Well, I've been dealing with clutter for a while now and it's a true dichotomy. As it gets better, it also seems to be getting worse.
I've reflected on the fact that when I was single, the problem was different - a more organized approach and one I only had myself to blame for.
When I got married, I could appreciate a mess because we were both working and there just wasn't enough hours in the day to do things.
Now that I've been home for a while, I seem to be the sole clutter cleaner. I came to the realization that most of the clutter wasn't even mine. True, I had my pockets here and there, but a lot of it wasn't mine....the cats or chickens don't leave boxes lying about, so that left my husband. For some reason, our front room became the dropping ground for boxes of computer parts, magazines, wiring, cables, odd electrical connectors as well as construction debris, camping supplies; anything and everything imaginable. Daylight was being compromised in the front room because boxes on an end table were in front of the window. We had lost 2 sitting chairs due to totes and boxes sitting in them rather than people.
Dealing with the clutter has led me down quite the goose chase. I was "venting" to my sister-in-law one day and for some reason she wasn't surprised. Her dry response, "Well, I'm surprised you've not lost your mind before now" gave me pause.
I had to stop and ask why - I needed some history behind the behavior of clutter and as she shared with me, suddenly things began to make sense. She told me about my husband's upbringing and how after divorcing his dad, his mom immediately remarried a guy who was an alcoholic who abused both he, his older brother, and his mom.
His mom did the cooking and cleaning for the house and the boys, for if there was a flaw or imperfection, she wanted the boys to be spared and the blows to fall on her. Well, in abusive relationships, that doesn't happen - beatings fall on everyone. So, inspite of her compulsive cleaning of the house and the boys' rooms and constantly picking up after them, abuse was still there. Not only did the boys not learn how to pick up after themselves and function as part of a working household, they were receiving mixed signals as to what was expected of them on a regular basis.
Faced with these odds, who wouldn't say "forget it" and quit trying? Who wouldn't care about a mess because there was always someone to clean it up and take care of it? If you never have parents who are solid, caring, loving, and consistent, how are you to know love, boundaries, expectations, and how to function together?
I realized with startling clarity that my husband never learned to pick up after himself or what role he played in doing daily chores as part of a family unit for that dynamic changed, sometimes on an hourly basis. I was assuming that he knew that in my growing up, it was deemed irritating and irresponsible to let stuff pile up and not deal with it.
For the past few years, I thought that taking the passive approach would make him see things differently - make him see that I wasn't a maid and that chores didn't get done on their own....yeah, that worked well. I offered to help him clean, sort, etc. and we would get into fights over where things would live...there was no way to get him to see it wasn't a battle to win or land to be conquered, but a process to take one step at a time. After two years of being passive and my living room literally turning into a storage unit, I finally snapped.
We had a snow day a couple of weeks ago and I was at home. My husband was pulling a VERY long day at work (like he does whenever it snows) and I finally said, ENOUGH! I pushed, shoved, sorted, cleaned, consolidated, filled up trash bags and recycling bags...I went full tilt for a few hours. Through it all, though, I was respectful. I kept the good, the personal, the valuable, and weeded away the bad.
When he came home and saw the clean, he sat down and said, "Really? I know you warned me, but really? So much? So how badly did you upset my apple cart? Where did my things go? Where did you put it all?"
As he asked me these questions with wide eyes, in a fleeting moment in my mind's eye, I saw a small boy looking very confused and scared and small wondering what he had done to deserve such a thing as his possessions being moved and rifled through. I realized with startling clarity that he was still very much a small boy who didn't know how to clean up his toys, make his bed, or pick up his room. He was a small boy who would come home to find his world torn apart....he was a young man who came home three days before his wedding to find his possessions in the parking lot and his fiance nowhere to be found.
I could have wept at this point. It hit me - I didn't think about the boy inside the man. All I knew is that I was tired of tripping over stuff in the living room for two years and I was being forced to deal with his mess. Calmly and with love, I told him I put most of the things in the basement on shelves and that there was some trash but I consolidated his stuff, and the remaining boxes were those he had to deal with for they dealt with his work.
Then, after going into the basement to make sure, he calmed down. Looking at the empty chairs and clear end table, and his things sorted in boxes for more work, he was in awe and said something that made those frustrating hours worthwhile; "Thanks. I never know where to start and it's always so overwhelming."
I realized that it's only been now, that we've been married for over five years, that my husband has felt secure enough - in himself, his job, life, his psyche - that he would let me help him.
So. I've learned a valuable lesson here. My husband wasn't trying to be difficult by not putting things away. He honestly didn't know how. Maybe I had to be married for 5 years and get to know my sister-in-law, the holder of many family secrets. Perhaps I had to separate myself from my own upbringing ....
I learned that part of marriage is making things work for you and your spouse....in different ways, different dimensions....It is also about healing the past. I can't re-do his childhood, but I can make Now a better place to be in.
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