My Mixed Up Family

March 24, 2013

Marriage Advice: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!

My idea of a perfect living room via
A book that fits more with my reality-via Goodreads 
My husband and I have been married for 17 years... We lived together for 2 years before we married. It took a lot of adjusting of habits and forgiveness of differences to make it to the 17 year mark, and you might look at us and think that our differences are based on culture or race. But really the differences we have are either about personal preference, or are based on how we were raised by our parents (familial culture, not ethnic or racial culture.)  If I really think about it, I wonder if maybe the differences are generically gender-based. I've talked to many wives whose husbands do the same thing as mine! Does yours? Read on to see what I mean.

We moved into our house before the kids were born. It was the most living space either one of us had ever really had to ourselves! We had rooms with no furniture in them because we were just starting out and couldn't afford to fill them. Our zero-lot duplex felt like a mansion to us. It was minimalist living at its finest. I loved it! There were two adults in the house, and any mess was easy to clean up. My husband had some of what I considered quirks, but nothing I couldn't get over. Like when his wallet was falling apart and I bought him a new one--he kept the old one, even though it was threadbare, because it had good memories. Or when he kept his old tee shirts, despite the fact that the writing had worn off and there were holes in the underarms. Before we had kids, it was easy to load all of his keepsakes into a plastic container and put them in one of our empty rooms. The differences were easy to deal with when it was just the two of us.  I didn't really start to be bothered much  until after we had kids. Then the challenges began...

The empty rooms started filling up with kids. Our zero-lot duplex quickly filled to the brim, and we now have more people in our house than we have bedrooms. What once seemed like a mansion now feels like a tiny apartment. What used to be an okay-with-me practice of keeping things with sentimental value is now not so okay.  We just don't have the space. We don't have room for a tee shirt he got in a summer program 20 years ago that no longer fits and has holes in the underarms. We don't have room for that threadbare wallet that represents good times before we started dating.  And maybe we would have room if he would stop collecting more stuff! The program from the NCAA basketball game he went to 5 years ago, the ticket stub from a movie 8 years ago, the birthday card his mom sent him 10 years ago...

Besides all the sentimental stuff, he is also a bibliophile. He works in a library and checks out every single book that interests him. I sometimes think that the only reason there is room enough for all the books in library is because half the collection is in my house! And it doesn't stop there: paper billing statements, receipts from every purchase, old newspapers that may have some historical value someday, old iPods, cell phones, TVs, DVD players, any sort of electronic device that may someday be worth something to a collector---it is all stuff he keeps. I worry that left to his own devices, my hubby could have his own episode of Hoarders!

As much as it drives me crazy, though, I've found ways to survive his potential hoarding problem. Over the years I've developed a system. When school is not in session for winter break or spring break, I clean. I move things from their obvious location to a storage bin in our crawl space under the stairs. The bin stays there for a few months and I wait to see if he misses anything or asks about it. I keep the most sentimental belongings in a "keep it forever box", but pitch the stuff that has no sentimental value---the stuff that just "might someday be worth something." If he doesn't miss the stuff for those few months, then during the next big cleaning I move the box to the garage. It sits there for a while, and if he still doesn't miss it...during my summer break from teaching, while he's at work, I move stuff out of the house completely. So far, it has worked without complications except for the sinking worry I have that someday he'll ask for the tee shirt he wore to the basketball game in 1982...and I'll have to say, "I'm not sure where that is, honey."

The clutter, the mess, the saving of everything that might some day be worth something---all of that sometimes drives me crazy. I get so grumpy looking at my cluttered house and wish that my husband was the kind of guy who likes clean, minimalist living. But he's not that guy and he never will be. Letting him be who he is and adjusting my own thinking, reactions, and actions--that's what has gotten us through 17 years of marriage so far. Maybe it will get us through 17 more.

Whether your marriage is interracial, intercultural, interfaith or just a plain old marriage--the best advice anyone can give you is "Don't sweat the small stuff...and it's all small stuff." (credit to Richard Carlson who wrote a book with that title.)

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