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As seen in the Dayton Daily News on January 12, 2019.

A woman called me the other day and asked for my advice on how she could get her husband to get rid of his stuff in their basement. She said it’s filled to capacity with things he never uses. She sounded desperate and started to cry as we spoke about it.

I asked questions to get some clarification.

Why did her messy basement bother her?  She was frustrated because it wasted her time when she couldn’t find things quickly, and was embarrassed that someone might see how messy they lived. Plus, she didn’t want to leave this burden for her children.

I added that it’s also a fire hazard and could be concealing other problems, such as leaks. 

We came up with some very good reasons why their basement should get organized, but how could it change when her husband was not willing to part with anything?

I went on to ask if she or her adult children had anything in the basement. She answered, “Yes.”  

We discussed what things would be hard for her to part with.  She replied, “My sewing machines. I love them, but haven’t sewed in years. I’m not even sure if they work.”  I then asked for an example of what her children had stored away.  “They have trophies, instruments and college textbooks.”

We discovered she is also emotionally attached to things she doesn’t use. Like many people, she focused on what her spouse was storing instead of what she and their grown children had been saving.

The best place to start in a disorganized, shared space is with the items you have control over. Not the ones that belong to someone else.

I suggested she start by donating her sewing machines. She hadn’t used them in years and had no plans to sew. She also admitted that if she did take up sewing again she would buy a new sewing machine, not use the ones that had sentimental value.

When she makes peace with parting with one of the hardest things, everything else will be much easier for her to let go of.

As she organized and came across emotionally charged belongings, she should focus on what she will gain by letting them go instead of what she is losing. If you reread why her messy basement bothered her, you will see that she has more to gain than lose by letting go of the sewing machines.

Her basement would no longer be used as a storage unit, since the excess stuff was affecting her life so negatively. I instructed her to call her children and find out which of their items they would be interested in taking to their own homes.

While she organized, I asked her not to say anything to her husband about his stuff. When she came across anything that belonged to him, she was to put it to one side of the basement. She was not to ask him to part with anything.

By the end of our call, she sounded empowered and filled with hope, instead helpless.

Her husband may or may not changes once he sees her progress. If he chooses not to change, she will feel much better knowing she controlled what she could and did what was best for herself and her children.