When Your Spouse isn’t Simple

People ask me many different questions about simplicity and living with less, but one I receive over and over again is “How can I simplify my life if my husband (or wife) isn’t interested?”

I think it’s one of the biggest issues people face when they decide to simplify their lives. I was really fortunate that my husband was on board from the beginning, although I am more consumed with decluttering than he is. ;)

The answers below could apply to a boyfriend or girlfriend, or anyone that is an integral part of your life. In the spirit of simplicity, I’ll refer to the husband or “him”, but know you can apply that to your wife or anyone else too.

If you’ve had a conversation with your husband about simplifying your life, and he is not on board, my suggestion is to start with you. Before you start looking at decluttering the kitchen or garage, start in your closet or nightstand.

As you start the process, you will build momentum, and be excited to have more less. This is a good time to talk to your spouse again.

How to talk to your spouse about simplifying

  • Focus on the benefits. While cleaning out the garage might not sound like a fun way to spend the weekend, when you focus on the why, instead of the how or when, your husband might come around. Remind your partner that when you don’t have to focus on debt and stuff, you can focus more on each other.
  • Daydream together. When you started simplifying your life, you probably thought about how much easier life would be for you. Now it’s time to start thinking about how simplifying will help the two of you. How will spending less, working less, hoarding less help you as a couple and as a family? What do you want to do with your lives? What would you differently if you were debt free? Now is your chance to dream together.
  • Make your clutter work for you. If debt is a part of your relationship, it’s time to kick it to the curb. Make your clutter work for you and have a yard sale, or let Adam Baker teach you how to sell your crap.
  • Hide stuff. This is not for everyone, but if you think this will work for you, give it a try.
  • Put it in reverse. Remind your husband that some decisions are reversible and that if it doesn’t work out, you are willing to go back to the way things were. This takes the pressure off some of your simplifying tasks.
  • Relationship First. Notice if your efforts are helping or hurting your relationship. If your actions are causing harm, step back and re-think your approach. Remind your spouse that he comes first. If your husband isn’t receptive, focus on him and your marriage and leave the decluttering for another day.
  • Respect the vote. If you want to clean out your closet, go for it. If you want to cancel the cable or sell the house, it’s time for a vote. Any big decisions need two votes to pass.

If these ideas fail at first, do not resort to begging and pleading. (and definitely no nagging!) Simply lead by example. Continue to declutter your personal possessions, and see if there are things you own together, in the kitchen for example, that he would agree to getting rid of. In terms of his collections, clothing or other stuff, that’s off limits.

While you might talk to him about your goals of decluttering, and some of the benefits a simpler life may bring, he has to come around on his own. My husband and I talk about things like moving into a smaller home, traveling more, giving more freely, and working less. Because we have eliminated our debt and most of our stuff, we can talk about living life our way.

It’s important to focus on the benefits and not just the immediate task.

When you married your spouse, you married his clutter. You married his past and his future, and together, it is your responsibility/honor to make your “right now” as good as it can be. That goes for you too, Mr. or Mrs. reluctant spouse. If your husband or wife asked you to read this post, take the hint! Maybe there is something to this simplicity stuff after all.

Be motivated by other couples that survived and thrive with simplicity

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Comments

  1. says

    Great tips! I know my mom has a problem with my dad’s tendency towards keeping everything. She knows her only option is to go through some stuff when he’s not there. He rarely, if ever, notices things are gone. Unfortunately this has become her only option as my dad would need to work through a lot of issues psychologically in order to deal with his “stuff.” As for my husband, I’ve been known to be a huge nag. I’ve had to learn to ask and accept if he says he wants to keep something. He is good about getting rid of things, but I have pushed him. In hind sight, I should have given him more leeway instead of imposing “you need to get rid of X amount of things.” Oh well-live & learn. :)

    • Courtney Carver says

      What is your husband’s take on this? Was he frustrated with the process, or is he glad now that you pushed him?

      • says

        He often felt stifled and unable to be who he felt he was. No one wants to be pushed to do anything. I’ve been trying to ask more instead of pressure, and he says that’s not a problem. He’s not super attached to stuff and is fine with my desire for less–as long as he can keep things important to him (despite my feeling like certain things aren’t really used, etc.). I’ve also had to learn that others are allowed to hold more value in items than I do. I don’t see my husband’s snowboard of value since he’s used it maybe 3 times in the 7 years we’ve been together, but to him, it signifies his youth and fun. And I’ve accepted that answer.

  2. Thera says

    My husband has been good at getting rid of things once I explained the “why’s” (less time cleaning, more time with kids, less to move if we do so again etc.)
    He only gets hung up about things if he stops and considers the age of it (we just got that) or how much we spent on it (besides the electronics, there isn’t anything we paid more than $100.00 for in our entire house).

  3. Thera says

    Oops, as he read over my shoulder, he reminded me all of our mattresses were over $100.00 each lmao!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Funny!

      Thera, it may seem like a waste of money to donate or get rid of something you just bought or was expensive, but if you don’t use it, it’s probably costing you more than you originally paid for it in time, money and aggravation.

