You Don’t Need All The Things

(But Sometimes Things Help)


I‘ve been spending a lot of time lately reading and thinking about the roles that material possessions have in our relationships. Here’s what I’ve concluded: Things are important.

The Dishwasher.

The first two years that we were married, my husband and I fought A LOT. About the dinner dishes.

It may be that we weren’t really fighting about the dinner dishes. You might say we were sorting through our individual experiences and expectations to fashion a new household that was uniquely ours. Sure, there was some value to all of those heated conversations, both in terms of substance (what are our standards of cleanliness?) and procedure (how do we disagree?).

But get this.

Things were a lot better when we moved. To an apartment with a dishwasher.

(He insisted.)

Likewise, I once had a conversation with a colleague who was raving about an expensive newfangled oven-y thing in her fancy kitchen. She said that it had transformed her life. Yeah, TRANSFORMED. Through some magic that this appliance did for her (I didn’t quite get it, obviously), she now ate home-cooked dinners instead of having takeout every night.

Like the dishwasher in the second apartment I shared with my husband, my colleague’s oven thingie was the catalyst for healthier eating and an improved relationship with her family. Now that she had this Thing, she was happier than she’d been before.

Things don’t make you happy. But…  

I know that dishwashers and newfangled ovens don’t actually MAKE people happy. But they can affect (sometimes dramatically), the ways that we spend our time as individuals and how we spend time with our spouses.

Having the Thing isn’t always right. Sometimes Not Having the Thing is the best course of action. There are surely people out there who cherish the time they spend washing and drying dishes with their partners, and the insightful or productive conversations that spring up during that time. The dishwasher that dissolves discord in my house could disconnect lines of communication in another home.

So I’m not saying that it’s important to Have Things. I’m saying that Things play important roles in our lives. And when we can take a bird’s-eye view of the role that the presence or absence of a Thing has in our lives, we can thoughtfully craft our relationships with each other and those Things.

Some of the more obvious Things to think about (and rant or rave about) in terms of the effect that they have on our lives and our relationships are:

  • Television (fun shared cultural experience or isolating conversation-stopper?)
  • High-speed internet (amazing work tool, fun shared cultural experience, or isolating distraction?)
  • Smart phones (amazing work tool, great connection with family, or vehicle of detachment?)
  • Cars (facilitates more time with family or part of an unnecessarily-sedentary lifestyle?)
  • Running water (hard to be neutral on this one, but still—maybe you’d have a great time pumping water alone or with your partner?)
  • Clothes washing machines (hard to be neutral on washing machines, too, but hey, maybe some people love themselves a tub and washboard)
  • Blenders (healthy and delicious smoothies, baby food, or too many margaritas?)
  • Barbecue grills (fun with friends, or way too much protein?)

(Obviously, that’s just a small sampling of Things, and the notes above just scratch the surface of the impact that a particular Thing might have on any person’s life.)

Things are complicated.

There are a lot of forces in our culture promoting materialism. And there’s a lot (but maybe not enough) of counter-talk about simplicity. No one wants to announce that they’re straight-up materialistic without adding some qualification. It just sounds too shallow. And there’s lots of moral and religious support for an ascetic approach based on the notion that Stuff (or Money) is the root of all evil. But that’s a tough position to implement while participating in most of our culture and our communities.

Also, some possessions have primarily instrumental value, like a can opener. Others primarily play a role in providing comfort, say, a pillow. And other possessions help us to define ourselves; they solidify personal history (like your grandmother’s ugly scarf that you keep anyway) or contribute to identity (like a violin to a violinist). But the lines between a possession’s instrumental value, comfort, and self-identity aren’t clear-cut. I’ve got a kick-ass can opener that I really enjoy using. So the design of the can opener has a little bit to do with how I define myself. I like the design, it says something about me beyond just that I want to get my cans open. And somebody who has a designer couch, for example, may have chosen the couch because it’s comfortable and because its aesthetics or brand associations contribute to the owner’s sense of self. And if you want to take “the personal is political” as a consumer philosophy, everything you own says something about you and functions as an anthropological artifact.

So… our relationships with Things can be super-complicated.

The super-vague advice I gave.

At a wedding I attended recently, each guest was asked to write a note with a piece of advice about marriage. I wrote about our dishwasher discovery, and how it smoothed my relationship with my husband. And I told the couple that my wish for them was that they would smoothly find the (figurative) Dishwasher. Meaning that I hoped that they would find the element or elements that would make their lives together run more smoothly.

And the truth of the matter is that that element might be a Thing—its presence OR its absence.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • I’ve been thinking about exactly this quite a bit, lately. We just recently got the Spice Rack (no more spices falling out of every cabinet!) and the Trash Can (no more old, broken one from my husband’s bachelor-days apartment with the lid that falls into the can every time I try to use it!). It is so funny how much these Things (that, in this case) cost so little have made life simpler and reduced my frustration–frustration which, unfairly, usually got directed at him and caused unnecessary arguments. It is easy to feel not too materialistic when then Things are trash cans and spice racks (though I was shocked at how much these two chunks of plastic made me FEEL), but I do wonder about what might happen with the Thing is something larger, or how to know when it would be better to not have the Thing.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      Unfortunately, for me, The Thing is actually more The Collection of Household Essentials. Like big containers so there is no food, even pet food, left open anywhere, amoung other things. Because we don’t fight about one Thing-I just have meltdowns about the disaster that is my future home haha! Although, maybe my iPod is The Thing…nothing averts my meltodowns like some awesome music blaring in my ears…

      I have never actually thought about this before. Something to chew on for the rest of the day. It does remind me of wedding planning, where sometimes you fix a problem by giving someone money and saying ‘Here, will you do something about this for me?’ Sometimes the best solution is to not talk it to death, but to go find a solution. Even if you sort of feel like you are taking a short cut.

    • Not Sarah

      I just bought a new kitchen garbage can. $4.97 at Home Depot and it is the BEST THING EVER. So. Worth. It.

      It is pretty funny when the Thing is a trash can :)

      • We went more than a year without a garbage can in the kitchen – we just used a big black garbage bag. Once we FINALLY got one, from Ikea for like fifteen bucks, it was like, “WHY DID WE WAIT SO LONG FOR THIS?”

        And yet it still took us another four months to buy a large recycling bin for cans. People can be so weird about things. (Guilty!)

        • Not Sarah

          I have a nice stockpile of brown paper grocery bags that work great as a recycling bin! They stand up all on their own. Maybe in another 5 years I’ll run out of those and buy another bin to use for recycling…

        • Ambi

          We use an old trashcan that somehow lost its lid a long time ago, and paper bags for recycling. My guy and I have instituted the “don’t buy it because we are going to register for it” rule, so we haven’t upgraded either of those things, even though we’ve recently renovated the kitchen and now it looks all pretty and put together except for the ugly trash containers. His mom has been bugging him forever about how unsightly it is for us to have our trash and recycling out there where everyone can see it, without even a lid on the trash can. He told me last week that she said she is buying us new cans, and my first reaction was immediatley, “No!”, but then I realized, oh what the hell. If she wants to buy us new trash and recycling cans, we’ll be happy to take them, and the problem will be solved.

  • Oh, I so hear you! I have been (and still consider myself to be) a minimalist. But my definition of such has morphed from “shedding myself of most of my world stuff and traveling the world” to “buying only what is useful, necessary or makes my soul sing.”

    So, my most recent Thing–which is not a Thing at all, really–is hiring a maid. Now, hubby and I live in Mexico where dishwashers and garbage disposals are considered luxuries, but nearly everyone has a maid. I resisted at first. What dyed in the wool minimalist has a freaking maid? But I was finally convinced by people telling me it was my virtual obligation–as an expat American–to contribute to the local economy. That and the pile of dirty dishes in my kitchen!

    So now we have the charming Ana who comes to our home 5 times a week for three hours a day. She makes the bed, does the dishes and makes our floors so clean you can eat your enchiladas off them. She also helps me with my Spanish. If hubster leaves his plate on the table, complete with crumbs–no worries. Ana will get it. We call her hubby’s “other wife.” I get the good parts, Ana gets the parts that we all want to get paid for!

    Oh yeah, we no longer have The Fight.

    Bottom line, (some) Things can buy happiness–or at least marital harmony.

    • We just made a deal that when I go back to work after my mat leave, we’re splurging for a once a month cleaning service. Because damn do we both hate cleaning the floors, and throwing money at them to buy happiness? Sounds so totally worth it.

      I am, and will continue to be, envious of your Ana.

  • Oh, we used to have The Fight about the socks.

    Then my granddad died, and one day as I picked up the socks and got ready to complain, I thought how much my grandma *wished* he was there to leave his socks all over the house.

    Now whenever I pick up my husband’s socks (which is, um, daily), I actually enjoy it, because it reminds me that today, he came home.

    And now I’ve made myself cry. Thanks APW (and perhaps a touch of PMS).

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      Ahhhh *bawls*
      A friend of mine was describing a conversation with his grandmother. This lovely lady, and her late husband, fought every day about whether the closet door in the bedroom should be open or closed. They’d been married for something like 60 years. She told him that the ‘little things’ like that don’t *really* matter, but sometimes they are the hardest to overcome.

      • Exactly. They really don’t matter. But when you ask for the thousandth time, it feels like they’re not listening, which does matter. It’s always good to put things in perspective though.

      • Marina

        One of the smartest things I was told in pre-marital counseling is that the things that annoy you about your partner now are still going to annoy you in 60 years. It sounds kind of depressing when you put it that way, but it’s really not–it means that the things that annoy you aren’t strong enough to break you. You can be annoyed by the socks or the closet or the whatever and still be married for 60 years.

    • Hannah

      Anddd made all of us cry in the process. I don’t even have the excuse of PMS!

    • I came to this same realization while my husband was deployed. I missed his mess and regretted all the time I spent complaining about it. The time we have together is too precious. Choose your battles.*

  • Jennifer

    I completely agree. When my fiancee moved in with each other we constantly fought over the dishes. Why? We always did our dishes by hand, and we use to do dishes by hand when we practically lived with each other in college. Apparently our dish rack was too small. We had to do dishes up to 4 times in one night. I thought it was ridiculous for my fiancee to get annoyed by it, small kitchen meant small drying rack. Finally he broke down and bought a bigger-ultra drying rack. I was a little ticked. It cost us money, we had plastic drying rack that served no purpose, and we were down more than a third of our counter space.

