We humans are often attracted to opposites. Therefore there are many minimalists married to maximalists. I frequently hear conversations about this scenario and they are usually conversations full of frustration! Yet none of us can see this coming when we are young and in love. Mainly because when we are young and in love we don’t own much stuff. ￼
Fifteen years later, when we have a house, garden, kids, and dog we suddenly find we own a truckload of stuff! It is at this point that some couples find they have really different approaches to stuff. My husband and I did. I was feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep on top of managing all that stuff we had accumulated. I felt too busy with upkeep. My husband was the opposite and really did not want to get rid of anything. Some couples at this stage find themself having real fights over stuff! Crazy! But true!
When one spouse is a minimalist (consciously or not) and the other is a maximalist (not keen on getting rid of anything), your shared home space can be tense.
One of you could feel like they are drowning in mess and long for clear spaces while the other has various collections of sentimental things and piles of things on surfaces and is totally happy with that. The minimalist can feel utterly stressed and the maximalist is totally offended at the suggestion that their stuff should be chucked out.
A wedding is not the ultimate moment of our lives as a couple, but the beginning of a long and interesting journey of maturing together. Hopefully we become more patient and understanding as time goes on. But it is no free ride and there’s some yucky stuff like frustration and arguments along the way while we grow up together. If you have different fundamental needs in the home space it can be extra tricky.
If this is you and your spouse, read on as there are ways to minimize conflicts and regain marital harmony! My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to stuff but we are totally enjoying our marriage 30 years so you can too. Don’t let something as silly as your stuff ruin your happiness!
If you are having conflicts decide to talk about it. Having a planned conversation about your home is good. Planned and NOT in the middle of a conflict. It’s even better if this conversation is in a nuetral zone away from the home, e.g. cafe. Be sincere and humble with each other.
Recognise that this about needs, not wants. We can’t help the way we are wired. This issue involves strong emotions. For Maxi it is about strong attachment to things. For Mini it is about stress levels from not coping with item density or with a packed schedule.
The strong emotions are also about not feeling respected. Acknowledging it’s about needs makes a big difference. It is about our involuntary ways of being and experiencing the space around us. The minimalist spouse feels so happy in open spaces, but the maximalist’s collections hold so many memories and are like an extension of self.
Agree to disagree. Acknowledge there is a difference in needs, and agree to work on strategies to navigate the situation. If things are tense you could even write out an agreement. Just acknowledging issues is a major step forward. This may sound silly but if you are sharing your home, your personal space, with a polar opposite you will know what I am saying!
A maximalist needs a designated space for their personal belongings. This is absolutely key for marital bliss for both Maxi and Mini! Maxi needs an office, hobby room or shed for all their personal hobby collections and office things. Even their memorabilia could be in there. Their very own space. It could be a small room, some cupboards, or the shed or a caravan. It may be very hard to free up a whole room, but the harmony it can bring is so worth it! This is the place they can keep all their precious stuff safely. Maxi can have that room as full as they want and Mini can and should stay out. This will be a relief to both of you. My husband has his man-cave office room. If the stuff in his office freaks me out, I shut the door and walk away. It is a win-win solution. He gets his own space and that stuff is not around the house.
The shed or attic can save the day. For mutual belongings that one spouse wants gone and the other wants to keep we find it good to put them in our storage area for a while. In our case the shed. By mutual belongings I mean things like kitchen appliances that don’t get used, or the third set of dinner plates. An area for putting any mutual stuff that feels like clutter to Mini but Maxi doesn’t want thrown away. Agree to put it there for an agreed period of time (e.g. 6 months) and revisit the decision later.
Choose some zones each. A house is many parts. For couples who are polar opposites it can help to split the common areas into zones of responsibility, for cleaning, tidying, decorating. If Maxi gets the kitchen then it might be full of things. If Mini gets the living room then Mini gets to pare it right back. Focus on your zone instead of arguing.
We split our shed into 2 zones by taking one side each. My husband’s side has his tools and his sport gear. My half has the memorabilia and Christmas decorations. I make an effort to ignore his side and just focus on my side. Then we are both happier. We have been married for 30 years. In most ways we are like two peas in a pod, but when it comes to decisions on the stuff we have, we are polar opposites. We can actually have big arguments if we don’t stick to our own zones!
The bedroom. A minimalist will sleep pretty badly in a room crowded with stuff so that is one room that is probably best being in the style that suits Mini. Sleep is crucial.
Sometimes, like once in a blue moon, Maxi may ask Mini for help with decluttering their personal stuff. Mini must proceed carefully, act very casual, and not appear eager. Maxi needs to be grateful to Mini for helping out too. Mini can suggest looking at one category at a time. Gather everything from that one category so the process isn’t overwhelming. Maxi’s usually detest sorting and decluttering and making decisions and can get emotional if it goes on too long. Keep the session short.
