Marriage, Sharing Space, Sharing Stuff, & Control

Maybe it is nesting… or maybe it is common sense? I’m not sure. It also could be my massive need to purge all-the-things on a routine basis, but I have been preoccupied with needing to clean and organize and throw all the things away. November and December were filled with travel for work and for friends and for the holidays. They were also filled with guests in town, and that has lead to the piling of baby stuff on the other side of our dining room table (and the shoving of stuff into closets to be thought about later). I continue to be determined to keep this 1-bedroom apartment a sane place to live even though we will soon be adding another human to the mix. Unfortunately, it has become trickier the more gifts we receive from future grandparents, aunts and uncles, and incredibly thoughtful friends. We so appreciate the thoughtfulness, the adorable outfits (penguins! plaids! giraffes! monkey hats!), and the baby-necessary odds and ends. Now I just have to figure out a place to put it all.

But the reason I’m saying this could be nesting and it could also not be nesting is because I am a major less-is-less-stress person. I spent from 18 until …. now packing up all of my stuff and driving it or flying it willy nilly up and down the west coast to and from the midwest, within San Francisco, back and forth between apartments, here and there and everywhere. You know that feeling where you think you’re almost done packing but then you turn around and realize you have an entire dresser full of nick-knacks to sort through? And, oh look at the time, you only have 2 hours to do it, and oh what was that you were thinking? You’re sore and exhausted and hate your life? That feeling is my worst nightmare and I have felt it way too many times. I would rather have no things than have to move truck loads of things I use twice a year.

The problem is… I married Kamel. The keeper of ALL THE THINGS. The collector, the ebay selling king, the sentimental object hoarder. A Good Will, closet clearing, afternoon in our house almost always turns into a meltdown. It is a power struggle over my need to make space and Kamel’s need to keep (probably totally normal person objects) things or to be really thoughtful about what he gets rid of. His thoughtfulness is very difficult for my lack of patience.

When I talk about our marriage in depth like this on the internet, I always run the topic by Kamel first. I always ask if writing about this is ok. And then I have him read it first and give another ok. Even though I am incredibly honest and try my best to paint a balanced picture of what my world and my marriage truly looks like, I don’t use this space to vent uncontrollably about my husband. I say this, because when I asked Kamel if I could write about this he said yes – and then when I had him read the first draft he said no. And that is the first time that has ever happened. Even though this cleaning and organizing and what to keep and what to clear thing may seem small, it is not small for us. It is stressful. So this is the second draft.

I am not sentimental about objects. Maybe to a fault. I have no problem throwing things away or giving them away. It doesn’t cause me a second thought. If there was a show about the anti-hoarder, I would be the star. Kamel complains I am wasteful. He thinks it is weird that I have no problem throwing away food that I think has gone bad, or that I know I won’t eat. I’m not a left-overs person… unless we make more for dinner with the expectation of eating it for lunches. He hates giving something away that we could sell and make money on. I don’t care about this at all, my goal is to clear space so that I don’t feel claustrophobic in my own house, his goal is to never waste an opportunity. I hate having decorations out and about on surfaces. I don’t like having plants in the house. When I met Kamel he had several orchids (that were mostly just sad sticks in pots) and an entire book shelf full of movie memorabilia toys. He isn’t the wrong one (sometimes he is) and I’m not necessarily the right one (sometimes I am)… we are just really really different on this one issue. This is obviously not a divorce-worthy, but it does make me wish I lived alone sometimes. Sometimes it is really inconvenient to have to share so much of your private space.

Adding another human into our apartment, and all of the stuff that goes with him, makes me twitch. When we moved all of the furniture for the baby into our bedroom I was really proud with how well everything fit and how I didn’t feel overrun by it. But as the due date approaches, the reality of the situation is stressful for me. In my perfect world I would take entire bins of stuff that is sitting in our closet and just drive it over to a donation center and toss it in without looking back. That way I could actually put away some of this baby stuff in places with doors that I could close instead of being in piles against the far wall. But the spontaneous tossing of things just isn’t going to happen in this house and we have to come up with a compromises so that when we do clean and re-organize our belongings, we are not resenting each other the whole time. Sharing space, sharing stuff, and sharing major life decisions is my biggest hurdle with marriage. It was such a relief to be a grown up and to be able to make decisions about how and where I lived and spent my time, and now I am married and yet again there is another person who gets a say. There are perks to this, but it’s not always roses.

How do you navigate these issues? How do you navigate small spaces? Are you the keeper or the purge-er? I would love some compromise assistance on this one.

16 thoughts on “Marriage, Sharing Space, Sharing Stuff, & Control”

  1. When I first moved in with my husband space and stuff was such an issue. Negotiating whose stuff could go where and what was clutter and what are things we use in our everyday lives and need to have out was hard. Moving in to a new place that was ours helped with thngs hugely, but we’ve since moved into my mom’s basement and most of our stuff is packed up, inaccessible in the garage.

