Inside: Overwhelmed by the things your partner wants to keep? Here’s how to declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to.

I often ask people what their biggest challenge is with decluttering. A response I commonly hear is having a spouse who isn’t on board. I’ve also worked with clients who wanted me to declutter their spouse’s stuff.

The struggle is real and I completely understand it. It’s something I’ve had to continually work through in my own home. So I get it. I really do, but I need to tell you why you need to keep your decluttering to yourself (as painful as that may be).

If you were hoping this post was going to give you permission to secretly throw out stuff, you’re going to be disappointed. But stick with me…it may just be the tough love and truth you need to hear whether we all like it or not.

why you need to keep your decluttering to yourself

How to declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to

You are only responsible for you. You’re responsible for your own health, decisions, schedules, and your stuff. You get to decide what is important to you and also what isn’t.

While you may have more of the household management and maintenance responsibilities, you don’t get to decide everything for everyone in your house. Focus on what you can change…you.

Different values

Did you see the This Is Us episode where Kate mistakenly decluttered Toby’s prized action figures? It was an honest mistake where she thought DNS meant ‘donations’ and he wrote it to stand for ‘Do Not Sell’. Oops.

Communication fail! This wasn’t a case of trying to secretly get rid of his stuff, but it did highlight the importance of clarity in communication as well as having differences in what we value.

My husband doesn’t understand my extensive soap collection. Yep, it’s weird I know. He also couldn’t care less about my crafting supplies. If I decluttered all of the things that matter more to me, he would be totally unfazed and may not even notice.

However, if I attempted to declutter his beloved library without including him that would be cause for justified anger. We value different things and because we respect each other, I don’t attempt to get rid of his things and he doesn’t try to get rid of mine.

This is one reason why you need to keep your decluttering to yourself…your definitions of clutter may be different.

So as you try to go buy those action figures back from the college kid who refuses to sell them back remember different people value different things and that is ok. Let’s learn to accept and embrace each other’s differences to the best of our abilities.


Even if I knew my husband would never notice that I got rid of something of his, I still wouldn’t feel good about. I’m not showing respect for him if I’m trying to be sneaky and get rid of things without him seeing. That may not be an answer you want to hear. Frankly, it isn’t even something I want to say.

I’d love it if my house revolved around only the things I value, but we are partners. As such, I don’t get to make all the rules or decisions on all the things.

Living with your definition of too much stuff is challenging. However, living with a strained relationship due to broken trust is more uncomfortable and more damaging.

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like your spouse to secretly throw away or donate items of yours when you weren’t looking. So let’s not do that to them.

So what can you do?

If you can’t declutter the belongings of other family members without their permission or presence, then what can you do?

Back to square one of you get to control you. In deciding to declutter your own things and areas mutually agreed upon with your spouse, you can set the example.

Maybe your partner will notice how much neater your side of the closet looks now that it’s been decluttered. Perhaps they will also see how much easier it is to keep things cleaner and how much money is being saved by not continuing to purchase as much stuff.

Communicate & compromise

If they don’t notice the benefits of decluttering right away, talk to them about it. Share what you’ve been learning on your decluttering journey and your vision and goals behind it. Talk about the difference it is making for you and how your life has been positively impacted.

Most people don’t change because they feel strong-armed into it. Change comes when someone notices something appealing and sees the results that they want for themselves.

Does that mean that all partners will care about these changes and want them for themselves? Sadly, no. But perhaps given enough time they will at least make some strides. You can always hope.

Communication and compromise are two key elements of a happy marriage. While you may feel that you and your spouse are on opposite ends of the stuff spectrum, talk about ways you can both compromise to find a happy medium.

Does your spouse insist on having paper piles? Agree on boundaries for which rooms they can have them in. Create boundaries that work for both of you.

Distractions & hoarders

It’s easy to get distracted by other people’s stuff and use it as an excuse for why we can’t do better. They have more junk than us so therefore I can never have a totally decluttered home so I give up before I even get started.

You need to keep your decluttering to yourself but don’t let it be a reason to give up or not even try.

We throw around the word hoarders a lot. Often we simply mean someone who has more stuff than what we are personally comfortable with.

For the intents and purposes of this post, I am not talking about people who truly have a disorder. If you are married to someone who does, encourage them to seek help.

Learning from each other

Sometimes the truth is hard because I don’t want to keep all the decluttering to myself. In those moments, I remind myself that my spouse doesn’t have to like all my stuff and I don’t have to like his.

I get to choose in this situation to be annoyed or to grow. My response is always a choice. Will I choose to look for what I can be grateful for in this situation or will I choose to be angry? Sometimes just a simple change in viewpoint helps me see the exact same situation completely differently.

It’s true that opposites attract. We can choose to focus on how our differences frustrate us or we can choose to grow and learn from each other. Does that mean the papers never make me crazy? Heck no, but it does help me maintain perspective and my sanity.

When we said ‘I do’ we didn’t know what all that would mean. Turns out it means dealing with the annoyances, inconveniences, and differences between the two of us.

I choose to love my husband who loves his papers anyway. And he chooses to love his wife and her weird soap collection.

Note to self: re-read this when you are feeling frustrated again.

How do you declutter when your spouse doesn’t want to? Share in the comments section.

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  1. One thing that I wish I understood before I started decluttering is that the clear space is a magnet for other people’s things. While I can do something about my children, I can’t do much about my husband using that space I worked so hard to clear. He very much supported clearing ‘my’ stuff (the stuff I have the authority to do something about), and then he would “temporarily” store his stuff where I cleared. The temporary became permanent. When I realized what was happening, I started to make it look like the space I just cleared was still occupied with ‘my’ stuff. I purposely made the top of my dresser ‘messy.’ He occupies some of my side of our 5 feet bedroom closet, and I have to make sure that my clothes are hung and spread in a way that doesn’t look like an invitation to park something “temporarily” there. If I had really understood that the clear space would be a magnet for stuff, I would have worked a little differently at the beginning. In the beginning, I thought that once my husband saw the clear space, he would be totally on board trying to declutter. He kept saying how nice it was to have the clear space. I was SO wrong. MY HUSBAND HAS SO MANY GREAT QUALITIES, and so I’ve tried to focus on that as I create an illusion of a no-space to park stuff places. (Caps for emphasis.)

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