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What to Do When Family or Roommates Add to the Clutter

Toddler throwing clothes out of dresser.

Getting rid of clutter isn’t always easy. If you have a roommate or family members who leave things lying around, though, it can seem nearly impossible. It is hard enough to reign in your own clutter, so how are you supposed to manage someone else’s?

Cleaning is one of the most common causes of fights between roommates or housemates. This should come as no surprise if others in your household are adding to your clutter problems. It doesn’t have to be a source of conflict, however; there are a few different ways you can approach the problem of roommates or family members adding to your household clutter without it turning into a big fight.

Set a Positive Example

Just because your housemates are cluttering things up doesn’t mean that you have to. Establishing an organization routine and taking the initiative when it comes to fighting your own clutter may inspire your roommates or family members to do the same. There’s actually been some research done which shows that setting a positive leadership example can improve the performance of others in completing the same tasks, including an engineering study by led by James Avey PhD (2011). Though many of these studies focus on workplace tasks, the research still shows that people are more likely to improve their performance when given a positive example to follow.

Add Storage Solutions

There are a lot of stylish and easy-to-use storage solutions available from retailers these days. Whether it’s storage boxes, over-the-door storage hangers or any of a wide range of racks for household gadgets, you can find solutions that will not only help get rid of clutter but also accent the look of your home. Be sure to explain to your housemates how to use the new storage and remind them to use it occasionally when you see them leaving clutter around. Since this makes storage more convenient, it also makes it more likely to be used.

Make Lists

If there are a lot of common tasks that aren’t getting done around the house, take a little time and make a list. Ideally you should use a whiteboard or other surface that’s both easy to edit and large enough to be seen. Put the list someplace where it’s not in the way but where other members of the household will see it throughout the day and start checking off items with your name or initials as you complete them. As the others see the list being used, they may decide to chip in and help declutter so that your initials aren’t the only ones on the list.

Decluttering as a Group Activity

If you want to try and get everyone to help out with clutter control, find a day when no one has other activities planned and suggest a group cleaning session. Your roommate or housemates may not be excited about spending time cleaning up, but that doesn’t mean they won’t chip in and help when everyone’s going to work together. Not only will this get rid of some clutter, but it will also give you a chance to bond with the people you live with.

When It’s Time to Have ‘The Talk’

Of course, there are times when enough is enough. If you put forth an effort to try and encourage your roommate or family to help clean up and the clutter is still piling up, it may be time to sit down for a heart-to-heart. Be respectful, explain how it makes you feel to be the only one who seems to be cleaning up and ask sincerely for some extra help around the house. Even if you only get a little commitment, that’s still a great first step in the right direction.


Avey, J., Avolio, B. J., & Luthans, F. (2011). Experimentally analyzing the impact of leader positivity on follower positivity and performance. Management Department Faculty Publications, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, 131.

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