Musical boxes, I like that.
I talked to him about this again. He seems to understand that I can't deal with so much "stuff", the "stuff" makes it hard to keep the space clean, and the really important stuff would be easier to find if there was less "stuff" in general.
Like you, I am most comfortable when my home is in "drop by" condition. It usually is. But right now, the door to the office is always shut. I gave him the office. Now the walls and carpet are stained. Until I got in there with him, there were boxes cluttering the perimeter of the room, and a pile of papers under the printer. The closet was crammed full.
I think the staining was what made me realize that he needs my help. I had a 2-day long meltdown when I went in and moved the furniture he had in front of that wall stain. I nearly cried. I drank. I screamed, I yelled, and I accused. I need to be less judgemental. His mother and I don't have a great history, and frankly, I'm a judgy person. We talked about it again recently, and I think I did a good job of relating to him, of reserving judgement on people... OK, admitting that I should be reserving judgement for situations and not for people, and agreeing that the entire house must be organized and sanitary. I told him again that I wish his childhood had a clean house in it. I told him that I once loved someone dearly who lived in outright filth.
I had agreed the garage could be "his", but it's become a hazard. He lacks the ability to organize his own possessions. But we're in it together, and I told him that I would help him stay clean and tidy, and I had no intention of making off with all his treasures. He admitted the garage is not enjoyable, and seems to have accepted help. He seems ready to really work at it constantly.
We can do this! I have realized that I cannot have cream walls, carpet, sheets or towels. I have realized that he is not actually trying to undo all my hard cleaning work just by existing. I've remembered that I am married, and for us, that means until death. I will eventually stop thinking about burying him under an avalanche of his own technical equipment and leaving him to starve. We can do this!
I just read a book recently about decluttering -- the book wasn't super helpful for me, but there was a wonderful bit in the introduction that stuck with me. The author said she had started her adult life as a terrible packrat, and it was interfering with all parts of her life and her marriage because they were just drowning in her stuff. And one day, her husband sat her down and said to her, gently, something like, "All of this clutter is getting in the way of the extraordinary life I want to have with you." This, she writes, was the turning point for her in her pack-rat habits, and she was able to change them altogether.
DH and I have had conversations like this, too, and this language was helpful for me. We both like having people over for dinner, for example, but when there's piles of stuff on every surface because there is literally nowhere else to put it, then we're both embarrassed to invite people into our home. So our extraordinary life is being curtailed by our stuff. It's gotta go.
It helps me to try and keep things in some perspective. When we got married, DH had been living here 6 or 7 years already, and the house was a total bachelor pad. All of his bills and other papers were piled on the dining room table and chairs. He stored tools and broken appliances in the pantry, rather than food. He had a kitchen drawer dedicated to plasticware, because he never bothered to use or wash real forks or spoons. His Christmas decorations were stored in the bedroom closet. Over time things have gotten much, much better, but now I have new clutter problems that bother me. I've found that I have much more patience with the current clutter-battles if I remember where we started!
In terms of actually addressing the behavior, one other piece of advice I have is to try to identify the motivation for keeping it. Ask the hoarder (or yourself): Why am I keeping this stuff? Is it sentimental attachment? A fear that others may not value the item(s) in the same way that I do? Am I afraid that I will not have the money to buy this again if I decide I want it later? Do I have trouble figuring out where it all should go? Is the pile of stuff just too big for me to get motivated to clean it out?
After asking a lot of these questions, I identified which of them apply to DH and to which items, and I purge accordingly. For him, a lot of the trouble is this last one -- he just can't get motivated to clean it out, so he justifies keeping it with all sorts of other excuses. When I provide the motivation, he does pretty well about getting rid of stuff. He's always a bit grumpy about it, and complains later -- "I still can't believe you made me get rid of my ________ [treasured piece of junk]" is a common theme in our house -- but the important thing is, he's part of the process, he agrees to the change, and in the end, I have one more drawer or corner or closet or shelf available for our family's needs.
DH also gets anxious about change. He does not like anything to change in the house, and he'd rather keep something junky than change the order of things in the house. In order to get him to make any changes or throw anything away, I have to first remove it from its 'home' and put it somewhere else. It is easier for him to let go of something if it is not in its accustomed place anymore. This worked great when we had a garage sale -- I took everything of his that I wanted to get rid of and put it in the garage, and then told him that I was not getting rid of anything unless he gave permission, so then he had to go through it and "save" everything he refused to part with. I couldn't believe how much junk he agreed to sell once it was already in the garage (and saving it would mean that he had to put forth the effort to bring it back inside and find a place to put it).
Oh, and one more thing -- I've found that DH is much more willing to sell things than he is to give them away. I think he figures that if someone is willing to pay good money for something, that person might value it as much as DH does, and therefore he can let it go. Garage sales, Craigslist, Ebay and consignment sales have been wonderful motivators for me to persuade him to get rid of stuff. And the extra money comes in really handy, too.
I like that. I wouldn't do that with any of dh's truly personal things, like clothes or the things on his dresser. But things that are sort of his, like tools and household stuff in the garage, computer equipment in the office -things that are needed for living in this house- I think he'd work with this.