    Part of what we’ve done is create sort of “zones”. We each have one side table that can have whatever we like to keep out and as a general rule we try to keep our mess and clutter to our own areas. Doesn’t always work and we still get in each other’s space but when we have the time to keep on top of things it’s pretty effective. Even when we were in our old place we did similar things, where we each had certain spots in the house dedicated to our own things. It also made us each more likely to purge our own possessions, because if we wanted something new we had to get rid of (or find a good place to store) something else.

  2. Oh wow Lauren… you are the perfect compliment to Mark, he would be 100 % with you on the throwing away of things. He hates decorations as well. We do have 2 plants but mostly he takes care of them (I love animals, but plants leave me perplexed, they don’t meouw or scream when they need something and every time I had one it died, or did I kill it ? I just don’t want to know). Deciding on a christmas tree was hard, so hard it got its own post in the blog. I wanted a real tree, or an artificial one that looks real. He does not like the mess or the space it would take. So we have a tiny wooden tree. I keep all kinds of stuff and trinkets, have tin boxes (now only 2) filled with train tickets, newspaper cutouts, old cards, and the like. He even wants to give away / get rid of our perfectly working oven because he wants to get a microwave / regular oven combo. I don’t want to until our oven doesn’t work… it seems wasteful to me even if every now and then a microwave could come handy.
    Just last week we had an episode where I ended up crying in the kitchen floor because I did not want to throw away our ever growing collection of spare and ready to reuse plastic bags. He says we never use them… I say we should recycle, I can´t make myself throw plastic, what about the environment, sob. (We did end up selecting the “good” bags and taking the rest to the recycling container). He also came with a bag and make sure he threw away all the christmas present wrappings directly… which ended up in an argument when 3 hours later I needed to pack another emergency gift and there was no paper in the house.
    So you get the picture… I don’t think it’s nesting, I think , like you said, it’s about compromising and about having different points of view.
    But I think it is a good thing that we are so different, I am truly learning to live with less stuff, and maybe , just maybe he is starting to appreciate the little objects that make for a prett home or have a special meaning.

  3. Gurrrrlll I hear ya. I am the purger in our marriage. My thinking if it is not: a) something I use, or b) something I appreciate (and ACTIVELY appreciate – like, every day), then I don’t need this THING taking up space in my house. Take it to Good Will. And I actually enjoy the purging process, too. It feels rewarding and I always feel SO much better when it’s done. Lighter load, literally.

    B is…well, he’s kind of middle-of-the-road. He’s pretty good about getting rid of some stuff, but ANYTHING that was gifted by family he has major guilt issues over and WILL NOT get rid of. He also gets overwhelmed by the process of cleaning out/purging, so he just kind of….shuts down. There are two boxes from TWO MOVES AGO that he will not go through. He just clearly gets super anxious anytime he thinks about it. Whereas I see those two boxes and think, “THERE IS PROBABLY NOTHING IN THERE WE NEED THROW IT ALL THROW IT ALL!”

    We’re still figuring out the right middle ground on this…I’ll let you know if we ever find it:P

    1. This is my life. Kamel definitely went through growing pains when we were first combining our lives and getting *our* place. I did too about other things, but STUFF and sharing space was a big one and it has gotten a lot better. But trying to navigate it exhausts me when I feel the impending doom of baby on the horizon and I don’t feel like i have the time for discussion on things. We have two months and I don’t want to be tripping over myself or our stuff when I’m sleep deprived and navigating a major life transition. Sigh.

      1. I’m researching space-saving strategies at the moment…I’m MUCH less prone to be crazy when everything is “in its place.” Which of course means everything NEEDS a place…

  4. I am the purger and my husband is the keeper of all things. The problem I tend to have is similar to yours in that I get frustrated when he won’t get rid of things he doesn’t use. Like the tupperware container full of old work clothes that he may, you know, at some point, use again for something. He also has 2 small bookshelves full of cassette tapes and vhs tapes. He also saves old magazines. And don’t forget the comic books he’s recently decided that he needs to buy because he got a new job and wants to relive his childhood. Oh, and the nick nacks.

    Every spring and fall we tend to have a big purge session and each time he gets a bit better at being able to let go of some things. I am willing to donate anything I deem not worth holding on to, but this is harder for him, so we try to work on compromise. Clutter drives me insane, so he has to keep his things organized (whether by buying shelving, or filing cabinets, etc.) and if he does this then I don’t mind it so much. I try to work on being understanding that he has a much stronger emotional attachment to items than I do. When he was young his mom dragged him from place to place and he was forced to leave most of his things behind. So I can understand his need to hold onto things to a degree, because it makes him feel safe and grounded. But I’m sorry, there is no need to hold onto a pair of old boots with no tread because you still like them.