If you are a minimalist and planning some de-cluttering remember to only cull your own stuff. Or stuff that you are sure Maxi doesn’t care about. If you need to get Maxi’s opinion on a group of mutually owned items ask them if you can present them with a category to make some decisions on. Agree on a day and time e.g. Saturday morning. Then lay out the category (e.g. 27 wine glasses) and let Maxi see the entire collection. As I said above, only one category at a time. Then they won’t find it too bad.
Don’t even dream of doing a whole day of decluttering together. There will be too many arguments that sound like this: Mini: ‘chuck’. Maxi: ‘keep’. Mini ‘CHUCK’. Maxi ‘KEEP’. Mini: %#%*&% Maxi: *&ˆ%$###%%
Some things can be hard to share. For example; wardrobes and computers. If possible have quite separate wardrobes. Then Mini can think clearly choosing something out of their half empty wardrobe area, and Maxi can safely enjoy their very full one. It is common that a maximalist may have three wardrobe sections and a minimalist only one. This is not about equality, but agreeing on separate zones. When it comes to wardrobe space don’t be like kid siblings fighting over equal sized pieces of cake. Accept your differences.
My husband and I tried sharing a computer when we were young, but I felt stressed over the desktop cram-packed with folders and the 11 different email addresses. He probably thinks I am weird for having a bare desktop and 1 email address. Having our own is vital for marital peace.
Maximalist please read this section. I want to explain to you how it can feel for your minimalist when the home is full of stuff. Minimalists like less things in the house and less going on because they are really responsible types who feel they should look after things well and try do things well. They are also types who find it hard to switch off easily from things that need to be done. So when they have tons of stuff to tidy up, and clean and maintain, and tons of stuff on their schedule they feel extremely overwhelmed. They can start to cave in on the inside. They know instinctively that if their home and schedule is crowded their joy in life will be crowded out too. They know the answer for them is to scale back.
Mini’s can’t help the way they are wired. You need to love your mini and all their qualities and choose to work together with them and compromise. Be grateful you have someone in your life who will naturally tend to organise the cupboards and finances and keep track of the kids activities and keep things tidy. Without them your boat might sink!
Minimalist please read this section. I want to explain to you how de-cluttering feels for your maximalist. Imagine that you have collections of things that are very precious to you. They may not look amazing to anyone else but they mean the world to you. You are pretty busy and your things may also look messy but you know where things are. Suddenly the stuff-police come in and start moving your personal things around and suggesting that a lot of it could or should be donated to charity! Like WHAT! Your treasures!! Unthinkable!!
Maxi’s can’t help that they are so sentimental. They also simply aren’t born with a desire or drive to sort and organise and keep tidy. They usually have other passions – it might be academics or sport, creative projects or saving the world. Just not organising and tidying. Love your Maxi how they are and try work together and compromise.
Do we own our stuff or our does stuff own us? 😆 First we spend a lot of time working to buy it. Secondly we spend a lot of time tidying it and cleaning it and fixing it. If we now find ourselves arguing over it instead of having a lovely day together it is costing us a third time! 😆! Relationships with people are so much more precious than our stuff. If you have read some of my other articles you will know I believe in God and read the Bible. FYI There is a lot of good wisdom about stuff in the Bible – how we should be good stewards of things we have but not fret over them or prioritize accumulating things. (Kinda like ‘don’t bother keeping up with the Jones’.) For example in Matthew chapter 6, from 19 and onwards. This is freeing and enables me to let go and live a more relaxed and peaceful life.
Lowest common denominator. To end off I will mention an observation I had when working with people in decluttering (as a Professional Organiser). I saw that those who had had a lot of stuff and then decided to scale back, did not actually mind their rooms being a bit emptier. In fact they got excited that they had a more manageable home and that their very favourite things were unearthed and easier to see and use. What many of these lovely people I worked with cared about were the special things not the style of the room. So it is very possible to have harmony between Maxi and Mini if Maxi can keep their things – in their own dedicated room or space, and then the rest of the home can be sparse for the sake of Mini. It is like finding the lowest common denominator. Something that works for both. With some rooms scaled back the home will feel calm and lovely for the Mini and the Maxi doesn’t suffer from that. As long as their collections have their own dedicated place in the home somewhere.
There will still be sparks occasionally (speaking from experience) but these ideas will help you navigate your differences.
Mini: allow space for Maxi’s possessions somewhere.
Maxi: do help your Mini have some clear spaces so they can breathe.
Both: try see the humour in this when you can.