Somethings have been positive and helpful in this process. So I think I should probably start noting those down.
For about 3 years, every spring began “the project.”
Some next massive renovation stage in the house. This began 5 years ago, when we first took possession in the Spring and overlapped the ownership of our old place so that we could gut the main floor.
100 year old filth. Sweat. Hundreds of nails. Lacerations. And lots of surprises.
No General Electric stock certificates from 1905 under the floor boards surprises. Nope. We got floor joists neatly cut through to make room for cable (I think cable had become a structural element). 8 X 8 foot holes in walls hidden by siding. Deep damage from ancient fires and enough small rodent carcasses to bring Chip ‘n Dale to tears.
By the first of May, if we hadn’t started any work yet I’d be going through the demolition DT’s. I’d find my hands at rest in the familiar grip position for my trusty pry bar. Muscles flexing, every time I’d walk into the basement or the bathroom that hadn’t quite been finished.
I have a similar compulsion now, but instead of full scale demolition, it’s purging and reorganizing. I can’t open a cupboard without reaching for a garbage bag. I found myself looking for aspirin and within 15 minutes I had a bag full of meds and cosmetics that were heading for the trash.
And this is from a guy who is charitably known as a slob. (I think of myself as piler not a filer.)
Within the first week of the Leaver telling me I was to be a Leavee, it started. First with just a closet and turned into a wholesale re-organization of our storage and household management strategies. The plan was to start at the top and the dreaded basement last. I hoped that some of the stuff that was scattered hither and yon in the basement would find appropriate storage in some freed up closets upstairs.
This Martha Stewart-ing not surprisingly, generated antagonism at first. This is a bit of a peeing in corners and claiming territory. Reorganizing the house, coming up with new ways to deal with dirty laundry is laying claim to both physical territory and acknowledging a new division of labour – i.e. there is one less with whom to divide labour. Observations were of predictably specific slant: “so I did a terrible job all these years?” and “I just find it hilarious that you’re finally cleaning and organizing just before I leave.” If hilarity is signified by a tone so corrosive it would melt steel then yes, I suppose I’ve achieved Will Farrell like levity.
The Leaver’s reaction was hardly surprising and easy to empathize with. Perhaps its purposefully at least tactless if not out and out insulting not to wait. But utterly necessary and highly recommended because:
- • “Simplify” was the simple advice I got from a friend. . I’m encouraging the Leaver to take stuff with her — furniture, plates, kitchen stuff, art, sheets whatever — all is replaceable if missed. The less stuff, the easier it is to cope with the stuff that is important.
- • Space has been found as stuff has been tossed! — go figure?
- • Rediscovering where things are and putting them in places where I know they are. I won’t be able to shout “where is the….” afterall to the person who has the primary household management job for the past 10 years. Of course when it actually comes time to finding something I probably won’t have the foggiest where they’re supposed to be. However, that will be entirely my fault and finding it will be my responsibility.
- • You face the emotional reality of everything in stages while the person is there. You don’t have to tackle the “oh my God s/he is gone!” at once like a death and not bear to touch anything. Purging and Organizing has been, I think, a relatively healthy way to deal with: anger (“why that little ?/!@#$%# I’ll just throw out this 5 year old hairspray you never use — that’ll learn you!”); bereavement (“she bought that hairspray five years ago when things were really good. What the hell happened?”); and guilt about finding positives (“well at least we won’t be wasting money on hairspray that we rarely use anymore.”)
- • It is a territorial thing. The Leaver is leaving. That was her choice ultimately so it’s fair that there is a physical shift that reflects that. She absolutely owns a good chunk of our house, and she will be spending overnights with the kids when I’m not around. So tearing down walls and chucking the family pictures is a bit much and I’m not planning on doing any such thing at this stage. But I think it’s fair and it’s a concrete reminder to everyone in the family — including the kids — that there is an impending profound change. I think it’s healthy to face that.
The Leaver has accepted this process and actually helped — she’s worked with the kids to go through their stuff.
And this perhaps is the last big benefit. In the midst of hostility, antagonism, battles, nasty things said and horrible things assumed this process forces an empathy.
Purging, rearranging — it hurts. Even if we are staying in the same house, I’m starting a new life for myself and so are the kids.
And of course, so is the Leaver. She is making the biggest, most wrenching change of all.
So at least we all have something in common. We can all share that pain and anger and hurt and crazy energy. And that has definitely generated empathy and sympathy for the Leaver in me. And probably some in her for me (I hope so, I truly don’t know). And that has to be — you know when you start with Martha you got to bring it on back to Martha — a Good Thing.