limits to your organization and cleaning and meddling. So, if it somehow turned out that he could not "share" this filing concept, but said, well, if you're going to take over, do it somewhere else than my room, I don't know if I'm big enough to sacrifice my space to put all of it--I would have to completely re-do how my space is organized and would not have room for some of the fluff and stuff I have. I don't think that would happen, but I just wondered.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 10:22AM
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Hi Frankie,

You said "I have a tendency to think I am using my space "well" for the family and he is not.'s hard to view any areas as sacred and off-limits to your organization and cleaning and meddling. So, if it somehow turned out that he could not "share" this filing concept, but said, well, if you're going to take over, do it somewhere else than my room, ...I would have to completely re-do how my space is organized and would not have room for some of the fluff and stuff I have."

This to me means he is encroaching on your space. It would have been fine for him to do it his way IF it was confined to one room, even if he couldn't find things. That's up to him. That's what it sounds like you agreed upon. But if it is now leaking out into the dining room, and you think that if you help at all, it will end up taking up YOUR space, and make that space harder to use, I really think you have the right to at least ask if he needs help. How do you know he DOESN'T want some help if you don't ask? The worst he can say is no. You don't have to ask in an angry or condescending way. I have a husband who doesn't really like to be bothered with this stuff, too. I have found that if I think about this stuff for a while, kind of figure out what is there, then wait for the right moment, he does respond well. It is all timing for me. Not when tempers are hot, not when you are short of time, etc. But be ready when the right time comes. If filing cabinets are what you think will work, price them out, try to figure out what you will need. If you happen to see a good sale on file cabinets, there is your way to broach the subject. Or if boxes on shelves are the way to go, figure that out. You know him best. What will he NOT want to do? For me, there is usually one thing that keeps me from acting. Think about what may be gumming up the works. Then when you have time in the fall, you will really be prepared to talk to him about the whole thing in a well thought out way.

That's how I would approach it, anyways. Hope you can figure out something that works!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 1:39PM
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Thanks a lot, all! I will assume for now that I will find the right way to help out and will give an update later in the year.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 4:58PM
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Watch out, Frankie, that is how it starts. You are still in the sweet, loving, self-questioning phase. I wish I had skipped that phase and applied tough love and nipped it in the bud.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 2:11AM
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Actually, scarlett, if I am in that phase, it has lasted 27 years. It's more that I'm reflecting on how as a couples, we each have foibles, and what allows us to tolerate and be tolerated and how to make any changes within the context of the relationship. So, tough love and nipping in the bud fit more of a parenting role than a spousal role, in terms of how we relate to each other. Except that, I think there is always a role for a kind of "humorous" nipping--this is where one spouse is "stronger" or better at something and the other spouse actually appreciates and/or tolerates being protected, or somehow reigned in, in that area and I expect that each couple kinda learns where that line is. Usually if it is the right thing to do, you can actually joke about it and it may even be a running family joke. Real ultimatums can be necessary, but you can't have a good relationship if you punch that ticket very many times.

So it does relate to me because I am planning to do some nipping, but trying not to put it in the form of a blanket ultimatum.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 11:20AM
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Without giving away too much personal info, I do have a Q for you regarding the pile-up of paper.

Just what is all the paper he is saving? I ask this because I am 40 years old. I've been investing for 17 years...have several sources and types of investments (401K, IRA's, taxable investments, individual stocks, and a few other things). Investing is one of my hobbies. Just what kind of paperwork is coming in?...because I can tell you, there is very little that's really necessary to keep other than some initial investing info, maybe a few documents along the way for tracking changes, and most current things in the last year. Other than that...I can't think of anything which would accumulate in a big way. And, I don't even take advantage of info available online like I should.

I itemize my taxes.

I keep what's important. Seriously, my entire lifetime of personal files (insurances, tax records, 2 home purchases, appliance docs, childhood keepsake papers, divorce & child supports docs, professional licensing, daycare, receipts for upcoming taxes,...basically everything in my life) all fills up 3/4 of a 1 drawer standard file cabinet.

Once a year right after tax time I do a purge of the previous year, saving only the important things from the year, and what I need to get my taxes done. The only thing I've kept forever is all the tax returns I've ever had since I was a teenager.

Maybe I'm assuming too much, and forgive me if I am. I just don't get the paperwork pile-up when it comes to personal files and wonder if you and your H can re-think what's actually necessary to keep around.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 6:12PM
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I'm posting again. My above post I wrote last night...not reading closely, and having a 3 year old climbing on me.

The way I read your post, you are clearly questioning whether you have the right to step in and get control or help get control of the situation for a couple reasons:

1. The house belongs to both of you so you're wondering whether it's got to be a group decision/effort to get control of your H's personal space.

2. You are wondering if it's even fair to step in because of #1.

3. You're tossing around the idea of learning to live with it and let it go.

First, from a professional standpoint (I'm an environmental consultant) with a non-emotional regard to your personal feelings...using only facts and data...I would recommend you guys clean up the room. An overload of stuff leads to not being able to properly clean the room. You find yourself doing only obligatory maintenance because the things in the way prevent you from getting in there to properly dust, vacuum, etc.

