Learn how to stop arguing about clutter and enjoy a stronger marriage.
My grandmother’s Norman Rockwell figurine is permanently placed on top of the piano. My father-in-law’s collection of watches will always fill a corner of Rob’s dresser drawer, dead batteries and all. We both hold on to keepsakes the other doesn’t value or understand.
Over our 25 years of cleaning, organizing, and shuffling possessions from one address to another, we’ve had our share of conflict. We don’t always see eye to eye on what to keep or purge from our house.
As we face this inevitable conflict, it can be positive or negative. On the up side, we can choose to value each other over our stuff. We can practice problem-solving as a team. We can open the door to sharing ideas and knowing one another better. And we can be challenged to be our best selves—listening, working, and putting each other first.
Yet conflict can also bring out the worst in our nature, stirring up anger and driving us apart. We’re not just fighting about material things, we’re fighting for our identity and sense of “home.” Before we can solve any dispute about what to save or throw, we have to eliminate the “clutter” keeping us from coming together.
How to Stop Arguing About Clutter
Here are five tips to clear the way to agreement and unity.
Kill the bunny.
When we start to tackle conflict, it’s tempting for the discussion to rabbit-trail into other issues and complaints, but it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing. Focus on the one keep-or-throw question at hand instead of trying to reinvent your entire relationship dynamic or five-year financial plan.
You might think your husband’s grade-school clay sculpture is stupid, but he’s not stupid. Your wife’s affection for vintage salt shakers does not compete for her affection for you. Keep insults, sarcasm, and criticism out of your conversation. Avoid remarks you know will push your partner’s buttons. It’s impossible to resolve a thing when you’re too mad or hurt to see straight. Attack the problem instead of each other.
Keep the past in the past. Dragging old mistakes and tensions into the now will push you farther apart. It will feed discouragement, stealing hope for tomorrow. Declare confidence in your relationship by pressing on to work it out. Cast a vision for a peaceful space you both can enjoy together. Give yourselves the gift of change you can look forward to.
Clear the decks.
Dedicate time to talk through your differences. Give yourselves the benefits of privacy, quiet, and energy. Don’t fight about sex in bed after midnight, argue over parenting while your little darlings can hear you in the next room, or wrangle out your budget in front of the car dealer. Don’t start sorting and cleaning when your garage sale starts in two hours! If your conversation becomes heated, show respect by taking time to step away and cool off. Do what’s needed to finish the hard work of resolving your issue.
Count the cost.
Is it more valuable to win the debate or win your loved one’s heart? Let go of your need to have the last word. Be willing to listen, compromise, and honor each other’s perspective. If you walk away feeling one of you lost and the other won, you both lost.
One of the greatest benefits of resolved conflict is the intimacy it can bring. You can celebrate your tenacious marriage. You experience a fresh sense of unity. You hold hope for the future, knowing you’re strong enough to overcome any battle. Let God use your conflict to deepen your love and commitment today so you can stop arguing about clutter.
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2 NLT)
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Joanna Teigen and her husband Rob have celebrated 25 years of marriage and are loving life with five awesome kids, plus a beautiful daughter-in-law. They share an addiction to coffee, bookstores, and Christmas music. They’re a neat-freak married to a mess, an explorer to a homebody, and an introvert to a ‘people person.’ But they do agree that their vows are for always, children are a gift, and prayer is powerful. Over the years Rob and Joanna have lived in five states as they made their way to West Michigan. They look forward to meeting you at www.growinghometogether.com, supporting your pursuit of God and the hearts of your loved ones. They can’t wait to grow together with you.
Learn simple steps to declutter your mind so you can have better sex.
Have you ever had this happen?
You’re in bed with your hubby, and things are heating up. He starts kissing you, and you’re thinking, “Oh, yeah, baby.” Then all of a sudden you push him away and out comes:
“I just don’t know what to do about Katelyn. Every time I try to get her to practice piano it’s a big fight. She’s so gifted, but she has no discipline. I know you think we should just let her quit, but what’s that really teaching her? Of course, if we did let her quit I’d have my Tuesdays back. And I wouldn’t have to bicker with her everyday after school. It would be really nice to have Tuesdays. I never have time to do groceries on Mondays, and there just isn’t time when she’s at lessons …”
And your husband’s lying there with a perplexed look on his face, thinking, “Piano? Katelyn? Groceries? HELLO!?!?”
Where did you go?
