Ever since I collected baseball cards and old coins as a kid, I've been a saver. Today, stacks of journals and periodicals clutter my desk. In fact, every available flat surface in my den holds some memorabilia: trophies, figurines, bookends. The walls are covered with photos, artwork and plaques. This museum of memories surrounds me with emotional warmth and security and fuels my creativity.
Before Wendy and I got married, she knew how I decorated my home. And she must have known that the organized clutter that comprised my bachelor pad wouldn't be jettisoned once we were married.
Wendy's idea of a perfect home is one that is utilitarian, easily cleaned and tidy. I do appreciate her penchant for keeping order; our home is always company ready. But we clash over the definition of "neat and tidy."
Every time she enters my trinket-filled hideaway with dust mitt in hand, it's the low point of her week—and mine. (I've offered to vacuum and dust, but Wendy insists I'm not thorough enough.) The final straw came when I couldn't find an important document on my desk after she had cleaned. "I don't want my messes messed with," I yelled. "I'd rather live with dust I cannot see than paper I cannot find."
She laughed, but I didn't find it amusing. I couldn't believe how often we came to verbal blows over my stuff.
I grew up on the mission field, where my parents celebrated the twin virtues of simplicity and order. Because we didn't have money for nonessentials (and little space for what we did need), we made the most out of very little room. What couldn't fit on a bookshelf or in a cupboard was tossed out or given away.
When I met Greg I was attracted to his creativity. He viewed people and things from a refreshingly different perspective. I should have known that his insistence on turning life on its side meant there would be other things he wouldn't store in their appropriate places. What I hadn't bargained for was all the baggage you claim when you marry a creative soul. The treasures he brings home from thrift stores and garage sales are enough to drive me mad.
In addition to not wanting "stuff" on every horizontal surface, I have a real problem with second-hand items. As a kid I had to dip into the missionary barrel for recycled clothes and toys more often than I'd like to recall. So when Greg comes home with other peoples' rejects I want to scream.
It all came to a head when Greg admitted that on Wednesday mornings (garbage day) he was stopping on the way home from taking our girls to school to rummage through our neighbors' trash. I didn't want any more junk. And I was mortified that a neighbor might notice Greg sorting through their garbage.
What Greg and Wendy Did
The Asimakoupouloses still don't always see eye-to-eye on the appropriate use of domestic space. But since they are committed to submitting to each other, they have agreed to define "orderliness" more loosely.
Wendy gives Greg the freedom to arrange his den the way he wants. She recognizes that he needs to be surrounded by symbols of his eclectic world. But she still shakes her head when she attempts to dust all his stuff.
Recently, Greg's propensity to save things came in handy. Their middle daughter had a school assignment that related to old postage stamps. As Greg pulled out file upon file of old correspondence, Wendy helped trim the stamps from the yellowed envelopes. Wendy also enjoys the custom greeting cards Greg creates from materials accumulated in his writing room.
The Asimakoupouloses also worked out an agreement regarding garage sales. Greg loves finding stuff, but he also enjoys the atmosphere associated with the sales. So Wendy suggested he feed his habit in reverse by selling stuff at their own garage sales. In anticipation of holding his own sale, Greg weeded out "nonessentials" from his trove of recycled treasures.
Another way they have minimized their clutter conflict is by decorating for holidays. Greg and Wendy put up decorations on Valentine's Day, Presidents Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. They even use special events like birthdays, anniversaries, the Super Bowl and the World Series as occasions for creating a thematic display on the fireplace mantel. Greg is in heaven when he can invade Wendy's spartan space with what they agree is acceptable clutter.
Aside from holiday decorations, Greg honors Wendy's need for open space. When company is expected, he moves boxes of stuff from his den to the basement to create more room. Plus, there's less new stuff. Greg doesn't frequent the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores as often as he used to. And on weekends, he's more apt to go for a walk with Wendy than drive to a yard sale.
by Greg and Wendy Asimakoupoulos
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.