    You seem to have a good grasp on the situation. The only thing either one of you can do is try to be understanding to the others feelings. Frustration can run high in these situations, I know, so trying to be compassionate even when you don’t feel like you should be is helpful. I’m thinking of throwing on some music and having a dance party while we organize our new place this weekend. Maybe it will help. And if not, well, there’s always next time to try to make it a little better. We tend to end up laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation after a while because, arguing about a tupperware bin full of costumes is actually ridiculous. Good luck in your endeavor. It’s hard being the purger who wants minimal things while living with someone who likes “stuff”. There is a middle ground somewhere, it may just take a while to get there.

  5. Ahh, yes. The stuff debate. Lindi and I are actually pretty good about this— we’re sort of on the same page, and we get rid of stuff all the time! And yet somehow we both still always feel like we have too much stuff, and we do. Lindi is more on your side, and I’m a little more like Kamel, though I didn’t know it until after we got married.

    I think part of the reason I am attached to things is we spent a lot of time moving around when I was younger, so some of the only memories I have from places I’ve lived are attached to things. I am not a fan of this about myself, and I’m working on changing it.

    Sunday morning I was unloading the dishwasher while Lindi was still asleep, and accidentally knocked a vintage coffee mug from the 60s that Lindi adored out of the cabinet. It fell, too fast for me to catch it, and the handle shattered. I imagined how upset I would have been if it had been my favorite mug, and I spent twenty minutes on ebay looking at similar cups before I woke her up and had to tell her I had broken it. I told her I would replace it with anything she wanted, and she laughed and said, you were so nervous to tell me this?! It’s really okay! And I don’t need a new one- it’s just a cup!

    The other biggest problem for us is that I pay all of our bills and take care of all our Life Paperwork (health insurance, renter’s insurance, taxes, and on and on) and don’t always do a great job of keeping track of alllll those papers. It drives Lindi nuts. Ha. I’m getting better about that, too.

    It’s a process!!

    1. Ha!!! One of our big discussions was getting rid of kamel’s SEA OF MUGS so that we could actually fit in real person cups and wine glasses in our limited kitchen storage. But aww Lindi! I want to hug her for not freaking out. I would have been just like you, Helen… I totally would have been stressing and trying to fix before I had to break the news.

  6. Both Rich and I are part purgers & part keepers. I hoard books, he hoards movies & playstation games. He is a lover of all kitchen gadgets & uni-taskers, I complain about our lack of cupboards. Neither of us have very many nicknacks.

    I have a habit of moving every year or two, and love taking that opportunity to purge. Get rid of all the crap I haven’t even thought about in the past year. Dig through my closet. Sort out mediocre books. But Rich is still toting around a large wall painting that he doesn’t want to hang up, yet won’t get rid of. I don’t get it. So I just keep storing it in a closet and cursing it when I trip over it.

    1. This is kind of where we are. A lot of our apartment space is dedicated to C’s book collection. Seeing that he’s a Ph.D. in English and this is a key part of his livelihood, I don’t resent this. However, when we moved in together we had two adult households we had to merge, and this was really hard. We’re both pretty good about purging, but what we need is more storage space, which we don’t have. My mother recently moved to a house 3 miles away, which is great because we can use her basement for sentimental stuff that we don’t need immediate access to, but we really don’t want to throw away.

  7. Yeah this is a subject that I worry about. I really enjoy having a clean, well-organized living space. Clean kitchen, everything put away, nothing on the counters. Organized living room, well-cleaned, nothing sitting in piles. But at the same time, my bedroom? Almost always a disaster zone. And if I manage to keep the bedroom organized, the disaster zone is the closet. It’s almost like as much as I’d like to BE someone who’s very organized and tidy, I also need that tornado-zone. I go on cleaning sprees about every six months and have an internal battle over “just get rid of it! it just takes up space and stresses me out!” vs “what if I need it again?/sentimental value!”

    And that’s how I end up spending three hours in my closet, sorting through one box of knicknacks and old journals.

    Having to compromise with myself is already a serious chore. I imagine it will become a more serious issue when dealing with another person. The longer I live on my own, the more I become used to having my own way with my life, and the less I feel happy about adding another person to an already-stressful issue. Of course, I guess that’s why people are always saying it’s about compromise. But then other people say compromise means everybody’s unhappy. I don’t think that everybody has to be unhappy. Maybe it’s a matter of meeting halfway, or something.

