Clutter is a hotly debated word in many Clutter is a hotly debated word in many

Cleaning Out the Clutter Can Clear Up Relationship Conflicts

Laptop on messy papers on floorClutter is a hotly debated word in many relationships. For some it can be a symbol of comfort and coziness. For others, clutter represents chaos. And not just in the physical sense. Dr. Edward Hallowell, a New York psychiatrist, says that clutter can create just as much relationship conflict as more obvious issues. “It’s not talked about like sex or money, but it’s as common as either of those,” says Hallowell in a recent article.

For many, clutter becomes the white elephant in the room. After repeated pleas to clear the clutter, the topic may become quite heated and cause an undercurrent of relationship strife. However, the real issue is rarely the clutter itself. Hallowell says that many couples that face clutter conflicts are really in power struggles. They may see the order of their physical possessions as a reflection of their inner priorities. This can cause a tidy partner to believe their messy partner does not care about the relationship as much as they do. Or they may be in a battle for control with each side using their physical space as a weapon. Either way, it is important that clutter be discussed and addressed before it becomes unmanageable. 

Hallowell suggests that couples work together to tackle clutter issues. Parting with personal belongings can be difficult for some people, and the task should be taken on with respect, patience, and even humor. Some people have psychological conditions that exacerbate their cluttering behaviors, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Shedding a humorous light on a sensitive topic can make the whole ordeal easier for both partners. Organizing expert Kelli Wilson, from Sacramento, California, says that a home should not, and probably will not, look like the cover of a magazine. She recommends couples set attainable goals and work together to determine what they can live with and what they can sell, donate, or dispose of. Clearing the clutter today can help couples avoid control and power issues later on.

Dizik, A. (2012, July 10). She sees clutter, he sees treasures. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from:

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  • KrisTen

    July 20th, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Sorry but I could never be serious with someone who takes this kind of attitude toward personal belongings.

    I am not going to spend my life living with a hoarder. That just grosses me out!

  • brian

    July 20th, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    well i’m a bit of a hoarder and the clutter can quickly build up. although my wife has always been fond of keeping things tidy, she doesn’t really mind my cluttering because it is confined to my ‘chill’ room where she hardly even treads ;) but i’ve seen friends and their wives get into arguments due to the same.but it is just the way a few people are.just because they are your partner does not mean you should try to change them according to what you believe is right.there could be a thousand reasons why a person hoards stuff and has the habit.

  • Ed Kish

    July 20th, 2012 at 9:33 PM


    This situation comes when both partner is comfortable with each other. It requires constant communication so that each problem can be solved immediately. I have posted this on my site and link it back to you.


  • Will P

    July 21st, 2012 at 4:51 AM

    This has become such an issue recently, but you know that it’s been around forever. The bad thing is that I don’t think that the clutter bothers all couples equally, because I think that people who collect like this tend to find other people who will enable them to continue in this mad habit. They want someone who will not confront them over this issue and who will continue to allow the collection and hoarding continue. But if you stay in a relationship like this, at some point you have to sit up and take notice that this is not normal behavior. This is someone trying to fill a void in their lives in some way, and that is not healthy because they are not getting to whatever the real problem is.

  • Laurel

    July 22nd, 2012 at 5:44 AM

    When I walk into someone’s home, I immediately size it up because I know that dirt and clutter are things that bug me, and that I could not get past no matter what I was feeling for that person. I might try to help him clean it up, but I don’t know how confident I would be that he would be able to keep up that cleanliness.

  • Ronald

    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    There is a difference between someone who has just a little bit of junk laying around and those who actually have a serious problem. This is something that cvan probably be very evident to you from the first time that you meet someone. Those who have a real problem with this tend to hang on to goods like they are gold, even if it is just a piece of junk, and the thought of getting rid of it literally physically pains them. I don’t know how most of them get to this point, but getting them help can be really hard because there are very few people who understand this issue and very few who have the patience that this kind of recovery can take.

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