Clutter Counseling: Are You an Odd Couple?

Are you and your spouse, or partner, or roommate, like Oscar and Felix, of The Odd Couple? (Are you old enough to know what I’m talking about?) Do you need Clutter Counseling? I am not a marriage counselor (or a psychic, or a magician), but I am sometimes called upon to mediate disputes as to what goes where in a home or other shared space.

It really helps to have an impartial professional to hear both sides of an issue and give a practical opinion that will work for everyone. Often my recommendation is something neither person has thought of before!

If you are Felix (the neat one):

Does your partner’s clutter make you cringe? Is your spouse sick of hearing you nag? If you can’t interest your significant other in working with a professional organizer, try hiring one anyway, for yourself. Work on your own stuff – your clothes closet, your desk, “your” kitchen or garage. Sometimes – I’ve seen it happen — the “Oscar” in your life will take interest and start organizing their stuff simply because they are inspired by the results, and by the fact that you seem happier.

Figure out what the cost of clutter is for your partner – Is it lost time? Wasted money? Family discord? Missed opportunities? Living in C.H.A.O.S. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome)? Demonstrate to them that the benefits of organizing far outweigh the cost of getting organized. But keep in mind that the only behavior you can control is your own. Admit to, and work on, your own bad habits. Don’t blame everything on “Oscar”.

If you are Oscar (the messy one):

You might be surprised to hear what I have to say on your behalf! Can you usually find what you are looking for? Then you might be messy…and organized! (Organizing Myths #1 & 2:  Neat equals organized  &  Messy equals disorganized.) That said, could you support your partner’s need for tidiness by keeping common areas neat? How about if you also had a room, or corner, or shelf, all to yourself, to keep as messy as you please, with no nagging?

How much is your clutter costing you? (See examples above.) Would you be more interested in getting organized (or keeping an area tidy) if you had a system in place — one that was based on your existing habits, and personality, and was designed for easy maintenance?

Compromise is the key:

This is not about changing either Felix or Oscar into different people. Let’s assume that Oscar will slip on occasion, and that Felix will become annoyed. Try designating a spot for Felix to put Oscar’s stuff if it starts to bug. But Felix — and this is important — no nagging! And Oscar, you must make it a point to keep agreed-upon areas clear of your clutter. And no getting resentful if you left something out and Felix put it in your agreed-upon spot, OK?

If your life is not a sitcom:

If sincere compromises degenerate into passive-agressive guilt-tripping, organizing disputes are probably just the tip of the iceberg for you and your partner or spouse. In this case, please consider seeing a marriage and family counselor.

Are you Felix? Or, are you Oscar? Have you found ways to coexist?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2010-2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
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  1. I love that you’ve pointed out that someone can be messy but still be organized. As long as only “Oscar” needs to use the stuff or the area in question, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if it’s shared space, or items that both parties have to use, that’s a whole different ballgame!

    • Agreed. That’s why I say that Oscar must support Felix in keeping the agreed-upon common areas tidy, in exchange for Felix never nagging about Oscar’s designated area(s). It’s easier said than done, but if a compromise can’t be found, you have to wonder about other ways the relationship isn’t working.

  2. Hazel,

    I’m going to include a link to your blog post when speaking to high school grads who are university bound. The Oscar-Felix-mutual support system is well said.

    • Thanks, Geralin! I knew it wasn’t just for married, or M-F couples, but I hadn’t thought of college roommates!

  3. Wonderful post! I agree that if the “Felix” hires a professional organizer, the “Oscar” may be inspired by the results and start organizing as well. I’ve seen this happen with some couples, and it is fantastic! Compromise is the key to everything when sharing a space with others.

  4. I live alone, I’m a professional organizer, and I am BOTH Oscar and Felix, depending on the day, the area of the house, and the situation. (OK, I’m never unhygienic the way Oscar is. I just sometimes enjoy the freedom of a delayed clutter response.)

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