How to live with a messy person

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Impact of Being a HSP

Being an HSP comes with both advantages and challenges. It is possible to be too easily offended by people who mean no harm or who are trying their best to be kind. It is also possible to overreact to daily stressors or relationship issues, particularly if you become emotionally aggressive as a response.

However, being an HSP doesn’t necessarily mean that you imagine negative motives when they are not there. It is more that you perceive them more easily. Or, you may be affected more deeply by negative experiences, which is not necessarily a weakness.

Some of the ways that being an HSP might impact your life include:

  • You might avoid situations that leave you feeling overwhelmed. Highly sensitive people may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict, which may lead them to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable.
  • You might be highly touched by beauty or emotionality. Highly sensitive people tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. They may cry while watching particularly heartwarming videos and can really empathize with the feelings of others, both negative and positive.
  • You may have close relationships with others. They care deeply about their friends and tend to form deep bonds with the right people.
  • You may be grateful for the life you have. Highly sensitive people appreciate a fine wine, a good meal, or a beautiful song on a level that most people can’t access. They may feel more existential angst, but they also may feel more gratitude for what they have in life, knowing that it is possibly fleeting and nothing is certain.

If you know how to manage the unique features of being an HSP, you can make it more of a strength and less of a challenge in your life. To do this, it helps to understand what you’re dealing with, whether you are doing this for yourself or trying to build a deeper understanding of someone in your life who may be highly sensitive.

For HSPs, lows may be lower, but highs have the potential to be higher as well.

Breaking the Cycle

We then move on to the laundry—impetus of many a clash. Tom is a cyclist who generates mountains of sweaty exercise clothes, so he's in charge of the wash. The problem is that he lets the bag swell to a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float before he deals with it—and by the time he has, I tell Morgenstern, the clothes have basically turned to mulch.

For fraught situations, she likes to have clients ask themselves a question to gauge if it's worth the ire: What does it cost you? "Like, with the laundry bag," she says, "what does it cost you, other than your obsessive need to not have it pile up?" Well, it reeks, I tell her. Also, at a certain point, I run out of underwear.

"Right. So those to me would be legitimate reasons. Whereas if you're thinking, I hate to see something pile up when it could be getting done, that's emotional. That's a thing where you have to take your eyes off the stuff."

Morgenstern suggests we swap our ever expanding bag for a "beautiful hamper that's smaller, so it fills faster and has a lid to contain odor." Then she asks Tom if there is anything else that bugs him about laundry, and he says "matching socks."

"Oh, the biggest obstacle," she says. She suggests that we get socks all in one color to eliminate the matching task. "Unless your whole thing is 'I wear cool personality socks,' just screw it," she says. "Who cares?" We don't. So we ditch our socks, hop onto Amazon, and order black ones for him and gray for me. (Our daughter gets to keep her animal-festooned "personality socks.")

Keep your sleeping space clean if you can

As much as my kitchen is my favorite room in my apartment, keeping our bedroom clean is priority number one. While I can avoid a little bit of mess in the sink, clutter in our room interrupts my sleep, causes tripping in the night, and really seems to drive us both crazy. 

Before I go to bed, I try to pick up the little piles I’ve started making. Even getting things off of the floor seems to help open things up. Tackling one room like this consistently has really helped me see the little things that easily add up to make a mess.

A Clothes Encounter

One of our most squabbled-about issues is Tom's bedroom closet: It's stuffed so full that he can't even close the door. I've been pestering him to shovel it out for the past six months. Chapman suggests an opposite approach: "Don't mention the closet again. He already knows that you want him to clean it out, because you've told him 15 times." Instead, he tells me to give Tom a compliment every time he does another chore, like taking out the garbage or helping my daughter put away Legos.

"But why should I praise him like he's a golden retriever for things he should be doing in the first place?" I ask. Chapman laughs. "I hear you," he says. He explains that this advice applies to either gender and is not about bolstering a mate's ego but about establishing an atmosphere of kindness and respect, which is ultimately a more fertile ground for effecting change.

It still feels retro to me. When I grumble that Tom doesn't compliment me on these things, Chapman says that I can't keep score. I just have to suck it up, give approval generously, and wait. "As simple as that?" I ask, incredulous. "None of us want to be controlled," he says. "If Tom is feeling like you really care about him, with affirming words, he's far more likely to be motivated to clean out that closet." And once all the goodwill has been established, knowing that I want this task done, Tom just might surprise me.

Two weeks into forcing myself to praise my husband, right after Saturday-morning pancakes, Tom stands in front of the closet, hands on hips, and says it's "time for a rethink." Then—this sounds too easy, but it's true—he cleans it up. He tosses ancient T-shirts, arranges sweaters, and thins out duplicate items, like four camping headlamps.

[Tom: "I have multiples because you throw things out! Remember when we were about to leave for Europe and we finally found my missing passport in the trash? Nothing is safe, so I stock up."]

Digging out his closet took most of the day, but he did it all. I ask Tom later if he had noticed that I was pouring on the compliments. He hadn't.

Sigh. Well, it worked, anyway.

Find out their cleaning style

I asked my boyfriend if he considers me a messy person, and he, of course, said yes. But after talking it through some more, he clarified that it’s not that I’m lazy or don’t clean at all, I just leave a path of destruction in my wake. 

I try and put things away throughout the week,” he said. “You’re just an artistic soul and can’t be kept down by these things.”

He’s not wrong. I am so tired by the end of the day that I’ll usually kick off my shoes and bag in the living room and they’ll stay there. I drop my perfume when I get ready in the morning and it sits there. But Sundays are my go-to cleaning day. I scrub and organize and blast music, something my mom always did growing up. By Sunday night, all of the piles are gone. 

He would obviously rather things be put away as I go. Through this, we’ve found a compromise — he ignores some heels stashed under our dining room table and I try my best to remember the things I’ve dropped along the way. I still have my cleaning Sundays where I do the brunt of the work but I do a little during the week.

A Word From Verywell

Being a highly sensitive person means you are more likely to feel things deeply, whether those things are positive or negative. While the highs can be joyous, the lows can present challenges that can affect your stress levels, relationships, and ability to cope. Make a plan for how you will manage your feelings in difficult situations to ensure that you don't become overwhelmed.

How to Develop a Stress Reduction Plan That Works