When Your Spouse Doesn’t Share Your Ideas About Simplifying
This is a guest post from Rachel Bowman, a full-time working mom of two girls under 4. Rachel started Just Getting Things Done when she realized she didn’t want to be that mom that doesn’t have any energy anymore, who thinks everything is a burden or a chore. She wanted to be a mom that enjoys her children and her life, and she knew she could figure out how to do just that. She uses minimalism, productivity and time management to do just that.
My husband and I don’t agree about the amount of stuff we should have or how much space our family needs. Lately I often find myself saying “We don’t need a bigger house!” “I don’t want more stuff!” “I hate shopping!” My husband, on the other hand, wants a master bathroom with double sinks, thinks we should get a new car, and is often thinking up things we should buy for our daughters.
Let me give you a little context. In the past seven years I’ve gotten married, bought a house, and had two children. Before that I lived in Europe for several years. I moved back to the US with 2 suitcases full of clothes and a few books. Now I live in a 1920s bungalow full of stuff with my husband and two little girls.
Sometimes I wonder how we got all this stuff. Neither of us spend that much money on things for ourselves. My husband has gifted me things for my many hobbies that have fallen by the wayside since having children: a sewing machine, spinning wheel, tabletop loom, and various knitting tools like a skein winder (that’s the only one I can remember the name of). The largest gift I have gotten my husband is a beer-making kit.
We’ve also been gifted a lot of stuff from family members. My grandparents moved to Florida and I got my grandma’s sewing machine, punch bowl, a set of china from the Forties, and a lot of other beautiful objects that live in my hutch. My husband’s uncle downsized and gifted us with a bunch of stuff. My parents have given us all kinds of things: patio furniture, storage furniture, a daybed. My sister gave us my grandparents’ wedding bed and dresser. Of course we gladly accepted (most) of these things into our home. I love old objects and I don’t want to lose anything that has family history. If I hadn’t taken my grandparents’ bed, my sister would have given them to a friend who may have painted them and, in my mind, destroyed them. My daughter sleeps in that bed every night.
Almost everything we have for our children was gifted to us too. From the swing, crib, changing table, to clothes, shoes, and hats. We’ve been fortunate to have all of this given to us. My sister saved it because I asked her to. But we’ve hung onto all of it in case we have another child.
I’ve also noticed that almost any activity we do or place we go with the kids, we return with more stuff. A trip to the dentist results in a goodie bag and cheap toys. Papers come home from daycare every day. Even when I take the girls to the hair salon with me they return with suckers and stickers.
Then there is my husband, who is often thinking up things to buy the girls. They should have a new water toy. So he buys them 3 or 4. They like making forts with a blanket so he thinks he should buy them a fort.
There are a few ways I deal with this.
1. Lead by example.
In this post I talked about my minimalist wardrobe. I have fewer clothes in the closet than my husband. I try to set the example that we don’t need that much stuff. We can be happier and our lives can be less stressful with less stuff.
2. Don’t buy much of anything.
If the girls need bathing suits and water shoes for school, then I buy what they need. If I need to replace a pair of my shoes, eventually I may do it. The truth is I usually continue to wear them past when they are worn out. In general, the only thing I spend money on is groceries.
3. Throw out or recycle the junk that really is junk.
Sometimes it takes me awhile to get there, but eventually I take this step. I have been doing my best to do this sooner rather than later.
4. Remove what I can when it is no longer serving us.
This is a harder for me to practice than I would like because it’s another of those things that seems to just pile up. Until I stop the flow of things coming into the house, this will continue to be a struggle.
5. Give my husband a hard time about the amount of stuff he buys the girls.
Now, I’m not saying you should do this. I am a questioner by nature and question everything. So when he comes home with something or it arrives on our front step, I question it. Why did you buy this? What is this for? Where will we put this? What are we going to do with it? I know this sometimes stops him from buying things. He can hear my voice in his head and I like to think it makes him really consider whether or not to purchase something. Even if it’s just so he doesn’t have to hear it from me.
See, we have some very different ideas about “stuff.” I don’t think we need as much of it as we have. I know that the girls have fun playing with an empty box. They like to collect leaves and twigs from the backyard. They like to watch clouds and birds in the sky. My husband? He thinks the answer is always to buy something new. I want to see if we already have something similar. I want to re-purpose something. I want to use my own imagination or my skills to turn something we have into what we need. Better yet, I want to let my kids use their imagination. He just wants to go to the store.
