It is often easier to see our own shortcomings in the lighthearted comedy of television. That is why shows like Modern Family and According to Jim are so popular. One episode of Everybody Loves Raymond titled Baggage is a great example of how we address clutter as spouses. The episode revolves around an argument between Debra and Ray regarding a suitcase. The couple argues over who will put it away after a trip. They both pretend not see the suitcase sitting on the stair landing for three weeks. Eventually, Ray passive aggressively sticks a smelly wedge of cheese inside the luggage to punish Debra when she finally opens it. Ultimately they decide not to let the suitcase come between them. Ray says with a hard-won-self-knowledge, “Cheese. I love it, and yet I used it as a weapon.” Unfortunately, many couples allow the metaphorical cheese-filled suitcase to place unnecessary strain on a marriage.
So what can an organizer do that you and your spouse cannot do on your own?
An organizer can understand how your messes are tied up with feelings of insecurity, confusion, and nostalgia – among many other things. For example, a pile of newspapers is simply not a pile of newspapers but a stack of potentially life-changing information which taunts everyone with its presence. One will not throw them out because they belong to the other person, and the other will not throw them out because a treasure could lie within the newsworthy depths. Both parties end up resenting one another for the pile’s very existence while not even recognizing where the resentment is coming from. What a mess indeed!
Poor communication—often the issue in every other area of marital life, is the source of many home-organizing conflicts. It may be as simple as identifying who is the one in charge of assigning homes for items, or who is responsible for putting them away; and it can be as complicated as a neat-freak spouse versus the healthy-case-of-clutter-blindness spouse. Many times a third party is especially helpful in moving both partners toward understanding and cooperation.
An organizer in your space, intimately present with your metaphorical wedges of cheese, can very quickly see where the breakdowns happen. They can make suggestions based upon training and experience—suggestions that have no connection to the years of emotional baggage between spouses. The suggested actions open up lines of communication, generally black and white, which can usually be heard more clearly coming from a relative stranger.
Children are involved too. It is just as important to communicate about clutter with children. As much as we would all like to be the ‘smuggle toys out of the house in the dead of night’ kind of parents, it is better to encourage them to get rid of toys – and even books – they have outgrown. As parents we should let children make the decisions about their things once they reach about 8 or 9 years of age. Let them choose their charity as well. This teaches great habits, and by cooperating with your spouse on conquering clutter and communicating about it, you are reinforcing the lesson by example.
What can you do without an organizer to clear the clutter in your marriage?
Respect. It does not matter how many holes are in that ratty t-shirt your husband bought at the Milli Vanilli concert. You cannot throw it away.
Communication. You discuss the Milli Vanilli concert shirt with him instead.
Compromise. He says the shirt is important to him; you say it pains you to see him wear it to The Home Depot. You both listen, and come to an agreement.
In this case I would recommend having the shirt dry cleaned then neatly folded into a small clothing storage box and stored with other memorabilia. Hubby keeps the shirt and wifey can breathe easy that he will not run into your pastor – or worse, his wife – at The Home Depot.
Give it a try on your own. If that does not work, a single visit from an organizer can get you jazzed about working together to make productive changes in your lives. Like marriage and life in general, organization is a journey, not a destination.
Jennifer Snyder, Certified Professional Organizer
Neat as a Pin Organizing Exerts