One of the biggest problems many people face while decluttering isn’t the clutter itself, but other people in their lives.

Whether it’s messy coworkers or a spouse who hoards years of possessions or kids with mountains of toys, not only are other people’s habits an obstacle, but their active resistance to our decluttering efforts can derail our plans.

So how do we deal with this resistance?

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer. I have several options, and you might try a combination of them and see what works for you:

  1. Get them involved as early as possible. Before you even make the decision to declutter, talk to them about what you’ve been reading about or thinking about. When someone springs a decision on you that will affect your life, you might be resistant. So don’t spring the decision on them — talk to them about it before the decision has been made, share what has inspired you, and listen to their thoughts instead of pushing it on them. In the end, they might not be on board, but at least you gave them some input and a chance to explore the idea with you.
  2. Ask for their support. After sharing with them the process that has gotten you to a decision to declutter, ask for them to support your efforts. Asking for help can often work — people usually want to help. Now, you can’t expect them to support you, as they might feel threatened and respond negatively. If that’s the case, realize that it doesn’t have anything to do with their lack of care for you, but everything to do with their insecurity about their stuff. Don’t expect the support, but ask nicely anyway. And understand if they don’t give it.
  3. Declutter what you can control. If you can’t get them to join your decluttering efforts, at least ask them to give you the space to declutter your own stuff. Make it clear that you’re not going to threaten any of their stuff, but you want to try working with your own possessions. This is under your control, and so you can get started with it without invading their territory.
  4. Lead by example & show the benefits. By decluttering your own things, you’re setting an example … and often this can have a positive effect over time, if you’re not pushy about it. Simply show how happy it’s making you, share the benefits without trying to force it down their throat, and sometimes they’ll want to join you. Not always, but sometimes. Be the change you want to see.
  5. Challenge them. Sometimes a challenge can be fun — I often challenge my wife and kids to different things, like seeing how many things we can donate, or doing pushups or something like that. Sometimes they’re resistant, so I don’t force it, but sometimes they respond well and we have fun together.
  6. Make it easy. A big challenge can be fun, but if people are resistant, suggesting small, easy changes can sometimes be the best route. They might not want to get rid of their cherished possessions, but there might be other things they don’t care as much about. See if you can help them, if they’re willing, get rid of a handful of things to start with. A small step like that can go a long way toward showing them that it’s not that painful a process to get rid of stuff, and can be liberating.

These are a few techniques I’ve found to be effective, though I realize they won’t work all the time. In the end, we have to figure out what will work for us and the people around us, and realize that we can’t control everything in our lives, and be OK with that.