Whenever I give a seminar on home organizing someone inevitably asks the question,

How do you deal with a husband (or child) who seems to be incapable of staying organized?

If your standards of cleanliness and organization are higher than those of the people you live with, I feel your pain.

Having obsessive organizing tendencies can be helpful. But living peacefully with others is not one of the perks of this personality. We often get upset with the disorganized person we live with. And on top of that, they often resent us for being upset with them! It’s not fun.

Basically it feels like our choices are to either clean up after everyone and feel the resentment rising like a thermometer, or live in squalor feeling anxious and antsy.


How do you feel?

Luckily, those are not our only choices. It’s up to us to train ourselves to re-frame our situation — to think about things a little differently.

Notice how both of the negative choices I just mentioned have the word “feel” in them? We feel the resentment and we feel antsy living in clutter.

The trick here is to work toward changing our feelings, which is hard, but totally within our control. On the other hand, whether or not the adult we live with picks up after themselves is decidedly NOT within our control. So, logically it’s best to stop obsessing over their habits and start working on our own thought-life.


In this video I talk about the idea that a disorganized person has left things askew out of disrespect for me and my organizing system. Surely they have left a mess because they know that I will come along and clean up after them! How rude!

This is hardly ever true. The truth is, they don’t even see the mess we see! Little imperfections are not on their radar at all and it has nothing to do with us.
Let me say that again.

It has nothing to do with us.

If you can remember that is has nothing to do with you, you'll have a much easier time curbing your resentment and frustration about a disorganized person and their mess. Click To Tweet

I remember living with a very disorganized person and being completely aghast at how they could leave the kitchen and bedroom drawers open (or even just cracked) after they were done retrieving things.

photo by, Inderific

My strategy

First I thought I’d be Super Roommate and close all the drawers for them. Won’t they be pleased and so thankful? I thought to myself as I closed the drawers every day.

Then I started to get bugged because they weren’t pleased or thankful. In fact, they didn’t even notice. For WEEKS they didn’t notice.

Next I started to believe they were messing with me. They were used to my straightening things up so I assumed they must be leaving them askew just to piss me off! They must be. Right?!


So, now when I see something trivial that upsets my aesthetic and I am compulsively drawn to fix it, I fix it. But I fix it without the backstory because SHOCKER There is no backstory! No one hates me. No one is tricking me by leaving their towel hung up backwards. No one is taking my help for granted.


A disorganized person has a different standard or a different system and that is okay.

If you have already mastered the art of tidying up after those you live with without resentment or spite, now it’s time to move on to leaving others’ mess alone.

But that requires some advanced therapy and will have to wait for another day.

For now try to stop yourself from doing anything out of spite — even just a millisecond adjustment done in anger is a waste of your energy. Instead take a deep breath, remind yourself it has nothing to do with you, and ask yourself if you can live with it the way it is. If you can, great. You move on. If you cannot, that is okay. You are not weird. You greatly prefer order. So, put the object in order for yourself — for your own peace of mind — and enjoy the result.


Your turn to share

This is a sensitive topic so please be mindful in the comments, and please share your experiences with each other. It helps people to hear about others’ similar experiences.

Sincere thanks,


Fun, personal essay about living with and loving someone who loses everything:
Trying Our Best

Some ideas about getting your partner to help with housework:
Captain America does my laundry: 5 tips for your Honey Do List

Also published on Medium.


  • Carolann Martella Hatten

    To keep my sanity i have come up with a plan to keep the clutter out of my living room. I am placing a large tote, (with a lid) outside the laundry room door. Every item left in the living room will be placed in the tote outside. They will have to retrieve their items themselves. (if they even realize it is missing) and i can relax. I am still picking up after them but i feel better about not putting it away in its place, and at least there is some consequence for the untidy action.

  • Laura

    I’m so tired of the clutter and hoarding of my husband. Every year without fail we have to clean the garage and shed because he NEVER puts things back where they belong, and then he gets frustrated (and I inevitably get involved) because he can’t find something. We had a big fight today because of it. I told him I’m never spending time cleaning the garage anymore; that we should just clean it ONCE and MAINTAIN it thereafter! He has boxes full of paperwork from jobs he had 10 YEARS ago; I’m so sick of it.
    I’m not Miss Perfectly organized, but I do believe in the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
    It saves time, money, sanity, and space!!

    • Laura, This can be so hard! It does really help to give them a designated space and you can stay out of that space. Totally stay out.
      I’m sorry this is causing so much stress.

  • Isaac

    My wife thinks that I’m trying to control her because I ask her to follow a basic organizing strategy. I work from home. I feel like I’m in prison to clutter and chaos. I honestly can’t think at times. She just can’t put things back. We can’t find important things because she moves them and don’t remember where she put them or say that she never had it.

    She gets upset because I’m upset. ???

    Our Marriage can’t stand much more of this.

    • Hi Isaac, I know this can be so irritating and stressful.
      You married your wife for her many wonderful qualities, not her tidiness. If you feel this frustrated the majority of the time, objective advice from a professional therapist can be extremely helpful.
      If you are away from home and your wife is at home most of the time, she may need to hire domestic help. This is not her forte and it never will be. Getting mad about it won’t help anything get organized.
      I know it’s maddening; and so many people feel this way! (It’s the second most popular question I’m asked.) There are ways to work through it.

      If you want things to work, you both need to see where the other is coming from and you both need to give a little.
      I’m sorry I don’t have a magic wand for you.

  • There are so many other people who share my problem. Never knew. I m not a neat freak, but i have sort of got this obsession lately. My husband is most messed up, I used to clean it without thinking twice, but it has gone to an extreme few times like he has not even removed food waste from bed for days and it had attracted several ants. Even after me pointing out he didn’t bother to clean, this situation has repeated several times. So now if I see him unorganized, unknowingly I end up screaming, which will only result in him being upset and me realizing post screaming.

    This article really helped me. Need to work on a lot of my anger issues.

    • Yeah. Also, you are writing this during the shelter at home time and everyone is having trouble right now.
      Messy people may be even less likely to clean.
      Tidy people may be even more sensitive about messes.
      It’s a very stressful situation we are all in.
      Remember, your husband isn’t leaving messes to make you mad.

Your thoughts please