My Husband Isn't a Hoarder, He's Just Sentimental
In the sixth grade, when I first made the switch from glasses to contacts, I struggled to remember to take them out at night. I'd wake up each morning thinking I was cured. My eye doctor reprimanded me constantly. To try and help, he switched me from regular contacts to the daily disposable kind when I went off to college. At the end of every night it was truly exhilarating to just pull them out of my eyes and throw them in the trash. No contact solution. No unscrewing the tiny contact case cap. No cleaning. Just extract and toss.
But because taking my contacts out was the last thing I did before bed, I often just threw them in the toilet, which was closer to the sink. Whereas the trashcan was clear on the other side of the toilet, adding another step to my nightly routine.
Image: Colorado College Tutt Library via Flickr
This plan worked out for a while until my roommate started acting weird. Seemed annoyed with me. Wouldn't make eye contact. When I sat her down and asked what was wrong, she explained that I was a pain in her ass.
Apparently, when contacts are left out in the air, they shrivel and became extremely hard, resembling a small and wrinkled shard of glass. And apparently, once my contacts were out, and my vision was impaired, my aim wasn't great. So often when I threw my contacts into the toilet, they landed on the seat, leaving a couple of shriveled, invisible shards of glass on the toilet seat for my roommate to sit on the next morning. After my laughter subsided, I promised her that I would never throw my contacts in the toilet again. I would take the extra step and throw them in the trashcan.
Then I moved to an apartment after college, my own apartment. I lived by myself and I could do whatever the hell I wanted. I, once again, became lax in my nightly routine. I would lay in bed reading until my eyes burned. Instead of making the effort to get up and throw my contacts in the trash, I often just took them out and laid them on the nightstand. The next morning, after they had dried into glass splinters, I would scoop them up and throw them away.
Then I got married and started living with a man who thought I could do no wrong and this kind of constant unconditional love lead to an even worse behavior: leaving the dried glass on the nightstand and not throwing them out in the morning.
After a while, the pile of contacts would become so large they would fall behind the nightstand. And when this would happen, they would embed themselves into the carpet. And sometimes I would awaken to the whimper of my husband, who had stepped on a rogue shard. But he was too kind to mention how my bad habit was hurting him. He refused to believe I had any flaws.
When we sold our house, after living there six years together, and were packing up to move to our new house, Jim and I would call out "New House Rules." Once, while I was running around the house looking for a light bulb, I yelled to him outside, "New House Rule: Keep all light bulbs in a central location!" Once when it was raining hard and Jim was trying to leave for work he yelled, "New House Rule: Don't leave umbrellas in the car!" And on and on. "New House Rule: Run the dishwasher every night!" "New House Rule: Hang up our coats when we come in the door!" A verbal promise of the different way we would live in our new home. Cleaner, nicer, better.
Image: Lindsay via Flickr
The night before the movers came, Jim was in our bedroom moving furniture away from the wall. I was in the bathroom packing toiletries when I heard him yell, "New House Rule!" I paused to listen for him to say the new rule, but there was silence. I walked into our bedroom to see him standing in the spot where my nightstand once stood. He was pointing at the floor. I looked down to see a pile, perhaps six inches tall and a foot wide. It was six years of dried contacts.
Or as some experts call it, rock bottom.
When the movers came and took all the boxes from our home, all the furniture from the rooms and all the art work from the walls, I felt a sense of relief. I put the extender on the vacuum and in one quick motion, with the sound of glass tinkling up the tube, I undid all the damage I had done the past half decade. I was giving myself a clean start. I handed the vacuum to the movers and walked outside to see how my husband was doing with packing the garage.
If my bad habit of extreme laziness made a cubic foot of mess, my husband's bad habit of intense organization led to a 400 square foot mess. Stacks and stacks of paperwork, neatly organized in boxes, drawers and fireproof tubs. Every cancelled check since the first one he ever wrote. Every bill he'd ever received, grouped by vendor and alphabetized. Every major newspaper's coverage of the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Presidential Election. I'd been in the garage many, many times over the years, but mostly we used it for storage. So I had never really looked.
I suppose I always knew my husband had a problem, if you can call it a problem. He's meticulous and precise, and he never loses his car keys or forgets a doctor's appointment. The way he keeps our checkbook makes me hope for an audit just to render the IRS speechless when they see his bookkeeping. I didn't know, though, that we had let the back of the nightstand, or the inside of the garage, get so bad.
It'd be easy to call Jim a hoarder. But if I called TLC, I know the camera crews would show up, take one look at the garage and its extreme order--and the lack of cat poop and empty egg shells--and walk away telling their executives there's no story here. With the movers impatiently waiting for us to pack up the remains of the garage, I looked around and wondered if Jim was, in fact, a hoarder. The slips of paper he saved about his health insurance from his first job. His orientation packet from University of Southern California film school. Every Star Wars trading card (three sets of each one, he explained; one to play with and two to keep in mint condition for resale). And magazines. Oh, the magazines.
As I looked, really looked at what he had saved, robust a collection as it was, I could see he had made choices. He didn't actually keep everything. He kept things that had meaning to him. When I found the first note I ever wrote him, just a random piece of paper with directions to a restaurant scribbled on it, I realized my husband wasn't a hoarder, he was sentimental, and while I was furious at the amount we had to sift through that day, I didn't want him to change. I didn't want there to be a "New House Rule" in which Jim was forced to throw away things that mattered.
Unfortunately, that wasn't how Jim saw it. He was angry at himself for weeks. After we were officially moved into the house and rid of our old one, he spent his nights and weekends out in the garage going through all his collections. He recycled bins and bins of papers and newspapers and checks and notes. He donated clothes and books and even furniture. I would peek out the window to see him shredding documents and cursing at himself by the light of the moon. I felt conflicted because, while I was loving how little clutter we had, I worried he would throw away too much, maybe even the stuff we really should keep.
Changing environments or life circumstances can modify behavior. My father-in-law quit smoking the day my husband was born. I stopped biting my nails when I got my first job out of college. Lowery gave up the bottle at 11 months when she discovered how she could shove avocado in her mouth by herself.
Jim stopped hoarding his life away once he really started living it.
In the new house I find that, so far, I have done a load of laundry and a load of dishes every night. I keep our jackets hung up and towels off the bathroom floor. We cook more, walk more and rest more, and not because the new house is magical, or perfect, or even that much better than our old house. It's just that the move gave us a chance to reevaluate our behaviors and an excuse to change. There's a difference, however, between a habit and a personality.
After a month of living in the new house I was tiding up the living room and noticed a piece of paper stuck between two books on the shelf. I pulled it out and noticed it was a piece of junk mail addressed to Jim and me, or "current resident." I wondered why Jim stuck this in the books but knowing him so well, I figured it out: It was the first piece of mail we received at our new home. He stuck it between two books thinking this was different from stacking it neatly in the garage. It was a new way of doing an old habit.
I tucked it back between the books and went about my business. I'm not gonna nag Jim about the piece of mail I found, mostly because this morning, I awoke to a very familiar sound:
The bellowing howl of a person with glass in his ass.
Read more wonderful writing from Meg on her blog "Meg Myers Morgan"