Do you ever find yourself in a friend’s home, looking at something they own and thinking, ‘They should get rid of that‘? Maybe in your own home you look at your partner’s ‘clutter’ with a jaundiced eye.

Isn’t it easy to decide what someone else ‘should’ get rid of? Much harder when it comes to our own stuff.

Thing is, ‘clutter’ is just a label. And something I might call clutter could be a treasured possession for you.

That’s why I never decide ‘for’ my clients. I never tell anyone that they should move something on. If I were to do that, my clients would almost certainly be left regretting letting something go. Besides I wouldn’t be helping them to develop the habits, attitudes and awareness that it takes to live clutter-free forever: not long after they’d finished working with me, they’d be back where they started.

We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.

So I loved Rowan Pelling’s recent article in The Telegraph, and I sympathise with her commitment to guard her knick-knacks as fiercely as Gollum.

Many of my clients live with someone who also has trouble managing their stuff. It becomes a barrier to decluttering as, in the past, any progress they’ve made has been undone by their partner recluttering the space they’ve cleared.

Other clients have developed Gollum-like tendencies in response to a housemate/partner who has repeatedly got rid of stuff they would have liked to keep. Peversely, the pressure from their housemate to declutter has resulted in them holding onto more stuff. In defending themselves against the pressure to let stuff go, they’ve lost touch with the ability to decide what they actually do want or need, and what they wouldn’t mind moving on.

If you and a housemate conflict over clutter, negotiate clear boundaries. Agree who ‘owns’ which bits of space, and that each of you can keep that bit of space any way you like. This side of the bed is yours and, if you choose to pile it high with stuff, that’s up to you. This side of the bed is mine. I’m going to declutter and organise it, and you don’t get to put anything in it.

You can even divide up shared spaces. That side of the coffee table is yours and you can organise it with military efficiency if you like, this side is mine and you’re unlikely to see the table underneath all the magazines, newspapers, books, chocolate wrappers and sundry other objects I choose to keep in it.

If your housemate does then put stuff in your space, don’t get into an argument about it. Just move their stuff back into their space. If you’re keeping your space clear and your housemate objects to all that ‘wasted’ space, explain that it’s not wasted: just like they’re using their space to store their stuff, you’re using yours to ‘store’ the space you need to function efficiently.

There will be places in your home that remain shared. If you jointly own the crockery and cutlery, it wouldn’t make sense for one of you to ‘own’ the cupboards and drawers in which they’re kept. It’s all about negotiation and communication. Give and take. Agree to live with their ugly Toby jug in return for them tolerating the chipped bunnykins plate you’ve been eating from since you were three years old.

If you’re the one decluttering, as you clear and organise your spaces, your housemate may even be inspired to do the same to theirs.

And they won’t need to develop Gollum-like habits to protect their stuff.

Do you argue with a housemate over clutter (theirs, yours or both)? How do you resolve it? Comment below.

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