Too many marriages have been sunk over infidelity, financial woes and extended family feuds. We’ve been lucky to dodge all three during our seven-plus years of marriage, but one source of marital friction remains a constant in our lives.
Comparing clutter to adultery or bankruptcy sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet marriage is a most delicate institution, one which can thrive when all the elements fall into place and stumble when the smallest item goes awry. For us, those small items are scattered all over the house, garage and backyard.
Our household won’t make it onto any “Hoarders” installment, but that doesn’t mean we’re not affected by the mess. The issue crept up on me recently, as my mood began to sour even though everything in my life – work, wife, kids – was no better or worse than usual. Then, as I stepped over one of several toys strewn across the floor, it hit me.
It’s everywhere, and even if my wife and I hit it like Mike Tyson punishing a tomato can opponent the clutter will return the next day to mock our efforts.
I didn’t mention my concern about clutter to my wife initially. I thought she’d take it as a slam against her housekeeping efforts. After a while, though, I had to say something. We need a combined effort to beat back the barrage of toy trains, stuffed animals and rubber balls. We both felt instantly stupid for not realizing the low but steady hum of tension in our lives came from the clutter.
So now we do whatever we can to remove, manage and minimize cutter. We sell or give away anything that doesn’t make our lives better (Craigslist, garage sales, the local Goodwill or consignment shops). We don’t go to bed without picking up at least some of the stuff all over the floor. We insist our four-year-old son clean up at least part of his room, even if he does so in tortoise-like fashion.
We also streamlined our lives. We gave away cookbooks knowing we could always find recipes online. We downsized our wardrobes until it hurt. OK, my wife doubled over in pain while I just winced. We stockpiled boxes of toys by category in our laundry room, and we cycle them back into circulation so the boys feel like they’re playing with new stuff every few days. We made bins and baskets are friends. And, the most devious step of all, we gave away some of our sons’ toys when they weren’t looking.
Getting rid of clutter demands stern measures. The consequences of doing nothing are too ugly to consider.