By Barb Arland-Fye
Two, 6-inch-high stacks of magazines teeter on a coffee table next to the sofa where my husband Steve often sits. I’ve whined a bit, asking him to reduce and recycle the stack. After all, he spends more time reading his favorite national newspaper online at the desktop located just a few feet away from the mini-mountain of magazines. But I’m guilty of the same thing. My stacks of magazines and newspapers aren’t nearly as high, but they still clutter another coffee table in the family room.
I suspect that every marriage has at least one nitpicking challenge that can drive husbands and wives to distraction. The clutter war is ours. His clutter invades other rooms of the house; mine is pretty much limited to the family room. I’m trying to tame the clutter; Steve seems ready to throw in the towel.
We spent part of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day making a dent in the clutter. This effort has become an annual ritual for us to welcome in a new year. But in this year’s de-cluttering event, Steve didn’t touch his magazine stacks (at least it didn’t appear that he had). Instead, he threw his energies into clearing up junk mail and donation requests stuffed in a Styrofoam container beneath the kitchen table. I tackled the clutter inside our kitchen closet.
Easier said than done; I have an emotional attachment to some of the jewels hidden amidst the clutter. I found a memorial card for Msgr. Leo Feeney, who died in October 2008 while serving as pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. When he was appointed to our parish, I was skeptical that he would be a good fit. A mentor told me, “You will love him.” We did.
I uncovered other memorial cards, a high school graduation announcement for a friend’s daughter and a greeting card from Steve’s mom, Marlene, who died in August 2012. As I re-read the card, an image of her came to mind. “Steve, what should I do with this card,” I asked. He didn’t have an answer for me. The card went back into the closet.
A Newsweek magazine from 2006 featuring a cover story on the “new India” captured my attention. The magazine was in pristine shape, probably because I shelved it away thinking I’d get to that story sooner or later. I did, 13 years later. Steve said things in India have probably changed a lot since then.
A year-end report from Catholic Relief Services, an organization we support, provided a thorough overview of the year 2004. That issue made it to the recycling bin. I also found a battery charger but had no idea what it was supposed to charge! I left it on the kitchen table for Steve to examine.
Another “find” caused a pang of pain: a composition notebook containing a list of questions in my handwriting regarding a difficult time our younger son experienced in school. “What should I do with this,” I asked Steve after he read the notes. “I’m going to leave that up to you,” he said. I could sense his pain, too.
By the end of our de-cluttering effort, Steve said to me, hopefully, “Well, at least we made a dent.” We did, and I’m grateful. But we were also reminded of the journey we’ve traveled together in the sacrament of marriage.
“We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows,” Pope Francis says. “The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it” (“The Joy of Love,” No. 113). A bit of clutter is only a distraction.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)