Just One Box

I’m a horrible housekeeper and always have been. I have learned to tolerate a lot of clutter that would drive other women crazy. I have a place in my house that even I refer to in my head as “the embarrassment.” It started with a box that I put down in front of my desk, thinking, “Its just one box. I’ll take care of that later.” One box became two boxes became boxes and bags and tubs and laundry baskets all jumbled and falling into each other. The kids began to use that as their catch-all place, too. I have only a vague idea of what all is there. I considered taking a picture to include here, but it’s way too embarrassing even for that. I haven’t been able to sit at my desk in . . . I don’t even remember how long. I’m sitting at the kitchen table now (which I can do only because I cleaned it yesterday).

The embarrassment is a disaster, and I really do mean to tackle it. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve tried sitting and staring at it, but that doesn’t work any better than staring at my closet in the morning and expecting a new wardrobe to appear. I’ve stopped attempting to clean anything in that room now. What’s the point of vacuuming the floor when there’s a huge pile that takes up half the room? It isn’t like a clean carpet is going to miraculously hide my mess. For the most part, I’ve just gotten so used to it that I barely notice it. When I look at it with fresh eyes (I’m staring at it right now), I wonder how on earth it got to where it is. One thing piled on another thing and I got so used to it as it grew that I just take it for granted.

Our sons wanted to invite their girlfriends over for a cookout yesterday, so we decided it might be a good time to tackle the downstairs and try to get it in some semblance of order. We discovered that the plug on our vacuum had been damaged beyond repair, so my husband and daughter made an emergency run to get a new vacuum while I made potato salad. They came back with a fancy new vacuum and even argued over who “got” to vacuum. Awesome!

Apparently, all the store had was bagless vacuums. My daughter was so enamored with our new vacuum that after she did the front room, the stairs, and the hall, she tackled the room with my giant mess—not the mess itself, but the carpet around it. Oh, the horror! Those bagless vacuums are quite distressing. Did you know you can see all your dirt? Just a quick swipe around the room filled the canister with fluffy blossoms of dog fur and what looked like old ground-in dirt. Ew. I much preferred sucking my dirt into a bag that doesn’t let you see what’s there. You can pretend the dirt and fur aren’t as awful as you somehow suspect they are. There’s something about coming face-to-face with your ground-in dirt that is humbling. My daughter kept vacuuming that carpet until no more dirt came up. Finally, I looked at the canister and smiled. Because I was looking at the canister face-to-face, I knew that the carpet was really clean.

Is working on cleaning up a marriage any different, really? The giant mess started as just one box that I wanted to put off until later. Because I didn’t deal with it, it attracted more mess and affected the carpet around it. It threatened to take over the entire room, which I then neglected.

Our marriage problems began with just one box that I didn’t want to deal with, and before I knew it, it was twenty years later, we were both unhappy, and we had no idea where to start to tackle it. It wasn’t until I began to just clean up what I could see, one patch at a time, that I knew we were making a dent in the pile. And the only way I began to know we were truly cleaning up our marital mess was to look the dirt straight in the eyes. I’ve stared starkly at so many of my flaws, sins, and bad habits. If I hadn’t seen them face-to-face, it would have been easy to set them aside in the “I’ll get to it later” section of my mind. Instead, I can’t pretend they aren’t as bad as they are. And because I can see what we’re doing, as we get through one patch, I am completely assured that things really are getting clean.

The longer you wait, the bigger the mess grows and the harder it becomes to tackle it. If you have some work to do on yourself or your marriage, start now. Putting it off won’t make it any easier.

Today, I filled one box with recyclables from the mess. It’s a start, right?

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15 Comments on “Just One Box”

  1. It amazes me how much we are alike. But I couldn’t agree with you more, that one should start working on it NOW. One thing my DH and I have been talking about is how can we help other couples to not get where we got. One of the things that I’ve wished for myself and will advise is, to get help early on. Don’t let troubles rise and not work through them so that resentment and bitterness can start taking root in the marriage. Those are very destructive to any person and any relationship.

  2. I’ve always believed that the status of my home is a direct reflection of what’s going on inside of me – sort of like a barometer. If there’s physical clutter in my bedroom, then there’s probably some emotional clutter (baggage!) in my bedroom. If there’s physical clutter packed away in my closets, then there’s probably some emotional clutter I’m keeping hidden behind closed doors to keep the part of me that people see looking okay. When I’m sorting through and dealing with the physical clutter, I generally find that I’m also sorting through my thoughts and dealing with emotional clutter. Physical de-cluttering becomes very emotionally therapeutic!

    I’ve also noticed that the longer I hang on to something, the harder it is to get rid of it. Once in a while I run into one of those things that you just don’t know what to do with… so it keeps getting moved around haphazardly. It sits, and then it’s moved, and then it sits, and it’s moved again but it’s never properly dealt with. And then it’s a burden – which is even less fun to deal with.

