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Organizing the people in your life


Published: 01/15/2012


 Do you ever wonder how to get those you live with to pick up after themselves?

A common question I get is, “How do I make my spouse (boyfriend, girlfriend, children, roommates, co-workers) get
organized?” It is asked by caring, well-meaning, tidy folks.


The short answer is that you can’t make anyone get organized, much like you can’t force anyone to lose weight, stop
spending too much money or quit smoking. And you shouldn’t try to make them do it. They will change only if they really want to.


But, not to worry, there are ways you can help.


First, here’s what not to do:

You might think it’s easier to just organize their space without them, and get rid of their things. I know it’s tempting, but don’t do it. Murphy’s Law says that they will suddenly go looking for the very things you got rid of, even though they haven’t used them in years. It can damage the relationship and, for some people, it can cause mental anguish that may lead to further disorganization.


Here are some things you can try that may help:


1. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So said Mahatma Gandhi. Organize your own things first, even in shared spaces (for example, your side of the closet). Take your cast-offs to charity. Use simple methods to stay organized. Model the
behaviour you want to see in your mate. Set an example for your kids. When they see how much smoother your life flows as a result, it may inspire them to follow.


2.  Request co-operation. Open the lines of communication. By that, I don’t mean nagging, ridiculing, bribing or criticizing (not that any of you would do that).


Keep in mind that being organized is not about how it looks, it’s about how it works. Everyone’s idea of ‘organized’
will be different. If you have to work/live together, it’s important to find common ground – a place that is comfortable for everyone. Share what it means to you to have an organized space. Then, ask your mate about it, and listen to his or her response without judgement.


3. Point out the benefits. Help others determine how organizing will benefit them. This is where their motivation will come from. (We all need motivation to sustain us until new behaviours become habits.) But rather than focusing on what seems like an obvious benefit (such as the way you can find what you need easily and quickly), look at the big picture and tie it to something they value. Some examples are more time for family and friends, improved health and well-being, saving money, or less chaos and more peace of mind.


4. Hold their hand. Together, come up with a plan. Ask them for suggestions on what systems can be set up or adjusted to suit their natural way of doing things. If you’re not sure how to set up systems based on a person’s learning style, this topic is covered extensively in my book, Organizing Outside the Box: Conquer Clutter using Your Natural Learning Style.


Encourage and support them. Keep them company while they sort their stuff. Offer to drive the giveaways to charity outlets.


Be patient. They will not change their habits overnight. Praise even the baby steps. It’s a much more effective way to reinforce their new behaviour.


5. Seek support. Sometimes, the sorting and purging process can cause friction between people who live together. This is not unusual, because there is a lot of emotion tied into our stuff. Bringing in an impartial third party can help. Only if your mate is ready and wants to get organized, consider hiring a professional organizer. They have the know-how and experience to help anyone who truly wants to get organized.



Hellen Buttigieg, CPO, a Certified Professional Organizer, life coach, TV host and owner of We Organize U, can be reached at 905-829-2219 or

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