11/26/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

When Your Housemate Is a Packrat

Okay, so it isn't the worst problem in the world to have. Your idea of a good time is seeing how many garbage bags you can fill with trash, recycling, and clothes to donate. Your housemate's idea skews toward saving every last little bit of wire he can get his hands on.

How do you live together in the same house until death do you part and be glad you are? My husband and I have discovered a few things that help -- a lot.

Divvy up rooms within the house

Darrell has a few rooms I walk through but rarely spend any time in at all. The garage -- which is no great sacrifice given our Minnesota winters can go on for what feels like three out of the four seasons. The family room in the basement, which used to be Darrell's office but is now his own personal storage locker -- where he stashes almost everything but his clothes and his tools. And the workshop in the basement, where he stashes -- among so much else -- that last little bit of wire I just mentioned.

In exchange for keeping my mitts mostly out of those areas, Darrell's a peach about the uncluttered feel to the rest of the house. It's a little pristine for some people but it's soothing to me -- and I'm a peach about telling him how much I appreciate that.

Divvy up zones with the rooms

We share the same office for a lot of reasons. The desk I work at has one computer, a couple of shelves of books and DVDs, and a few family treasures. That's about it. The desk Darrell works at is a mess. Can I just leave it at that?

I can't see his desk when I'm working at my computer. Good thing!

But every time I wonder how he can possibly put his hands on something when he needs it, he does. Clutter doesn't bother Darrell. He doesn't even see it. Keeping it at bay is a waste of time for him.

Clutter distracts me. So I keep my workspace clear of it.

We do what works, and we respect our differences where that's concerned.

Remember that all of life, especially marriage, is a test of focus

I can't remember who said this: "Every castle has a dungeon." Hearing it changed my life. Every time I walk through the garage -- or past the storage room in the basement, or through the workshop in the basement -- I smile. Well maybe not every time. But I do it a lot. Because until I heard that expression I never really thought of our house as a castle. Now I do.

And we don't just have one dungeon. We have three! So our house is a castle to the third power.

Maybe you've heard something else I did once, that 80 percent of problems in a marriage can't be solved. Darrell and I probably feel that way about the house, for different reasons. I'd change 80 percent about it. I'd get rid of 80 percent of the square footage, for example, and live in a cool studio condo. Darrell would be as relaxed about the 80 percent of square footage I'm mostly in charge of as he is about the rest.

Each of us focuses on what we love about the space we live in and the person we share it with.

Our house is a reflection of who we are. Works in progress, definitely -- and adorned with mostly laughter.