  4. says

    Thanks for this post Courtney. This is a subject that is near and dear to me. I love my husband and this is something that is such a challenge for me in our relationship.

    When we sit down and talk about our vision for our life he sees less ~ less stuff, no debt, more freedom, as a good life. He’s great about the future, the challenge is in the present. Delaying gratification isn’t his strong suit. The challenge lies in delaying pleasure in the moment (and long term pain/debt) and learning to make a mind-shift in the moment to see the pleasure in the future.

    Katy Dunnet just wrote about a similar struggle in a recent post with her choice in making a “clean break” from a relationship that was going nowhere. As humans we seek pleasure and avoid pain. We need to see/feel/hear the benefits before we ‘buy into’ doing ‘X’. I’ve just not found what would get my husband on-board with our long-term vision of simplifying life (no debt, no credit cards, less stuff) yet but I have no doubt there is something that will click eventually.

    Focusing on “him and your marriage” is absolutely a great place to start or go back to. My husband wants to please me so if he’s getting what he wants from me he will do back-flips to give me more of what I want. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Darris, If you get a chance to listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio with your husband, that might help him be more motivated about debt/credit cards. He has books too, but the radio program will have more impact at first.

      • says

        I just read your reply Courtney. Thank you!
        As a matter-of-fact we completed the ‘Financial Peace University’ course in July. Although he did attend, I would say that my husband was more of a passive participant. He’s a bit put-off (as am I to a lesser degree) by Ramsey’s condescending tone . . .
        I am a subscriber to Ramsey’s podcasts of his radio show but I haven’t downloaded them to my husbands iPod yet . . . thanks for the nudge, I’ll do that today and see what he thinks.
        BTW, my husband has agreed to a (renewed) weekly financial meeting, every Sunday morning. I’ll keep the meeting upbeat, non-judgmental, brief and to the point. Wish me luck!

  5. says

    Courtney,
    Hubs has no interest. None! I do exactly what you say, keep the focus on myself. I’m still too persuaded by him in some weak moments, eating out is an example. I just talked to him about the cable bill yesterday. I got no where. I’m not complaining, I am not making it a problem. He loves watching TV.

    He has low energy…the exact opposite of my high energy. Two daughters are similar to him and two are more like me. It’s crazy plain too see. The two like him help me understand him better.

    I have to remind myself that within our marriage he has as much a say in how we live as I do. So again I keep the focus on me. The funny thing is he doesn’t want to work less!!! Oh what’s a wanna be minimalist to do?

  6. says

    I think my steps toward simplicity have influenced my live-in boyfriend positively, but I know I also can get really gung-ho about it, or nag. I have to remember I went through a process with each object and learned to let go, and it’s much easier now. He has to go through that process, too. He’s still bad about keeping ratty t-shirts that don’t fit, and I gently remind him of the people who actually need them (his family donates to Mobile Loaves and Fishes a lot).

    I did try the hide method. I hid his nightstand lamp because he never used it. He got realized it was gone quickly and I knew that wouldn’t work. However, I will say he uses it a lot more frequently. He also helps keep me on track. For example, I kept an embroidered bath towel I received as a gift in college that matches our current towels. I told him I didn’t use it because I didn’t want to mess up the embroidery. He called me out on keeping it and not using it, so now I use it (and the embroidery is fine).

    • Courtney Carver says

      Alyssa, Great point about going through the process of letting go. If you started first, be sure to remember to give your significant other time to catch up.

  7. says

    Hi Courtney,

    My husbands catch-cry during any clean out is “I’ll keep this because I might need it one day”. So most of it goes back exactly where we just moved it from.

    He’s a hoarder and I’m definitely a “throw it out” kinda girl. Clutter makes me feel boxed in, constricted and restless. It makes my husband feel safe and secure.

    He has definitely improved over the years though. We are aiming for a happy medium!

    Shona.

  8. Rebecca R. says

    Just remember: There is no such thing as a nagging wife–if the husband would only do what we ask the ‘first’ time we ask! :) In all seriousness, though, I know that having a spouse that is not on board with simplifying can be quite frustating. If it is something easy, like quickly going through his kitchen utensil jar, it is fine, but anything more involved than that and it simply never gets done. I try to be as understanding as I can, but impatience is sadly one of my biggest vices. It is a good thing that patience is one of his best virtues!!

  9. says

    About 10 years ago my husband was the minimalist – wanting to be able to fit all our belongings into our car. Now the that minimalist bug has finally bitten me, he tends to hold onto things. He calls himself a squirrel – packing things away that might one day be useful.

    When I started focusing on my stuff, I realized much of the clutter was mine anyway. Every once in a while, I find that is he following in my footsteps and clearing clutter. That always makes me smile.

  10. says

    Thanks for this much needed article. It seems to me that joining a minimalist lifestyle isn’t difficult per se, meaning as long as you’re single and have no children. It just becomes hard when you have to come to a compromise…

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