The Forgotten Marriage Vow: “For Neat-er or Messy-er” til Death Do You Part?

I’m not sure this is always something you know before you marry, albeit prior even to living with someone.  Irregardless, sharing the same spaces with your beloved doesn’t always translate to blissful harmony.  It can be eye-opening at the very least, and disastrous if not acknowledged.

We are all on our best behavior at the beginning of our relationships, but eventually our true colors will expose themselves. I can recall that when I got married, my Mom warned me to be careful of enabling my husband  from day 1, fearful that once I started to clean up for him, I would be doomed to clean up after him for life.  Part true.  Be wary of negative patterns.

I did not pick up his befallen underwear or puddles of dirty socks, nor did I collect the damp shower towels left strewn on the bathroom floor (I just put hooks behind the door, lol).  But I did however, beat him to the punch in throwing out the garbage nightly (even though I had asked him to do earlier), prepare all meals from cook to cleanup, and micro-manage his belongings.

You see, I was always a neat freak and so I was only too happy to straighten up and manage our home on a daily basis.  I never allowed it to get to the point where our home got unruly. It was in my DNA.  In retrospect, I realize now that I never waited long enough to determine if my husband was even neat or sloppy.

In fact, I claimed the role as organizer long before I made it an actual career.  It was a natural instinct for me to clear a table, load the dishwasher, or put away the laundry, all without ever asking for help. I managed the children’s carpools and activities, family schedules, and our social calendar.  A true enabler indeed, present and accountable.  In my defense,  life was different back then and perhaps I was just young and foolish.

But nonetheless, that was our “dance” for over 33 years, and although that arrangement has worked thus far, I have since changed and so have the rules. Heed this lesson, it is never too late for change. Through recent years, we have grown to share many more responsibilities.

Today, both women and men have choices to work in or out of the home, and must learn to share responsibilities to balance their household.  As a Professional Organizer, I have the opportunity to work within the homes of my clients, and I have observed that so many of their spousal conflicts are rooted with their contrasting organizing styles.

The disparity is often huge but the arguments are the same.  Typically, one blames the other for the mess. This is what I’ve learned about couples;

Neat + Neat= Neat (always)

Neat + Messy= Challenging but manageable (professional help advised)

Messy+ Messy= Chaotic nightmare (professional help an imperative)

While I am not a marriage counselor,  I recommend these three solutions;

    • Communicate:  Communication is always the number problem prior, during, or after any organizing session.  Too often, the husband and wife are not on the same page with how they want to manage or utilize their shared spaces. I propose they state their needs and clarify.
    • Negotiate:  Compromising is essential in every marriage, so working out a system that they both can live with is a productive conversation. Living together in harmony is the point.
    • Resolute:  Strive to resolve your conflicts and have the solution be the goal. Don’t get caught up in right or wrong, the blame game is futile.  Just aim for happy.


So if you are not lucky enough to have exclusive spaces, understand that this means sharing common areas with consideration. Address your organizing styles.  Are they compatible?

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison may have been best friends but certainly not the best of roommates.  Take a closer look in your home and identify what’s working and what is not, and ask yourself, are you an Odd Couple?  Do the work.  Your marriage may depend on it.


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