    Funny thing is that the fighting has more or less stopped about the dishes. I guess the best thing to take from it all, is to listen to your spouse and try to understand where they are coming from. It seems obvious but I think some people are so dead set on how things were growing up, they forget to consider everyone has their own limitations. I am constantly biting my tongue about money issues. Is it worth paying the $100 electricity bill instead of having a hot, sweaty, cranky hubby at the end of every night?

    • RachelM

      It is amazing the difference a good dish rack can make! This was kind of one of our Things, too.

      I cook, my fiance does the dishes. He used to dry them all by hand rather than use our cheap plastic dish rack. It never caused fights, but he’d lament about the amount of dishes there were and the lack of room and how the counter would get all gross and wet. It was obvious it was a little annoyance. One day, I splurged and bought a $70 Simple Human dish rack that has a knife block, wine glass rack and room for a good amount of dishes. Oh, and it funnels the watter back into the sink, so no more wet counter!

      My very frugal fiance was horrified at the price tag.

      After a month or so of using it he declared his love for the dish rack and called it the best kitchen purchase EVER. Oh, the little things.

    • Hannah

      I like the part about the sweaty cranky husband. Haha. Not only did that remind me of my love because he is most comfortable in arctic temperatures, but because I do find myself very often judging his spending habits – I read once that nearly every relationship has a comparative spender and saver. But how worth it to spend that money for little things that mean so much to him! (It helps that he’s not too unreasonable.) I like the concept of allowing some extravagance as a way to show love. It is a little counter-cultural in my conservative circle where the “best” wives are ultra-frugal to the point of growing and canning a cellar full of vegetables every summer (which always sounded fun to me, actually, but you get my point.) I think that was advice I needed to hear. Thanks!

  • A.

    We just moved in together in June, and our must-have things were a dishwasher (his request) and in-home laundry machines (my request). Those two things save our sanity, and most likely contribute to our general happiness as a couple. That second-hand washer/dryer set we bought and installed ourselves has certainly done much to make me a happier, nicer, better person. And it means that we aren’t spending time running to and from the laundrymat, so we ultimately have more time together at home.

    • 39bride

      We had the exact same ideas as you on the apartment we just signed for (dishwasher & laundry; and more). With both of us nearly forty and about to be living with an SO for the first time, we are super-conscious about how we’re going to have to adjust and how we will approach the daily details of life. We don’t have a lot of money, but I am very anxious to find as many ways as possible to make the day-to-day as smooth and simple as possible. Things like A/C, dishwasher, laundry and two bedrooms (so that we can get out from under each others’ feet when we need the emotional and physical space) became so much more than Things when we started looking for an apartment to share. Happily, we found exactly what we were looking for within our budget.

      I’ll find out in 2.5 weeks how right or wrong we were about the importance of those Things…

    • For us the Thing is definitely the laundry machine. It’s not that we ever really fight about laundry so much as the fact that both of us hate going out to do laundry and we get equally miserable about it (well, maybe I pout about it more). Right now we have temporary access to an in-home laundry machine and it just makes both of us happy.

      That’s a thing worth having.

  • I love The Things more than he does, especially The Cute Jewelry, The Shoes, and The Clothes, which can make me feel guilty about buying any of them. This is why we have elements of our finances separated.

    Also: Deep fat fryer. I’m afraid of the socio-political anthropological significance of that bad boy!

    • Edelweiss

      I agree! There are also the individual items that impact both our sense of well-being and confidence. These things are completely distinct, but minimize disagreements.

    • MDBethann

      I’ve found that the fryer we got for our wedding has brought us together. While it may have a negative physical impact some day, it has us cooking together in the kitchen more than we used to (usually we trade off nights). My DH used to work in restaurants and I think he misses frying things. So I do the prep work and he fries!

  • Edelweiss

    How do you identify the tipping point when The Fights mean it’s time to get The Thing?

    We only have 1 car, in an area where all our peers have their own car. At first it caused some fights about scheduling and waiting around for one another. At first we couldn’t afford two cars, but now that we can, we find we don’t want one. We cherish the extra time together having one car forces us to share on our commutes and extra errands. It’s also become part if our identity in how we represent our environmental concerns and stand on materialism. If we had the money sooner, we would have caved into the fight and assumed we “needed” a second car and that was our Dishwasher. When in reality, having seperate dressers is probably our Dishwasher.

    • Christine

      Yes totally…I wouldn’t survive without my own car because of the city where I live but wouldn’t you know it, the days my fiance drives me to work are my favorite mornings!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        We only have 1 car too, his. I always hated driving, but I’ve been surprised by how much not having my own car has made me feel physically trapped and dependent.

        We had to have a serious conversation about how it was important to me that I take the bus frequently, even if he didn’t mind driving me. I wasn’t rejecting him, but I had to feel that I could get to and from work by myself, like the independent adult I am, not a high schooler (or kept woman).

  • Christine

    I love this post so much because it brings up the issue that not all fights are a sign of a good or bad relationship. When my fiance and I were planning on moving in together, we got SO MANY “wait, you’ll see” sneers about how many awful fights we were going to have. But then we never did and I think a HUGE part of that was that I moved into his large house and so we never fought about where to put stuff (or how much stuff I had, or whatever else) because there was just room for everything and that had NOTHING to do with the strength of our relationship.
    The problem, of course, is that it’s a financial/class issue at some point – we have a large house with a dishwasher so we don’t fight about dishes or where to put things. Not everyone has that luxury but the important thing is to realize what fighting (or not fighting) has to do with your relationship (or has nothing to do with your relationship)…The question is, “are we fighting about the dishes because I don’t think he pulls his weight as a partner and husband or are we fighting about the dishes because we both hate doing them and we wish we had a dishwasher?”

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      This is a really important point. I have to keep asking myself “Am I yelling at him because the mess really bothers me, or am I yelling at him because I believe he’s not trying to make me comfortable in his home” Sometimes there is an underlying reason for getting all bothered about something, and sometimes dishes are just dishes. So, thanks for commenting Christine, you reminded me of something crucial :)

      • Christine

        Yes totally! My fiance puts stuff away to clear major areas (kitchen table kind of places) and I never have any idea where it ends up. I find myself constantly reminding myself that he’s trying to clean up, not hide something from me.

    • Kara

      There’s also the “my way vs. his way.” For example…he’ll stick everything in the dishwasher, whereas I’d like our (gorgeous, expensive) enameled cast-iron dutch oven to be hand washed per the recommendations. He figures we’ll buy a new one when this one gets icky; I figure it’s our responsibility to take the 5 minutes and wash it by hand. We’ve met in the middle. I put wooden utensils in the dishwasher now–and he handwashes our nice pots and pans.

      • Ambi

        Wait, wait, what? Those super-expensive (and gorgeous) enameled cast-iron dutch ovens that I’ve been coveting for so long are hand-wash only? Ah, I feel a huge wave of relief as I check that off my list of things I wish I could afford to buy . . .

        • Kara

          Nope, they’re not handwash only. However, they’re “we recommend that you handwash in order to keep it pretty looking.” You can totally wash in the dishwasher, but to keep it nice, handwashing is recommended. My bookgroup (none of whom I was able to invite to our wedding) gave us ours. I don’t think I would have been able to make myself spend the money on it (though…my husband would have). It was an awesome gift.

          • theemilyann

            Ok – this has nothing to do with “the problem” or “the Fight” or “our Dishwasher” but I really feel like I need to jump in. Cast Iron is really not dishwasher safe!!!

            The cool thing about cast iron is that it’s seasoned, and to keep it well seasoned, you have to keep it well oiled and clean. You should ABSOLUTELY hand wash and dry very very well (even over heat on the stove or in the oven). Dont forget to oil it from time to time too!

            Thank you –

            ::end soapbox::

          • Ambi

            THEEMILYANN, the cookware we are talking about (at least that I was talking about) is the kind that has a core of cast iron, but the entire thing (inside and out) is coated in enamel. This isn’t the kind that you season. Believe me, I have a seasoned cast iron skillet handed down from my grandmother that will never, ever, ever see the inside of a dishwasher. Nothing beats it for making cornbread!

        • Jashshea

          The pots/pans we registered for came with a booklet (!) on care instructions. I have a dishwasher, but still have to wash things by hand. #firstworldprobs

    • Lethe

      Amen. The reality is that strain external to the relationship (financial, career, social) tends to cause more fights within the relationship, even in a good and strong relationship. It’s not fair that life works that way, but it’s important to be able to recognize those fights rather than looking for problems within the relationship where there are none. We no longer fight about money, now that we’re no longer in a situation where there just wasn’t enough of it to go around.

    • Ambi

      Christine, I am so fascinated by your comment because it is kind of the flip side of a long-running argument my boyfriend and I have been having for the past year, ever since we moved in to a house he bought. The house is small, with limited storage space. When we moved in, my guy owned no furniture other than a bed, and he’d been living in shared roommate situations for so long that he really didn’t have a whole household full of “stuff” (kitchen stuff, bath stuff, etc.). I, on the otherhand, and an entire household of furniture that I have carefully and thoughtfully cultivated over the years, through hand-me-downs from family, a few key purchases, and a few wonderful pieces that used to be my grandmother’s. While I felt bad that I wasn’t in a financial position to help with the downpayment on the house, I felt like furnishing the home was one way I was really contributing. After we moved in and I worked for weeks setting up the house, I was really angered and upset when he started dropping hints that he really didn’t like how it was decorated. Specifically, we fought over the fact that he thought it was too cluttered, and the fact that my stuff “was everywhere” and took up “all the space.” After many fights (and, of course, wonderful wonderful counseling – oh how I love thee), we got to the root of the problem: After decades of living with roommates and with his parents, he had finally bought a house, and this was a huge accomplishment, something he’d dreamed about for years. And part of that dream was having his own space. It wasn’t really about decorating, because my guy could care less about paint and fabric and all that. It was about control. From the moment we moved in, I had filled the entire house up, I’d decided which rooms would be used for what, I’d stuffed our closets to the brim with things like table linens and beauty products and my never-ending craft supplies. And when he wanted to be able to do something like move his camping gear from his parents’ house into his own house, there was no room for it. So, I found our figurative dishwasher, and I solved the problem with more stuff: I went to The Container Store and spent way too much money on cute baskets, bins, plastic storage boxes, drawer organizers, under-the-bed boxes, labels, etc. I then proceeded to sort through all my stuff and organize it (and donate quite a bit of it). I also replaced a lot of my framed photos with photos of his family and friends and his dog. I cleared out a lot of the knick-knacks to give the house a cleaner, less cluttered feel. As I was doing all of this, he was extremely appreciative, but one day last week I took him on a tour of the house, and I pointed out every drawer, cabinet, shelf, and storage basket that is now sitting empty, just waiting for his stuff. He was so happy, and so genuinely touched – it really was a special moment for us. Even if we have future fights about clutter, now he knows that I am listening and do care and that I have really been trying. And, honestly, I’d bet that in 3 months those cabinets and drawers are still empty (because he just doesn’t have that much stuff!) and we will end up using them for our own joint belongings, as those things grow.

