Couples Who Fight About Clutter

Hoarder. Clutterbug. Anal. Control Freak. What’s in a Name?

When we label others as if they’re caricatures —especially family members—we do three things:

  1. Reinforce division (instead of cooperation);
  2. Heap a stigma on the other (that they may carry for the rest of their life); and
  3. Make zero progress (instead of creating change).

Does it make you a little testy being given a negative label? Yeah, me too. Negative labels are not helpful, so I’ve come up with two that are less alienating: Keepers and Tossers.

A Tosser may seem to be more organized, neat, and are never embarrassed by their housekeeping skills, but they’re wound a bit tight, and they know it. Thing is, visual clutter can make them extremely uncomfortable. It’s like how some prisons blast music at earbleed levels as torture: clutter is torture via the eyes. A Tosser’s neatnik ways are a form of self-care.

A Keeper may have many interests and will have candy in a dish somewhere for your enjoyment. They display every gift ever received, and take care of the family by having “enough” (bought at a great price), or by having just the right thing at the right moment. They are more relaxed about their environment, and while they may create a festive home by having décor for every holiday, sometimes Christmas is still out for Valentine’s Day. Their stuff can be like a warm hug, or make them feel secure, which makes “stuff” their form of self-care.

As you read this, did you identify with one or the other?

Because I’ve worked with so many people, I’ve discovered patterns. For instance, when a Keeper pairs up with a Tosser, there’s constant bickering about “stuff.” One hates the chaotic environment, the other isn’t bothered by it.

When two Keepers pair up, the home ranges from disorder to shambles, but the two aren’t constantly bickering about “stuff.” Instead, they fight about how no one helps out, or they cast blame on the worst offender. Neither feels a deep urgency to make big changes, however. More often than not, there’s a general sense of not knowing how to make things better.

When two Tossers pair up, their home—and most everything—is orderly, although one or both of them may be perpetually exhausted, especially if they have children.

There’s nothing black and white here, either. Tossers may be ruthless with everything except their clothes, or they may have issues with “paper,” kitchen gadgets or tools. Likewise, Keepers may have a filing system that would put the library system to shame, or a labeled and organized pantry that is the envy of their peers. We often find ways of balancing ourselves.

I personally believe neither is better than the other, but I’ve seen the Keeper get most of the blame. We’ve seen the show “Hoarders,” right? ‘Nuff said.

But it’s not fair. Keepers and Tossers may be opposites, but neither is right or wrong, good or bad. Would we label someone who’s left-handed or right-handed as right or wrong? What about left-brain or right-brain? Analytical or creative? Democrat or Republican? Are we to be blamed for the way we’re wired?

In fact, Tossers are not immune to the relaxed nature of the Keeper, and Keepers are not immune to the orderly nature of the Tosser. It’s when we turn on the other that it becomes a problem, when we attack what once attracted us. Tidy become anal and controlling. Relaxed becomes lazy and disorganized.

The Keeper/Tosser couple is not doomed to bicker continuously. One may be more motivated than the other to make changes, but doomed? Nah!

The Keeper/Keeper couple is not doomed to get buried beneath their accumulation of stuff, either.

Remember the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” with Julia Roberts, who was married to the controlling, possessive husband? The hand towels had to be perfectly aligned, the canned food stored label-out and perfect. Did he seem happy? That’s a big “Nope.” And she ditched him by faking her death, so she wasn’t happy either, not even for the trade-off of an ocean-front home.

The point is this: once we develop empathy for the other, we’re no longer sleeping with the enemy, but with a partner in crime. We find that we share a common goal: peace and cooperation.

When I do my Couples Coaching, this is where we start, at validation and understanding. The relief in the room is palpable. We then work with new tools, and easy, fun ground rules, for moving forward together, as a team. The shift usually occurs in one session, and it can be done in-person or remotely.

Word of Warning for your future self: Committed relationships are hard enough with navigating money and in-laws. Being equally yoked in how a home functions will eliminate a major source of stress and conflict in our every-day life. Know Thyself. Before you marry, pay attention to how the other person lives, and ask yourself, Is this something I want to deal with every day, for the rest of my life? Every. Single. Day. Differing politics and religions can be worked through, but it requires a lot of give-and-take, and a willingness to learn new ways of being, for a Keeper/Tosser couple to create and maintain a peaceful home.

If you’re already knee-deep into a Keeper/Tosser relationship that feels like a “keeper,” I can help you navigate your way to peace and cooperation, so reach out today!

Get help sorting things out with my FREE Worksheet: “Where I Get Stuck”  

Copyright © 2022 by Cynthia Gentry Black, Home Staging by Cynthia, LLC in Kansas City.
All rights reserved. No portion may be shared, reused or republished in any format without express written consent of the author.

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