DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: I love my husband immensely. He is a very, very intelligent man with many achievements in many areas of life. He is already an ordained Zen monk, and is now studying to be an Episcopal priest. He also has a brand-new job, and is going through a lot of strenuous training to learn it (at the age of 61). I have no question that he is a dedicated learner, a smart guy, and immensely mentally capable.
The thing is, we’ve been living in the same small cottage for 20 years, and over time it’s just gotten much too congested. Every time I try and have a conversation about what we can do to improve it, he gets belligerent and starts nay-saying all my ideas. When I try to explain my reasons, he says I’m “discounting his opinion”, and things like, “I don’t know why I let myself get pulled into these conversations.”
Part of me is feeling neglected, that he can spend countless hours reading literally thousands of books about religious studies, yet he can’t even spare half an hour to meaningfully discuss improving our home — where we LIVE — without it turning into an argument. I’m left with the feeling that I should just go ahead and do whatever I want (of course then the work is all on me) to improve the house, without discussing it with him, since he seems to feel so put-upon by my wanting to talk with him about it. Of course, that will be worked into later arguments, when he says, “You always just go ahead and do what you want anyway. Why ask me about it?” So you see, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
In the past, when I wanted to update the kitchen, he acted the same way. So I painted the kitchen, put down flooring, and made the curtains myself. I saved for ten years to buy a new refrigerator. Now, he says he likes the kitchen. But I did everything myself. If I had waited for him to help me plan and execute the plan, we would still have the nasty old kitchen.
We don’t have money for official counseling, and honestly we don’t have money to pay someone else to come in and fix our house. This is going to be a DIY project, or not at all. I am willing to sell, get rid of, or repurpose/move my own items as well as his. It’s not a case of me just saying all his stuff has to go. I am seriously looking for a fair and equitable way to make the most of the small space we have to work with. Both of us have already gone through our closets and donated excess clothing. The stuff that remains to be dealt with is larger — furniture and storage for music and movies, etc.
I feel both frustrated and disheartened, and I don't want to end up in my 80s still living in a cluttered house, when I’m too old to physically get things done. I’m also sad that he can put so much effort into a part of his life that has nothing to do with me, and no effort into the part of our lives that we share.
Any advice you have to offer would be greatly appreciated. --- Big Life in a Small Space
DEAR Big Life in a Small Space: I’ve often observed that many of society’s greatest movers and shakers, and even those who have more modest but constant life pursuits, have had less than successful personal lives.
Like you, I applaud your husband’s drive to live a life of purpose, but there’s also the very old saying that “charity begins at home.” Perhaps it’s time to remind him of this precept. The approach may make more sense to him if he starts to grasp that his spiritual and intellectual quests can’t be complete without his providing emotional and material support to you, his life partner.
If that doesn’t do the trick, then just as you successfully, if gradually, got the kitchen you wanted, I think you need to carry on your decluttering without his help. He’s chosen his role in life, and I see no reason you shouldn’t pursue yours as the leader in all things domestic. And since he doesn’t appear to be overly attached to worldly things, he shouldn’t mind if you relocate some of the clutter-causing items to a storage unit or other location where they’ll be out of sight.
If he doesn’t miss them, hopefully he’ll accept he’ll be fine without them permanently and acknowledge your home’s enhanced comfortableness, just as he appreciated the kitchen when it was more functional and pleasant.
Besides, renting a storage unit is a lot less expensive than professional counselling, and would help make your home more livable for you.