      Oh, and I should mention that I didn’t have purely selfless intentions in doing all this work. We’ve been talking a lot lately about what we will register for when we are officially engaged, and he has made the comment several times that we can’t register for anything because we have no room to store any more stuff. Problem solved!

      • Christine

        I love that you guys were able to get to the root of the problem – and then solve it! It’s just so important to figure out whether you’re annoyed at an inconvenience or really upset about something larger!

      • Marina

        That may not seem to be the most romantic story on the surface, but seriously that is the kind of story that genuinely makes me tear up. Way to go on finding real, genuine, day-to-day ways to show your partner how much you’re making space for him in your life.

        • Ambi

          Thanks. Honestly, it really did feel like a romantic gesture when I was doing it, because I knew that it would matter so much to him. Luckily for me, once I got into the groove of sorting and organizing, I really enjoyed it too, so I was able to keep the momentum up and finish the entire house. I have mentally told myself that, even though I “did this for him,” I need to try to refrain from using it an argument, or basically I’ll lose all my big-romantic-gesture points; I can’t tell him to scrub the toilet and take out the trash because, after all, I organized all of our electronics and made room in the kitchen for your beer steins.

      • Ambi, when I moved in with my fiance we had a similar almost-argument. He had lived on his own in a tiny one bedroom for about 8 years and I moved in with him. He cleared out years of old things in the closet and a couple of drawers, and we put an organizer of mine in the bathroom to make space for me there … but there was no space for me to put anything anywhere else.

        So he’d constantly be annoyed at my purse and my gym bag being out in what he deemed as “mess” when I really had no other place to put them. We solved the problem by moving somewhere with more space, because there just wasn’t space for two people where we lived, but just knowing where each other was coming from in that disagreement was helpful. And nothing thrilled me as much as him making space for me in the apartment.

  • SAM

    We bit the bullet and hired a monthly maid service, mostly for the purpose of vacuuming and scrubbing the bathtub. Worth every penny in marital bliss.

    • Ambi

      So many of my friends have done this and absolutely swear that it saved their sanity, if not their marriages. I know that this tends to spark debate on APW (some people argue that, if your problem is that there is an imbalance in how much housework each partner does, having a maid doesn’t really solve the problem because, even with the help of a maid there are still chores that must be done, and if the dynamic continues and one partner ends up doing the vast majority of those, all the maid has really done is help her make her load a bit more manageable, but it hasn’t solved the imbalance). HOWEVER, I will say that my personal view is to think of hiring help (be it a maid or a lawn service or a laundry service or childcare or what have you) the way that Adrianne talks about having a dishwasher – sometimes the fight about the dishes is symbolic of a bigger problem, but sometimes dishes are just dishes and no one wants to do them. So, in preparation for a big party we’re hosting, I just bought a discount coupon for a one-time two-hour housecleaning. I expected my guy to be negative when I told him (he is generally anti-maid, which I guess he’s allowed to be since he is also the person in our house who does 90% of the actual cleaning – I do the “picking up” and organizing and grocery shopping, etc. – he vacuums and mops and scrubs toilets). But he was happy to hear it, and if this goes well, we may utilize it again in the future. Not necessary as a weekly type of thing (since we handle that pretty well on our own right now, with no kids), but maybe as a once-a-season treat to deep clean things neither of us wants to mess with.

    • We have three cats, work full time, and run a company together on the side, the cleaning our small apartment was The Thing, and we hired somoene to come once a month. We still have to work to keep clutter from getting out of control and do basic cleaning a few times a week, but someone else comes to do the serious scrubbing and deep cleaning, and it has saved our sanity and kept us from fighitng over it. SO WORTH IT!

    • Amy

      So worth it. We recently moved into a much larger house, and hiring a weekly cleaning service and a lawn guy to mow means that we both have more time on the weekends/weeknights to spend with each other and our child. Plus, as the spouse that works from home having a dirty/messy house means I don’t have an office to escape to – this is my office. So I felt disproportionally impacted by the dirty house, and therefore more annoyed at my husband when he didn’t pick up. Cleaning people have made this fight much less emotional. Now if the house is kind of gross, I just wait, it’ll be clean in a week or so.

  • KB

    I’d like to add to the catalogue of The Things what may be turning into our new dish fight – The Kitchen Cabinets. When he’s cooking, my fiance will open a cabinet drawer to get some spice or ingredient – and then leaves the cabinet door wide open. For no reason. So then I go into the kitchen to put my plate in the dishwasher, all of the cabinets will be open and it looks like a poltergeist was rummaging around our kitchen! It’s the most bizarre habit.

    • E

      This is one of our biggest fights! My husband will rummage through the kitchen for food and never closes the cabinet doors, which drives me insane. And it totally turns into a bigger thing than just closing the cabinets – I accuse him of not paying attention to the world around him, and he accuses me caring to much about little things (both of which are kinda true). Not sure if there is a Thing out there that will fix this one – do they make automatically shutting cabinet doors?

      • Lada

        they do, but you have to hit them slightly and after that they close

    • Zoo

      I have a similar issue, compounded by the fact that our cabinets are pretty crappy and don’t like to close properly anyway. Have you considered putting magnets on the cabinets? They’re pretty easy to install, and if you want to get extra fancy you could install the self-closing type of hinges.

    • Suzy

      Ahhhhh!!!!! I thought my guy was the only one who did this! Glad to hear he’s not crazy.

      • Anna

        Me too!

    • Ambi

      We have the exact same fight! I’ve threatened him that if he doesn’t start closing the cabinet doors, I am removing them all and just going with open shelving – something that I kind of want to do, but that he is really against due to the dust/dirt issue. You’d think that a guy who has opinions about dust getting on his dishes would be good at closing the cabinet doors!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        You would think…

        Except there’s lots of psychology books for lay people which say that brains just aren’t wired that way. Something like worrying about dust on dishes but not closing cabinets could relate to gender and brain structure, or a mild mental illness, or just personality type.

        For me, learning about lots of the brain research (including stuff about hormones and emotion) from the past decade really prepared me to be in a serious romantic relationship, and makes me a better romantic partner.

    • theemilyann

      My guy’s annoying habit is also in the kitchen, and it’s two… no, three fold. He spent a lot of his teen and early twenties working in restaurants and has picked up some really bad kitchen habits:

      Habit 1: the hand flick. Something is on your hand, spaghetti sauce, watermelon juice, whatever. You put your hand down near your waist and *flick* your hand to get the substance off. In a restaurant, industrial kitchen, this is OK because the WHOLE PLACE is hosed down at the end of the night. In a renal house with crappy white painted cabinets, it’s a nightmare.

      Habit 2: the dirty cabinet pull area. This is a continuation of #1. He’s cooking, hands a bit dirty, needs something, reaches into that cabinet or drawer – without rinsing or wiping his hands off. After two or three meals the most commonly used drawers / cabinets have dirty, dingy, grimey pulls. AHHHH!!! Again, wasn’t a problem in a restaurant kitchen.

      Habit 3: the loud cabinet door shut. I almost envy you ladies with men who don’t close the cabinet doors. My guy SLAMS them shut. This is a continuation of #2, and also stems from the restaurant history. If there was a door to something in a restaurant kitchen, you had to be damned sure it was closed, or it was a hazard with all those ppl moving around. So you pushed. Hard. Now it’s just a ::WHAP:: ::WHAP:: ::SLAM:: sound coming from the kitchen. All. The. Time. Oh, Beatles Rock Band, you’re so much fu–::SLAM::! ahhhh my head hurts.

      Whew – so nice to “say” that “outloud.

      • Kate

        The Flick! I too am a victim. My husband does it in the bathroom – apparently someone told him at some point that you shouldn’t dry your hands on a towel after you wash them because you could get germs on them from the towel. So he flicks. All over the counter and the mirrors. I am constantly wiping down the counters, and I just leave the glass spray in the bathroom at this point… If I catch him, I ask him to go clean up himself – not sure if there is a The Thing I can use to erradicate this behavior!

        • sarahmrose

          Provide paper towels? It’s not exactly efficient, but they shouldn’t have germs on them…

          • Ambi

            The germ issue comes from using a towel that other people have also used, that might end up being damp from multiple uses – so what about providing a stack of thin handtowels – he can use a fresh one and toss it in the laundry (yeah, you may need a place for him to toss it right there in the bathroom or it won’t be used). We usually keep two hand towels hanging in the bathroom and change them out every few days, but we use the stack of thin towels solution in the kitchen to cut down on paper towel use. It works pretty well, and I don’t feel like it has caused us to run any additional loads of laundry – I usually just throw them in with laundry I would already be doing anyway.

    • Class of 1980

      THIS. I had a former boyfriend like that. Not only the cabinet doors, but if he made a sandwich, the food was left unwrapped and each condiment was left wide open on the counter while he ate it.

      HOURS later, he would put the lids on, wrap up the food, and put it all away. Grrrrrrr.

      • Anu

        Ha, I’m the person leaving the condiments open in our relationship. Not usually for hours and hours though. I’m conscious of it though and am trying to change. My boyfriend has to gently remind me about it once in a while though. He’s very sweet about these things, really.

    • Not Sarah

      I would be worried about walking into open drawers/cabinets if I was dating someone who did that, rather than it just looking weird…

  • For us it was The Space — separate bathrooms. Ahhhhhhhh! No more teeny black hairs in my sink, no more hand washing in his way! The mad rush to get to work was made tolerable and the ride to work became a time to chat. We had no idea what a difference that would make in our lives when we moved from a tiny city apartment to a country condo, but really? Huge! Sometimes you just luck into a solution you didn’t know was there.

    • I LOVE separate bathrooms!

      • Rose in SA

        Me too!

    • SomeOtherHilary

      Separate bathrooms forever. Seriously.

