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.

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

  1. Tandi Jewell says:

    I’ve been dating a guy for several years then had our first child, went to college had our second son. I find my self I can’t even believe when I say this 2decades. I remember coming home to disasters then getting so mad, never getting a break never getting any space and over the years this has taken so much out of me, it distinguishes my creativity. Nothing will ever get tackled or organized unless I do it. For years I was working and taking the kids to school and do majority of the cleaning, he works so much and is literaly dead tired when he comes home, to see him in this state becomes so chaotic and messy it continues to rob me. Trails of food left out, cubords never closed in the kitchen. I feel so left out . He wants to finacially support me as his wife, but I feel i have seriously put my life on the back burner. I want to work more outside of the home and build my life up. It builds tension between us and it robs me of who I am. Yes maybe there are worse things, but I want life to be better. He s a hard worker, but I want to work more for my self and my life seems so imbalanced. I’ve let myself lash out and it doesn’t seem to get better.

  2. Ellen says:

    My husband treats our entire house as his workshop. Tools here, crates there, We had a chest freezer which was hard to use because he would stack stuff on it. I have a chest for my sweaters, but he puts his stuff on top of it so I can’t open it without a lot of work. His clothes are left on the floor so that I can’t open my closet door. He does his own laundry (yay!) but will leave it in the dryer for days so that I can’t do my laundry. My complaint is not the mess itself, but that there is some aspect of the mess which directly impacts me. This usually involves leaving items in my way, or claiming all areas for his stuff (like piling his stuff up in chairs) so that they cannot be used for their intended purpose. We used to rent a lake house, and one of the neighbors complained that he left ALL his many water toys on the beach so that she could not walk on it. She was right, but he didn’t see it. I have told him that I need one room for PEACE, and that it is off limits to his messes!

  3. Genevieve says:

    These suggestions are definitely not helpful. None of these things help solve the issue when you have a husband that leaves messes no matter what is agreed upon for cleaning. You are basically saying to not get mad and just live with it. That’s not reasonable.

    • Nicky says:

      I completely agree. This puts a lot of accountability on the “cleaner” of the house and makes a lot of excuses for the slob of the house.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Agreed. Unlike this article that puts the onus to cope on the non-lazy slob, says, sloppy people *are* lazy, it just does not bother them that they are sloppy and lazy. They do not realize that they are sloppy, nor do they see themselves as lazy – though they most certainly are. These suggestions are useful for determining *if* your partner/roomate is open to examining their shortcoming and open to change, but the advice to suck it up and live with someone you have determined is a lazy slob, is not healthy. If your partner is a pig and you’ve pointed it out and you’ve been a good friend and helped them with tools, and they still will not make it a priority (over other discetionary activity) , then they have told you through in action: “I choose to spend my spare time on recreation instead of working at being tolerable to live with.” No one should feel they owe a lazy slob their life, unless there are children involved. If the lazy slob has enough other remdeeeming qualities and you can still be physically or intellectually turned on by that lazy slob – go for it.

  4. Araya says:

    My partner and I are in a constant fight when it comes to cleaning. He will clean a little, like half packing the dishwasher then go sleep or play his game for the rest of the day. Talking about how he’s going to finish cleaning but he never does! He’s said he will take the trash out and do the dishes for three days now. Three days it has smelled disgusting in our house, gnats are coming in, I ask him politely if he’s going to finish his chores and he gets so angry with me. Yells at me, when the whole day he’s been saying he’s going to do it, without me saying a thing. It is so frustrating because I always have to finish his chores or I have to live in a disgusting stench, he lets it get so gross. Gross on ANYONES standards. We follow a turn rotation for ever chore and when it gets to be his turn in reality it’s just a pushed back version of mine because I end up having to do it anyways. It makes my blood boil to hear him snoring by me and smell the dishes, I just want out of it all

    • CW says:

      I just moved (back in) with my gf (our second attempt at relationship) and am already regretting it. We had a serious convo about her clutter and lack of help around the house (was literally doing more chores in her house than she was before I even moved in) and another one since then. 3 months later and she somehow moved more clutter into the common areas in order to tidy up her own space for herself.. oh and I’m still doing 80% of the chores day to day. She keeps her cats food on her bedside table and there is litter paw prints on the table, never cleans his food bowl (I once found the cat threw up in the bowl and the puke was just in/around the bowl for who know how long). I am at my wits end and it’s so hard to approach these conversations with compassion at this point because I’m simply not being heard. She wants unconditional love and constantly asks me to do things for her but is blind to how my needs are being completely unmet. We have not been intimate in months and I am having a hard time seeing how this will ever get on track..

      • Elizabeth says:

        I am sorry for your frustrating experience. I see red flags all over your post. If you don’t mind me giving some advice: run, while she is just a GF, run. I’m a 60 year old female married to a slob for 20 years. I can assure you that girl is not just sloppy; she sounds very selfish. That kind of extreme slovenliness my be a product of clinical depression, or she may just be lazy and gross (unlike this mostly victim-blaming article says, sloppy people *are* lazy, it just does not bother them that they are sloppy and lazy). My husband is not as self centered or personally as filthy as your GF sounds, and even that has been unbearable to live with. Meaning, he would *never* let our pets eat from foul dishes nor would either one of allow food next to the bed like that – that’s nuts.

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