He Can’t Stand Her Clutter

Dear Vicki: My sister recently shared something that has me really upset. After less than a year of marriage, her daughter and new son-in-law are having marital 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 sweet Betsy excels at creating clutter because she loves her doll collection and has plastic sacks of projects (sewing, knitting, etc.) strewn all over. Really, the few times I’ve visited I have to agree that their house was sort of a cluttered mess. But my sister said that the final straw was when Betsey wallpapered Stuart’s home study with a cheery floral print. Apparently, Stuart not only didn’t like her choice of paper, he was also quite miffed that she left the ladder and brushes in his study. I love my niece, and she seems very happy in this marriage, so how can I help her? Signed, Anxious Auntie

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Dear Anxious Auntie: The issue of “clutter” is an age-old problem that frequently defies definition because one person’s cozy decorating is another’s overwhelming clutter. As individuals, we have fairly ingrained behaviors regarding how we manage our personal space. But when we marry, or even just decide to cohabitate with a group of friends, we suddenly merge two (or more) 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 short answer is a lot, so let’s see what we can do to prevent Betsey and Stuart from becoming another statistic in the category of failed marriages.

Based on your descriptions, it seems likely that Betsey is a primary Earth personality and Stuart is a primary Metal personality. Nurses are walking examples of the tender caring that Earth people love to shower on others. And Stuart’s skill at architecture speaks to the logic and rationality inherent in Metal people. The good news is that they are in love. The not so good news is that Earth and Metal people will usually clash on what they want in terms of the look and feel of the space they inhabit.

Primary Earth personalities usually like a cozy, lived-in look. It comforts Earths to have their “things” around them, usually in plain view, because these things frequently serve as mementos of important people or times in their life. That scruffy, handmade doll was a gift from a dearly loved but now deceased grandmother. To put it (or any of her other 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 plastic sack on the couch makes it easier for her to work on, putting love into every stich.

A primary Metal personality, however, will not view the clutter as connections to people and places that deserve to be seen. Metal people are the followers of protocol who live by the old adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Order and organization matter greatly, so 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 person’s need for order. They are not cold or unemotional people, but sentimentality for sentiment’s sake just doesn’t matter to them. This means they will fail to see the need to have their environment populated by visual reminders of significant people, places, or things.

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 mastered the art of compromise. The good news for Betsey and Stuart is that in the Five Elements model, they relate to each on the Nurturing Cycle, with Betsey’s Earth energy feeding Stuart’s Metal energy. Even better, this will feel very natural to both of them, which means it’s something they can build on. Betsey’s Earth energy will want to take care of Stuart and he will want to ensure Betsey stays happy so she keeps taking care of him.

Second, I would encourage your niece to consider how she might feel if, without consulting her, someone who meant well came in and decorated the interior of her house completely in black and white. I can guarantee she wouldn’t like it because Earth personalities usually love color and floral prints. Metal personalities, however, usually lean toward the sparseness of black and white.

Third, help Betsey understand that even though two people are deeply in love, they most likely will have different elemental personality styles which will create different environmental priorities. The goal is to work with both of their needs in a conscious and kind manner. To honor Stuart and his preferences, she might offer to work with him to select a different décor for his home study and then make sure it’s re-done to his tastes. Metal people like to have control over their environment, so the fact that he wasn’t consulted regarding his study décor may be just as egregious to him as the floral paper itself.

Finally, if Betsey and Stuart work together to address the clutter, I have every confidence that they will come up with solutions that satisfy both of them. For example, Betsy’s favorite dolls look like chaos to Stuart when scattered all over the house, but if organized, they become a collection. A special glass fronted cabinet just for the doll collection will insure that they still feel accessible to Betsy but will seem organized to Stuart. In the same fashion, a wooden box or other container to hold Betsy’s letters will turn clutter into a decorative accessory. A large basket for the knitting keeps it accessible – but out of sight – and is an upgrade to the plastic bag on the couch.

For there to be peace at home, both Betsey’s and Stuart’s style priorities need to be honored. And Anxious Auntie, this won’t be as hard on Betsey as it might sound. Metal personalities excel at organizing and simplifying, but because Earth feeds Metal in the Five Elements model, they also secretly like a bit of the “hominess” that Earth personalities provide as long as it doesn’t get out of control. If Betsey and Stuart work together to help organize the clutter, they will be able to create a homey space that brings comfortable order to the current cluttered chaos. Blessings to you, and them!

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