    • Ambi

      When we were house hunting, all my friends STRONGLY advised us to get a house with at least two bathrooms so that we could each have our own. This was a strain on us while we were looking because it meant that we couldn’t then also afford other features we really wanted (for example, the cute bungalow with the huge fenced in backyard is perfect . . . except it only has one bathroom). But we did end up getting a house with two bathrooms, only to discover post-move-in that one of them has extensive water damage and can’t really be used until we completely gut it and renovate it. Since that isn’t something we can afford yet, we are currently living with one bathroom, and it has been surprisingly fine. Even when we had a friend and his child living with us, or now my brother, we have never had a problem. We are all very aware of trying to be considerate, so we keep it pretty clean for each other and try to keep our showers short in case someone else needs to get in there. I don’t do my hair or makeup in the bathroom, either. But, I grew up in a house with four people and one bathroom, and my guy grew up with four people and two bathrooms, one of which was often out of order due to their historic home having plumbing issues, so we are both just used to this. I am sure that I will love having the second bathroom once we get it renovated, but right now I keep daydreaming about that giant fenced-in backyard . . .

      • HH

        My guy and I have always been just dandy with one bathroom- but for the last two years, having a bathroom that is larger than the teensy closet that we had previously has been downright luxurious, because we can be in there and get ready at the same time! Go figure. Luxuries for some, horror for others. :)

  • Liz

    We were fortunate enough to get The Thing in the early years of our relationship: a GPS. I am a non-driver, crappy navigator, and the few times the GPS has failed us have involved the most heated arguments we have ever been in. Over how one ought to give/ask for specific cartographic information.

    I’m sure we will discover other Things when we move in together, but I’m sure it will help that we are setting a new home up from scratch on another continent and don’t have to worry about merging much.

    • Lynn

      Yep, the GPS was our Thing too! I’m a horrible navigator and he’s a typical guy who doesn’t like to ask for help or admit he doesn’t know where he’s going. The funny thing is my future father-in-law recognized this immediately after one trip up to their house when we arrived a little cranky from the stress of the drive. He said “oh, I’m getting you a GPS before you leave. We had this problem when we first got married except it was over the ice cube trays and who forgot to refill them. We got an ice maker and haven’t fought since!” I loved that he recognized that every couple has a Thing and was able to solve our issue with that one gift!

    • Zoo

      Ah, for us it was the TYPE of GPS. He hated my iPhone, I hated his Garmin. For us, there was The Rule: The driver gets to decide which GPS to use, and the passenger doesn’t get to argue. Problem solved.

    • E

      This is a great example of how Things are complicated, as a GPS would ruin one of my favorite parts of our relationship. We take a lot of road trips, and he always drives while I navigate. I love maps and take pride in being an excellent navigator, always knowing where the next rest stop is and ready to create a backup route, while he loves driving and trusts me to always get us where we need to go. I really enjoy how well we work together on road trips and so for us, a GPS would take away from our relationship, not add to it.

      My parents, on the other hand, NEED a GPS. Sadly, they had to wait 30 years into their marriage to get one. Those road trips as a kid were torture.

  • Jashshea

    “Blenders (healthy and delicious smoothies, baby food, or too many margaritas?)”

    Or, you know, the giant margarita machine that takes up 1/4 of the closet and I’m not allowed to have all my books because space is limited and I want my books because I like to have my books around and I hate reading on the kindle because if I truly love the book I want to hug it and smoosh it and think of all the books I could put in 1/4 of the closet!

    Sorry. What were we talking about?

    • Ambi

      Maybe your Thing should be an immersion blender that can easily fit in a kitchen drawer and would give you back your closet space?

      • Jashshea

        Haha! With the addition of the immersion blender, we have 3 blenders. In 700 sq ft. One is a normal sized blender, one is the margaritaville one (approximately 5 cubic feet and 400 lbs IN MY MIND) and the immersion. We had 4 until I snuck the other one out to the goodwill.

        We have free storage at his parents which is a blessing and a curse. It’s not making us think thoughtfully about what we really need vs. what we might maybe need in the future vs what we simply don’t need. Which, overall, might be our Thing. We’re both wannabe-minimalists with 2 condos worth of stuff combining into 1 condo. And I feel like I cleansed my belongings before I moved in and sometimes I don’t feel he applied the same level of rigor to the stuff that was already there (manifested in immersion blenders, tshirts, etc). I SOLD BOOKS, DAMMIT. :)

        I think this post is a really good reminder that it isn’t about him vs. me anymore. Or his stuff vs my stuff. I was/am really good about combining money, but have certainly had more trouble with possessions. Once we have a larger home and aren’t as constrained by space issues, I think I’ll feel things are more equitable. Or maybe I’ll just start hiding stuff from him in boxes and throwing it out when he doesn’t ask where it is in a certain time period. Like a sitcom lady.

        • Ambi

          Oh, Jashshea, you and I always seem to be on the same wavelength! This is so simlar to what we have been going through, except that we were both feeling like the other person didn’t edit down their belongings enough (actually, he felt that way about me, and I didn’t care so much about what he had, I just wanted him to create a storage space for each item and make sure it was kept in its home, rather than him having piles and boxes of random crap in corners and filling up closets . . . and he felt the same about my stuff). Anyway, we also had free storage space at his parents’, but they are about to move, so suddenly we have to clean that stuff out! And it has really helped us focus on weeding out what we don’t need. I am finally getting rid of things I’ve hung on to for years but never really use (cough, exercise DVDs, cough), and he is following my lead with regards to organization (when I put a bin in the closet labeled “electronics” and one labeled “hats” it helps him know where to put things).

          I think the hardest part, for us, has been that we aren’t engaged yet, and while we may have duplicates of some things, I am not getting rid of stuff until we’re married. I know that may seem like I have a negative outlook, but I think of it as just being cautious. If something were to go wrong, and I were to need to have my own place again, I would regret getting rid of half my pots and pans and towels. So, for now, all the extra items stay, and when we get ready to register, we will clean out our joint set of pots, pans, dishes, towels, etc., and get rid of duplicates as well as stuff that is just old and worn out, and then we’ll get a few new Things as a married couple that will be help us get in the mindset of “ours” rather than “mine.”

          • Jashshea

            Yup – he couldn’t believe how much stuff I had (even after a fairly ascetic cleansing of clothes/shoes and moving all furniture, books, luggage, etc to his parents) and I could believe how many places he keeps the same type of junk. Why are there papers in the safe and the file cabinet and all the drawers?

        • Marina

          I hear ya. My guy has toned down his hoarder tendencies to a remarkable degree, yet we’re still trucking his childhood board games from house to house in boxes that never get opened…

          Reading your comment, it definitely sounds like The Immersion Blender isn’t really about The Immersion Blender. It might be about He Hasn’t Made Room In His Life For Me or I’m Working Harder At This Relationship Than He Is… or it might just be about finding space for your books.

          • Jashshea

            Yes and no – Yes in that I feel like I dropped my stuff to 25% of original volume (from 2 bed 2 bath condo I lived in alone) and got less than 50% of the space (of the 1 bed, 1 bath condo we share). No in that I don’t think that represents him not making room in his life – just that we don’t (currently) place the same value on the physical space we share. For me, the blenders (used infrequently) are not worth the space they take up (significant) when we have free storage. For him the opportunity cost of not having the blender at the ready is worth the crowded closet.

            Sometimes an immersion blender is just an immersion blender. ;)

          • Ambi

            Jashshea, I think you just hit on a really key underlying factor in why many couples have these conflicts – just like we’ve talked about how each individual has their own tolerance level for messiness, I think each individual also has their own tolerance level for what I’ll call “the fear of being unprepared.” Have you ever watched Hoarders? It makes me sad because the people on that show are genuinely afraid of the idea of getting rid of, say, a plastic grocery bag because they may need it someday for something. A few years ago I talked about this with my good friend who was pregnant at the time – she was very upset and stressed about the fact that she was spending way too much money buying The Things while preparing for the baby – not the big things that you have to get, like a carseat, but just buying all kinds of smaller stuff that she felt like she may end up really needing at some point (like multiples of things, just in case). She said that she knew, rationally, that the stores would still be there after the baby was born, but that there was this deep fear of being unprepared for some urgent future need. I think that, to a degree, many of us approach the items in our homes this way too. I have way more wine glasses than I need. Never in my life have I hosted a party that had as many guests as I have wine glasses. But what if I did?! And what if I get rid of those cookbooks and want to make a leg of lamb and can’t find a recipe (and, um, the internet is down)?! What if urge strikes me to watch that action-flick DVD that was a gag gift at the office holiday party three years ago that I haven’t watched yet?! See, once you look at each individual thing, they can seem really ridiculous, but when you think about the overall concept – wanting to be prepared – it is easier to relate to. And I think a lot of times these items have to do with us imagining ourselves to live a certain type of life that may not reflect the type of life we actually lead right now. I haven’t gotten rid of too-small clothing because I hope I will be able to fit back into it. My boyfriend hasn’t gotten rid of a set of weights that he has kept under the bed for the past year without using them. I have a cabinet full of baking pans that never get used, but I still like the idea that one day I will be the type of person who bakes pies and bundt cakes. Overall, I think it may help you and your guy to try and evaluate why he really wants to keep certain items. Maybe talk through the worst case scenario – does he imagine that y’all have friends drop by unexpectedly and you’d like to serve them margaritas, but the blender is at his parents? Okay, what then? What’s the worst case scenario? Would they leave? Probably not. You’d just serve them something else, or go out for a drink, or maybe even (*gasp*) sit around and talk without drinks. For me and my skinny-clothes, the worst case scenario is that I’d need to buy a whole new wardrobe that I couldn’t afford (including business suits). Maybe, hopefully, if ya’ll can get to the root of why he wants to keep certain items on hand, either he’ll realize that having it stored at his parents’ isn’t a big deal, or you’ll understand why he wants it at home, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

          • Jashshea

            Great point, Ambi. Definitely worth bringing it up – maybe we could compromise and store it in the trunk of my car where I rarely have to see it, but it’s accessible if there’s a margarita emergency (totally a real thing).

          • HH



            “And I think a lot of times these items have to do with us imagining ourselves to live a certain type of life that may not reflect the type of life we actually lead right now.”

            With this, you articulated what I’ve been struggling to describe for years. YEARS. It’s funny how true this statement is, though. And how indicative it is of other issues that can plague a person. In my case- I work a job that zaps all of my time, energy and creativity, plus underpays me- so I cannot get crafty the way that I once could. Now I cannot devote time or energy to those projects, but I also can’t get rid of the crafty things (beyond what I’ve already cut down) because I feel like I cannot afford to replace them should my time get freed up again. If I got rid of these items, then I probably wouldn’t be able to convince myself that the expense of restarting my stash would be worth it, should the time present itself when I could use it.