I have to admit that story isn’t all that fictional. I don’t have a Katelyn, but I do have a Katie, and she refused to practice piano, and it was a source of great consternation to me. And often, just when things were heating up with my husband, my brain would go on overload and I’d start spewing everything that was on my mind.
Part of that is because I’m an external processor. But it’s not only that.
It’s because of one simple fact: For women, our biggest sexual organ is our brain. If our brain is not engaged, our body won’t follow. In general, we have to be able to concentrate for sex to feel good. Women are far more distractible than men, largely because when something else pops into our head, all thoughts of sex can disappear until we can adequately deal with it, dismiss it, and get back to the topic — or person — at hand.
When I used to push my husband away and start spouting everything that was on my mind, it wasn’t so much a rejection of my husband as it was an effort to stop these things from popping up and distracting me! It’s like our brains are big pinball machines, with all of these things bouncing around and clanging off of walls, and all of that makes sex difficult. And that, my friends, is why clutter is a marriage issue.
Yep. Clutter. Whether it’s physical clutter in your bedroom, or unending to-do lists, or relationship issues you haven’t dealt with, when there is stuff lying around, either physically or metaphorically, it’s hard to feel at peace. And if you can’t feel at peace, then feeling in the mood tends to be so much harder! You need to declutter your mind for better sex.
Keith and I have both figured out now how I work. And we have instituted our own “pinball machine” strategy that helps get rid of all those pesky pinballs and lets you feel frisky again!
Go for walks and get rid of your emotional pinballs.
For us, the best way to get rid of my pinballs is to talk them through. So now, every evening after dinner, my husband asks, “have any pinballs?” And we go for a walk and I tell him what’s on my mind, and we make plans to deal with what we can, pray about those we don’t have a solution for, and just commiserate over other things. Talking them through helps them stop rattling around.
If you’re not an external processor, taking time in the evening to journal through the things that are bothering you, and praying through the issues that pop up, can also help silence them later.
Plan tomorrow’s day.
Some people hate to do lists, because they never seem to get “to-done”. Lists are just one big guilt trip!
I know I’ll never get everything on my to do list done, but I still love my lists, and here’s why: When you put something on a list, you give yourself permission to forget about it. Need to buy your mother-in-law a birthday card? Put it on a list! Need to schedule an appointment for your air conditioner to be cleaned? Put it on a list! If you don’t, you’ll be lying there in bed, frantically trying to remember all the things you need to do tomorrow, and give yourself little hints, like, “when I see that ugly china cat on the mantlepiece that Mom gave us, it’ll remind me to buy a card.” That’s too stressful. Put it on a list and let it go!
My husband and I make it a habit now to go over our lists in the early evening and again in the morning. Then we can rest easy knowing that nothing is going to be forgotten. And I can free up my brain for more positive pursuits!
Keep your bedroom peaceful.
The bedroom is the most important room in the house. It’s where you keep your relationship with your husband alive, and it’s that relationship that is the foundation for everything else that happens. But it’s also where we often let junk and laundry pile up, because let’s face it: no one ever sees your bedroom.
Stop it! There’s nothing unsexier than starting to “get it on” and looking up and seeing cobwebs on the ceiling fan. Or, even worse, bills piled up on the dresser.
We’re already distractible enough without a million small things in our bedrooms making us feel guilty (“Wow, you haven’t cleaned in ages. What’s wrong with you? You really should have paid those bills! Wonder what will happen now….) Clean it up. When clutter isn’t crying out, “do something with me!”, it’s much easier to laugh and jump in as your husband says the same thing.
Would sex be easier if we weren’t so distractible? Perhaps.
But I also think that God made us so that we would have to care for our mental health for our sex life to work, too. So let your husband in on all of your pinballs. Brainstorm together on how you can start to get rid of them and declutter your mind. And as you do, you’ll likely feel a lot closer to him, too, because he’ll understand far more how you work. And maybe bells will still ring—but in a much better way!
Sheila Wray Gregoire blogs about marriage (and sex!) everyday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. She’s the author of 9 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and 31 Days to Great Sex.
Picture this. You’ve just spent the last few hours tidying up the house while the kids are at school and you finally sit down to have a drink of water. You take a sip, let out a huge sigh of relief, and marvel at the wondrous sight of your squeaky-clean kitchen. “Nice work!” you say to yourself. Now, you just need to figure out a way to keep it like this even after your kids get home. Here are 5 tips to help you instill clutter free habits in your kids.
