How To Live With A Messy Partner & Not Lose Your Mind

Other People's Clutter

Why is the laundry not folded?

Why are the breakfast dishes still in the sink at dinner time?

Why are all of the jars open?

Living with a messy partner can be one of the most frustrating things about your spouse. Sometimes it can seem like you just can’t get through to them. But messy and clean “odd couples” can work out, it just takes some work from both parties.

How To Live With A Messy Partner & Not Lose Your Mind

1. Be Very Specific About What Bothers You

Not only do you need to use “I” language with a messy partner — but you also need to explain things clearly.

Most messy partners truly can’t see the mess that they’re leaving around.

The reason they can be messy is because the clutter simply doesn’t bother them. So when you ask them to do something to fix it, it’s harder for them; they just don’t have the visceral reaction you do.

Try to outline things for them from a functional standpoint: “I prefer it if you wash the dishes immediately, because otherwise it will attract ants or cockroaches.”

2. Distribute the Chores Fairly Rather than Equally

Try not to get too caught up in what’s “equal”,  try to focus on what’s “fair”.

Your partner may want to take turns doing the laundry or turns doing the dishes, because that’s “balanced.” In truth, though, there are some chores that people just hate and other chores that people enjoy. Distribute the chores fairly based on what’s easiest for the individual.

If someone enjoys yard work but hates laundry, it makes more sense to distribute the yard work to them. Likewise, if someone absolutely hates dishes, they may need to take up a couple smaller chores to make up for never doing the dishes. The important thing is that no one is doing significantly more work that they loathe.

3. Try Not to Get Irritated

As long as your partner is genuinely trying to help out, getting irritated is only going to cause animosity.

Rather than getting irritated when a chore isn’t done or a mess is made, treat it as a mistake and request that they fix it. Too often couples begin to treat their partner’s mistakes as intentional acts of aggression; with a messy partner, it very likely isn’t intentional at all. Instead, they simply cannot see the same mess that you do. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with it, but taking it in a more positive direction can help your mood as well.

4. Get Rid of the Excess

You can’t have clutter if you don’t own clutter, right?

One of the best ways to limit the amount of messes that a partner can make is simply to eliminate unnecessary items in your home. Dishes are a great example of this. If you constantly find that dishes aren’t getting done, one way to get into the habit of doing them is to put all dishes away except for a few that you use. This forces you to wash dishes on a regular basis because you simply don’t have enough of them to keep cycling through.

5. Create Positive Reminders

Some tasks, such as taking out the trash at the end of the night, can simply be forgotten. Setting alarms on smartphones and other devices is a good way to remind yourself and your partner that it has to be done before you to go bed that night. You can even set up a system for alternating chores, so there’s never an argument regarding who is supposed to do something next.

6. Work With Them Rather than Against Them

Try to think from your partner’s point of view. Sometimes with someone who is absent-minded, it isn’t a matter of not wanting to do something; it’s a matter of forgetting altogether.

Often you can eliminate problems simply by altering the environment. For instance, if your partner tends to leave clothes on the bathroom floor, you might be able to resolve the problem by putting a hamper in the bathroom instead of the bedroom. Providing organizational tools can feel like a defeat, but as long as you aren’t “parenting” your partner in other emotionally exhausting ways, it may just be one of those little things done for the health of a relationship. That being said…

7. Try to Avoid Parenting Your Spouse

When you’re sick of tidying up after your spouse, you may end up parenting them instead of treating them as a partner.

Parenting occurs when you start feeling that they’re so irresponsible that they need to be taken through things step by step, and when you assume they are doing things incorrectly intentionally because they are lazy.

Remember: for the most part being messy isn’t some inadequacy; it’s a minor incompatibility. People live in different ways and grow up with different tolerances for mess. By approaching it with them rather than against them you can turn it into an exercise in bonding rather than a constant fight.

8. Teach your Children to Clean Up After Themselves

Dealing with children on top of a messy partner can be a hair-pulling level of frustration, but it can be somewhat mitigated by teaching kids to clean up after themselves. Agree early on deciding the types of chores that you’ll teach children (such as picking up their toys, or bringing their cups and dishes into the kitchen), and make sure that you teach them these skills consistently. That way, even if you still have a messy partner, you don’t have messy kids.

9. Learn to Make Some Concessions

Acceptance can be a huge step if you can concede: my partner is disorganized, and I’m going to have to live with it. There may be some small concessions you have to make, such as letting them keep their personal office in disarray, or allowing them to leave their own clothes unfolded in their drawers. There are some things that truly just don’t bother messy people, and where it doesn’t directly impact you, you may just have to leave them be.

Are you living with a messy partner and need to vent? Tell us your craziest stories!

Kylie Browne

Kylie is our friendly Community Manager. Organizing advocate. 80s music fan. Busy Mom. Amateur over thinker. Thrives on coffee and chocolate.