            Thank you, ever so much. I think knowing how to put words to a problem can help me attack it from a different angle. Or at least accept that I am going to keep things for a certain period and not feel badly about it. Or something.

            So, thanks. :)

  • Jashshea

    Oh, and love the post, especially the point at the end. In my situation, we’re close on loads of Thing stuff – neither of us like clutter or fussiness (at least in theory). But he keeps All. The. Clothes. If I don’t wear something for a few months – gone. He has shirts that I’ve never seen on him in 6+ years, but he keeps them. And kitchen gadgets – that immersion blender is HUGE and has never been used.

    Like I rambled about above – I like books. I like books to be around me, physically. We certainly do all have our Things. And I can’t wait to live somewhere with storage space for blenders, books and whatever else.

  • Oh this post is brilliant for so many reasons. For us, the Fights are not of the knock-down shoutfest variety, but of the uncomfortably strained, often guilt-ridden type (but this is true of all our disagreements). Fortunately, we’re making leaps of progress in being able to work through How Chores Should be Done and compromising on Acceptable Levels of Cleanliness, which, in turn, is improving our intrapersonal communication as a whole.

    In all honesty though, the thorniest issue we faced involving Things was neither a fight nor related to chores. It was how my now-fiance considered and related to household Things I’d received as gifts from my previous marriage. As we’ve been friends for a decade now, he was present when these gifts were conferred and felt more than a bit uncomfy to come face-to-face with dishware and linens intended for someone else after we moved in together.

    It took several months before he came forward with his feelings (he felt silly having such a reaction to Things) but I’m so glad he did. After many discussions, we concluded that the gifts were given in love by friends and family to facilitate the formation of a baby family/household. They still serve that purpose, even if the first incarnation of said household differs from the present one.

    • Ambi

      This can be so incredibly difficult. I always think of this when I hear “ettiquite” advice about how a couple should not register for wedding gifts if they were previously married and registered for/recieved those things for the first marriage. I say to each their own, but it is completely understandable and appropriate if a couple wants to start over with new things for a new baby family – to me, even if the dishes/towels/etc. are still perfectly fine, one partner’s uneasiness with the situation is reason enough for friends and family to want to give them all new Things. Of course, every couple is different – my guy for example, has a pretty strong politica/moral aversion to buying things, so his discomfort in living with stuff meant for someone else would probably be outweighed by his desire not to buy all new stuff. All of this is to say that there is no one answer to this situation that is right or wrong, and it has everything to do with what the couple is comfortable with – I don’t really think that the WIC has any business telling couples what they should do in this situation.

  • katieprue

    I think there will be different Things for different points in your life. For us, a big one was the washer and dryer. When we were still going to the laundromat, I would get so resentful because I usually gathered up all the laundry in a huff after a day at work and did it all by myself while my then-boyfriend-then-fiance was at work. Once we got the washer and dryer in the house we each did our own laundry for awhile because I was SO OVER doing all the laundry, but now I’ve gone back to mostly doing it all. Because oddly enough, I always *liked* doing all the laundry, I just didn’t like hauling it back and forth to the laundromat.

  • SomeOtherHilary

    My first paper towel holder was nicknamed “My Quality of Life.” Sometimes small Things afford us a lot of peace of mind.

    • Ambi

      That’s hilarious, because my boyfriend just nicknamed a new basket I placed on a shelf in our kitchen “the sanity bin” because it contains all of our handtowels, kitchen rags, larger clean-up towels (you know, the old ugly ones you can use for cleaning the dog), and a roll of paper towels. We have had a mild-but-constant disagreement for years about the use of paper towels – he is very anti papertowels to the point that, if I put them on the shopping list, he won’t buy them if he is the one who happens to be shopping that day; I think they are necessary for some tasks, but do agree that we need to use more reusable towels when we can. But the problem was that I would end up grabbing a paper towel out of convenience for something like wiping off the countertops, but then when I really needed one because, for example, the dog peed on the floor, we’d be out because he had refused to buy them. So, in my crazy organizing spree recently, I put all of these things in one place, and now it is just as easy for me to grab a kitchen rag as it is for me to grab a paper towel, and I end up using a rag about 90% of the time now. And he has come around to the idea that we need to have paper towels in the house for certain tasks, but that we won’t use them often, so there is no reason to refuse to buy them.

      • Jashshea

        Great idea! I need a sanity bin for mail.

      • C62

        This illustrates one lesson I’ve been learning lately: sometimes issues of “principle” about little things like paper towel use just aren’t worth the friction they cause with our partner. Recently I was annoyed because my husband had left a spill in the fridge and hadn’t cleaned it up despite my pointing it out. As I was stewing about it, I said to myself, “I could clean it up myself, but I don’t want to. It’s not about the effort it would take me to clean it; it’s about principle.”

        Then I realized that having principles about the fridge is silly. Do I really need to be so dogmatic over something like that? My recent mantra is, “I can be right about everything, or I can have the marriage I want to have.” So I got over myself, cleaned the fridge, and was able to happily greet my husband when he got home that night.

  • Oh my god, the clothes horse that I can collapse without futilely kicking at it with increasing frustration for 5 minutes!! I LOVE our new clothes horse.
    To say: it turns out I don’t actually hate doing the laundry (currently, since Dude is working and I’m on maternity leave) nor do I hate the Dude for somehow requiring so many clothes… I just hated the damn uncooperative foot-pinching clothes horse.
    (you know how sometimes people sublimate their interpersonal issues into issues with Things? The opposite of that:)

  • Corrie

    My boyfriend and I have lived together for 4 years and are some of the only people we know who have yet to buy smart phones. While this is partially from a financial standpoint, a big part of it is that I think the absence of smart phones in our lives helps keep our relationship and communication strong. Our friends are always buried in their smart phones when we’re hanging out, and my boyfriend’s brothers-in-law are constantly checking their phones during rare family dinners. We would rather be fully present with each other and with our friends than constantly half-paying-attention to each other. I noticed that when I bought a laptop, I started to become more constantly connected to email, Facebook and other things outside my home and less connected to my boyfriend, even when we were just sitting on the couch watching tv and chatting at commercials. Knowing how much of an added distraction the convenience of laptop was, I can’t imagine how distracting a smart phone would be for me.

    We definitely recognize the value of a smart phone and the conveniences it can offer, but none of those added conveniences are necessary for us to get by in our daily lives, so it just seems like we would be paying more money to be distracted by more stuff. We find that it’s nicer to not be constantly connected to the outside world, which keeps us more connected to each other (aside from the added benefit of actually knowing our way around our city without a GPS, unlike my friend who uses her iphone to GPS the 1 mile drive to my house, but that’s a whole different story!) Granted, considering the lack of quality non-smart-phone options and the way phone companies seem to be trying to phase out regular cell phones, I’m not sure how much longer we will last without giving in!

  • KE

    My fiance and I both pride ourselves on being budget conscious, but when it comes to stuff like this, we have no shame in buying All The Things. We’ve developed our own shorthand to describe spending money on things we could do ourselves, but neither of us wants to, and a fight is brewing– throwing money at it.

    “There is dog hair everywhere.” “Do you want to throw money at it?” “I’ll call the groomer.”

    You could call this conflict avoidance, but I think of it as being realistic about our limitations, and recognizing which fights are worth having. There’s no point in discussing who should be brushing the dog more and who should have the foresight to schedule an appointment with the groomer and what that means about our feelings about the dogs and responsibility in general and future children. Sometimes dog hair is just dog hair, and throwing money at the problem fixes it.

    • Class of 1980

      I have my cat shaved down in a lion’s cut at least once a year. It’s the key to her sanity and mine.

      • KE

        My dog gets his hair cut more often than I do, and it’s more expensive. Poodles! But seriously, worth it.

        • MM

          Definitely worth it! Standard Poodles are the best… though I wouldn’t be able to afford to keep her in the fancy haircut I prefer if I wasn’t able to do it myself.

  • Heather

    Thank you for this post. I am an anthropologist, so discussions about how the things we own are a reflection of who we are, always intrigue me….Funny, my partner and I for a long time disagreed about the way we use the dishwasher. I prefer to wash the dishes before they go in there, whereas he just loads everything in, food specs and all, and hopes for the best. As he puts it, the technology is there for a reason. We just agree to disagree and accept that as long as the dishes are done it is fine either way. Funny two “things” we use in our household that have been transformative i.e. that have saved us from strained conversations at the end of the workday, improved communication, and streamlined expectations: (1) a food calendar- we post it in the kitchen and plan our meals for the next week or two. this helps us to cut down on shopping costs, because now we only buy what we need and we know who is cooking each night. We still plan for one take out night and for nights we will be really busy & need to make something fast but healthy (2). the post-it note->i leave it on the t.v. with a list of things that need to be done around the house. This way, we both contribute to getting things done, i don’t feel overwhelmed and he doesn’t feel hounded. It truly is the little things…..

    • Class of 1980

      It’s known as having different dishwasher religions. ;)

    • Ambi

      Very interesting because one of our biggest fights ever was when I started leaving post-it notes for my boyfriend with chores that needed to be done around the house. Big, Big Fight. He got mad because (1) he already does a most of the cleaning so he felt really resentful that I’d tell him that one of those tasks needed to be done – the thought process was, “well, I already clean the bathroom every week or two, and if you think it looks dirty right now and want it clean, you are welcome to go ahead and do it yourself;” (2) that the list only had things on it that I thought were priorities – he does a lot of work in the yard that I can’t really see much benefit from, but which matters to him – that stuff was never on the list. It was only stuff like “make the beds” which he could care less about; and (3) he felt like the overall tone of leaving a post-it note was a bit nagging and passive-aggressive. So, we fought. And it was really painful, because I felt like this was a way I could communicate with him about which chores needed to be done without nagging and without dictating that they be done NOW – this way, he saw the list and could do them on his own schedule. Big differences in how we viewed the post-it note!

      The system we have arrived at is one where we generally have our own chores and do them on our own schedules, and for the most part, one partner doesn’t tell the other partner how to do their chore – my guy always vacuums, so if I think the floor needs to be vacuumed one day, rather than tell him to do it, my options are basically just wait aind he will get around to it, or if it bugs me that much, I can do it myself. We have a centralized list (dry-erase board inside the pantry door) where we can make notes to each other, and those tend to be mostly about chores, but now we frame it as more of a request than an order – as in, “I am having book club over for dinner on Thursday – I’ll take care of everything else, but will you please vacuum that day so the dog hair will be a a minimum?” This system usually allows us to get all the chores done, but now he doesn’t feel like I’m ordering him around.

