I adore my partner. The way she looks at me when I am being a pain. The way she thinks everything I do is somehow magical. The way her eyes light up when I cook her favourite meals.
My heart swells when she has ironed the exact blouse I need for the next day, or gone that extra mile for me because work and school are overwhelming me. She knows how to say the right things at the right time in just the right way, and I love her for it.
But I must confess that behind all my love and admiration for her, there are days when I want to throw her out with all her clutter. We have been living together for the past 15 years and slowly, very slowly, the mess has taken over our lives.
In the beginning, it was cute the way she kept all the National Geographic magazines, or her lobster T-shirt from when she was 5. I thought it was romantic the way she held onto every bottle of wine from all our anniversaries.
Then slowly I realized that her office was being used not only to teach, but also to gather. All the rejected stuff that should have been put into the garbage was slowly growing in a pile we named “eco-centre.” I would ask, “When are we going to the eco-centre?” She would reply, “Soon.” A year later, with the pile bigger, the same response: “Soon.”
One day, I was trying to find something in one of our kitchen cabinets. It was overstuffed and as I cursed her I came upon a bag full of empty pill bottles. When I confronted her, she said, “They might be useful at some point.”
Then we began the era of, “I can’t throw anything away because one day it might be useful.” Her clutter problem was evolving at an alarming rate and there was nothing I could do. She began to intellectualize the whole issue by saying she had become an anti-capitalist and keeping everything was much more environmentally friendly. She believed that in the end her keeping and reusing was a much more sustainable way of saving the environment.
She had a point, and I almost bought her altruistic approach to the whole clutter issue. It made it difficult to argue. I am environmentally conscientious and I do my part to save the planet. I compost, recycle and try not to indulge in society’s belief we should consume as much as possible.
This almost helped her persuade me of the need for clutter. This phase lasted about one year. Till I came upon 15 bottles of peanut butter, which, according to her, were a good price so she had stocked up.
That was it. Out with the theory of protecting our planet. With 15 bottles of peanut butter, I realized there was something pathologically wrong with her. This was serious.
I began to find stockpiles of deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and feminine hygiene products. For a few days, I thought maybe she knew something I didn’t. Maybe she held some inner fear that the Mayan calendar was right and the world would end in 2012. Images of the Diefenbunker Cold War bunker came to mind, and an array of thick Russian accents and mushroom clouds invaded my wild imagination.
I started to take a step back and watch her from afar. Maybe this was the onset of some early form of dementia. I kept an eye on her. Her clutter grew, my vital space shrank. Then one day I lost it and threatened to go rent an apartment. We yelled and accused and then made up.
I, too, had strange ways and she kindly pointed out that, yes, she caused clutter, but not everything belonged to her. She pointed out areas in our home that were my clutter. Piles of books, papers, clothes, numerous pairs of shoes all belonged to me. I hated to admit it, but I, too, had contributed to the mess in our house.
It had crept up on me while I was looking away. I had noticed that I was more and more influenced by my partner’s ways, but I had chosen just to imitate her instead of battling it out with her.
Both of us had busy schedules. My work was taking up a lot of my time, and I was out three nights a week for classes. Her teaching privately had been busier than she had expected, and without realizing it, we were both drifting apart. The clutter became representative of our relationship, which was becoming more and more distant.
So we sat down and came up with a plan. We rented storage space, which helped enormously, although it is only enabling us to procrastinate the inevitability of throwing away all the junk.
We shared a few good laughs when I explained to her that I thought something was pathologically wrong with her. We laughed even more when she explained how she thought I had developed some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder with age.
The clutter helped me realize I was sacrificing the most important element in my life, my relationship. Her capacity to communicate so eloquently had attracted me to her in the first place. But this aspect had become one of the more troubled parts in our relationship in recent years.
The more we began to communicate again, the more the clutter resolved itself. We had properly laid a solid foundation in our relationship many years ago, and even though we lost each other for a time, we had somehow been able to come together again and rebuild a room free of clutter.
Mary Ann Davis lives in Montreal.