We are all different. Some of us need to have a neat and orderly home and work space in order to feel calm, relaxed, and sane. Others of us are more comfortable just dropping things wherever they land and don’t really worry about everything being in a certain place.
Because of these differences, there is often conflict. Sometimes it is between parent and child, sometimes between spouses or housemates. Typically the person who likes things to be neat and organized will either nag or yell at the other person. Other times they may pick up after that person but feel resentful or angry about it. Either way, the cycle continues and the problem does not get solved.
To begin to solve this conflict, the first step is for both people to realize that neither of them is right and neither is wrong; it is just personal preference. If each understands the reasons behind the preferences, it becomes easier to work on resolving the issue. While I don’t like the words “neat-freak” or “slob,” I used them as they are easily understood. Both are rather negative and don’t help us move towards the solution. So please don’t call each other those words. I continue to use them in this article just for ease of understanding.
The neat-freak prefers an organized space because it allows them to feel that they can relax. Conversely, the slob feels more relaxed by not having to think about putting things in a certain place. When each realizes that the goal is the same (to feel relaxed) and that the approaches are different, it makes it easier to move forward with a resolution. Assuming we care about the other person, we want them to feel comfortable and relaxed and we also want to feel comfortable and relaxed.
The first thing to consider doing is having a designated space or spaces where the slob can be relaxed. For example, for a child you might let them keep their room the way they want and just close the door. If it is another adult, is there a room or part of a room (an office, basement, garage) where they can just dump stuff? Common areas will be kept neat and clean and special areas are in the control of the slob.
Secondly, consider the cabinet and closet spaces in your house. Is it possible to divide up cupboards in the kitchen or cabinets in the bathroom? If you are able to do this, it works wonderfully. The neatnik can clean and organize to their heart’s content and the slob can have a relaxed attitude in their drawers or cabinets.
When the neat-freak finds that the sloppiness is not staying to the agreed upon areas, it helps if they can just remind the other person that they are starting to feel stressed out by the messiness rather than calling the other person names or yelling at them. Ask for help rather than blaming. “I need your help – I’m not able to relaxed with the camping gear in the middle of the living room floor – would you help me out by putting it away in the garage?” Something like that will go a long way compared to, “What the heck? Why are you such a slob? Do you think camping gear belongs in the middle of the living room? I swear you drive me nuts.”
Each person also needs to assess whether or not it would be helpful to tame or adjust their preference just a little bit. The neat-freak needs to realize that being overly concerned with organization and neatness can be an indication of a need for control or perhaps perfectionist tendencies. Pick small ways to relax your expectations; tell yourself you can strive for excellence without needing things to be perfect. The slob can ask themselves if being a little more organized might make some area of their life a bit easier. Would putting your keys in the same place save you time? Whichever category you fall in to, you have to make up your own mind about what adjustments you’d like to make. You may wish, however, to get ideas from the other person who has some expertise in that domain.
Remembering that the person cares about you and that you are each just seeking your own way to be able to feel relaxed will help you bridge the gap between the neat-freak and slob. You can respect each other’s desire to be relaxed and acknowledge that you are each pursuing it in a different way; neither way is right or wrong. With this understanding, you can both focus on what is really important, a happy and healthy relationship.