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Virginia Wells

Decluttering Other People’s Stuff in Your House

Sometimes organising your space requires decluttering other people’s stuff. You might need to work through stuff that belongs to somebody else in the house. This can be a tricky area so let’s look at some tips for managing it.

Accept that it Might Come Down to You

Let’s be honest, you’re likely to be doing the heavy lifting in this scenario. Even if you don’t physically do the sorting, you might be coaching your loved one through it. This may not seem fair, but let’s be realistic. You want the place sorted but they might not be too concerned by the state of things. So, as a compromise, you may end up doing the work. In this situation, it will come down to what you value more: do you want the space sorted? Or do you want them to take responsibility and deal with it?

What is Their Vision for the Space?

To start, as always, I’d recommend a conversation around their vision for the room, area or stuff. What are they finding difficult when they think about approaching decluttering it? This might be enough information for them to work on it themselves with you as their coach. In this conversation, also elicit whether they are open to help and what the parameters of that help might be. For example, they might be willing to let you sort paperwork without their input but not their clothes. This will guide your decluttering of other people’s stuff in your space.

Teach The Skills

When dealing with kids, or people who haven’t learnt how to declutter (yes, it’s a skill that can be taught, and isn’t inbuilt), sometimes the solution is really just showing them how to do it. Teach them the skills you have learnt for organising and decluttering and put systems in place to help them maintain the space.

Are they Time Poor and Overwhelmed?

If your loved one is okay with decluttering the space themselves but is very time poor, or overwhelmed by it, there are a few ways to help them get through it. 

With either of these scenarios, you could ask them to choose a time in the next week when they have 15 minutes to focus on decluttering. At first, when starting out helping them, you could categorise items before they join in. For instance, you organise the soft toys into animals, bears and dolls, then ask them to join you. Now you can ask them what stays and goes in each of those piles. Having pre-sorted piles removes some overwhelm, and can help them make quick decisions. 

Use the information gathered in your vision conversation to inform your pre-sort. They might have said that they’re happy for you to organise the filing, and asked you to keep any financial documents. Perhaps they said you can throw out old bills and tax returns that are older than five years. In that case, you can work through all of the files, file what they’ve said you should keep, and put the rest into stacks that are ‘throw out’ and ‘to look through’. Showing them this, and getting them to confirm what you’ve done, creates trust between the two of you. It confirms that you have heard what they’ve said, and you’ve respected that. They will then, over time, feel more comfortable with you making decisions on their behalf.

The Slow and Gentle Approach

If they don’t really want to dedicate 15 minutes to going through their stuff, you might need to take it slowly and gently. You might just casually mention groups of items and ask if they still want them. For example, “I came across all our old bills from 2018, do you want any of those?” This is potentially a slow approach, but if you want to make progress on their stuff, it might be the only option. 

Whether it is overwhelm or disinterest that is stopping your loved one from moving forward on decluttering their stuff, there are things you can do. Breaking the task down can help them move through the stuff on their own. They might also need teaching or mentoring. Teaching them how to work through their stuff, or being alongside them whilst they do it, can make the world of difference. Keep it to small amounts of time to make it bearable.

What have you found helps your loved ones? Do you have experience decluttering other people’s stuff? Your thoughts will definitely help someone else so please share them in the WellSorted Facebook group

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