  8. I am the purger (although surprisingly, growing up, I was the opposite). If there is an actual need to clear stuff out of your home for your new baby, the both of you should come up with a list which contains qualities of the items you need to either trash, donate, or sell. I actually learned this tactic from the Hoarders show, and although it’s simplistic at first (for example, in the show they put things like “moldy, smelly, broken” on the trash list) it’s actually quite useful for cleaning out your home. If the object is small and sentimental, there is no harm in keeping it. If it’s large, bulky, has no immediate use, or has no value, think of donating or trashing it. If it’s valuable, but serves no immediate use, think of selling it. What I like to ask myself is “Will I have this when I’m retired?” Meaning, do I want this thing to be carried around with me my whole life until retirement when I can look at it/use it/pass it on to a family member? Usually that answers the question of whether or not to get rid of it.

  9. Ooof STUFF. I am generally a purger but cyclically. And PiC was the keeper of just about all things plus collector of knick knacks. I *haaaate* knick knacks: cleaning them, having them around, etc.

    What’s helped me from losing my mind is that over the years we’ve been together, we’ve learned to accept each other’s quirks and preferences at least a little bit. Not wholly and not 100% – we’re not each other’s converts (and wouldn’t that be weird?) but enough to give and take emotionally. A chance to take a step back, so that “do we really need this?” or “I want to get …” doesn’t cause a meltdown.

    There has definitely been a time it was almost migraine-worthy and it took time to ask real questions, the answers to which we’d actually be open to. What also helped was conversation in between the actual cleaning or getting of new things time. That’s when it’s most fraught because you have something on the line. At some point, we started having hypothetical conversations about how we’d ideally like to see a few things change “sometime”. It didn’t need to be right now and wasn’t a push, it was just a chat about preferences and let us talk through a compromise we felt we could live with.

    I share the same phobia you do about having too much stuff so I pared down my personal belongings as much as I possibly could, but I still love my books and comics so I’ve been careful about not buying too many.

    I can’t handle waste, so I see Kamel’s POV on wanting to sell everything you’re going to get rid of and can’t throw out stuff so as much as I can, I insist we eat up everything instead of tossing it. That’s just as important as not *having* too much in the first place for me.

    For PiC, though, taking the time to sell things isn’t always worth it and I have to be open to his prioritizing time and effort over the money. Same with his love of knick knacks early on. I had to respect it in the sense that I didn’t push him to get rid of everything, I just explained why I didn’t like it, and surprisingly, he also came around to my POV in not wanting to collect more.

    I did, however, “harass” (as my Twitter friends, the traitors, called it) him to get sort through and get rid of all the from-COLLEGE boxes he had taking up so much room in the limited closet space we have. Ten boxes of stuff he hadn’t looked at in at least ten years definitely went over my line: it’s one thing if you keep and use it, it’s another if it’s just mouldering away in a box and you can’t remember what’s in there!

    It’s a process. 🙂

  10. Ahem, this is not to imply there aren’t things that bother both of us, still, and that it’s smooth sailing. We currently have a dead stick plant something on the counter right now! I don’t even remember what it used to be.
    But some things we can overlook if we can figure out the big stuff.

  11. I have been married for 15 years to an inveterate hoarder. Love him dearly, but the man drives me crazy with his pack rat ways. We live in the suburbs in Florida. Dear husband collects cars, car parts, comics and on and on and on. The side of our house looks like a shanty town, gross and disgusting. The 3-car garage cannot house a vehicle. The garage is more like a mad scientist’s laboratory filled with brilliant and messy projects. He is funny and creative. Working for a car magazine for over 20 years, I just have to sigh and accept that he has his zones and I have mine and never the ‘tween shall meet.

    But you have a one bedroom, with a baby on the way. Real conundrum.

    I am a neat nik and have a strong desire for clear, simple space. I just started my annual spring cleaning and decluttering and have donated over 20 bags to Goodwill in the past couple of days of my current whirlwind purge fest.

    I do not like the way our home looks, but I have had to learn that I cannot force DH to bend to my will. I don’t want him to. I would prefer he have that come to Jesus moment and decide, “I need to get rid of this crap!” on his own. It is easier for me to just accept that he will not get rid of a damn thing, but keep it in his zones such as side of house, garage and his study. Those areas are a complete and utter CF/fire hazard and I can’t go through another fight with him on the chaos. So I try to just focus on my areas and keep them as zen as I can while working full time. Problem is, we have more space then you and that creates it’s own set of grief. You are a champ at dealing with a tight space and kudos to you for it. We have no kids and four bedrooms. Ahem. I am embarrassed to write that. But each of the rooms, with the exception of his study, are relatively clean, simple and sane with just a few pockets of well organized stuff I plan to purge this spring and am in the middle of doing.

    Biggest clutter obstacle is both sets of our parents giving us STUFF. Learn to say no, right? Hard. Aging parents want to pass on certain items and then our home evolves into a museum of guilt.

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