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  • Writer's pictureMara Clements

The Connection Between Clutter and Relationship Conflict

Happy couple getting along in an organized kitchen

Most of us want our dwellings with our partners to be a retreat from the daily grind, a place where we feel not only safe, but inspired.

There’s an undeniable connection between what and who we surround ourselves with and how we feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our external environments, in the form of objects and relationships, interact with our disposition to influence our internal environment.

Therefore, when there’s a discrepancy between how we interact with our environment and how our partner interacts, we may feel stressed, resentful, or lonely. This is probably the opposite of how we want to move in the world. Clutter can be stressful, and therefore feeds relationship conflict.

This dynamic plays out often in my work. A client I worked with some time ago asked me if I could help her and her partner declutter and organize their home office. They had been married for 34 years at the time.

My first question for clients that will be going through the decluttering and organizing process together is:

Are both of you aware that you need to make a change? Are you both willing to take the next step?

I ask this to make sure that they are ready to commit to the process. Thankfully, both of these clients were ready (albeit one more so than the other).

On their own, they were struggling to make progress.

“My husband and I had a very cluttered and disorganized office,” my client said. “Every time I would ask my husband to clear out his clutter, he would make excuses and say he'd get to it ‘later.’”

Unfortunately, “later” never seemed to come around. At the same time, however, my client still cared about her husband’s feelings and seemed to not want to upset him. Sometimes, interpersonal conflict gets to the point of feeling tense and tight. It can take an outside perspective to shift the rigidity that occurs and open up both parties to a new potential. A fresh point of view, no strings attached, no bias, can spark a powerful change.

“Mara motivated him to get his space in order by gently questioning him about his collection of piles. I'm so thankful she could do what I couldn't do without making my husband upset.”

Organizing isn’t about taking sides. It’s about creating breathing room in the physical environment and in our relationships, for the best interest of everyone involved. After getting organized, more space is created. This space then provides a fresh opportunity to deepen our connections in new ways.

You may even discover that you find renewed admiration for your partner as they revisit old memories, let go of troubles or worries they’ve faced in the past, and make decisions that are good for them. Working through a point of conflict may remind you why you’ve chosen this person to be in your life in the first place. You can get through difficult things together and come out the other side stronger than before.

If clutter has been a source of strife in your home, reach out for some compassionate, professional help. As long as both parties are aware they need help, change and growth are possible.

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