Then there’s the question of space. My husband wants a bigger house. My answer is always “I don’t want more stuff!” That’s what I think happens when you get a bigger house. You get more stuff to fill up all that space. I am perfectly happy with our house the way it is.
The good news for me is that I have already won this battle. We bought our small 1920s home before we had children.
We had an unexpected breakthrough on this topic recently. We watched the Dolly Parton Christmas special. It was about her life when she was a young girl, growing up in the Tennessee mountains. The next day when we were pulling into the garage my husband said “If they could live in a 2 bedroom shack with 8 kids, we don’t need a bigger house.”
Now I don’t want my husband to be unhappy, but I am baffled by thinking that a big bathroom will make someone happy. I just don’t get it. It’s not that important to me. I don’t think it’s a question of money or status with him. I think he just likes space. I like to make the best of what we have.
I’m sure my time in Europe helped shape my view. Have you ever seen House Hunters International? If you have, you’ve probably seen what European apartments look like. The Americans looking at them are usually complaining about how small they are or how they have to walk up 3 flights of stairs to get there. It makes me angry because I think they’re missing the point of what’s important.
I know and love my husband enough to not get angry with him for wanting more things or a bigger house. That doesn’t stop me from trying to show him (and sometimes persuade him) that’s not what we need to be happy. I respect him and try to show that in the way I act. I do my best to lead by example. I think it’s really the best way to have an impact on those close to you, including your children. In the end, I think this is just another aspect of our relationship that I hope we’ll look back on fondly.
How does your spouse respond to your desire for less? What ways have you found effective for communicating your desires? Share in the comments! 🙂
These are wonderful tips! my hubby is a “collector” and we have boxes of comics, pepsi collectibles, etc all over the house. He also inherited two enormous science fiction book collections–which is cool, but I feel like the walls are closing in from all the stuff!
I will especially work on #4…we have lots of things in our house that aren’t serving us. Time to purge, donate, trash!
Thanks Pam! #4 is the one I need to work on the most too!
My husband is a renaissance man. In other words we have collections of musical instruments, camera equipment, jewellery, toy cars and books books and then more Books. Looking for a key that will let hIm release all of this. Lol. I lOve him but i HATE HIS stuff.
I think a lot of the desire to purchase in America is because we’ve been convinced that outward display of wealth MEANs success. If he was impacted by the Dolly Parton shoe, maybe you and he could watch “the minimalist” together on Netflix. Some folks are just not aware that there are alternative means of gauging success. For men, I also think it comes from wanting to be a good provider. I know, that is where we were when we finally crashed and burned, and we’re forced to scale back our lifestyle. It was hard as hell and very difficult to find oneself in that position.ultimatley, it’s been a learning experience, and a very freeing one, too..
It sounds as though the husband jn this artcle has the love language of gifts. If you’ve rrad the bok Love Languages by Gary chapman. It might be eye opening and help you to live him in ways that he feels love. If giVing and receiving gifts is his love language, then I can see how trying to urge him towards less may fall if deaf ears.
That’s really interesting. I haven’t read Love Languages (yet) MeGan. I always thought his love language was praise (words of affirmation) but Now I’ll have to read it just so I can find out.
I could have wrote this exact article. He even bought me a sewing machine and I bought him a beer making kit!! It sounds like I am exactly like you, and my husband is just like yours! His love language is definitely gifts, which is so hard. I definitely recommend reading the book. What I do, is I dont put a limit on gifts, but if something new shows up at our house, we get rid of an item. So nana buys a new dress, an old dress goes to the thrift store. Dad buys a cool straw cup, an old worn out cup goes.
I think what MeGan is saying is very important. Maybe if it is his Love Language, it could be channeled into giving in other ways (buying an experience rather than an item).
Rachel: I have to say that men have a special word for strategy #5 – nagging. Maybe your husband is extraordinarily tolerant of it, but most men aren’t, and it is so destructive that it’s better to put up with a bit of mess until you can find a way to address an issue in a non-nagging way, rather than risk your relationship with your husband. I cannot emphasize this enough.
cORI, tHANKS FOR THE SUGGESTION TO WATCH “tHE mINIMALIST”. yOU MAKE A REALLY INTERESTING POINT ABOUT HOW FOR SOME PEOPLE THE DESIRE FOR STUFF RELATES TO SUCCESS AND PROVIDING FOR YOUR FAMILY, AND THAT THERE ARE OTHER DEFINITIONS OF SUCCESS.
