The first topic that occurs to me today is an emotions-related one from last week. Yes, I now have a Northwest Territories driver’s license and I’ve applied for territorial healthcare. I’m feeling more settled and I know my way around downtown better, but you don’t want to read about all that. Here’s what was on my mind as I got used to living with a partner again: How do you balance extreme minimalist tendencies with a “normal” level of possessions?
I’ll readily admit I was having a hard time getting used to living in a place with stuff again.
A side-note though: Even though I got my possessions down to a very small amount, I’m not above having clutter; I’m not a neat-freak, or a particularly good cleaner for that matter.
But still – our apartment has a lot of things that I previously got rid of or have no real interest in owning: tools, pictures, shelves of miscellaneous things. The exact amount or type of items isn’t what matters. What matters is my reaction to them. Do I really want to put my feelings about stuff or my personal preference of owning very little above a good relationship? No.
But I cannot just ignore my mild-anxiety about the issue.
On the flip side, asking someone to give up their items just because you don’t like them isn’t a workable solution either.
What can the partners do in this situation?
- Openly acknowledge and discuss the issue.
I brought up my feelings with M, as a “by the way, I’m having a bit of trouble with this,” kind of talk. As the mature person that he is, this resulted in a decent conversation; not an argument.
- Break it down into the actual problems.
- My high sensitivity to visual stimulation: One of my realizations while we talked was that in general, I have a hard time with any excessive visual stimulation. I hate places like casinos, cluttered stores, even video games with a lot of colour and activity. All these trigger my visual sensitivities. Even the art that M has– even though it’s art that I like, definitely to my taste — bothers me a little. I’m actually someone who prefers/is fine with, blank walls.
- My concerns about the hassle of moving/storing/cleaning all the possessions: But in my situation, this is partly unavoidable and partly M’s burden. Also if we move it will be paid for by his employer, so moving a lot of items isn’t as troublesome as it was for me without a car and paying moving costs myself.
- The cost of the items: The majority of the items are ones that M already purchased. I didn’t have to spend any money on them and they will be things we are able to keep for a long time. When we make future joint purchases I am very aware that I need to be honest with myself and with him about whether I truly want to contribute money to whatever item it is. (I ran into trouble with boundaries regarding this issue in my marriage, so I am keenly aware of it now.)
- A dissatisfaction with my life in general greatly increases my response to clutter: The more I’m busy with work, hobbies, exercise, etc, the less I notice the clutter. I find that anxiety about possessions is greatest when something else is bothering me – when the relationship is not good for other reasons, for example.
- Have some areas clutter-free.
Our living room/kitchen is mostly a clutter-free zone, so when I hang out there I feel relaxed. Also when I am working at my computer or in bed, there’s nothing that particularly bothers me, so that helps.
- Use visual barriers.
Shut more doors as needed. As far as our storage shelves I may buy fabric to make some easy/cheap curtains to hide our possessions from view.
- Work together to minimize needless clutter.
M agreed that certain items don’t need to be displayed in our main living areas. He’s happy to accommodate reasonable requests to reduce the visual clutter. For my part, I know that I need to straighten-up more often. I cause myself as much anxiety as anyone else, due to my lackadaisical attitude about putting my possession away.
- And lastly, just calm the fuck down.
I’m trying not to think obsessively about our items. If I’m feeling anxious, I purposely change my thoughts to how I’m very happy with M and that I like our life. I remind myself about what is more important. Of course I’m not saying that everyone can calm themselves down; certainly in more extreme cases obsessive thinking is a psychiatric disorder. But for mild cases, some self-soothing thoughts can be helpful.
I first started thinking about this issue 5 or 6 days ago, and since then I’ve been doing a lot better. What has helped?
- The conversation we had.
- His willingness to help with this issue.
- Increased excitement in my life (I may have a job soon), going out more, more fun hobbies and projects.
- Adaptation. I’m just generally more used to living here now.
I know I’m not the only one in this situation. How have you melded your life with someone who has a different idea of what the right number of possessions is?