Living with a messy partner? Tips for dealing with different organizational habits

Last year, Tracy McCubbin – who has been a professional declutterer for two decades and lives by the motto “Don’t put it away, put it away” – married a man she described as “very messy”.

Both recognized the “cosmic humor” of their unlikely pairing. When the couple first moved in together, Ms. McCubbin put blue painter’s tape on every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen, offering a map of what goes where. But she has also learned to practice what she preaches to her clients and to keep a cool head when faced with inconveniences that do not interfere with her daily functioning. Like his bedside table, buried under books, charging cords and TV remote controls, she’s pretty sure they’re no longer theirs.

Or the mess of tools that her husband, an avid gardener, likes to leave behind in the garden. “It’s everywhere,” sighed Ms. McCubbin. “But you know what? We have a beautiful garden. Our fruit trees bear fruit. It was really about understanding: This part doesn’t matter.”

Ms. McCubbin and other organizing and psychology experts said there are some practical strategies that could help pack rats and neatniks live together in relative harmony.

“Often when a person is confused, the underlying thesis is that they are wrong, they are doing it wrong, they are bad,” Ms McCubbin said. But in many cases, household clutter is simply an indication that solid systems are not in place.

Some of the solutions she offers her clients are almost too obvious, she said. For example, she’s worked with frustrated parents whose children throw backpacks and coats onto what she calls the “runway” right outside the front door. It helps to hang a few hooks that they can easily reach.

Ms. McCubbin also recommends providing ample shelving for an avid reader’s books. (“The line in the sand is that they have to be on a shelf. They can’t be stacked on the floor.”) At home, she placed a bowl next to…

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