A lot of moms talk about being “touched out” at the end of the day. Little hands are constantly pawing at us, clinging to our legs, tugging on our clothes, climbing into our laps, and often into our beds. Personally, it doesn’t bother me all that much. One of my love languages is physical touch, and I receive their touches as someone sharing their love with me. If my kid climbs into my lap or rests their head on my chest, that’s the purest form of affection I can understand. There are days when it gets to be overwhelming, like the breastfeeding months where you always always ALWAYS have a kid up in your business, whether it’s the nursing baby or the sibling yanking my arm so I’ll get him a snack while I’m nursing the baby. For the most part, though, it’s not the touching that wears me out.
I’ve started following Marie Kondo on Instagram, and a recent post absolutely spoke to my soul. You know her as the tidying guru, but she often has very simple and effective ways to explain every day junk that cut right to the heart of my problems. The post talked about an excess of “visual information” coming from clutter in your space. The more I thought about that phrasing, the more I decided she was a genius. That is absolutely the problem with what I see in my home. Every stack of toys, shelf of games, overflowing bin, or stray sock gives my brain information it doesn’t want or need. As if every instance of an item out of place is a sticky hand tugging on my leg.
We recently replaced our bed, and when I walked into the bedroom and saw the floor without the bed I felt complete peace. Hubs had propped the mattress against a back wall and removed the old bed before bringing in the new one, and there was nothing. And it activated all the pleasure sensors in my brain. Unfortunately, we need to have a bed. But the new frame is just a base without a headboard or footer, so it’s better for my over-touched brain than the tufted header of the previous bed.
I go through cycles of purging and nesting. I like to feather my nest and make a comfortable and inviting home for my family, but eventually I get nauseated by the sight of things upon things upon things and start to throw them away/donate stuff. I clear out everything and feel better, and a few months later I think “ugh, there is no color in here. I need a pop of color!” So I search for a subtle pop, and maybe one more, and everything is cheerful for a few months, and then I freak out and want to throw away all our furniture again.
I am starting to learn my own weaknesses, and no longer immediately throw things away. If I’m getting itchy all over just looking at the play room or the pop of color couch cushions, I’ll throw stuff in a closet for a few weeks and see how I feel. Sometimes I circle back and realize we need couch cushions because our couch is really deep and I have short legs, so perhaps that isn’t a good place to practice minimalism.
Living with children who adore every broken toy they’ve ever touched is my biggest challenge. Having a husband who loves to collect things is my second biggest challenge. I can’t just throw stuff away anymore, even though the kids’ stuff is taking over my brain, cell by cell, every minute of every day. There’s so much color, so many stuffed bins, and everything is big and makes noise. Sticky fingers are poking at my brain tissue all day every day. Some pokes are worse than others, like when you can’t be bothered to slide a book onto the shelf vertically and you jam it in horizontally on top of the neat line on the shelf (I hate this with a fiery passion).
I want to like things, and I often have to decide what will give me more joy; a coffee table book? or an empty space where the book should be? Every month I decide I’m going to keep my Food Network magazine so I have the recipes to make in the future, and every month I throw it out after a couple weeks because more than the recipes I want to get rid of a brightly colored item taking up space.
My husband thinks I’m a lunatic. When I suggest we go through a closet and get rid of stuff, he argues with me (he is a lawyer, but in my defense he was not a lawyer when we got married, so I didn’t know the life I was choosing). He can’t understand why we would get rid of things when our house can hold everything we own. We live in a suburb of a mid-sized city, which means we have a larger house than we would be able to have almost anywhere else in the country. Part of me is thinking about our next move, which we don’t even know for a fact is ever coming, but I can’t help but mentally eliminate all the items we wouldn’t be able to take to our next more modest sized home. I moved a lot, packed and unpacked a lot, and I would always kick myself when unpacking something that wasn’t really important to me in a new space. I paid to pack, ship, and unload this junk, and it doesn’t bring me joy.
It seems to me you are either from a family of purgers, or a family of collectors. I am in a mixed marriage.
