She said: “We’re not getting rid of that suitcase.”
He said: “But it’s taking up so much space and it kills me every time I have to look at it.”
She said: “My parents gave us this suitcase and it means a lot to me that we keep it.”
He said: “Right, but the zipper is broken and there are holes in the fabric after our last trip. It’s an eyesore!”
She said: “We’re not getting rid of that suitcase until we buy one to replace it.”
He said: “That’s crazy. We have two other suitcases that are way nicer and work just as well, even though they’re smaller.”
She said: “Small suitcases don’t always work for me, you know that.
I have to bring more stuff on trips than you do.”
He said: “This seems like a great time to simplify then.”
She said: “Why are you making such a big deal out of this one thing?”
He said: “It’s not just this one thing. But I’m making a big deal about it because we don’t have a ton of space for the things we love and here is this massive suitcase that I don’t like and you tolerate, and it’s taking up a bunch of space in the closet.”
She said: “Fine. You want to throw it away? Do whatever you want, throw it away. But it really upsets me off that you aren’t listening to me.”
I’d like to tell you that was a scene from a mid-day soap opera, but in fact it’s almost word-for-word of a “friendly conversation” between Doug and I about a large suitcase in
We donated it after getting home from a trip in mid-September. A few weeks later as we drove to the airport for another flight, the topic came up. Doug thought it was all water under the bridge. Maybe I did too. But at that moment, I realized I hadn’t moved on. I was still upset. Holding onto negativity about “stuff” that I felt forced into getting rid of.
This shouldn’t be happening to me, right? I mean, as a professional organizer, all my ducks should be in a row. House perfectly organized, clutter quivering in its boots when I enter the room.
I like to think that’s mostly true, but organizing challenges still come up for me, like I’m sure they do for you, too.
I realized a few things from this situation, though, that made me better, and I’d like to share those with you.
First, for both Doug and myself, this wasn’t really about a suitcase. It was about each of us feeling like the other wasn’t being heard. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will close someone off more than making them feel like they’re talking to a wall.
I knew I wanted to keep the suitcase and I had good reason for it too!
He “knew” it was an eyesore, and there was no outcome other than getting it out of the house.
Neither of us really listened or totally cared what the other had to say. We were too busy carrying baggage from the past.
See, Doug’s always pushing us to get rid of more stuff. I’m pretty sure he could wear the same outfit every day, use the same one dish and cup for every meal, stuff like that.
So he sees me (yes, the professional organizer) as bringing clutter into the house. For him, the conversation about the suitcase was really about the other clutter that bothers him in the house.
Let me be clear, we live in a 550 sq. ft. studio apartment. There is (understandably) very little storage space. We have drilled down to the basics in some serious ways - getting rid of the TV, trading out a large sitting desk for a standing desk, major purging of all non-essentials.
Even with all that, though, I feel like Doug pushes me to get rid of stuff before I’m ready. It’s happened before and I didn’t like it. So when the conversation about the suitcase came up, I wasn’t going to play ball, no way. Even if he had a valid point, I felt like I needed to hold my ground.
For us to find common ground, we had to let go of the past.
Second, in organizing and in life, we have to appreciate our partner’s differences. No one wants to be with a carbon copy of themselves. In fact, consciously or subconsciously, we often choose mates that are our polar opposite.
If you’re a highly detailed, super organized mind, I’m willing to bet your partner is a little more carefree and go-with-the-flow. Neither is better. Both are necessary to a balanced relationship.
A lot of the baggage we carry towards our partners comes from them seeing the world differently than we do. Doug, in his super-logical mind, couldn’t possibly imagine why we would allocate precious closet space to a large item in poor condition.
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see why we shouldn't just wait until it was a good time to buy a replacement.
You might think this sounds like relationship advice. But I more think of it as communication advice. And communication is one of the cornerstones of keeping your house organized and feeling happy about it.
Why shoulder the entire burden on your own, when it could be spread out amongst the family?
But that sharing of responsibility only happens when everyone in the family feels like their voice is being heard.
What about making sure your own voice is heard? Should you just forget about that?
Well, not to get all “woo-woo” on you, but I’ve found in my life, and in working with clients that the best way to be heard is to listen. Make the other members of your family feel like their voice is important even if, especially if, it’s different than yours, and they will be more accepting of the things that matter most to you.
I want to close by sharing a really simple and powerful empathy exercise called “Walk a Mile” you can do when you feel like you can’t bridge the gap. This will be crucial if you’re organizing one of those touchy spaces (i.e. husband’s hobbies ;) where you haven’t been able to find much common ground.
“Walk a Mile”
- Switch perspectives and mentally take on the role of your counterpart (otherwise known as your spouse). Have them do the same.
- Make 3 arguments for THEIR side of the debate, talking in their voice, as if you were them. Put thought and emotion into it. Try to prove your own perspective wrong.
- Have your spouse make 3 arguments for YOUR side, in the same manner as above.
That forces each person to step into the shoes of the other person, and a resolution will be much easier to agree on. The more seriously you do the “Walk a Mile” exercise, the more magic you’ll create in your household and beyond.
Have a great Thanksgiving and talk to you next month!