What Is Stuff Discordance AND What To Do About It

September 21, 2020

“Stuff discordance” is a term I coined for any relationship where there are conflicting views/approaches to stuff that results in friction.

Discordance means “lack of agreement or consistency.” So if you and the people you live (or work) with don’t always agree or act consistently when it comes to organization … you’ve got stuff discordance.

This could mean your spouse, partner, kids, parents, roommates, colleagues … Basically, anyone who shares a space with you and has a different idea of what a comfortable, functional, organized space looks like than you do.

Sound familiar?

If you aren’t sure whether stuff—or arguments about stuff—is an issue in your household, take this quiz.

If, when taking the quiz, you decided that YOU and YOUR stuff aren’t the problem, but your spouse/kids/parent/roommates/colleagues ARE... read on. 

And let’s be honest … THEY probably think YOU are the problem.

This week, we’re talking about how to reach the kind of consensus that means everyone can feel respected and at home in your shared space.

The first step toward fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. So let’s start there.


Why is getting to consensus important? Well, the only way you can take the next step of fixing the problem is if everyone in the relationship agrees that there is a problem in the first place.

And if you try to enforce any solution without buy-in, you’re going to come up against a lot of resistance. Read more about the importance of buy-in in this article on returning to the office during COVID.

If your spouse—or parents, or kids, or roommates or colleagues—adamantly refuses to acknowledge that constantly leaving dirty dishes in the sink or dirty clothes on the floor or half-read newspapers on the counter is an issue, they aren’t going to collaborate on a solution.

It’s that simple.

So, Step 1 is using what I call the “Wheel of Fortune” to bring them around.

Keep in mind, though: the purpose of this exercise is not to be RIGHT, or to place blame. It’s to reach a place of agreement that, yes, the state of the space could be improved to better serve everyone.

The Wheel of Fortune technique is all about asking the right questions until something resonates.

And that right question probably isn’t, “Don’t you agree that our house (or office) looks like crap?”

Here are some example questions to get you started. Feel free to use the quiz for inspiration, too:

  • How often has one of us been late this month we couldn’t find our phone/wallet/keys/bag?
  • How many times has it taken more than one person to find a missing item?
  • Are there any items we own that we couldn't locate within 30 seconds?
  • Would you be okay with having a—neighbor • client • boss • friend—stop by unexpectedly?
  • How many times have we had to repurchase a thing because we couldn’t find the first one?

Put your own spin on these questions. 

The goal is to keep the inquiry going until you reach even a small place of agreement. That’s why I call it Wheel of Fortune—you keep spinning the wheel until something sticks.

If order in the space is a sticky issue that’s already tense, do your best to dismantle that tension—especially your own—before you have this conversation. The goal isn’t to place blame. It’s to work together to find agreement so you can move forward.

But what do you do if nothing sticks, and you can’t reach any agreement?


If you have exhausted every possible way to reach agreement with your living or work companions, it’s time to face reality: the only one with a problem is you.

This does not mean anything is your fault. Again, the point of this exercise is not to assign blame, including to you.

But if you’re living in constant stress because you’re tripping over everyone else’s junk, your environment isn’t supporting you. 

And if no one else sees a problem, and they are constantly on your shit list because you’re mad that the house (or office) is a wreck …. Well, in that space, you are the one with a problem.

At that point, you really only have two options: acceptance, or creating space for yourself within the situation.

Creating space, or distancing, doesn’t mean you have to break up. But it does mean getting creative about your situation. 

Two friends of mine are polar opposites. She’s a slob, and he’s a neatnik. They simply couldn’t live together without fighting—but they’re married AND love each other. 

She happens to also be a contractor so she built him a house in the backyard. 

They still spend time together in the main house, but at the end of the day, he retreats to his own orderly space. This may not be possible or a great fit for everyone, but it sure works for them.

The point is, there are no rules around what a space “has” to be or what the “right” solution is. 

If an entire room of your house is a “sitting room” that no one ever sits in, and the thing that would make you feel at home is an art studio uncluttered by your beloved’s stuff, let go of the damn chairs and make yourself a studio that is YOURS.

Don’t let anyone else tell you what your house “has” to be.

It’s YOUR space, and the same is true for everyone who lives there with you.

So either find a way to agree about everyone’s definition of a comfortable and safe space, or work around—or accept it—if you can’t.


You can’t force the people you’re living or working with to change. You’re only in control of yourself and your own actions.

If someone else’s mess is driving you crazy, find a way to reach agreement with them FIRST.

Y’all have to agree that there IS a problem and only THEN start to explore what could be changed. 

At home, you’ll want to focus on quality of life; in the office, tie the clutter to productivity and wasted resources and you’ll do two things:

  1. Take the focus off of personalities,
  2. Put the focus on something everyone has a stake in improving.

Even if they don’t have the same standard of order you do, they should be able to admit that your discomfort makes them uncomfortable.

Now you have a starting point for change.

Exhaust every line of inquiry you can, and think carefully about how everyone else might see the impact of a disorderly space, even if it’s something they haven’t focused on before.

If you truly can’t get there—and be honest with yourself about whether you’ve approached that conversation as openly as possible, without blame—then decide whether you can accept the situation as-is, or get creative about next steps.

Part of what makes us feel frustrated and overwhelmed in a messy space is the feeling that there’s no TIME to tidy up.
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