    I’m currently in the process of cleaning out our crawl space – which holds 19 years accumulation of my children’s clothing, toys, books, homeschool material, etc. – in preparation for a huge garage sale. It’s heart-wrenching to part with some of their things (I’m so sentimental!) but I realize hanging on to all of it is a big weight, actually a burden. My oldest will be 19 in June and it’s time to let go of his childhood. We are blessed to have 3 children, but it’s also time to let go of our hopes of having any more. (We’ve always wished for more, but we are now 44, so not so likely…)

    Anyway, congratulations on removing one box! It really is a blessing – so freeing to get rid of the clutter.

  3. I started to read your blog after discovering it through “The Marriage Bed” and, although I haven’t had a refusing partner, I loved the posts from the beginning (yes, you guessed right, I’m male and married!) Thank you for sharing your intimate experiences. I’m sure it has helped many a couple, certainly I have been blessed reading it. You write quite well. Have you thought of publishing a book? No need to identify yourself for that, and not necessarily now – but do think about it.

        1. Thanks for sharing the post. I do have a Facebook page and just haven’t made it public yet. A Facebook page adds a layer of additional attention and work I’m not sure I want to absorb into my life just yet, especially given the nature of the subject matter. (I liked your page a while ago, using my personal account.)

        2. I felt the same way and put it off for over a year. Finally bit the bullet. You are right about adding another of attention and work. Don’t do it until you have the time to give it some regular attention.

  4. Thank you for sharing your heart and helping others. Fabulous job getting started on the pile. One box at a time. 🙂

  5. How do you even start? I try to talk to my husband but he doesn’t want to listen to me at all. If he talks he yells. I hate it. I am totally fed up. He’s always put me off by telling me this isn’t the time. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I try to no avail. What do I do? Even if I tell him I need to talk about something; it doesn’t matter to him. I don’t even think I’m on his radar. HELP!!!!

    1. There is part of me that wants to ask questions about what you say, about what you’re trying to talk about with him, when, etc. But I think there are more fundamental things to think about. What are you doing to take care of your own soul? How is your walk with God? What are you doing to help yourself understand that you cannot get another person to change, that you can only change yourself?

      So I would say this is your first step. Work on being the best “you” you can be, so you know you are bringing your best to the marriage. Seek God in prayer about this.

      Meanwhile, take a hiatus from trying to have the conversations your husband avoids. Instead, pray for him and his relationship with God.

      I was working on our marriage for months before my husband realized it. He got so sad and stopped trying to engage with me. That space gave me a break from constantly feeling like he was wanting something and I was failing. And that’s when my heart began to soften. You can work on your contributions to the marriage even when the other person won’t.

      Tell your husband–or send him a text message or leave him a note on his pillow–that you are backing off for a time. “I love you and want our marriage to work for both of us. You seem upset when I try to talk about x. I want you to know that I will stop for a while. In about a month, I will see a counselor to help me work on my unhappiness in our marriage. I would like for us to do it together, but if you aren’t interested, I will go on my own.”

      I’m sorry you are feeling unheard in your marriage. That is not an easy place to be. Work first on you. It is always the best place to start.

      1. I have a relationship with God. I know he’s changed me. I know I till have a far way to go & thats where I am having difficulty remaing in faith or hope. Right now he asked my opinion about something thats stressful. I suggested just to tell the facts & it caused an argument. Something that simple is rediculous. I am t the end of mr rope with him. I have a hard time acting godly, nice or anything around him. We don’t really have a relatirelationsilp here. I want to live as God wants me to but I can’t with him. I’m am soooooo ready to leave. Short & sweet; he ceated on me about 8 years back, I found out & he’s been mad at me. I didn’t do anything other then finding out about it. I stayed because my daughter asked me to & then could actually say I loved him. Now with all of this strife I honestly can’t say that anymore. I am fed up with it all but have nowhere to go. I am 56, parents both gone so nobody to lean on for support. I read the Bible & I read Joyce Meyer’s books to help me act, think, behave, respond differently & also I’ve been able to see myself through her examples & what she has gone through. I am fine with everybody else but not when it comes to my husband. I really need help or advise. I have been doing this all on my own relying on God & Joyce’s books & her shows. I am lost

        1. Have you asked a pastor or counselor for help in sorting through this? Do you have friends who you know love you and will be honest with you about what they see? That is where I would start–seek real-life help from people who can let you cry with them and then help you figure out how to respond through all the layers of your relationship.

        2. Sandy,
          I’m sorry for the struggles you are having in your marriage. Not sure what they are specifically, but often when there is a lack of communication like you are expressing there is something much deeper happening.
          I would recommend Leslie Vernick’s books and blog. She is a Christian counselor and when going through an emotionally destructive marriage myself years ago, her sound biblical advice helped me to clearly see my situation and learn what options I had.

          I hope this was okay to put this information on here. 🙂

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