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Getting the Family Organized

Getting the Family Organized

Effective decluttering is a team sport


We know that clutter and junk are not harmless. Their impacts are lasting and difficult to overcome. When things get messy at home we feel stressed, inferior, or overwhelmed. At its worst, junk puts us a position where we feel like failures at the most basic of tasks. We are supposed to provide shelter for ourselves and our families –– a clean, healthy place to coexist. Why is it so difficult to do?

You are not alone. We all feel trapped by the mounting piles of stuff in our homes. While each person’s shame is unique, we carry around the same emotional fallout. For some, it is simply a pile of old stuff in the garage or the attic that desperately needs to be handled. Keeping it behind closed doors only helps for so long. You know, in the back of your mind, that it is there taunting you. Other people struggle to keep their kitchen or their kids’ bedrooms in manageable condition. Their hearts pound as they push open the door to their child’s room. What will be waiting inside?

For those of us with families, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in making these messes, and you certainly should not be alone in cleaning them. Don’t martyr yourself. If you try to be the clean-police for your family, they will end up resenting you, you will end up frustrated and dejected, and the messes will only grow worse.

So how do we get the family to pitch-in? How can the kids and your lovable but slightly lazy partner learn to keep things neat and organized? It starts with building their confidence in their ability to stay clean and tidy. It begins by empowering each member of the family to take responsibility for their space and their belongings.

Luckily for you, there is a repeatable four-step method to help instill a little sense of ownership in each of your children, your parents, and your partner. Everyone living in the space has a role and responsibility to live up to on a daily basis. And it’s important in reducing household stress, resentment, and frustration.



Take the time to work one on one with each member of the family. With your mother-in-law or your partner, you can be upfront about why you are starting down this new avenue. Tell them that you want a better, less stressful life for everyone. Explain what you have done to improve your organization or cleanliness, and then ask them what they think they might be able to do.

With kids, you can make it a game. They may not understand why it matters, but this framework addresses their needs and the needs of adults, so there is no need to change your approach when it comes to working with the kiddos.

You have to explore the root causes, issues, or fallibilities that each person in the home faces. So, gather the data: Your partner doesn’t feel confident in doing the laundry without ruining clothes; Your kid is afraid of the closet with no light; You mother in law doesn’t realize how much cleaning she makes you do each day.

Laundry Without Ruining Clothes

Change One Thing

Take your data and work along with the person responsible to address one thing that can be changed or worked-on. It is important that you focus on only one singular thing in order for this methodology to work best. We feel overwhelmed or attacked when we are given a list of ways in which we should improve. That’s not what we are trying to accomplish here, right?

Feedback of any kind can be softened and focused by using the “I like, I like, I wish” method popularized by Bernard Roth in his book The Achievement Method. It’s basically two compliments followed by a request. With the partner afraid to launder, it might sound something like this, “I like that you always pick up your clothes, and I like that you use the laundry basket. I wish you could help us by doing a load of laundry every week or so.”

When we only have one task to accomplish or one change to make, we are more likely to sustain that change. It also makes it easier to measure the positive impact of that one simple change. By adjusting only one variable, you can see the impact that your adjustment or change has made. That becomes most important as we move to step three.


Reinforce the Behavior

If your partner does indeed begin to do the laundry once a week, thanking them is important, but rewarding them is essential. Yes, you should immediately say, “Thank you, Sweetheart,” but you also need to create a reward system that reinforces the behavior so that there is a clear reason to continue with this new and still-challenging task.

Take the extra time you have saved by not doing laundry and make your partner lunch, or take them out for a happy hour drink. Make it clear why you are giving this “gift.” “I wanted to buy you a glass of wine to thank you for helping with the laundry,” is all you have to say. Next time they see the hamper filling up, they will think of that reward and of how much it means to you, and the laundry will get done.



It takes a few trips through steps one to three before it is time to consider the task accomplished. If the one behavior is clearly identified and the reward for changing that behavior is appreciated, the task will quickly become second-nature. You will forget, as will your spouse, that there was ever a time they weren’t doing any laundry.

Now, it’s time to repeat the entirety of the cycle with the next singular change. Go all the way back to the beginning to identify what change should be made, and then dive-in with the “I like, I like, I wish,” method again.

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