      • Heather

        That is really interesting. I think this is a testament to the fact that every couple has a different love language. What we do have in common is that my partner also does the vacuuming for our household, because I HATE to vacuum but I love the way the carpets looks when its done. (We also have a pup that sheds everywhere). Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to not say: can you just do it now so it will look nice. My partner and I perceive things so differently sometimes, that it literally takes a big fight or a lengthy discussion for us to say, this might be working for you but it is not working for me, so lets compromise…. Thanks for your response Ambi :-)

  • Katy

    Can the Thing be the Person? After having a baby, we just couldn’t keep our house clean. Clutter and messes stress me out — my hubby tried, but between work, taking care of the baby, and not sleeping, we couldn’t keep up. Having the house cleaned once a week gives us relaxing time together.

    • Class of 1980

      I can’t begin to tell you how many working couples have said hiring a housekeeper changed their lives and marriages.

      In the days when men were the sole providers, they were not expected to come home and do the housekeeping and child wrangling too.

      Yet, we think women are supposed to?

    • Heather

      Katy, I think the thing can be a person and that is a great idea! You know my partner has been suggesting this for years because I am working full time while getting my PhD-which does not compare to how busy you must be with having a new baby and working-Bless you. anyway, he keeps suggesting it but I say no, we live in an apartment and it is just the two of us-i can’t justify the expense. Sometimes I find myself cleaning at 2:00am before his parents come in to town and I have to work that day. I think I am being stubborn at this point because I could really use the extra sleep….

      • Katy

        Heather – if you’re working and in grad school, you totally should get some housecleaning help — even if just occasionally! I was single when in grad school (and only working part time), and I was jealous of all the married (male) grad students because they had someone to pick up the slack around the house (and provide emotional support, but that’s a whole other topic).

  • Class of 1980

    Over the past 11 years, I’ve rented several new spec homes. No matter how cool they’ve seemed to a visitor, the frustrated architect in me has a critique for every one of them.

    If you want to know how important “things” are, think about why some places you’ve lived in made your life easier and some made it harder. An architect once made the statement that if he wanted to, he could design a house that would cause a couple to divorce. I believe it.

    I had to make a too quick decision to rent the current house I’m in, because the previous one sold. This house looks good, but the floor plan makes zero sense and the driveway is known as “Heart Attack Hill”. But the worst thing is that there are NO CLOTHES RODS in any of the closets. The owner is so upside-down on the mortgage, he doesn’t want to invest another cent.

    Try living in a house where you can’t hang up your clothes and get back to me on how important “things” are. I am disorganized and continually irritated. So, I am looking for the next house.

    Some day I will laugh about this. But not today. ;)

    • Ambi

      Are tension rods an option? You can get them fairly cheaply, and while you can’t put a lot of weight on them, they would allow you to hang at least some key items. I know this shouldn’t be your expense, but in line with the spirit of today’s post, maybe spending a few bucks on some tension rods may be worth it if those are the Things that make your life easier.

      • Class of 1980

        Yeah. I’ve been reluctant because I just want OUT of this house. I purposely haven’t unpacked lots of boxes.

        Plus, I’ve not had time to devote to searching for a solution, which would most likely be online since I live so far out in the country and don’t have access to lots of stores.

        I’d probably put too much weight on a tension rod by hanging too much. Then when it fell down, I’d lose my temper over the sheer absurdity of it all. ;)

    • Alexandra

      Ikea probably has a solution to this, probably in the form of a wardrobe you can just slot into place. I know I owned a free-standing set of bars to hang clothes off of, but it was a walmart one and broke after about a year.

      More disappointing about living in a room where I couldn’t hang my clothes was that I had just moved from a room where I had no room for a dresser and could ONLY hang clothes. I bought a set of hanging shelves which then became useless with no clothes racks.

      • Class of 1980

        Your post made me laugh, because … the irony.

        The thing is, I research stuff all the time. Somehow, searching for a solution to this feels like ONE MORE THING on my list of things I need to research. And it pisses me off because closets without rods are so freaking stupid that I’m resentful.

        Prior to moving in, the master bath was still missing a shower surround. I was given a choice as to what would be finished. The owner wasn’t willing to do it all. I chose the shower surround and figured I’d deal with the clothes situation later. I didn’t.

        • Alexandra

          Yeah, I was rather annoyed at the turn around. But it was also a very temporary location so I put up with it…

          This seems like it would be a good starting place for reasonably permanent solutions to no clothes racks though:

          Or here’s a good Walmart solution to closet with no rack:

          This is the one I owned, but like I said, it broke after too long with too many clothes:

        • Class of 1980


          I will look at those. But I hope you know that the minute I buy one, the Universe will provide me with the perfect rental with the most glorious closet imaginable. ;)

          • Alexandra

            Well, buy the Walmart version, you’ll only be out about $60. XD It’s probably the cheaper option than Ikea’s nicer solutions.

          • Ambi

            I have had a cheap metal clothes rack (the kind on wheels so you can roll it around) for years, and I can’t tell you how convenient and useful it is, even if your closets have hanging bars! I’ve used mine in closets, to add addtional hanging space, right under the other bar. I’ve used mine for hosting clothing-swap parties and yard sales. I’ve broken it down into parts and stuck it in under the bed when I didn’t need it. If you can get one pretty easily and cheaply and you can afford it, I would not hesitate to buy it – don’t worry about “will I be able to use it in the future”, because you will! And worst case scenario is that you eventually have no use for it and donate it to Goodwill, which will absolutely put good use to it in their resale shop!

  • Laurel

    Like Christine said above, this is a post which is so accurate, and also so specific to a financial situation in which you have some extra money to throw at problems (which is my current situation, so no judgment).

    My partner and I have spent a bunch of time in this whole wedding process talking about our respective families’ approaches to money. In their different ways, both of our families want to avoid being controlled by money. My parents want to make enough money to feel like they have their needs met and can throw money at problems when they want to. On the other hand, her parents live thriftily (for a long time they lived in a house with no indoor toilet) in order to avoid needing to make life decisions around how much they’ll make. I’ve found this really helpful to think about in making decisions about filling my life with more things — I really don’t want the things to be controlling my life, and sometimes the best way to deal with that is to not get the labor-saving device that stops the fights.

    Which is why we can’t have a pet robot that will vacuum our house, EVEN THOUGH THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.

    • Jashshea

      My parents had a vacuum sales demo where it was automagic – it works with preexisting ventilation or some such and just cleaned when it noticed the HWs were dirty. It was SO tomorrowland, but they’d already finished the renovation and didn’t want to reopen all the walls. I told them I would have moved home if they’d gotten it.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I think the first Thing I bought when my fiance moved in was a book light. Even though he sleeps and reads in a different room, light from that room around the door frame was enough to disturb my sleep. I had already bought earplugs and taught him to use headphones.

    Next Thing is a cell-phone charger. He’s borrowed mine without asking and forgotten to return it twice. (He’s misplaced his.) That’s enough of a pattern in my mind to spend the money, though I usually don’t spend money to replace things that are misplaced, especially when there’s a workable stop-loss.

    Here’s where it could get tricky: Obviously, borrowing mine without asking and not returning it is not right. In a better world, it’d be his responsibility to obtain a replacement for the charger he misplaced. (Our finances are nowhere close to joint yet.) But he’s unemployed. There are lots of situations where I’d like to throw money at a problem, but the money should be his (and he’d say as much). But he has no money. So, in addition to all the examples above about not having the Thing being a growing point for the relationship, we’re finding not having the Money to be a source of growth (usually, hopefully).

  • Ambi

    As I’ve mentioned above, sometimes your Thing isn’t really a thing at all – for us, it has been organization. Things, in the form of storage bins and baskets have helped, but really, the biggest improvement has come from us taking the time to really evaluate our use of every space and whether we need every item. Major life improvement!

  • Carrie

    In our house The Tensions are:

    Him to me: “You never put things away! When you’re done with something, you just drop it wherever you happen to be!” (He never actually says it like that; he mostly takes an explaining tone of “Let’s just not make the mess in the first place. If we put things away when we’re done with them, then there will be less to clean later.”) This is admittedly true. I have ADD, and not putting things away is a combination of needing things to stay visible so I don’t forget about them, and always thinking in terms of starting the next thing rather than doing the tedious, boring putting-things-away part.

    Me to him: “You never do the laundry until you’re out of clothes!” (He has a lot more t-shirts, underwear, and trousers than I do, so it takes him about four times as long to run out of clothes. I therefore always end up doing the laundry, because I need clean clothes, which means I end up folding lots and lots of his t-shirts and underwear.) Alternately, “You never cook! When it’s your night to make dinner, it’s always either frozen convenience food, takeout, or we go out!” (I never actually say it like this either. In fact, I basically just don’t say these thoughts out loud at all. I just simmer quietlyto myself.)

    Mine are definitely both really about feeling like I put in more effort to take care of him than he does to take care of me. I think his is about feeling like I’m being inefficient, careless, or thoughtless with things? Sometimes it’s about him not being able to find things (like books), but he also gets annoyed when I leave things around that he doesn’t use (like nail polish).

    I don’t know whether there’s a Thing to fix these tensions. With laundry, I guess either we could get separate hampers and each do our own laundry, or we could hire a wash-dry-fold service. With putting things away … I guess I need someone to follow me around 24/7 and put things away after me? Really, I think the answer is engineering storage so that things are stored right where I use them, and so that putting them away takes almost no effort. I’m slowly trying to do this in the house. The Things in this case would be bins, boxes, hangers, etc. With cooking, I don’t have a clue.

    But yeah. Often, with ongoing fights/tensions, there’s a workaround solution that doesn’t require one person to drastically change their habits. Sometimes that workaround is a device, sometimes it’s living in a different place, sometimes it’s hiring someone. It’s worth trying to think of that workaround rather than getting stuck in “You change.” “No, YOU change.”

    • Laurel

      Our solution to this kind of problem is to trade. In your situation, you could do the laundry and he could tidy. (My partner does the laundry *and* tidies, but I do the dishes. We’ve also accepted that laundry usually won’t get folded, and that if it does it’ll be both of us folding it together.)

