Tidy house, happy spouse? It may sound like a silly little saying, but it could hold a surprising amount of truth.
According to a 2016 survey of newly divorced people, 30 percent of respondents named “disagreements about housework” as the top reason for the split-ups, which came in third after infidelity (40 percent) and drifting apart (35 percent). A Pew Research Center study from the same year found that more than half of all married respondents (56 percent) said that sharing household chores was “very important” to a happy marriage.
One example of how a disorganized home can take a toll on a couple’s relationship pops up in the first episode of the Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” Married couple Rachel and Kevin Friend say that, in addition to money, keeping the house clean is the biggest source of contention in their relationship. As parents of two young kids, laundry, dishes and clutter quickly pile up around them. Because they’re frustrated and overwhelmed by the disorganization, they nitpick at each other and don’t always give the best of themselves to their children.
Kondo takes the couple through her KonMari method, described in her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which involves sorting through your belongings based on category (rather than room by room), only holding onto items that “spark joy” and donating or discarding the rest.
Afterward, Rachel and Kevin comment on how much calmer things feel for them now that they’ve de-cluttered. They’ve established a designated place for their belongings and a system for keeping it that way. They are kinder and more patient with one another and the kids.
“It’s been nice because now we know how to do everything and we’re not coming down on each other,” Rachel told Kveller.com. “Now, when there’s something to put away, instead of, ‘I’m going to wait for him to do it,’ or ‘I’m going to wait for her,’ it’s like, ‘I’m just going to put this away because it makes me feel better.’”
Can keeping a tidy home ― whether using the KonMari method or some other system that works for you ― really have a profound, lasting effect on your relationship? We asked a KonMari consultant and two therapists to discuss.
Understandably, keeping a tidy house is a struggle for many couples.
These days, couples can run themselves ragged trying to juggle everything: demanding jobs, children (if they have them), relationships with friends and family, their relationship with each other, grocery shopping, meal prep, laundry, staying on top of bills, all while trying to care for their own mental and physical health. So they prioritize and tackle only what absolutely has to get done on any given day. The rest — including tidying up — can wait.
“Keeping an organized home seems very daunting, and for people with a lot on their plates, it can easily fall between the cracks,” psychologist Samantha Rodman told HuffPost. “Since keeping the house clean isn’t ‘urgent,’ it gets shelved in favor of more time-sensitive issues, like getting to work on time.”
In some relationships, both partners agree they want to get organized, but they just can’t seem to find the time or energy to make it happen. Other couples have a different predicament: one partner is a neat freak overwhelmed by a messy living space, while other is unfazed by — or even enjoys — the clutter.
“I recall one couple where the wife, a writer, felt like she couldn’t concentrate on her work unless the kitchen was clean and the laundry folded, while her husband said he worked best when his desk was a disaster and the garage was ‘in process,’” psychologist Ryan Howes said. “This conflict in styles and needs certainly contributes to interpersonal distress.”
But the clutter can really mess with you and your relationship.
Tidying up may seem low-priority when compared to completing a big work project on deadline or taking a sick kid to the doctor. But the cumulative effect of a cluttered living space can actually be detrimental to your mental and physical health, making you feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious and guilty.
That stress and anxiety can affect the way you treat your partner, making you less patient and understanding and more prone to snippiness, nitpicking and passive-aggressive behavior.
Looking at excessive clutter can make you feel defeated, said KonMari consultant Caitlin Roberts. You don’t know where to begin so you don’t begin at all. It feels like the work around the house is never done and never will be.
“A messy home can make us feel overwhelmed, helpless and anxious,” she said. “Often times I find couples have different ideas of where an item ‘belongs’ within the home. Frustration arises when an item cannot be located and tensions build within the partnership. The results are cluttered counter tops, stuffed drawers and repeated purchasing of the same ‘lost’ items.”
Tidying up can benefit your relationship on a number of levels.
With the KonMari method, it’s not about dedicating a weekend every month to sorting through all the clutter and then slowly letting it accumulate again. It’s about finding a home for each item and creating a system that you’re actually able to maintain. The initial task may be daunting, especially if you have a lot of stuff, but the payoff can be big.
“Once a home is organized and easy to maintain, a huge amount of pressure is relieved from everyday life and, by association, the relationship itself,” Roberts said. “A decluttered space clears the way, both mentally and physically, for the couple to spend more quality time together. Furthermore, the decluttering process at home opens the door for the couple be more conscientious in many other aspects of their life.”
And isn’t that what we all want? To free up more space and time to just enjoy each other and the life you built together?
“When both partners in a relationship are on board with this philosophy, it certainly allows for more time and money to spend on shared experiences and quality time to talk, dream and relate to one another,” Howes said. “If you have four shirts to clean instead of two dozen, that means more time to spend with your partner.”
In the show, Kondo also recommends turning the tidying rituals themselves into an opportunity to reconnect. You can catch up on your day while you put away the dishes or get the kids involved in folding laundry.
How to keep it up
The beginning of a new year is a time many people make an effort to organize or de-clutter ― but how can you keep it going, instead of falling back into your old, messy ways?
“Be very aware anytime you bring something new into your home,” Roberts said. “Consider if you’re replacing something or adding to ― and agree on the correct location for storage. Hold each other accountable for only keeping the items that truly support your shared vision.”