I like things, but very selectively. I have moved 5 times in the past 5 years and every time I swear that I’ll have less stuff than the time before. Somehow, I always manage to reduct the chaos in some areas, even if it increases in others. I understand that living as a minimalist isn’t something you can achieve with a one-time purge or a weekend of decluttering. It’s an ongoing process, and I constantly have a bag or box of things I’m letting go of.
Then there is my husband. My husband and I agree on a lot of things, but when it comes to decluttering, we’re polar opposites. He is the ‘save it in case you need it’ person. After 6 years of marriage, he’s finally able to let go of clothing when it needs to be replaced. For the first several years of our marriage, it was a battle to get him to agree to get rid of anything, even if it was falling apart at the seams.
So, needless to say we aren’t in agreement on the clutter issue, but we’ve come to a happy place where we coexist without conflict, mostly.
Make it beneficial
Ian’s concern is that if we get rid of things like kid’s clothes that we’ll miss them later when we have more kids. We continually have a stream of clothing coming in, we get a ton of hand me down clothes for all of our children. If I had kept them all, plus the ones she has out grown I could have filled up all of our closets.
I brought this issue to Ian and we talked about it, I ended up finding a way to make it serve our household instead of just donating it. I started going through and keeping a small number of outfits that were important to Ian, then sending the rest to Swap.com or Goodwill if they aren’t in good enough condition. At first I sent in a box every few weeks to Swap.com while I was first starting out, working through baby clothes I had been saving up into the size Autumn is currently in. Now I send in a box a month, usually adding in a few things of mine that I need to get rid of as fillers.
Allowing the things you’re letting do of serve a purpose can help your non-minimalist let go of more things and make it less stressful for them.
Keeping what you’ll really need
Sometimes, clutter isn’t about having too much stuff, it’s about the atmosphere it creates in your home. Recently, we switched from using our full set of Corelle wear dishes, to using just enough for one meal for our family, plus 2 guests. There are 6 dinner plates, 6 small plates, and 6 bowls in our cabinets, and I love this system!
Rather than getting rid of the rest of the dishes, I kept them in a high-up cabinet, so I could use them if I needed to because we had more than two guests. I did the same thing with the cutlery, and it reduced the amount of dishes I wash each day, but we always have what we need. It’s lovely!
This is a perfect example of how I can help show him that by embracing minimalism, we won’t have to replace everything because I’m “thoughtlessly” tossing out things we need. This has always been one of his biggest fears, and so this little trick has worked well for us.
I’ve also done this with towels. Everyone has a towel (the girls also have hair towels) and the other towels we have are in storage for when we have people come visit. Otherwise, we have very few towels out to clutter up the laundry.
Focus on your own crap first
It can feel very frustrating when you’re dealing with someone who refuses to declutter. This was a huge problem in my marriage, because my husband’s parents did things during his childhood like get rid of almost all of his toys in a way that traumatized him, and left him with a real misunderstanding of what healthy decluttering looks like.
If you’re overwhelmed by things in your home, and in your life, start working on your own things, your children’s areas if you have kids, and any things that are ‘community property’ are a good place to start. Focus on your things first, and create yourself a haven.
We have an agreement when it comes to getting rid of stuff. He lets me do whatever with pretty much everything in the house, except when it comes to anything that’s his. I don’t mess with his Playstation games, books, or clothing unless we’ve talked about it and he’s agreed. Anything except socks and underwear, I always discuss with him first.
Back in the days when me decluttering was very upsetting for Ian, to the point where I felt like I had to sneak if I did it or I’d have a fight on my hands, I started working on my own things first. I’ll give you an example of how boundaries helped me create some sanity in my house.
My husband’s family has always said, “Ian’s so hard on clothing!” Which may have been true when he was a child or a teenager, but it hasn’t been true for years. Other than his work clothes, he takes very good care of his things.
As a result of him internalizing that story, he had kept so much clothing that he felt like he couldn’t get rid of, even clothing that was 2 or 3 sizes too big from when he’d lost over a hundred pounds! He was so afraid of “being hard on clothes” and not having money to replace it later, that he let these items live in our closet and take up space, even though he never wore them.
I pared down my wardrobe several times at the first house we lived in, and loved how my half of the closet wasn’t crammed full of things. It was then I had an inspiration. I put all of his items on his side of the closet, including the “special items” he had been storing on my side. I was done enabling his clothing hoarding, and I wanted an orderly area of my own.
This made it basically impossible for clothing to be accessed easily, which was frustrating to him. We had some discussions about it, and I was firm on my boundaries: I was not going to enable him by finding more creative solutions for storing his clothes, and I was going to have my area of the closet clean and orderly.
A while went by like this, then he finally ended up going through his clothing a couple of times to get rid of the excess that he could accept he wasn’t ever going to wear. Since he had no plans to regain the weight he’d lost, he could let go of quite a lot of clothing.
Even today, he has easily double (maybe even triple) the amount of clothes that I do, and that’s something I accept. My part of the closet stays orderly, his stays much more crammed. But, when things get worn out, he now can get rid of a generic t-shirt without it being a big deal. It’s just normal life. I have come to accept that as long as we can put away laundry in his part of the closet, it’s acceptable. He’s just not the minimalist that I am with clothes, but we both have learned to compromise in some areas and me having my boundaries (both with what I’ll put up with, and what I won’t enable) was really helpful.
Boundaries aren’t a “mean” thing, they aren’t something that’s mean to punish someone, they’re there to keep you sane, and to prevent other people’s issues from becoming an issue for you. Creating boundaries for your safe haven with you life with someone who is not as minimalist as you are can be a real challenge, but boundaries, compromise, and making it beneficial in a way they can relate to make it a lot easier and doable.
If you’re a minimalist living with a non minimalist, you’ve got to learn how to compromise with them, but also to have some boundaries that keep you sane. It’s not fair to ask them to toss out all of their things to make you happy, but it’s also not fair for every area of the house to be taken up by clutter either. Boundaries and compromise will save your sanity, and possibly your marriage!