11 thoughts on “How To Live With A Messy Partner & Not Lose Your Mind

  1. Jay says:

    Well, I have a wife who is caring and very considerate about my problems in general. I on the other hand have an issue with he left cleanliness aspect. When she cooks for the child, a lot of stains are left on the hob, when she makes a cup of coffee, sugar crystals are spread around on the kitchen platform. She makes the bed but it isn’t done in time and properly. When she drops something , it takes a lot of time for it to be cleaned , she hates touching the mop.
    I on the other hand am a stickler for cleanliness and can’t tolerate this callous behaviour. When feeding the child on a high chair , the food is spread across his face, hair and god knows where else. The food is spilt on the floor and black stains can be seen on certain days because it’s left un cleansed for hours together.
    We have had several fights on this matter verbally and it has reached a point of verbal abuse that I have now given up parenting her anymore. But it’s extremely saddening that she can’t clean up themes she creates. And when I highlight it to her, she’d end up saying she will do it it when she finds the for it. She isn’t employed and looks after the child mostly.
    What would you recommend that I do ?

  2. Nneka says:

    I can’t describe how upset I used to get about this issue. My ex-husband is extremely messy and gets defensive when you try to point it out. To him, it’s not worth talking about. He expects you to just overlook the mess and move on. I am not even a neat-freak but I do value a clean and tidy environment so I know how to be tidy and neat. I realized that he would rather pull his clothes out of an unfolded pile so I stopped folding his clothes and would just dump them in a messy heap in his own part of the closet. I clean his home office area only when it is overflowing with all kinds of dirt or when I can’t tolerate the sight anymore and the moment I’m done, he’s dropping a used tissue on the floor again. It’s really tiring and very annoying, picking up after an adult, no matter how harmless the person’s intention is.

  3. Emma says:

    My husband hangs his coat on the first chair in the living room even though he walks past the coat closet on the way to the bedroom or bathroom. He prefers to do the laundry than the dishes, but I always have to remind him to put away the folded clothes. Sometimes they are in the laundry bag for days. He leaves lights on all over the house, the toilet seat up in both bathrooms and leaves cabinet and drawers open in the kitchen. At times feel like I’m parenting him, but I literally have to remind him to do each thing almost everyday. It’s extremely frustrating. We both work full time jobs, and he cooks, but I do the dishes and clean the kitchen. I clean the rest of the house and do the finances. We are both in our 40’s and have been married for almost 10 years and by choice, no children.

  4. DC says:

    I have to reread this to remember the wisdom here. But, listen to your partner and they will probably share stories from their childhood that will reveal they’ve always been this way. I remember mine telling me he missed out on a family outing, to stay home and be taught by his dad how to make up a bed, military style. Guess what? 5+ decades later, he still can’t make up a bed. LOL, and in the end, it’s just not very important to him. I was taught one can sleep better in a well made bed, so different upbringings, and different perspectives. There’s always two ways to do something, mine and his… I’ve heard myself say, well when you think of how you would do that, just think of how you wouldn’t, and that’s my way…;)

  5. Catherine Cockey says:

    Basically, it sounds like tolerate, tolerate, don’t focus on what’s fair, excuse, be responsible for getting rid of stuff so he can’t leave it around, and don’t get angry!

    • Orange Poofy says:

      That’s difficult when he constantly brings home stray furniture, books and shit. It’s like dude we are now living in a world where bed bugs are real. Please stop taking others’ trash. It’s not treasure! Plus we can afford to buy it new if we want!

    • Craig Bailey says:

      Depends who the messy one is Rebekka, could just as easily be the husband who is the organized one and the wife who is the messy partner in the above examples.

      • Marcel says:

        Right Craig! I’m a 23 year old male and My partner is so messy I started acting like a parent and it drives me insane. She leaves clothes on the floor, doesn’t make the bed, has the messy drawers, etc. However your advice was well told.

        • Mary says:

          Hi, I loved the article. I have tried almost everything to try to get my husband to help me out. It just hasn’t work at all. It seems that it is getting worse. For example, he tends to hung the bathroom towel on the shower curtain instead of the the towel hanger. The toilet tissue he tends to remove it from the hanger to use it and doesn’t put it back. The shampoo bottles he tends to put them on the bath tub floor instead of hanging trays for them. Dirty clothes beside the dirty clothes bucket. And many other none sense things that he can not seem to improve. But, at his job he is very organized. I dont know what else to do. Im not a clean freak but because our home is to small, i like to keep things where it goes so avoid tripping with objects and keeping the children safe. I need help. Is it me the problem?

          • Orange Poofy says:

            Mary, I have the same problem. At work he can seem to remember where things can go. At home he literally throws trash on the floor with the waste basket right beside him. I mean literally right beside him. Its infuriating. Like he has no concept of roaches and rats. But he can make for certain work stays cleaner than home…..and work has housekeepers.

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