Context: My father was pretty disabled the last several years of his life. He was a large man, a complicated and emotional man, and the kind of man who could not tolerate any thought/feeling/opinion in his household that was disagreeable to him. My mother, his junior by almost ten years, was stuck in the role of caregiver for him for those years. One of the things Dad was strongly convinced of was that spending money was bad. Buying new things was bad. Buying new things because your old things were operating at a suboptimal level was bad. Buying anything with extra “bells & whistles” was super bad. My parents bought a new car on a 5-7 year average, never did they buy anything but the most basic model of the car, at Dad’s insistence.
Due to his severely disabled condition, Dad spent most of his days sitting in his recliner. Because of his weight and his difficulty getting up and down, that recliner was in pretty bad shape. We spent a great deal of time trying to convince him to let us get him a really good lift recliner that would assist him with standing up and sitting down, and he not only refused, he refused with passion.
The day my dad passed away, the moment we returned to Mom’s condo from the hospice facility, she asked me to take that chair out of her living room and put it in the garage. She hounded me for the next two days to take it to the dump.
I’m guessing she hated that damn chair.
It didn’t take her long to go through Dad’s things, either. She’s always been a very organized person, and she hates having things in flux. She wants everything where it belongs, and if the thing isn’t needed, she gives it away or throws it away.
Now: When your spouse leaves for a two year contract, they don’t leave a whole lot behind. I feel empathy for what it must have been like for Mom when Dad died. Our bedroom is populated with sparse remnants of my husband: things he didn’t use, didn’t really need, won’t be asking for while he’s living 2,000 miles away.
Do I go through the two drawers in the dresser filled with 5-year old paystubs, guitar picks, hair combs, handkerchiefs and eyeglass repair kits and clean them out? Do I leave them as they are? Would he appreciate me doing some organizing on his behalf that also benefits me? Do I take my closet back over? Do I pack up his socks and use the drawer for my own things?
As much as I love my husband, his pack rat ways and ability to spread himself all over the house are among those petty grievances most couples have. Our dining room table, every day, all the time, unless guests are coming to dinner, is covered with his laptop, various piles of medical papers, books, bills, receipts and notes. Not one pile. Five piles. Coming home to a dining room table populated by one book and a cat was an unbelievable relief.
In some ways, when he is home, it feels as if his presence prevents me from organizing my own things. I think it’s because no matter how much of my own things I organize, his clutter negates the effect of my efforts. He likes to have the things he might want or need handy. He doesn’t want to put them away at the end of the day only to have to dig them back out the very next; the sort of chaos this leads to can be overwhelming to a person cursed, as I am, with ADHD. The breakfast counter in the kitchen has every charger he might need, every pen and pencil in the house, three bottles of lens cleaner, five lens-cleaning cloths, his old pair of glasses, an empty glasses case and a small dish full of pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes. Well, it had those things, until I put them all in a container this morning and put that on the dresser in our bedroom.
When your spouse dies, you reorganize and you own the result.
When your spouse is gone but not forever, you could reorganize, but the results can’t possibly last, because people don’t change and no matter what I do now, he’ll come home in a couple of years and it’s a damn sure bet that my house will be returned to chaos and clutter within a matter of days.
I’m filled with this wanting to spread out and take my home back. This was my home before we met, and I went to great lengths to create space for him when he moved in. But if I give in to that desire, what am I doing? Am I pushing him out, leaving no room for him to return? Am I simply wasting my time, knowing that when he does return that we will not only have conflict over the way he leaves everything sitting out everywhere in every room, but that I will lose the battle and lose the results of all of my efforts to declutter and organize my home.
Is this an opportunity or is it a pitfall?