Organize & Clean

How to Harness the Power of Your “Tendency” to Organize Your Whole Home

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

We love personality frameworks because they offer us a way to understand ourselves and make us feel comfortable about traits that others around us might not understand. (Like: I need alone time to recharge because I’m an introvert.) But you can also take advantage of personality tests to let you thoughtfully hook into what makes you tick in order to create change in your life.

Take Gretchen Rubin’s latest book, The Four Tendencies, for instance. The Happiness Project author developed a framework of four tendencies to help each of us identify how we respond to both inner and outer expectations — like, you know, keeping your apartment clean.

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You can take a free quiz on Rubin’s website to help you identify which tendency you most relate to — Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel — to help you understand how you react to the world at large and then, come back and read on to learn how we think you can channel your natural tendency into your cleanest home yet.

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Upholders easily meet both inner and outer expectations and therefore are usually proficient at getting anything done that they set their minds to or that is required by others or an outward situation. If they want to and plan for it, Upholders will work through a list of decluttering and organizing tasks with little to no resistance. They seem to have it all together (and they kind of do).

The challenge for Upholders is understanding others‘ struggles to get things done in the same seamless manner they’re able to. Learning about the other tendencies and their weaknesses and strengths can help make an Upholder a less rigid, more flexible and helpful partner when it comes to household projects.


Obligers are those who have trouble meeting inner expectations and instead are drawn to meeting outer expectations. Others may view Obligers as people they can count on and ones who always volunteer when there’s a need. Over time, however, this can cause inner angst and eventually resentment for Obligers because they aren’t able to get anything done that means something to them personally. It’s hard for an Obliger to say no to others and yes to themselves. So an Obliger might help their friends move, cook for the school bake sale and volunteer to staff the charity 5k — while for months, the overflowing garage in the Obliger’s own home languishes untouched.

One thing that can really help lift an Obliger out of this rut is to transform an inner expectation (wanting to get the garage cleaned out) into an outer expectation. For instance, if an Obliger’s spouse expressed a strong desire to get the garage cleaned as well, this could help the Obliger because it taps into her sense of being motivated by others’ expectations.

Another way to create outer accountability is simply to block out time for something that’s important to the Obliger on the calendar. Just putting a garage clean-out date on the calendar can feel enough like a “previous obligation” that it will enable an Obliger to commit to something that’s important to them to the exclusion of other things that might interfere.

(Image credit: Sylvie Li)


Questioners resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations. Questioners ask why — about everything. Why do I need to go through all my clothes and donate what I don’t wear? Why is it important for the pantry to be organized? Who came up with this minimalism stuff and why is it so great?

While on the surface it may seem like a Questioner’s knee-jerk reaction is just to be contrary to everything, the questions are much more genuine than others might realize. And once a Questioner has a satisfactory answer to their questions about outward expectations, those expectations often become inner ones and a Questioner follows through with what she’s decided to do.

So one way for a Questioner to help herself meet organizing and decluttering goals is to take a moment to thoroughly answer the question of why it’s important to them. This may involve drilling down several layers: I want to clean out my pantry so it’s nice and neat. Why? So I can find things. Why do you want to find things? So I don’t get frustrated while I cook. Why do you want to stay calm and happy while you cook? So I’m a good role model of making regular home cooked meals for my children. And so I’m pleasant to those around me. Why is this important to you? So that I pass on good habits and memories in my family.

Suddenly cleaning out the pantry is soaked with meaning, filled with a larger purpose that the Questioner can completely get behind and the job is almost as good as done.


Rebels resist outer and inner expectations. They’re probably the trickiest tendency to understand and to deal with. (I can say that because I’m a dyed-in-the-cloth Rebel myself and I’m the first to admit that, man, it must be hard to be around me sometimes; and let me also add that sometimes it’s hard to be me!)

A Rebel will never declutter because that’s just what you’re supposed to do, and most Rebels would never confine themselves to a task-a-week type of group decluttering marathon. Rebels don’t respond well to anyone telling them to do anything; what they do has to be their idea and when it doesn’t feel like it is, Rebels can become paralyzed from doing even things things they mentally know they should do. (I told you it was rough.)

One thing that can really help a Rebel accomplish things that are important to them, however, is to tie those things to their identity somehow. For instance, you might be surprised to find a Rebel living by a prescribed cleaning schedule, but if a Rebel thinks of himself or wants to be someone who “always has a clean house,” they’ll do what it takes to make that happen, particularly if it’s a schedule they created for themselves.

So if a Rebel wants to be someone who isn’t drowning in clutter and is able to approach decluttering tasks from this perspective, those incremental goals will get ticked off, slowly but surely.

Often, the biggest hurdle to completing arduous home tasks is the mental block. Knowing the nuances of your particular brand of mental hurdle is an effective way to overcome it and finally get things done.