How a packrat and a minimalist compromised in organizing

Guestpost by Sharon Wilks on May 14th

minimalist-house-3 © by hahatango, used under Creative Commons license.

What happens when a minimalist mom living in a small trendy downtown apartment meets a country boy packrat? Well, if it was a sitcom, hilarity would ensue. Reality? A little stressful. After the initial shock of overstuffed closets, clothes that dated back to high school, and a kitchen bar that doubled as a paperwork graveyard wore off, I vowed to get our family's things ship shape and charged full speed into the attack.
That didn't work.

Helping someone get organized who had lived on his own and on his own terms for quite some time was like trying to get a small child to eat vegetables… lots of digging in of heels. So how did I do it?

I started with the bar of paperwork

I had to come to grips with the fact that my new husband is a fan of paper and extremely visual.

He hasn't quite grasped the digital age so I needed to find solutions for paper: I bought letter trays and an inclined file organizer and set about clearing off the counter. He realized he could still see the paperwork, coupons, brochures etc., which gave him the security of everything at his fingertips and in view AND gave us back the counter — while alleviating my fear that we may be featured on that hoarder TV show.

Currently I am tackling more paperwork that has overrun the desk. A good old fashioned file cabinet should fit the bill. Soon a file cabinet is going to appear with everything neatly labeled. This will happen on his overnight shift with me working like a thief in the night or an organization fairy…only without a pink tutu.  

Next up was the mountain of clothes

Rather than chastising or poking fun, I simply pointed out that I normally donated our gently used stuff to a shelter nearby and was planning a trip soon. The subtle technique must have worked because before too long I had a pile of clothes to add to my donation bag. 

And then, the ongoing little things…

As we've gotten accustomed to each other, I've learned more about dealing with my new packrat.

  1. We routinely go through paperwork and items that accumulate on counter tops, kitchen tables, coffee tables and side tables. Throw away anything that is not needed anymore and file the items that are.
  2. Do a closet check every six months for donatable items. Good rule of thumb? If you haven't worn it in six months you probably aren't going to. When you buy something, donate something. Keeps the closet from getting out of control.
  3. Photos laying around? Use an online service (I use Flickr) and upload them, pack them up and store them sealed. Or if you are really brave and really minimal you could throw them away. I had to go with the baby step version of storing them nicely in a tote. Bonus? Since they are stored online and in the cloud, they are easier to share. 
  4. And speaking of photos, rather than having endless picture frames on the wall of kids' school pictures or artwork, you can purchase a digital picture frame and have a rotating gallery all in one frame. They will hold up much better than the paper version over time.

As with anything, dealing with your packrat is a work in progress and the path to organization is best tread lightly. But IT CAN BE DONE! With patience, some subtle technique, good ideas, good intentions, and love, you can have the more-minimalist home you are more comfortable in.
Now on to the garage.

Anyone living with packrats want to offer their tips for learning to compromise?

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About Sharon Wilks

Sharon is a writer and hockey fom (fan/mother) who just doesn't have time to deal with clutter. She juggles a full time job, and minimalism and frostbite from spending too much time in ice rinks.