How to Organize The Messy People in Your Life

“Help, I’m neat, but they’re messy!” Ever wonder how to get those you live with to pick up after themselves?

A common question I get is, “How do I make my spouse (boyfriend, girlfriend, children, roommates, coworkers) get organized?” The question is asked by caring, well-meaning, tidy folks. This is why I decided to write about it. 

The short answer is that you can’t make anyone get organized. Much like you can’t force anyone to lose weight, stop spending money or quit smoking. And you shouldn’t. They will change only if they really want to.

But, not to worry, there are ways you can help.

First, here’s what not to do:

You might think it’s easier to just organize their space without them, and get rid of their things. I know it’s tempting, but don’t do it. Murphy’s Law says that they will suddenly go looking for the very things you got rid of, even though haven’t used them in years. It can damage the relationship and, for some people, it can cause mental anguish which may lead to further disorganization.

Here are some things you can try that may help:

1. “Be the change you want to see in the world”. – Mahatma Gandhi

Organize your own things first, even in shared spaces (i.e. your side of the closet). Take your cast-offs to charity. Use simple methods to stay organized. Model the behavior you want to see in your mate. Set an example for your kids. When they see how much smoother your life flows as a result, it may inspire them to follow.

2. Request Cooperation.

Open the lines of communication. By that, I don’t mean nagging, ridiculing, bribing or criticizing. (Not that any of you would do that).

Keep in mind that being organizing is not about how it looks, it’s about how it works. Everyone’s idea of ‘organized’ will be different. If you have to work/live together, it’s important to find common ground – a place that is comfortable for everyone. Share what it means to you to have an organized space. Then, ask your mate, and listen to his/her response without judgment.

3. Point out the benefits.

Help them determine how organizing will benefit them. This is where their motivation will come from. (We all need motivation to sustain us until new behaviors become habits). But rather than focusing on what seems like an obvious benefit (i.e. you can find what you need easily and quickly), look at the big picture and tie it to something they value. For example, more time for family and friends, improved health and well-being, saving money, or less chaos and more peace of mind.

4. Hold their hand.

Together, come up with a plan. Ask them for suggestions on what systems can be set up or adjusted to suit their natural way of doing things. If you’re not sure how to set up systems based on a person’s learning style, I cover this topic extensively in my book, Organizing Outside the Box: Conquer Clutter using Your Natural Learning Style.

Encourage and support them. Keep them company while they sort. Offer to drive the giveaways to charity.

Be patient. They will not change their habits overnight. Praise even the baby steps. It’s a much more effective way to reinforce behavior.

5. Seek support.

Sometimes, the sorting and purging process can cause friction between people who live together. This is not unusual because there is a lot of emotion tied into our stuff. Bringing in an impartial third party can help. Only if your mate is ready and wants to get organized, consider hiring a professional organizer. We have the know-how and experience to help anyone who truly wants to get organized.

Have you tried before to get someone in your life organized?

How did it go? Please share what worked and what didn’t in the comment section below.






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This post has 4 comments

  • Arlyn says:

    Love your “Outside the Box” book. It really helped my boss and me to understand the differences in our learning style and allowed me to communicate with her better. And, together, we determined how to organize the office so that it flowed better for both of us.

    • Hellen says:

      Arlyn, I’m thrilled to hear that the book was helpful. You’re right, it is all about understanding and communication. Congrats on getting the office organized!

  • Louise says:

    Pls publish more on helping people with ADD or ADHD get organized. It is very difficult for parents dealing with this, we are not educated in this area. It can be frustrating for both parents and kids.

    Especially if parents are a type “A” personality and like to see things in the proper place at home and in order. It can cause problems in relationships during teen years and as young adults.
    thank you, pls keep my last name and email confiential, which I have noticed you onlly publish first names. keep up the good work

  • Jean says:

    Wonderful ideas, as always. I really miss your show! Started watching it before my daughter was born and although I still struggle with “neatness” she is doing great. I go through her things with her periodically and we get it down to a few small boxes. Now whenever she gets new things she often says, “I will give away my old one because I don’t need it anymore!” 🙂 Thanks for everything you’ve taught us!