I remember the first time I ever gave a presentation for POSSE. There was a cute, elderly couple sitting together in the front row at the Oakland Public Library. The wife raised her hand and stated, “I’m not the problem, he is. How can I organize him?” The entire audience got a chuckle out of her question but many of my clients feel that if only the folks they lived with would do things their way, their homes and lives would be in better order.

I do believe that you can only help organize others IF they want the help. That’s why I have a career in this industry. My clients want help but many of the people they live with don’t. Also, many of their loved ones are “OK” with the house as it is and have no concerns about changing behaviors to improve the organization. After the subject of money, getting organized is probably the number one reason why spouses fight and parents argue with their children.

Since I’ve mentioned that I do not believe you can organize others without their permission, here are some strategies to help alleviate the chaos in your family when they don’t want you to help them.

1. Set a Good Example

Before you try to organize anyone else’s “stuff”, make sure you yourself are walking your talk. If you reprimand your daughter for not keeping her room in order, she might come back at you if there’s nowhere for her to sit at the kitchen table because it’s full of papers to go through.

2. Communicate Kindly and Speak From Your Heart

Ask for what you want in a pleasant manner such as “Honey, I would love it if after you open your mail you would throw away the envelopes and shred the junk mail.” This will go a lot further than, “Why do I always have to clean up after you’ve littered the countertops with the mail?” The truth is you don’t have to clean up after anyone else. It’s a choice, and if you do, realize that you are doing it for yourself and not for them because if they cared, they would have taken action. Maybe they know you’ll do it. My kids have figured that one out!

3. Decide on Shared Spaces and Private Spaces for Organizational Purposes

Agree to maintain certain areas of your home for individual and family spaces. For example, one family may agree to no toys or no paperwork in the kitchen and that becomes a toy-free and paperwork-free zone. But the family room may be overflowing with toys and the office might necessitate a shredding truck. Every family/couple will have a different threshold. Hold a family meeting to determine which rooms are a “no touch my space” place and which living quarters will involve teamwork to keep it orderly. If you have both kinds of spaces, shared and personal, than the occupants will usually do their share of community service. I myself am very grateful that my husband and I have separate bathrooms!

4. Schedule a Weekly Download

Instead of constantly bombarding the ones you love with organizing requests, set up a “Download Tray”. Place all your requests on paper in the tray and then have a Download Time scheduled to discuss your thoughts for making the house run smoother. This is the same concept as a Family Meeting. Don’t let this sound too corporate for you, homes that are well organized often run like a finely tuned business.

5. Create Mother May I Piles

If there are items of someone else living with you that you would like to organize, donate, repurpose or purge, create a spot and put those items in one pile. At an opportune moment ask your loved one if you can indeed do what you want with his/her things. You never know, they may say yes just because you asked permission and are willing to do the work. Beware: What’s junk to you may be a treasure to your spouse so I wouldn’t get rid of anything without asking.

6. One In One Out

This is a great rule to follow no matter who lives in the home. For every item that comes in, one goes out. So if Little Johnny gets a new pair of sneakers, obviously the old pair should go. But, it doesn’t always have to be the same category of item. So if a new piece of jewelry is given to you as a birthday present, maybe you go to your attic and donate a lamp. Sounds odd, but if you don’t do the math this way, soon your house will be full of clutter.

7. Involve All Those Who Need to Help

Let’s say you have a closet in your foyer as you enter the front door. If each person is responsible (or should be) for putting his/her coat, hat, mittens, scarf and shoes away, ask everyone who will be sharing this closet how they think it should be set up. When two or more are involved in keeping a space organized, if you get the input from each person it is much more likely that they will take ownership and do their part going forward. Some might want hooks, others might want shoe racks, another might want to utilize the back of the door or the inside sides of the closet with baskets for low-level reach.

8. Can You Repurpose for the Sake of Legacy

If there are items in your home that people refuse to get rid of because of sentimentality but they do not have a function and take up space is it possible to repurpose them? For example if you have a mink coat handed down to you from your mother but you don’t like the style, can you bring it to the furrier and have it turned into the type of coat you would wear? Or have other things made out of it that people would use like earmuffs, scarves, hand warmers, pillows, throw rug?

9. Use Rewards and Consequences

This one is especially for those who are trying to organize children. Let’s say that the “system” for organizing the laundry is that Dad carries it up and down to the machines for Mom and Mom does the washing and folding with the children putting it away in their drawers properly. The children are expected to sort their clothes, check the pockets, pre-soak a stain and nothing is to be inside out or balled up like socks. The reward of doing these chores correctly is that they get clean clothes, the consequences might be that: 1) Mom doesn’t wash the clothes if not prepared for the machine. 2) These clothes might be washed and dried but not folded or brought back up to their bedrooms. 3) Given to the Salvation Army.

10. The Buddy System

Have more than one person share a job. For example, someone rinses and puts all the recycling into the appropriate containers and someone else takes the containers to the Recycling Center when they are full. Another example is one person cooks dinner, the other washes the dishes. Many hands make light work and better organization.

Remember that as individuals, our brains think differently about how to organize things, papers, space etc. One person may like to pay bills by writing and sending his bills daily through the mail and keeping his checkbook balanced. Another person might be fine with going online monthly and never reconciling. If these two people marry, the person who does them daily may be very uncomfortable with the way the other manages the household finances and the one who does them monthly might think the other is too detailed. What you have here are two different habits. Both get the job done with different expectations. Neither one or way is right nor wrong, it’s all about how you feel. These emotions can run high and low because when your organized or disorganized, it affects your feelings and those feelings affect the way you think and treat others.

Two people fall in love and the next thing you know there’s a home to be organized. Use this month of February and implement some of the above ideas to help your loved ones live in harmony.