“Clutter,” the third wheel. Clutter can be “too many” Things, too much activity (constant chaos), or distraction (too much going on in your mind). It all gets in the way.
Therapists talk about “clutter” in an even deeper way: attitudes, perspectives, trauma, past issues and more, which if not dealt with are clutter sources.
Clutter is an obstacle, or many of them, preventing us from moving on emotionally, and keeping us stuck, right where we are. Not unlike physical clutter.
Left unattended, clutter can break up a relationship. And it does not need to be extreme amounts of clutter.
Clutter is always a symptom. It is still real and has to be dealt with, but decluttering Things is only part of your solution.
This couple’s story is about Things, capitalized on purpose, because of the emotions and importance we assign to some of our Things. (See my resource list below for an enlightening book, Making Peace with Our Things.)
Clutter as Things: Sally Tackles the Emotions with Her Team
George and Sally both have what you might observe as lots of things, likely a “level 3” on the Clutter-Hoarding Scale.
Sally has worked hard for awhile at letting go. She has her own Things, plus her mother’s and aunt’s. She feels a responsibility to remember both women by keeping good care of their things. If she were to get rid of their Things, Sally feels as if she would be dishonoring their memories.
She and her therapist focused on developing skills to process the grief and other feelings about her dysfunctional family dynamics when she was much younger. Her Organizer helped her figure out what she wanted to keep and where and how she could put some things on display to preserve memories.
As her Organizing Coach, we created strategies to manage her life, especially when big changes were happening like these. Our work also focused on what she could control vis a vis the Things and systems which were hers versus her husband’s.
For Sally, all of this work meant she looked again at her own behavior towards her/their clutter, and also at what she wanted out of her life and her relationship. Dealing with her feelings and then decluttering was new for her, a big change, and like often happens, when you get unstuck, it means a new chapter is ahead.
Meanwhile, Her Husband Stayed Stuck
George’s things are items he is someday going to use to fix other things, and so he can’t have anything leave the house until that day. It’s only then that he will know what is useful or not. And he continues to buy more on CraigsList.
George, raised in (what he calls) a dysfunctional family, has a lot of anger towards his parents and his upbringing. He has stuffed his feelings, just the way he ‘stuffs” certain spaces at home.
And it is not only about their Things. Their life is positively chaotic, in Sally’s opinion.
Resentment Builds …
They each had been filling their days to the max, having very little time to slow down, appreciate each other, or ground themselves. They are living in the same home, but in parallel universes. There is no time to consider if they are happy with how their life/lives are unfolding.
Sally becomes more frustrated as she becomes more self aware. The Things and the crazy schedule really begin get to her. The resentment builds as she grows … and he stays stuck.
If This Sounds Like Your Relationship, What Can You Do?
Go away together, somewhere with minimal clutter. Sometimes, people will describe how they want their home to feel as compared to the serenity of a well appointed hotel room. This may be too extreme a picture for some of you, but it IS a place to start the discussion. Make the connection to feelings, a clear mind, or whatever it is that this serenity means to you, beyond the physicality of the clutter.
Know where your line is. How much stuff can you stand living with? As a temporary situation, could you isolate the clutter to particular rooms, which you don’t need to be in as often? As you deal with your Things, talk about how it feels. Be a role model without pushing; we each have our own timeline we can handle well.
Let go. Figure out what you can impact and when you need to step back. Without enabling the person or the situation. Or putting yourself second in the relationship. Clutter can do that.
Share with your therapist and your coach. See if they would communicate directly with each other to get on the same page. With your therapist, discuss marital and relationship questions; with your coach, about the practicalities of daily life in the context of your bigger picture, values or goals. Your coach must be well educated about where their skills and expertise end and the therapist’s begin. The coach is ethically required to understand and practice this, if credentialed.
Household/life – systems and strategies: Decide who will be the lead on each system, and play to individual strengths. If you’re not the lead, though, don’t fall into the trap of ignoring that system or abdicating responsibility. Communication, education and discussion are crucial, now and in your future.
Which of these strategies might work in your life?
Go ahead. Go talk about that third wheel. Difficult, but so worth it.
*If you work with me and seem to recognize yourself in this post, it’s really not about you nor any one situation, but a mixture of details.
So if any of this is familiar, please know how common and difficult this issue is for couples. It’s particularly true if there is a lot of change going on, or if one of you has ADHD or similar.
Call or write if you need support on this topic. I offer a no charge “get to know each other/goals talk” first.
Sue@CoachSueWest.com or 603 765 9267
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