Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Ghosts of Clutter Past; or, the post in which I convince my husband I am a changed woman

Late last week, the husband and I had another lengthy discussion about our house.  Usually, when such a discussion precipitates, I have been ruminating on the best approach to fix some area of the house that has been particularly bothering me and want to discuss my plans with Hubbs, and he has been feeling increasingly stressed out about a different area of the house and renews his offer to just go ahead and throw it all away. 

Hubbs and I have discussed this before: though it is faster to trash things than to donate them, it is not an acceptable or responsible way to divest ourselves of our excess things.  Many times, he becomes frustrated and argues that it is better to be poor stewards of the items than of our lives and that my way is too difficult to be successful. 

To a certain extent, I agree with him.  We’ve used his line of reasoning to success on a smaller scale already.  At some point, we started buying cases of water bottles because we could not manage to drink enough water any other way.  While I abhor even recycling these single-use water bottles and avoid purchasing paper towels and napkins because they seem wasteful, having pre-bottled water around has proved an effective way for us to stay hydrated.  Recently, we tried to transition to keeping a larger jug of spring water in the fridge, but I have noticed it has not worked as well as the bottles.  Until we can manage to keep a few glasses or glass bottles clean for the purpose of refilling them from the nice under counter filter installed on our sink, the plastic bottles will remain our system and our hydration will take precedence over our generation of waste.

As much as I can see how having a similar mindset to our whole house would solve the clutter problem, I could not accept throwing away a whole house full of stuff, especially when there are so many people out there who are in dire need of some of these things.  I am not thinking trash, here, either: I’ve gotten lot better at identifying and throwing those things away and recently threw away an old pan that had a sticky coating on it so bad that I could not clean it or use it ever again and an old watering can that was both full of holes and had its outer metal coating start to chip off. 

Besides, the trash-it-all method would not allow us to develop healthier routines of donating things once the inevitable re-accumulation would start to happen.  We will always be getting more things, like it or not, and it is more important to know how to deal with the excess than it is to simply be rid of them.

That should bring us to my plan, but this discussion was a lot more specific than what “usually” happens.  We need a little more background:

After blogging about the front room, we probably enjoyed it for about a month without any serious issues.  It was relatively easy to maintain and we used the space in harmony.  Despite this success or maybe because of it, we never made plans to move the brown couch that I desperately wanted out of the space.  I wanted access to the windows and to move some other furniture into the room instead.  Hubbs had no opinion and was happy to just have a couch there.

Frustrated with my inability to personally move the couch or even help Hubbs move it (it is that heavy) and our inability to prioritize preparing the space the couch was supposed to go, I moved on from the room and turned my attention to my bedroom.  I need to make a separate post to explain the bedroom situation, but in short, I moved a lot of things out of the room that I was no longer using in order to free up the space.  Unfortunately, this is what happened to the front room:


Hubbs did not understand why it was suddenly so necessary to purge the bedroom (this I will save for the other post, as well) and he thought we might better use that weekend day I randomly had off from work to clean dishes and catch up on cleaning the kitchen.  Despite his reservations, he helped me with the bedroom anyway, especially with the dresser, which I could not move very well on my own.

At the time of this post, the brown couch has a fraction of the clutter you see still on it and the dresser has been moved against a wall.  I was going to say it looks much better (which, overall, it did), but I recently added to the dresser area the box spring from my queen mattress, so that part of the front room looks and feels very much like a tunnel out of the show Hoarders.  Basically, it has taken me too long to address the room and it started to get to both Hubbs and I, albeit for different reasons.

Coming into the discussion, I understood only that we were both frustrated.  It was very confusing when the conversation proceeded roughly as follows.  For best results, use a frowning brown paper lunch bag to represent my husband on one hand and a shark washcloth puppet on the other to represent me.

Hubbs: Let’s throw all of this [crap] away.
Me: We can’t do that. We need to donate it.
Hubbs: It’s too hard and we haven’t been able to do it.
Me: Let’s try this new plan I’ve developed.
Hubbs: I guess.
Me: No, seriously, this plan will work.
Hubbs: Ok, I guess.
Me: ?

Once that question mark moment happened, we went over the “usual” back and forth from above about why we cannot just throw it all away until we eventually had a more emotional discussion about this failed aspect of our 7.5 year marriage.  Basically, I asked him to put aside those years and trust me that my perspective has since shifted, despite not seeing a lot of evidence otherwise yet. 

When we could operate on the premise that I had indeed seen the light and could proceed to making our space better in earnest, our communication was a lot better and we figured out that we had different goals for the house.  For Hubbs, it is enough that major furniture is always accessible and simply free of clutter that hinders the use of those objects.  For me, the organization of the room is more pressing: I need it to be free of clutter as well, but I need the room’s purpose to take precedence, meaning that the way the furniture and other elements of the room are arranged is essential to my enjoyment and ability to maintain the room (something he snarkily referred to during the discussion as my “feng shui”).  That brown couch was not supposed to be an afterthought for me.  While Hubbs saw it as regaining a useful piece of furniture, I saw it as another piece of clutter, something that did not belong in the space and that hindered my enjoyment of it.

What I realized I needed most of all was his loving support to help me finally tackle this ongoing and persistent problem.  I needed him to be on my side, and his “I guess” and doubt were not indicative of the support I needed.  Like a minimalist version of Scrooge, I had already been visited by the Ghosts of Clutter Past, Present and Probable Future and I wanted to run out into the streets hemorrhaging good will and donated possessions.  I just could not do it alone.  So, I literally asked for his loving support and received an equally forthright pledge to support me in moving forward.  He agreed to put aside our past failings and trust me, and we agreed to come up with a new plan that was limited in scope, achievable within a month and that would help achieve a mutually desirable outcome for the front room and other communal spaces.

Here is the plan, presented in the order in which the steps need to take place:

1.      Both of us need to continue doing 20 minutes of dishes per day.
2.      Move the dishes blocking the stairs to the loft, so that the loft can become more accessible.  We agreed to use the loft as a makeshift storage unit.
3.      Move all of the clutter in the front room to the loft for processing at a later date.  You could probably argue that it would be more useful to decide what to do with the clutter before moving it yet again to another location, but this method allows us to have the front room cleaner faster, which will aid in our general day to day functioning. 
4.      Move the couch to the basement, where it will become Hubbs’s couch and be used more frequently.  Some items in the way in the basement need to be moved to the “storage unit,” the couch needs to be moved into the basement bedroom if it fits and Hubbs’s desk needs to come out of the bedroom into the landing space at the bottom of the stairs.
5.      Move the dresser to the basement, so it can be used to store off-season clothes in a more attractive manner than what is currently being used.  I want to keep the dresser, since I like it and have used it since childhood, but it needs a new location and function in order to warrant its presence.
6.      Move the table for my comics into the front room and finish setting it up.

I know it will work, now that Hubbs and I are playing for the same team.  I’ll let you know how it goes in about a month and will probably post about some other topics in the meantime.


  1. I love the idea of a clutter management plan. We need to come up with one too. It was highly frustrating yesterday to spend an hour putting things away, only to have clutter fill the vacuum when our daughter came home from school and started playing with all her new birthday toys...

    1. Thank you for calling it a clutter management plan - I hadn't thought of calling it that, but that's what it is. We've struggled to find a plan that works, but experience has brought us closer to an understanding of our needs in this area as well as what we can reasonably accomplish. I think the best system is one that feels natural, addresses a concrete set of well-chosen priorities and does more to prevent the pile-up than deal with the aftermath. It's definitely a process of constant adjustment.