Finding Common Ground

Couple different organizing styles

As the old saying goes, “opposites attract.” One of the most common questions I get is about how to live with someone who has different views about keeping and storing belongings. Often, one half of a couple believes “less is more,” and easily parts with possessions, while the other half is more of a packrat, preferring to hold onto everything. This situation can be further complicated by differences in organizing strategies, such as when one prefers to have everything “out” in piles lives with someone who can’t stand visual clutter. Obviously, this can cause a bit of conflict.

Whenever there are opposing opinions in a relationship, the best approach is negotiation. After all, the goal is for each person to feel accepted, respected, and loved. A good negotiator takes the time to understand where the other person is coming from. Below is an overview of 4 types of organizing profiles I typically encounter that result from divergences across two axes:

  • Visual Clutter Tolerance
  • Accumulation Tolerance

Organizing Profiles

Let’s look at each one:


This term is growing in popularity and now has many implications. For the purpose of this diagram, the minimalist is someone whose believes that quality of life is better with less. Minimalists are uncomfortable when their environment appears messy, and can easily donate or trash anything that isn’t adding value to their current lifestyle.


This is someone who doesn’t mind if things are piled about, as long as they are being used. The most important factor is not how a space looks, but rather how it functions. The stacker can usually do periodic purges and get rid of anything that is no longer relevant. Items that have current priority can be piled up or hung wherever they are convenient.


Stashers are most concerned with how spaces look. Visual clutter can be a source of anxiety, so stashers tend to sweep items in to drawers, closets, bins, and boxes. Stashers are comfortable with owning and keeping things as long as they aren’t left lying out and about.


Keepers equate holding onto belongings with a variety of positive feelings, including but not limited to emotional connection, security, pleasure and peace of mind. Shedding possessions can be unsettling for the keeper, as is having items disappear at the hands of another into unidentified spaces.

As you can see, these 4 types have different priorities and different comfort levels. If one person tries to inflict his/her style onto someone else in the household who has a different profile, there is likely to be tension. When addressing the conflict, it can be helpful to remember that isn’t just about the “stuff,” but rather about how we define contentment.


In order to respect everyone’s preferences, I recommend:

#1 Give everyone a “zone of his/her own.”

This may be a room, section of a room, or a couple of disparate locations in the home. Even if this is just a chair and end table, it is important that each person feels he has a place where he can relax and keep things the way he likes. Those with a high tolerance for clutter need to be able to put things down without having them instantly put away, and those who don’t need some place they can count on to look good. Having control – even of a small space – makes us feel that how we feel matters to those we live with.

#2 Negotiate common spaces.

Sit down and define what each of you is willing to accept in the spaces you share. Stashers may need to be willing to have clothes hanging on the treadmill because that location is most convenient for their stacker mate. Likewise, keepers need to understand that 5 weeks of newspapers spilling onto the floor may make it hard for their spouse to relax and enjoy watching TV in the living room. Both sides need to give a little, finding comfort in the fact that their private zone will be untouchable. It is common for new systems to need a bit of tweaking, so be willing to keep working at it until you find something that is acceptable to both parties.

#3 Show appreciation.

People who live together typically like each other, and want to make each other happy. If you notice that someone in your household is making an effort to respect your organizing needs, express some gratitude! When we feel our attempts at selflessness are being noticed and valued, we are more likely to keep trying.

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The good news is, if you are living with someone who has a different style from your own, he/she may be bringing needed balance to your own inherent proclivities. In addition, it is my experience that a couple who is willing to work to a mutually-pleasing solution typically end up finding a common rhythm.

Which profile do you most identify with? Do you live with someone who has a different profile? What tricks have worked in your household?

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