1. Bags up and lunchboxes open. I started this clutter free habit at the beginning of the school year and it’s been one of the easiest and best ways to save myself from tripping over my kids’ school stuff. I told my school-aged children that if they put their shoes away, hung their backpacks up, and opened their lunchboxes and placed them on the counter every day after school without me asking, they would each get fifty cents. It has worked like a charm. My kids had saved up enough money from doing this one thing every day that they were able to cash in their coins for dollar bills when we took a trip to the beach over spring break. Not only were they excited about being able to buy what they wanted but the daily “kerplunk” of the coins in their piggy banks was an auditory reminder of their hard work.
2. Placemats or bust. We do A LOT of crafts in my house. I’m not afraid of glitter and we use it often. We also have washable markers but get this, we have permanent Sharpie markers, too! I know. I’m a daring mom. But, I don’t worry about my counters anymore because my kids know – no placemat – no craft. I learned with my first child, mistakes happen and it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean off a placemat (or throw it away) than it is to cry over something that won’t come out of granite. My kids have made placemats somewhat of their calling card by picking out a new one each year that suits their individual personality.
3. Craft kit corner. My mom ordered the most adorable craft bags for my kids. They put all of the stuff they’re currently using in these bags and tote them around from place to place when they want to. It’s a cinch to clean up. When they’re done with whatever they’re using, they put everything back in their totes and hang them on their hooks. Each tote has their name on it so they know whose is who.
4. Operation pantry. Once upon a time, my pantry was unorganized; not with food but with my kids’ arts and crafts. I’d had enough one day and so I organized everything into bins with labels. My husband hung a couple of wire shelves and with a pep talk and a few incentives, I showed my kids exactly how I expected the pantry to look from that point on. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than how it used to be. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) so we have a lot of rice bins, bean bins, and sensory-type toys. Things like this can easily spill or become cumbersome because of the touch-and-feel type items they are. I knew I wanted to keep these things because they were helpful to my son but having them strewn about and finding beans in nooks in crannies in our house was stressing me out. I now have a system. My son knows that when he gets his sand bin out, he has to do it at a specific table on top of a placemat. He also knows he has to get the broom out and sweep (as best he can) up anything that has fallen on the floor. I’m not looking for perfection out of the cleanup process but rather, responsibility from him on what it means to be able to play with those types of things.
5. Stairway catch-all. The stairwell seems to be the catch-all for anything and everything that has been worn, played with, used, or doesn’t have a home. My kids know, that if there is something left out (not on the stairs) it gets donated or thrown away. Their responsibility is to put everything they find of theirs in a basket that I have put on one of the steps for them. This basket is big and flexible and one they can easily carry up to their rooms to help them put their things away. This basket serves so many purposes; it collects everything and my kids don’t have to make multiple trips up and down the stairs because they’re able to carry it all in one basket. They know to return the basket to the steps once it’s been emptied.
Creating clutter-free habits in our kids doesn’t have to be scary. Think of the things that you’re already doing every day and find a way to make them work for you and your family. Sometimes it just takes a minute or two of thinking, “How can I make this easier while allowing them to take responsibility?” I bet you’ll find that your kids actually like the way they feel when they claim ownership over their belongings. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Parenting journalist and author, Meagan Ruffing, encourages and equips other moms who may be feeling overwhelmed and lonely in the midst of parenting in her debut book, “I See You: Helping Moms Go from Overwhelmed to In Control.” Meagan talks about the challenges of living with a child who has behavioral disorders and talks candidly about her struggles with mom guilt. To read more about Meagan’s story and real-life parenting tips, visit her at www.meaganruffing.com.
“Isn’t this day supposed to be about ME?” I remember saying those words one frustrated Mother’s Day years ago to a husband who just woke from a nap and kids who were fighting. Sometimes Mother’s Day doesn’t feel like a celebration of mom to MOM. Yes, you could look at it as a holiday created to sell greeting cards. But there’s something about this day that makes you want to feel honored or at the very least, recognized and given a much-needed break.
Maybe you’ve uttered those words to your family in frustration. Or perhaps you relish the fact that on this one day, they are going to knock your socks off with pampering and you are not going to have to think about anything heavy.
And then you see her. The single mom in your church. Huh. Who is making sure she has a great mother’s day? And the guilt starts to whisper that you really should do something but, I mean, really, it’s your ONE day. Squirm.
Clutter Free is about clearing clutter from a lot of areas of your life including your heart and mind. And seeing a mom who needs some help shouldn’t come with a side of guilt. Yes, you still get to enjoy your day. But if you truly want to bless her too, I’ve got two amazingly simple ways:
Remind her kids they need to do something.
