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The One To Zen Organizing Blog

Breathe in Calm, Breathe out Clutter

  • Writer's pictureJill Katz

Navigating Shared Spaces

two women sitting on a couch working together on their laptops
We can collaborate

The Story

Does this sound familiar? You finally muster up enough energy to attack the piles of clutter in your living room. You are making progress when your significant other enters the room. “What are you doing with my stuff?,” he or she exclaims. You try to explain that you are creating a better space but your significant other demands that you put everything back. All progress is halted. Now what are you supposed to do?

Messy cluttered living room or family room
How to declutter this shared space?

Shared spaces are complicated to say the least. As an organizer, I often encounter conflicts between family members and housemates. This is because we are neurodiverse - our brains are all wired differently. Here are some common differences related to organizing that often lead to conflict in a shared space:

  • Sensitivity to clutter: From highly sensitive to being completely blind to clutter

  • Organizational needs: One person needs items in view while another needs items behind cabinet doors

  • Relationship with objects : Some people live minimally while others accumulate or hold onto objects

  • Executive functioning abilities: We all have different capabilities when it comes to categorizing, prioritizing, planning and using working memory

And these are just a few of the ways we view clutter and organization in a different light.

Tips & Tricks To Use in Shared Spaces

So how can we create a shared space that works for everyone? Here are some tips to help you work with those in your household to curate a space everyone can love:

Try role modeling

When organizing, always start with your own space. Organizing is “catchy” and when others see what you have done with your own area, it might inspire them to organize their own spaces or motivate them to work with you on a shared space. Try “The Reset” strategy for a jump start.

Garner agreement

Imagine someone’s reaction if they come home and all their possessions have been moved around, or worse, thrown away or donated. Be sure to let the relevant members of your household know your intentions and make sure they have given you permission before proceeding. If more than one person feels strongly about that space, you may need to have a more detailed discussion.

Start a fact-based discussion about wants and needs

two people sharing a banana
Sharing is caring

When re-imagining a space, most people make the mistake of jumping to the strategy piece. This approach skips a very important step - the wants and needs step. So before discussing how you plan on transforming a room, be sure to talk about what needs you are fulfilling by organizing and decluttering. What functionality does each person want from a specific room or area? What belongs in that room? Wants and needs are never wrong and rarely lead to argument. Once everyone has voiced their wants and needs for a space, you can then move on to an action plan. If you are interested in reading more about needs-based relating, I absolutely recommend this book.


Cultivate a collaborative relationship and be open to different solutions for your shared space. At some point, you will probably have to compromise in order to move forward. The goal is to create a space that works for everyone.

Create rules

Once you have organized your shared space, it is vital to discuss how you intend to maintain it. What is everyone’s responsibility for upkeep? What is the consequence when someone fails to do their part? When someone puts something where it doesn’t belong, are you allowed to move it out of that space?

In Conclusion

I hope these tips are helpful for navigating your shared spaces. I would love to hear your successes and failures. Have any of these strategies worked for you? Do you have any additional ideas? Scroll down to the bottom of the page and leave a comment.

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