Without proper cleaning and maintenance, the area becomes a habitat for pests. Pests are not just vermin...they are common insects, cobwebs, spiders, moths, mold, allergens, etc. Pests settle in and hide in out of the way places and get cozy first. By the time they become obvious, you can be assured the pest have been around longer than you realize.

Off the professional stuff now...personally, I feel you do have the right to stand up for your own wants and needs. I do understand wanting to work together as a team..."live and let live", and so forth. At the same time, there is a level of respect that needs to go both ways. You are clearly frustrated and getting to a mental place where you are not comfortable with the situation. You do have a right to require a group effort.

I hope I'm not sounding like I'm trashing your H...because that's not my intent.

I know you cannot change your H, but I do think you both need to work together and negotiate this one.

I read a great book several years ago...forget the name or even the overall topic...but it explained in simple terms how to negotiate situations between loved ones.

You need to do some thinking beforehand, but come up with what your Utopia idea of the room is...even if you know it will never be that way. Have your H do the same thing.

Sit down together and come to the middle you can both be happy with. You will have to give up some of your Utopia through the negotiation, and he may have to give up some of his Utopia. Come to a middle agreement where you both are happy...and do not stop the discussion until you are both in agreement that you have agreed. A big part of the negotiation will be how it's going to be maintained and who will do it and when.

On the other hand, maybe your H does want to clean it up just like you do...he's just overwhelmed by what it's going to take to get it done & isn't the type to express it. Getting started is the hardest part. Maybe you both want the same thing for the most just need to commit to doing it.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2009 at 7:10AM
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My husband and I both own the car. He buys the gas.

One thing that teams do is have specialists. The football team considers the place kicker to be an important part of the team. But he can't be a wide receiver or a linebacker. Right?

So, my suggestion would be for you to discuss w/ your tolerant and generous and forgiving husband how you two, as a team, can tackle the paper. Can you help him? Can you make the basic *clerical* management of it yours?

you do need to understand the basics of what's going on--this is an investment; this is a bill.

That ought to be enough for you to be able to open the mail, and file it in the right folder.

He's not actually acting on the mail that comes in, so really you don't need to worry about that, either of you. You just need to worry that you're keeping enough of it that you have accurate-enough-for-your-purposes records.

This is true wisdom from gayle0000:
cause I can tell you, there is very little that's really necessary to keep other than some initial investing info, maybe a few documents along the way for tracking changes, and most current things in the last year.

I've realized that as well. Each quarterly mailing is simply a report of what the investments are at right now. In two weeks, it's inexact. And if nobody is *acting* on them (nobody is saying, "wow, look, that fund's dropping, and I think it's going even farther down; I'm moving money over to bonds!" or "wow, look, that fund's dropping, but I'm convinced it's going to pick up in 2 years, I'm going to buy a lot more while it's cheap!", then there's no reason to even look at those things. And if he hasn't opened them, the quarterly statements can simply go in the shredder.

I think it's acceptable to stand up for what you want your home to be--yes, even in "his" room, especially now that his room is unworkable and it's bleeding out.

Also, a note about "your" space vs. "his" space. I find that I define "my" things as "dishes, sewing supplies." Yet, those are actually things that benefit the family. I don't sew except to make my kids Halloween costumes or to repair clothes. Even if I *did* sew, I'm making curtains or clothes (and clothing for all the family is a family expense, actually). So be sure you're dividing it up properly.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2009 at 4:35PM
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If it's his responsibility to take care of the household finances, it is also his responsibility to make sure you - as his financial partner - are aware of the decisions he's making and able to lay your hands on the information at any time. This is not happening, which leaves you in a much weakened position. This is not about guilting him; it is protecting yourself and your family - including him - if something were to happen. I'm sure he has life insurance, but what good does that do you if you can't put your hands on the policy when you need it? Do you know what all your investments are? Do you have contact information for all your accounts? Even if you do know, would the executor of your will be able to find all that information? Would she even be able to find your will? If so, and everything is well documented, someone is still going to have to tear apart that room to figure out what IS in there, and if it is important. These are terrible thoughts but it is important to be prepared for whatever life has in store, and if your husband can't bring himself to look at it that way, you must.

I like the ideas above about helping with the financial paperwork in clerical ways. My husband handles the finances in our household (right now - over the years this changes depending on our needs) and he does the mail sorting, but when he's identified things that could be shredded, either one of us might do that. As for papers he keeps around, there aren't many and he doesn't organize them the way I would, but as long as I can tell what he's doing I don't really care how he does it.

Take the couple of days off, both of you. Hire an outside organizer to help if you think you need a mediator. Send the kids off to grandma's and get that room cleaned out. It's overwhelming for him now but it won't take that long to get it back to a manageable state, and once it's there it won't be so difficult to keep it that way.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2009 at 9:04AM
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