Or, simply tell her you see the amazing job she’s doing as a mom on her own.
Told you they were simple.
Remind Her Kids
The first Mother’s Day after my husband died, I expected to wake up to just another day of doing everything for my kids. They were a little older but let’s face it, kids often need to be reminded. So imagine my surprise when my girls, ages 12 and almost-6 surprised me with scrambled eggs, toast, and tea on a pretty platter in bed. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
I didn’t need a huge gift. I couldn’t afford to take the kids out to lunch. But the fact that they remembered me was enough to make my Mother’s Day special.
Maybe her kids just need to be reminded to do something for mom on this day. Or perhaps they need some suggestions. If you have the means, giving them a gift certificate to take the family out for dinner is great too. Or, help the kids buy her flowers or something simple. These material things are super nice however I think most moms want to feel appreciated and remembered on this day more than anything. So do what you can.
Be Her Cheerleader
Maybe you don’t know her kids well enough to be the bossy grown-up who asks what they are planning. If not, simply telling her you see all she does and you think she’s rockin’ it is another great blessing.
Being a single parent is incredibly tough. It takes lots of creativity and energy to be all things that your kids need on top of provider and caretaker of the home. Telling a single mom you think she’s doing an amazing job at it is another way to bless her on this day to celebrate moms. Simple and free, this encouragement might come at a time when she’s had a rough day or just be a delightful surprise.
So when God places that single mom in your path as Mother’s Day approaches, don’t feel guilty that you want to enjoy your holiday. That’s self-care and you, fellow mom, have earned a day, too. Instead, ask God how you can best help this single mom.
Jenn Buell is a writer, speaker, radio DJ and widowed mom of four kids who lives in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. She loves using her superpower of encouragement to cheer on other Christian single moms through her blog and podcast, “Right There With You.” You can connect with Jenn at JennBuell.com.
I’m usually in the car for at least three hours a day and that’s only if I don’t have any appointments for myself or the kids or a playdate to attend. I try to keep things simple but sometimes we’re just in the car for a long time and there’s nothing I can do about it. In Kathi Lipp’s book, “The Mom Project,” she talks about using time in the car as an opportunity to bond with your kids. Since this is something I had already been doing, I was intrigued to read about her ideas on listening to audio books together. It’s not something I’d ever done with my kids. Sounds simple enough, I thought. So I took Kathi’s list of suggestions on where to begin and I headed to the library.
Since my kids already love going to the library, I knew this part of the experiment was going to be easy. It was going to be picking out what we listened to as a family that was going to be the hard part. My children are 9, 6, and 4 so finding something they would all agree on and enjoy had me stumped.
My plan was to take all three kids to the library but well, life happened, and before I knew it, the oldest was too tired and the youngest was having a tantrum so I took my middle child, Hannah. I told her we were headed to the library which got her super excited. We had some books to return so it was perfect timing. Hannah ran inside and assumed her usual position at the audio booth where she started playing Toca Boca. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Come on honey, we’re going to take a look at some audio books.”
“Huh? What are those?” She asked.
“Well, they’re books but they’re on a CD so I can just pop them into my CD player in the car kind of like I do when I play movies for you guys. Instead of a movie coming on though, you’ll just hear words through the speaker.”
I could tell Hannah was confused. I walked us over to the librarian’s desk and told her what we were looking for. She pointed us in the right direction and I looked at my list from the “Mom Project” on some suggestions Kathi gave on what good books were out there for the entire family. Laura Ingalls Wilder was mentioned in her book as “one of the best little kids books” so that’s what I picked out. She described the “Little House” series being “simple enough for little kids to understand but rich enough in detail that it would hold the attention of older kids and adults.”
When we got back in the car, I popped in the CD and right when I was beginning to tell Hannah what we were going to listen to, she quickly went, “Shhh! Mom, I want to hear this.” Well, then. I guess that settles that. This audio book thing was going to be my new best friend. I didn’t hear a peep from her the entire 20 minute ride home. When we got back in the car the next morning to head to school, I heard Hannah say to her brother, “Dylan, mom got this cool thing from the library and it’s a story.”
I quickly turned on the car and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s CD started talking to us. The entire car was quiet. Our drive to school is less than five minutes and I almost felt guilty having to turn off the CD to tell the kids to have a good day and I’d see them after school. “Can we listen to this when you pick us up?” Dylan asked. I giggled. “Sure, honey. I’ll make sure I have it playing when I pick you up.”