    • Ambi

      Carrie, here are a few things that have worked for us. They may not be magic bullets for you (every relationship is different), but here’s what we have done:

      1) Talk about the “why” behind each task. Why is cooking at home important? Is it about saving money? Eating a healthier meal? Spending quality time together? Showing your love for one another by doing something thoughtful and helpful? I think you’ll discover that you each answer this question differently, and that your choices when it is your night to cook reflect what you view the underlying purpose to be. Your guy probably thinks it is simply about providing y’all with food in a way that you don’t have to put in any effort (so, to him, using a frozen convenience food or getting takeout accomplishes that purposes). In the end, you may not agree on the purpose, and that’s fine, as long as you respect each other’s needs. So, for example, if he says that he hates cooking, isn’t good at it, and could think of a million better ways to show you that he loves you, you may need to let go of cooking as a way in which you want him to show it. But at the same time, if the cost of restaurant meals stresses you out because you two have built in a certain number of cook-at-home nights into your budget for a reason, he needs to respect that too. It doesn’t mean he has to whip up a gourmet meal from scratch, but it does mean that, if cost is an issue, he needs to keep the cost of the meal in mind.

      2) Regarding picking up after yourself, I think you’ve already discussed the “why” issues on both sides. What we do, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, is have “clutter catchers” in almost every room – woven baskets, decorative bowls, a pretty tray – and whenever I am using something in one room and I just want to leave it there, I at least put it in the designated clutter catcher. Then, every few days, I walk through the house and empty these things by putting the objects in their proper places, so the clutter catchers don’t overflow. It has helped immensely that our items all have proper places now – I organized all of our closets and storage spaces and now everything has a home. I am a big fan of labels. Having a bin marked “nail polish” helps me quickly put away my nail polish. My guy generally doesn’t love the whole clutter catcher technique, but prefers it to having items just strewn all around the house. And he has started to use them too – I have a large woven basket tucked into a corner by the front door, and he uses it now as a landing pad for things he wants to drop off as he comes in the door. He often takes his shoes off and leaves them there, or his rain jacket, or books he brought home from work. He is better than I am about cleaning it out – he does it almost every day.

      3) Regarding laundry, I am not sure what to tell you. I actually really enjoy doing laundry, so I do 99% of our laundry by myself. But at the same time, I hate to vacuum, and he doesn’t mind it, so he does 99% of the vacuuming. So some things really can be a trade off. But if you resent doing all the laundry, talk to him about the trade. Either ya’ll will come to an agreement that makes you feel better about doing the laundry, or you’ll come to an agreement where he ends up doing more of the laundry (I hesitate to recommend that you each do your own because there tends to also be a lot of household laundry – sheets, towels, bath mats, shower curtain liners, kitchen rags, etc. – you would still need to figure out a system for addressing this stuff).

      4) I think one of the hardest things can be dealing with disagreements over priorities. For example, and I’ve used this one a lot, I think it is important to make the bed every day. My boyfriend does not. So, after years of arguments about it, I just make the damn bed because I’m the only one who cares about it. He rakes all the leaves in the fall because I couldn’t care less about whether we have leaves in our yard, and what is the point of raking them if more are just going to fall? There have to be reasonable limits to this train of thought, or you can end up with one partner who does all the chores, but at the same time, it really makes things simpler if each person can just accept that the other one doesn’t see any value in doing that particular chore. Yes, if my boyfriend really really wanted me to rake the leaves (if, for example, he was bringing his boss home for dinner and wanted the yard to look nice), I’d do it because it mattered to him (not because I agree that the leaves are a problem), but generally, in day to day life, it is a constant losing battle to fight with someone to try to get them to do something they see no value in doing.

      5) Finally, don’t underestimate your ability (and your guy’s ability) to create new habits. I used to be much messier. I was the person who left everything out, let messes pile up, and would only clean when it got really bad. I started making an effort to be tidier when my guy and I moved in together, and it was really difficult. But through trial and error, and through finding a few tricks that work for me (labeled bins, the clutter catchers), I have gotten a lot better. Now, I walk around the house most nights and pick up stray items and put them away without really thinking much of it. I remember my mom doing this when I was a kid, and I thought she was so different from me – that I would always be messy and just didn’t have the neat-freak gene that would motivate a person to constantly tidy up. But now I’m doing it too. It just took a while for the habit to really take hold and for it to start feeling natural and not like a dreaded chore.

  • V

    Our Thing is intangible. Our Thing is Dinner Plans. There is at least an hour of stress every evening while we try to jointly decide on Dinner Plans.

    So,we take turns deciding. It works, mostly. But I’m still holding out for the Chef as the Thing at some point in our life. :)

    • Ashleyn

      OH MY GOD, I am not alone! It is so painful almost every. single. night. Plus it doesn’t help that we have different tastes in food. I grew up with lots of healthy, homegrown meals (midwestern farm girl, anyone?) and he grew up with lots of eating out or ordering in or fast food. Plus, both of us are non-deciding types of people. It’s excruciating.

      Sometimes I just say, I’m making this for dinner tonight, and if he wants to he can eat it, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Sometimes we both sit around until nine o’clock, non-deciding, and have cereal and grapes for dinner. Sometimes he goes out and gets burgers.

      We have not yet found a solution, obviously.

      • V

        Too funny Ashleyn! My husband is in fact a midwestern (near the) farm boy! I grew up on boxed mac and cheese and spaghettios. Either of which constitutes a perfectly delicious meal, in my opinion.

        We don’t cook that much so the stress is usually over Where Should We Go. Healthy/indulgent, drive/walk, quick/slow, stay in/carry out, with drinks/without drinks, wine/beer. We sometimes go the route: “you pick three options and I’ll narrow it down”. Sometimes: “call me back in 20 minutes when you have some suggestions.” The worst: “I’m just going to drive straight until you tell me which way to turn.”

        • Elaine

          The food plans is definitely The Fight for us too. We both like to cook, but have very, very, very different palates. I grew up vegetarian and love spicy food and trying new things; he eats meat and potatoes, and very little else. This oftentimes makes eating out and simply ordering different items, or cooking separately, the best option. I worry what it will be like when we add a kid to the mix with another set of dietary preferences entirely. I tell my husband that, if our hypothetical future kid is as picky of an eater as he is, I’m sending it back.

  • Katie K

    The Dishwasher. I have always said that The Dishwasher saved our marriage. Our first year of marriage was so much fighting, and then we moved to an apartment with The Dishwasher, and the fights stopped (or nearly). Then instead of using the dishes as a venting point when we had tough issues to talk about, we had no excuse but to talk them out.

  • Alexandra

    I think my Thing is too much my entire house as a whole… I hate that I don’t really have a private outdoor space like a backyard or patio. I hate the carpets, which are gross and dingy from the previous tenants and will probably never look clean. I hate that the cupboards don’t close properly, and that the walls are poorly painted. I hate that whoever did the grouting in the first place was sloppy about it and the impossible-to-remove grease stains on the kitchen walls. And while there’s pretty much nothing to do now about it, I feel a little bitter still because in renting the place, the house a few doors over was actually being renovated, but my fiance decided he didn’t want to wait a month to get that place and would rather move in RIGHT NOW (there was no rush). So now we’re stuck with the ugly because he couldn’t wait and didn’t actually discuss it with me.

    So far, my solution has been to attack the decorating with a fiery passion. Mostly with ribbons and a pack of vinyl wall stickers of butterflies and bird and flowering branches. There were a few minutes of “Okay, the house now looks too girly with all those butterflies.” but spreading them out around the house helped that too. Now I just need to come up with a great solution to the lack of a coffee table and our habit of using the spare bedroom as a storage room.

    Also, I should possibly consider buying an automated litter box. Cause I never expected I would develop so much hate for it, and being the one to insist on owning cats, I feel guilty foisting that off.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’ve posted before about how “good architecture” was this mysterious priority with my future husband for our reception venue. I anticipate related mysteries after we’re married with the architecture of our next apartment building and the “quality” of the additional furniture we need.

      Meanwhile, my future husband is definitely one of those people I’d say can let the best be the enemy of the good, though it’s really about bigger issues outside his control. I plan to give him clear criteria (new apartment can’t be X far from my office; new dresser must fit in Y space) and a budget and say if he can’t find a solution by a certain date, I’m picking.

      Because I’m one of those people for whom having a project pending too long drives me nuts.

      • Alexandra

        I could see that. I think just in retrospect to me, 2 years later, it’s hard to see how “wait an extra month” managed to be more important “have everything completely renovated.” And in the end, I also felt really cut out of the decision because I never got to see the unrenovated place and barely discussed it with him before he signed the lease (which lacked my name as I was unemployed and we were unmarried). I take a bit of time to make important decisions, and like to weigh all my options, whereas he took a 5 minute conversation with me to make the decision for us both and commit to it.

        So, I warn you against just declaring that you’ll pick a house if he can’t within a certain timeline. At least for me personally, I’m now so dissatisfied with the house we got that I want to move again, and the sooner the better.

        • Ambi

          Alexandra, I have been there! I want to share what I did to cope, but I completely understand that it may not be an option for everyone. I happened to have a very friendly, easygoing landlord, and the house had a pile of old unused bricks stacked in the backyard, so I just asked the landlord if he’d mind if I used them to create a brick patio. I did the research and figured out how much I would need to spend in additional materials (and made sure it was a project I really could tackle with help from my boyfriend and parents), and I proposed to him that I would be happy to do the work if I could take $X out of next months’ rent (this figure was the cost of additional materials). He agreed, and my family and I built the patio in a weekend. After that worked so well, I moved on to other projects – painting the bedroom, putting in flower beds in the front of the house, and steam-cleaning the carpets. Each time, I arranged ahead of time to take a certain amount of money out of my rent and then I kept my budget for the project under that amount. I also only did things that were simple and classic (cream-colored painto on the walls, a really simple square brick patio, and matching azelea bushes on both sides of the front door), so that the landlord wouldn’t have to worry about financing a project that then made his house harder to rent. This way, I got to improve the home I was living in, and find as creative outlet for all my decorating and design plans, and the landlord got free labor and increased rental value for his property.

          • Alexandra

            I’ve considered it, actually, but the things I’d want to do are mostly things like redo the cupboards or replace the carpets and I’m apparently really lazy about home renovation. That, and given that it’s such a small space in the first place, I’m not sure where we’d move things the furniture in the mean time. We’d probably have to move out of the home while it was happening.

