Communication Skills

As professional organizers, we primarily work with folks in their homes, their most intimate, personal space.  More often than not, one member of a couple tends to be more of a “minimalist” and the other tends to be wired more sentimentally. As organizers, we can find ourselves (literally) in the middle of this dynamic, and it can be tricky to navigate. While we are not counselors or therapists, we have had clients remark that we have “saved their marriage” by assisting them in creating a space in which all family members can feel comfortable.

This month, we’re excited to have Kara Kazemba of Ancora Counseling Services share with us how to develop better listening and communication skills that will be helpful across all of our relationships.

Various therapeutic modalities can be helpful for couples. Personally, Kara is a big fan of translating DBT skills into practice, while weaving in her knowledge of Gottman’s principles of communication in marriage. As she is also an attachment therapist, she also takes into perspective attachment wounding and how that could impact our ability to connect with our partner. When looking for a couples counselor, she recommends finding someone who takes an eclectic approach. Remember, one size does not fit all when it comes to matters of the heart and brain (or organizing!)

Here are some of the suggestions Kara provides in her work when folks are trying to create a better relationship with their partners, parents, friends, and colleagues. You may notice a theme, and yes, these are tips on how to fight effectively. Arguing and conflict is normal in a relationship and can be very healthy if done appropriately.

Keep it civil

First, (and this may seem like a no-brainer) zero name-calling in relationships. Seems like such a simple thing, and yet labels escape our mouths in the heat of the moment. If you’re noticing a desire to call a name (i.e., “Greg, you’re being an inconsiderate jerk!”), first, take notice of what the behavior is and your feelings. “Greg, when you want to toss my childhood toys in the trash it feels like you aren’t considering my feelings or memories, and that really hurts.” Labeling a behavior is much better than labeling your partner.

“I feel statements”

Did you catch that “feeling” statement above?  That’s a cliche one, but tried and true for a variety of relationships. “I feel _______ when you ________.” Keep it objective. “I feel disregarded when you want to throw away my childhood things.” The other person may have no idea how their behavior is impacting you.


Try not to discount the other person’s feelings. You may disagree about what (or who) caused the argument, the events that took place, or whether or not you should even be arguing. But if your partner states they feel a certain way try to avoid statements such as “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Feelings are valid and acknowledging them can strengthen your relationship and soften the argument.

Try not to assume

You can’t read minds and it’s possible that you’re also misreading the situation. This is a hard one for a lot of people. For example, “That jerk cut me off.” Personalizing the situation typically leads to more hurt feelings on your end. There’s a good chance that jerk didn’t cut you off, but rather they are just a bad driver. When it’s not intentional or personal, it impacts you less. Going back to the example above, it’s fair to ask what they think happened. “Hey, I thought we had agreed we would each make our own decisions about our own possessions – did we discuss this and I forgot about it?” This gives them the benefit of the doubt.


Stay on the current argument. It’s funny how a discussion about forgetting to take out the trash can dissolve into that time you forgot the wedding gift five years ago. If you find yourselves straying off-topic, bring it back. “I appreciate you want to talk about your Aunt May’s wedding, but right now we’re talking about the trash.” On the same note, try to avoid blanket statements: “You always forget to take out the trash.”

Remember, arguing (and organizing) effectively is much better than the silent treatment! Hang in there everyone! Relationships (and sometimes organizing) are hard work. We can assist with the latter!

Further Reading

Watch “Rightsizing Your Relationships with Kara Kazemba, Ancora Wellness” presentation for tools and wisdom on relationships, setting boundaries, and “fighting” fair.

Kara began her career with a focus on early childhood trauma and attachment after graduating from California State University, Sacramento with a Master’s degree in Social Work.
With a background of working in Child Protective Services, Kara entered counseling with an appreciation for how early life experiences, systemic supports, and relationships can lead to challenges in adulthood.
A Washington native, Kara has lived in Oregon for the past 8 years. She now calls the Hillsboro community her home and lives with her partner, three children, a rambunctious border collie, and an undetermined number of chickens. In her free time, music, cooking for others, being outdoors, and being around animals replenishes her stores.