What I Learned
I’ve always felt a pang of guilt for not having children who devour books like other children do. My kids would much rather make a craft than read a book. What I learned from doing this experiment with them, was that reading books isn’t the only way to get them more immersed in literature. Sometimes thinking outside the box and finding new ways to get them interested in reading is just what a kids need. I have a feeling audio books in the car might be our new thing.
If you’re not familiar with the content in an audio book, you might get some recommendations from the librarian about what’s age appropriate for your kids. For example, in the Laura Ingalls Wilder CD I rented, there was a part in the story about a dog passing away. I wished I had thought to ask someone about this before playing it for my kids. Since my son is extra sensitive to animals, it came as a surprise to all of us when we were listening. Luckily, I was able to see my son’s face in the rearview mirror and I was able to debrief with him for a minute about what he’d just heard.
Kathi talks about turning the CD off to have a discussion with your kids if there’s something they don’t understand. This was a great moment for me to do just that. My recommendation would be to make sure what your kids are hearing is something you are prepared to talk about with them. Had I known about this piece in the book, I may have fast forwarded through that part.
This post was written by parenting journalist Meagan Ruffing, mom to three children, one with special needs. Meagan’s passion is to reach other moms who are overwhelmed and to help them find more control in their lives. For a free set of “Overwhelmed to In Control” worksheets, visit www.meaganruffing.com.
Welcome to The Mom Project. For the next few weeks, we’ll be launching my book The Mom Project by hosting several mom friends who have tried it out for themselves. They read the book, completed a project from the book with their kids, and wrote all about it. And these are real moms. Busy moms. Unsure-of-themselves moms. Single moms. Special needs moms. Working moms. Stay-at-home moms. They do the hard working of mommyhood every day, and have found fun ways to connect with their kids in the simple activities found in The Mom Project. Read on to hear their experience:
My husband and I have four boys. One of our two sons still living at home has autism and is mentally handicapped. It is difficult to find time to consistently connect with the boys in a fun and meaningful way, especially since we have various therapists coming into our home a few evenings a week. The days seem to blur into weeks, and before I know it, I haven’t really connected with either one. I go to bed thinking the next day will be different, but somehow, something always comes up. Unless I am intentional about connecting with them, it won’t happen. I wanted to share with you a simple, yet profound, book I’ve been reading called The Mom Project. This book shares lots of different ways for me as their mom to connect with them and to make some fun memories along the way. I chronicled one of my favorite projects from the book here today. For our project, we chose to have a game night.
All three of us chose to play Monopoly. At first I was a little nervous about how this was going to unfold. I didn’t know if my special needs son would totally understand how to play, but I wanted to try. I wanted to make it fun for all of us and to make memories that would last and even make us want to play again really soon. However, I needed to be open minded about how we were going to actually play the game within our limits.
Having a 15-year-old special needs son and a 9-year-old typical child created a unique challenge in connecting with them in this way. I found that adaptability was key. I had to get over my need to play by the rules and to be flexible enough to make up some rules as we went. I somewhat tailored the game to each boy, and they were both on board and engaged. I randomly handed out Monopoly real estate cards, and of course, whoever landed on the property had to pay rent, an easy amount for each of them to remember.
Both boys thoroughly enjoyed seeing Mom suffer as she had to go to jail and couldn’t be set free until she rolled doubles. Lots of laughter and lots of talking. We just made it a fun evening all around by having dessert before dinner, and dinner was pizza from one of their favorite restaurants. The more I got excited about the evening, the more they got excited.
I’m sure we’ll be playing again soon. I’d say Monopoly money was worth more than anything I could ever buy them.
What I Learned
Throughout this project, I learned to let go of my preconceived ideas of how the night should go. I invited them to participate in making up some rules with me, and I also realized they responded in kind to my excitement. I let the anticipation of game night build in their minds a few days beforehand, and I even taunted them with a little friendly competition. They are boys after all.
If you are going to play a game with your children who are different ages or at different stages in their development, take a little time to plan ahead. Give them an opportunity to have some input in how they would like to play the game (within reason, of course), and watch their faces light up as they engage in the game they’ve helped create. A couple days before you play the game, start building up the excitement whenever and however you can.
Ready for your chance to win a copy of The Mom Project? To be entered into the drawing, just comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win. *Only US readers are eligible to receive the free book.
Julie and her husband have four boys, and she adores the title “Boy Mom.” She is also a special needs mom, helping navigate the world for her 15-year-old son with autism. Her four boys keep life busy and loud. Most days she wouldn’t want it any other way. You can connect with Julie on her blog at Stuff of Heaven.