Hubs loves to have stuff. He shows me photos other gamers have taken of their mancaves where the walls are lined top to bottom with video games, consoles, and memorabilia. Just looking at the photos makes the bones in my skull rub together. Clutter, or an excess of visual information, feels like restless leg syndrome for my entire body. Since I am the cleaner in this house, any shelf I can’t swipe with a dust cloth is unacceptable. If I can’t properly clean your piles of junk I will demand you do it, and then know that it is never going to be clean, and I have to literally avert my eyes when I walk past it, lest I am overcome with rage. After eleven years of marriage, I now know I should not throw away anything that belongs to my husband, even if I am positive he won’t notice. His love language is gifts, and if I really loved him I’d let him install floor to ceiling bookshelves with sliding ladders like in the Beast’s castle library in Beauty and the Beast, except for video game crap instead of books (but books too — he had seven German dictionaries until last year when I pitched a fit).
I loved this house when we moved in, because we moved from a place with 1000 fewer square feet, so it seemed cavernous and open. The more crap we accumulate, the more I feel poked and prodded by stuff all around me, in every corner and under foot. I can be all about that KonMari life, but if the other four people I live with are emotionally attached to everything they have every laid eyes on, it becomes difficult for me to relax in our shared spaces. I’m making an effort to make the bed each day, because wrinkled sheets give me more unwanted information than sheets that are pulled tight and tucked. I’m going to hide a bunch of stuff from myself and see if it brings me joy, especially the useless stuff (why do I buy fake plants? They don’t even clean the air like actual plants!). I’ve reorganized the play room several times in the last week and I’m pretty sure the solution is just to walk away. *mutters under breath* I love my kids. I love my kids. I love my kids….
I have been diagnosed with a touch of OCD in the past, so my need for order is not solely about balance and peace. I don’t like to see clutter obviously, but I also can’t stand for something to not have a specific home. Sometimes I’ll go on a buying spree and when packages arrive I am faced with the dilemma of finding an appropriate home for each item. Sometimes when I’m decluttering in a frantic rage, if an item is homeless, it’s trash. I have two chipped dishes in my cabinet and if we could afford to throw them all out and buy new ones, that is what I would do, because chipped dishes do not match whole dishes (yes I have been seen by a professional, thank you for your concern). Toys are given to my kids with a hodgepodge of bags and boxes to store them in because word has spread re: my problem with stuff. But those containers aren’t practical, don’t go with our current system, are mismatched and must also be organized, etc. Clutter is chaos. Too much stuff is a symptom of unrest.
When my husband shifts the entertainment center to set up a movie for the kids and doesn’t move it back as close as possible to the wall? Like, is he a monster? Why are you wasting three inches of space that could be openness in the center of the room by not putting all the items flush with the wall? Why, oh dear God why, do we have cords exposed? The appliances in the kitchen are placed in front of their coiled cords so I do not see them (POKE POKE POKE). Seriously, I’m sweating thinking about this.
When it comes to my kids, I worry about their acceptance of gifts as the standard practice when family visits. The gift is your presence, not your presents. What they need is quality time with the gift-giver.
I’m a horrible toy-pitching ingrate, right? I know. People just want to give my kids things they will love. But we have six kinds of blocks. We have three overflowing bins of vehicles that have to be arranged in a specific way in order to shut. It’s just too much. They play with a few things at a time and that’s it. Studies show kids are happier with fewer options, and we have an entire room of stuff to play with and the boys will still find one small broken toy to fight over until everyone is crying.
It’s hard to deal with this nonsense when it truly is nonsense to everyone else in my home. The idea of having a collection of anything but wedding china (which we never use and remains stacked in a hutch in case the Queen or my grandmother visits) is absolutely disgusting to me. But why are we keeping puzzles that can’t be assembled? Why?? If we have digital copies of these movies, why do we need the physical copies stacked in a brightly colored mismatched blob? If you’ve played through a video game and have no intention of playing it again, why do you need it? (Something about needing to look upon your kingdom with wonder…blah blah blah we have to keep all the video games.)
This hysteria ebbs and flows depending on the order and clutter in the rest of my life, and with my health in flux I feel like I can’t take in any unnecessary information that I find uncomfortable. So I’m hiding knickknacks in closets and cabinets until I can make a more balanced decision, because today I might decide we need to sleep on the floor and sink into a lumpy couch without back cushions.
***Just a friendly reminder that people with OCD — for the most part at least — do not enjoy cleaning. We need things to be clean, and are sometimes physically uncomfortable with mess or clutter or disorder. The closest example I can think of would be telling someone with anorexia they would enjoy intermittent fasting because they hate eating. Y’all, that’s not how it works.***