Dear Five Faces: My sister recently shared a concern with me and it has upset me terribly. After les than a year of marriage, her daughter and new son-in-law are having troubles. Betsy is a nurse, Stuart is an architect, and the problem is that Stuart has very little tolerance for clutter around the house, but Betsy apparently excels at creating it. I’m sure my niece is an Earth, and while I’ve only met Stuart a few times, I suspect he is a Metal. I am very close to my niece, and they seem like a great couple, so how can I help? Signed, Anxious Auntie
Dear Anxious Auntie: The dance of clutter is an age-old issue, and your niece and her husband are doing an excellent job of modeling it. As individuals, we usually have fairly ingrained behaviors regarding how we manage our personal space. When we marry, or even just decide to cohabitate with someone else, we suddenly merge two personal spaces into one. Sometimes that goes smoothly, but usually it’s a humbling lesson in the art of compromise. How many marriages hit the rocks because the cap isn’t on the toothpaste? How many squabbles stem from dishes left in the sink?
The issue is even more pronounced for Betsy and Stuart because primary Earths and Metals will usually clash on what they want in terms of the look and feel of their space. Earths usually like a cozy, lived-in look. It comforts Earths to have their “things” around them, usually in plain view. For an Earth, “things” frequently serve as mementos of people or times in their life that are important. That scruffy, handmade doll was a gift from a dearly loved but now deceased grandmother. To put it, or any of her special dolls, in a cabinet would be tantamount to putting Grammy in the cabinet. That pile of letters represents all the wonderful friends she has and will someday correspond with again. You can’t stuff those in a desk. And let’s not even discuss that lovely scarf she is knitting for her best friend. Keeping it in a sack on the couch makes it easier for her to find.
A Metal, however, will not see connections to people and places in the clutter. A Metal, as the follower of protocol, will live by the adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Order and organization matter greatly to Metals and to them, environmental chaos is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Simple, streamlined, usually somewhat modern décor will appeal most to a Metal’s need for order. They are not cold or unemotional people by any stretch, but sentimentality for sentiment’s sake just doesn’t matter.
So how can you help your niece? First, remind her that marriage is about compromise. That’s true whether married for one year, or fifty. In fact, relationships that last the longest have usually mastered compromise. A class on the Five Elements isn’t necessary, but you might help her see that, while neither one of them is right or wrong, she and Stuart do have very different styles for very good reasons. The goal is to work with both of their needs. That can be done, and will be easy because Earth and Metal relate via the Flow, or Nurturing, Cycle. They will feed each other, and that’s what you want to build on.
Betsy’s special dolls look like chaos to Stuart if they are scattered all over the house, but if they are organized, with help from a Metal, they become a collection. A special glass fronted cabinet just for the dolls will make them feel accessible to Betsy but organized to Stuart. A wooden box or other container to hold Betsy’s letters will turn clutter into a simple item of décor. A large basket for the knitting keeps it accessible but out of sight, and is an upgrade to the sack always sitting on the couch.
Metals excel at organizing and simplifying, but they also secretly like the “hominess” that Earths provide (Earth feeds Metal on the Flow Cycle). Allowing Stuart to help her arrange her important items is a way to honor Betsy’s special things by giving them special homes. If Betsy and Stuart will work together on the dance of clutter, they will create a homey space that far exceeds what either of them could accomplish alone. Good luck!