            Perhaps I’ll talk with the fiance about making it happen though. Painting the walls we can probably manage some weekend, but the replacing the carpet in the whole house is a big task.

          • Ambi

            I probably wouldn’t attempt to replace the carpet, but steam cleaning it will do wonders, and your landlord will probably be happy to let you take the rental fee for a steam cleaner out of your monthly rent (although it may also make him nervous about what prompted the request – you’ll probably have to assure him that you didn’t allow the dogs to make huge messes on the carpet or spill an entire pot of marinara sauce or something). Also, buy rugs. You can take them with you when you leave, and they’ll disguise the carpet now. Layering rugs over carpet is a look that is very hot right now – I’ve seen it in tons of home-design magazines and in catelogs for stores like Pottery Barn. I really recommend trying some of the newer indoor/outdoor rugs. They are durable, cheap, and easy to clean, and I’ve found them to be surprisingly soft and luxe-feeling underfoot. Good Luck!

          • Class of 1980

            In some states, the landlord is required to clean the carpet at specific intervals.

          • Alexandra

            They did clean the carpets when we moved in, at least to my knowledge. Unfortunately, only so much can be done for “The kid put the hot iron onto the carpet.” And they’re still so dirty in the areas with traffic that I suspect nothing will make it cleaner. Or maybe it’s just the particular colour that refuses to look clean since there’s not enough natural light for that particular shade of off-white.

            Rugs on the other hand, I might start looking into more. They’d probably help.

  • sarahmrose

    Such a great post, and so many great comments.

    A lot of what we’re getting at here with Things is that often we forget to address the underlying structures that cause fights — the problem isn’t that your partner doesn’t love you enough/pay attention to your needs/understand how hard you’re working/[fill in existential crisis] to do the dishes, even though we often convince ourselves of it. It’s that the dishes need to get done.

    To take a non-Thing example: I have a tendency to be a little bit late going places (under 10 mins), and my husband is perpetually punctual. It drove him insane and led to the earlier referenced existential-level fights — until we decided he should just start planning to meet me 10 minutes after we had said we would. Now, that sometimes meant I was often left waiting instead, but I didn’t really mind.

    We can’t always expect our partners to change. And we can’t expect ourselves to learn to love the things that drive us nuts about them, either (like someone above said, what annoys you about them now is probably going to annoy you in 60 years.). But we can find solutions and make at least some of those things irrelevant.

  • Anna

    This is such a great topic, and a new way for me to think about quite a few things that have been irritation points for me and/or us during our first two years in our new house:
    – Dishwasher (I swear to god, I’m never cohabiting without one again);
    – Washer/dryer (he leaves his dry clothes in the dryer; I remind him it is not a closet);
    – Mail (I am the only one who will take it out of the mailbox, open it, or sort it);
    – Belongings (we each tend to hold on to our own things and think the other should down-size their stuff);
    – Cleaning of any kind (this is a conversation we really need to have);
    – AC units (should they be on or off at any given time?);
    – The Cat (does he count as an object? if so, should he be able to stay out all night? can he sleep on the bed?)

    And on and on ad nauseum.

    I’m aware that the root of most of these battles is the difference in our personalities. But STUFF and OBJECTS are generally how these differences make themselves known. And it’s comforting to know now that we’re not the only ones!

    • Class of 1980

      Cats outside at night become prey. And sometimes even in the daytime.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    Late in the game to this, but…. sharin’ anyway.

    I think I sort of disagree with the takeaway of this. I totally agree that sometimes the fights are just about the dishes, and so: buy the dishwasher. The trash can. The so on. It doesn’t need to be expensive.

    But, why, then, do “have it all” couples still have issues? And how do you know if your fight is about the dishes or if it’s about something else? Maybe it isn’t about the dishes, but getting a dishwasher “solves” the dishes problem, making the problem go away?

    So, how do you know? How do you know if you’re wrong? Those are the big questions. A trash can or a dishwasher could be the entirety of the problem, or it could be a band-aid. But just saying “we don’t fight about that anymore” doesn’t mean everything is ok.

    I’m sure others disagree with my disagreement, but throwin’ it out there anyway.

    • Ambi

      I don’t disagree, but I do think there is wisdom to choosing your battles. Yes, if your marriage has issues regarding the fact that one person does more than her fair share of the chores, then any and every chore-related argument will contain an element of that larger conflict as well. But at the same, time, if there is an obvious and easily-attainable fix to the problem, it may not be necessary to “fix” the bigger issue – and I put fix in quotes because, honestly, most of these big issues don’t get fixed, we just continue to work on them for a really long time, and the dynamics ebb and flow during different stages in our relationship, but the issue will still (probably) be around, regardless of whether you solve the smaller problem buy, for example, getting the dishwasher or hiring a maid. I think part of this has to do with whether you believe that conflict is inherently good, in that it presses you to reach a solution. For me, I would much rather eliminate conflict and avoid some of the bigger issues, if just for now, because I know that there really is no “solution” to our issues – we are two people trying to live as one unit, and we are just going to disagree on some things, and fighting about stuff like dishes makes us feel bad and is avoidable, so why don’t we save the fighting for things that we can’t so easily solve?

  • Ambi

    I believe I read this on a blog somewhere (maybe this one?!) regarding how to get over your guilt about throwing out your child’s old schoolwork and art (because they produce way more of that kind of stuff than even the most sentimental parent would realistically want to keep), but it applies just as well to cleaning and organizing, which we’ve been talking a lot about today. The steps are very simple:

    Pour yourself a glass of wine. Get a big trashbag. Gather up a pile of stuff you need to sort through, and sit down in front of the television. Turn on an episode of Hoarders . . .

    • HH

      HA! That’s great!

  • Jessica

    I know I’m late to the party, but I had to giggle when I read this post. Our thing is definitely a dishwasher (or a new place to live since we both hate this apartment). Every single one of our fights starts off about the dishes. Every. Single. One. I hate walking in the door and seeing a pile of dishes in the sink, and he hates having to stand there and do them for an hour. I am literally so excited about the day we get a dishwasher (which will be soon!!!)

  • C62

    This may be one of my favorite APW posts ever. It’s reassuring to be reminded that sometimes little arguments don’t mean your relationship is doomed, and sometimes it’s okay to just fix the issue rather than overthinking it and turning The Dishes Are Dirty into We Are Fundamentally Incompatible.

    From the moment we moved in together, I’ve declared our dishwasher The Marriage Saver because we both hate doing dishes. We still argued for the first few months about whose turn it was to load/unload, but eventually we found the “duh” solution: I always load, he always unloads. Sometimes we still bicker if one of us is too slow to do our part, but it’s much better than it used to be.

    Also, we both hate doing laundry, so we do ours separately. That way if I procrastinate I’m the only one who suffers, and vice versa. Towels, sheets, etc. get tossed in when someone has room in their load. A lot of people think this is strange, but we just view it as refusing to let laundry become a Problem.

  • Natalie

    I really love this post. It can be hard to acknowledge how much the external Stuff matters. It applies beyond marriages too- my first experience like this was with my parents. We fought like crazy in the years leading up to me getting my driver’s license over them taking me places. Once I could drive myself, like magic, our fight frequency dropped off the charts. That source of conflict was simply removed.

  • QCaz

    The Things. I love this post!

    I am in the situation where one of our things WAS running water (and power for that matter). We live very remote. We have a block of land that we are trying to save money to build on. Someday. Meanwhile, we lived in a caravan. We carted water every second day. We had a very low power supply from solar and would often cart our batteries back and forth as well.
    We did argue about stuff, but not bad arguements. Not often. We were happy. We spent about a year and a half like that, and we really couldnt afford to do much to change the situation. (other than slowly saving for improvements – like a gas fridge and a small water tank etc etc)

    Then I got pregnant. And DEMANDED a proper toilet to spew into. So we rented a little house (shed) down the road. Its very basic, and fairly cheep. We have REALLY struggled (although its getting better as we get used to it) with the extra cost of rent and a power bill. But you know what? We are so much more relaxed. We have HEAPS more time to spend togeather. We diddnt realise what a toll all the extra EFFORT of living that basic took on our relationship. Now we realise one of our THINGS is hot running water. (98% of people will not even be able to comprehend the difference it makes) The funny part is, it was a HUGE issue in our relationship. We just never realised it!

    Another Thing is TV. We had it before the caravan, but then had no power to run either the TV or satelite needed to get the signal. And we diddnt even miss it. In fact, things were heaps better without it! I would no longer stay up till 2 am watching crap just because it was on. He was no longer resentful of the time we both spent watching stuff instead of doing stuff (we would often watch adventure shows about places similar to where we live – the irony of watching something on TV that was literally in our backyard was not lost on us). So in the new place we didnt bother to get it hooked up.
    An example of the Things you need to NOT have in order to make your life happier.

    But probably the BEST Thing we have is my man’s iPad. I bought it for him for christmas. I happen to think tablets are a way over priced gimmick for anyone who owns a perfectly functioning laptop and a smartphone. Both of which we already had. He however, thought they were The Coolest Thing. Ever. I thought spending that much money on cool was wasteful.
    But after a year of sharing my laptop because his broke – we were ready to kill eachother. Something had to be done. So I maxed out my credit card and bought him the freakin iPad. Best. Relationship. Decision. Ever.
    He told me that it was the most thoughtful present anyone had ever given him. Now he feels like I actually do take his opinion and feelings seriously. Which I NEVER even knew was an issue. And, I no longer want to kill him for stuffing around with my settings and filling up my bookmarks with boy stuff like generators, water pumps and big machinery!

    Ahh, the Things. It is so very interesting which Things matter to some couples and which things dont. And the reasons why.
    Discussions like this make me wish I was an anthropologist!

  • SweetAdeline

    Our version of the fight is the laundry. Hate doing the laundry. HATE it. The schlepping, the sorting, the folding, and worse, when you live in an apartment, is dragging all that stuff down 3 flights of stairs, back up one flight of stairs, out a door and down another flight only to realize that ALL THE WASHERS ARE IN USE. Ugh. So it would pile up and pile up and the messier the apartment got, the more we fought. Yikes. So one day, fed up, I dropped the laundry off at fluff and fold down the street. And the next day I brought it home, put it in the dresser and I was done. And there were no fights. It costs more for sure, but it’s worth every penny for every day we don’t fight about the stupid GD laundry.

    Now if only they had a version of this for dishes….

  • Pingback: things | crazy brain()

  • Pingback: Turtle Love Co: What’s New!Wed and Marry |