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Resolving Organizational Conflict When Standards Differ

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source: Shyald

source: Shyald

When I shared the inspiration behind Organizing Your Way a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I also had some tips for dealing with different standards of organization in your home, whether between spouses or roommates.

Let me start by saying that I don’t follow these perfectly. In fact, as I was thinking about this post, I realized I’ve been kind of hard on my husband for the last week or so. You see, when things get stressful, one way I initially react is by working harder to keep control of our house – staying on top of chores, making sure everything is in its place, et cetera. Add to that the fact that nesting is kicking in big time, and I’ve definitely been expecting my husband to live up to my standards.

1. Accepting the Differences

Which brings me to my first piece of advice – accept the differences in your standards. I was transcribing a marriage seminar a couple of years ago when something the speaker said struck me. He talked about how his wife needed to have the bed made every day but how for him it had never been important since he was just going to climb into it again at night and mess it up anyway. And here’s the key. He pointed out that him not making the bed did not make him a bad person, lazy, undisciplined or anything else. It just wasn’t a priority to him.

I think a lot of times, the more organized person in a couple can grow a superiority complex that causes them to look down on the other person for their lower, or differing, standards and assign all kinds of bad character traits to them over what is really just a difference in opinion and priority.

2. The Person Who Cares More Does It

Accepting these differences brings me to the second point, which is that the person who cares more about the specific way a specific chore should be done is the one who takes responsiblity for doing it. A caveat to this is that it only works in healthy marriages because it shouldn’t be looked as an opportunity to say, “Well, I don’t care about that, so I’m not going to do it” as a way to put more responsibility on your spouse instead of contributing.

But implemented properly between two people who really have each other’s best interest at heart, it can eliminate a ton of conflict.

For example,when it comes to entertaining, it’s important to my husband that our house be sparkling clean. I don’t feel the same way, but it’s important to me that the food and atmosphere be nice (which is a struggle because I’m really not a great cook, so I find it a little bit stressful). This means that when guests come over, I start by helping him straighten the house to what I would consider presentable, and then while I cook and set up the kitchen, et cetera, Sean worries about all those tiny details that just don’t make much difference to me.

3. Choose Your Top Three

Having said that, I don’t think it’s wrong or unfair to let your spouse or roommate know about the things that are really, really important to you. The key, though, is not to inundate them with a list of dos and don’ts that just make them feel criticized and unappreciated (which is where I’ve been failing lately). Rather, choose the top three things that really make a big difference to you and let the other person know how important those things are.

:: For me, as I’ve mentioned before, having the bed made each morning is easily at the top of my list. I usually make it without a second thought, but when Sean’s off work and sleeps later than me, I’ll ask him to help me by making it when he gets up. And because I know life is going to be chaotic with a new baby, I recently asked him if he would be able to take over that chore for just the first couple of months after she arrives so that it’s not bugging me when I’m unable to get to it.

:: On the other hand, the girls and I had gotten into a routine for a while where we were moving the bar stools to the end of our counter (rather than at the breakfast bar) for them to work on projects while I cooked or cleaned in the kitchen. Sean mentioned that coming home to the bar stools out of place really drove him a bit nuts, and it was an easy fix for me to ask the girls to put them back each time they finished using them rather than just leaving them out for my convenience.

Obviously these are small little things, but the point is that by picking the top pressure points for you and asking your spouse to help with those things, you’re less likely to leave them feeling overwhelmed and smothered by your standards and more likely to work together to have the home that both of you love.

What tips would you add for dealing with different organizational or cleaning standards? Has this been an issue you’ve dealt with? Are you the more or less organized person in your home?

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About the Author

Mandi Ehman

Hi. My name is Mandi and I’m an organizing junkie. I’m also a wife, and Momma to four little girls (5.5, 4, 2.5 and a baby!). I've worked at home since our oldest was a baby, and like a lot of other moms, my life is a constant balancing act of caring for my family and my home, meeting my obligations and finding time for hobbies in there somewhere. Oh, yeah, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m somewhat of a kitchen dunce and I only like to pretend that I’m crafty. Read more here!

3 Responses to “ Resolving Organizational Conflict When Standards Differ ”

  1. My DH is the bed-maker and toilet cleaner (two chores I learned I don’t much care for over the years). He does them on most occasions, but I will do them if he cannot.

    But your article sounds to me like an easy recipe for a happy marriage, as well. It’s kindness and courteousness that will help you make it through hectic and stressful days in your life. Good for you and Sean for not only loving each other but being nice to each other, too. :)


  2. I am definitely the more organized person in our home, and I agree that since it’s important to me that I end up doing most of it. Hubby does chip in on things that he knows bother me, but I probably need to be more open about the bigger things that bother me.

    One thing that works for me is to let myself off the hook every now and then. This has really helped since we have a toddler in the house now and things are going to get messy. I also want to set a good example for my son and not be a freak about having everything cleaned up immediately or put right away. I want him to learn that it’s important to clean up and put away, but I have to follow his schedule sometimes. (Don’t want to be picking up toys when he’s not done playing!)

    I think I’ve really mellowed out about cleaning/org since having my son. Which is good.

    Lori’s last blog post…Get your free chocolate here!


  3. “I think a lot of times, the more organized person in a couple can grow a superiority complex that causes them to look down on the other person for their lower, or differing, standards and assign all kinds of bad character traits to them over what is really just a difference in opinion and priority.”

    This strikes so close to home. My husband’s the one with the higher standards, and he seems to think I am a lazy, undisiplined, bad person, and it hurts so much – like, our entire relationship rests on how well I keep house? That is the definition of a successful human being? Through sickness and in health, but not through a sloppy house? I want a cleaner house and all that comes with it, but he insists I *want* a messy house. The most important person in my life seems to think I’m worthless. But seriously, he could hire a cleaning service for a lot less cost than the destruction of our relationship. Is that all I am? And when I do go out of my way to make improvements, he seems to get more upset about all the other things I haven’t acomplished.

    Now, to be fair, my results at housekeeping would be deemed unreasonable by most people. I’ve found that I approach cleaning from the stuff’s perspective, rather than the house’s. I can spend a couple of hours cleaning up a room, and it doesn’t really look much better, but the important stuff is put away and protected and organized. All he sees is the mess that is still in the room, or the mess created by the organizing process. I feel energized like I’m really starting to get something done, and he feels like I’ve just trashed the place. When he cleans up a room, he starts at one end with a broom or shovel, and just sweeps and kicks and destroys everything into one big pile. Sure, the side of the room he started on looks and feels good, but the destruction in the pile, that is left for me to clean up is heart breaking. He doesn’t differentiate between important stuff and trash; he doesn’t differentiate between a carefully packed and folded box of outgrown kids clothes and a pile of dirty laundry – he will sweep it right into the pile, knocked over, dumped out, whatever, completely undoing the work I did, but more importantly totally not appreciating *that* I did it. My contributions and priorities are meaningless to him – I am just too lazy and wrong. Keeping the kids’ clothes organized is not important to him, keeping the room clear is. But with lots of kids and a small house, there’s always a mess. And come on, he knew I wasn’t the neatest person in the world before he ever married me. I can understand him being upset or disappointed at my results – I often am myself. But it’s not like I’ve gotten lazy only after having a bunch of (his!) kids!

    Sorry to vent.


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