I think it might be useful sometimes to think where/why the urge to save/collect stuff comes from. One of my friends has a booth in an antique mall to sell her collectibles (long time hobby). After her husband’s two heart attacks, T2 diabetes and multiple myeloma diagnoses, she became more obsessive about collecting ‘stuff’ for her booth and now her house looks like a TV hoarding show. I believe the ‘stuff’ she collects is a psychological salve to her husband’s health vulnerabilities. Another example…my husband’s mother made unilateral decisions to get rid of some of his things when he went away to college. He was and continues to be sensitive about ANYONE getting rid of any of his ‘stuff’ – even junk mail – without consulting him! I deal with this…cautiously and patiently. 1) I told him: I stand ready to help you ‘edit’ clothes, papers, books, etc. literally anytime you feel like doing it. 2) I Find meaningful people/places to donate things that will make it easier to ‘re-home’ them when he is ready. 3) post relevant questions to consider when thinking about whether to ‘edit’ something. 4) Make a first pass at what I think should go and give him the right of retrieval. (while there is some retrieval, much more goes than if he chose in the first place)
Barbara, I agree that it’s useful to think about why we save or collect stuff, though that’s sometimes hard to do with someone else. I usually leave it up to my husband to purge his stuff. I don’t consider him especially sensitive, but I’m sure he wouldn’t like it if I got rid of stuff without at least asking him.
Thanks for the great tips for helping someone else purge!
I understand when you say that your husband has MOre clothes than you do!! If my husband swueezes in one more long sleeve button up shirt into our closet it may explode!! Haha. But also i noticed that your husbands “lovd language” may be Giving Gifts. Theres a book by gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. Its very good. It shoWs how people express their love and how they best receive Love messages from others. The love languages are gift giving, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and words of affirmation. I loved your article!
I’m going to have to check it out. Like I said above, I thought it was words of affirmation, but I’ve never actually read the book…
I love this! We have a huge master bedroom with double closets that are open to the room so you see inside of them. My closet has a small amount of clothes on one half, and the other half is basically empty except for the plastic bin of pictures (that I really need to do something about!) on the floor. His closet is stuffed with hanging clothing, clothing folded on the shelf, some clothing falling out onto the floor, plus he has his guns in the back and his medical kit extras (he’s an EMT) on the floor under the hanging clothes. IT is a perfect picture of the difference between the two of us. Our cars are the other place where it is obvious which car belongs to which driver.
WHy would someone get Angry at someone else for wanting a bigger house than a european apartment? The writer seems to get FrUstrated a lot.
I think the point was that a bigger house would not really mean more living space. It is incredibly frustrating to be the one constantly cleaning up when your spouse is constantly adding to the mess. If Her frustration is anything like mine, then I think she did an excellent job of reigning it in and not letting this article jusT become a rant.
Great article, so true for so many people on so many levels. Settung By example is always the key. keep up the amazing articles!!! ❤
Thanks so much Wendy!
What a timely article! My hubby tries to convince me that it doesnt matter if We Have 100 things or 100,000 things as long as we keep it clean and wash things right after usung them. Fine in theory, and it works for a while but then, heaven forbid, i get sick and the whole house falls apart! My theory is if there is another plate in the cupboard, YOU’LL reach for that next time you need a plate instead of CLEANING up AFTER YOURSELF.then suddenly there’s a giant mess for mE to clean up because i’m the mom and that’s my “job.” For some reason he doesnt understand that i Would rather spend time with my kids and pursuE my hobbiEs than do dishes and laundry all daY every day!
Okay, weird random capitalization…
Totally agree with you on ‘reaching for another plate’ instead of cleaning the one you just used earlier. As a 30 day experiment into minimalism specifically intended to reduce the need to wash dishes so frequently, i put all but four spoons, forks, and knives + 4 bowls and plates in our attic. It worked so well my wife, who was skeptical, told me to leave everything in the attic once the 30 days were up. We havent used our dishwasher either in a year since we have so few dishes per day now. (We’re a family of four) we’re a 1 dish, spoon, fork per day family now. Amazing how much more time we both get with the kids now by making this minor life change.
I think theres something wrong with the comments feature. It types out in all caps and autocorrect on the words doesnt work. Maybe some programming to look in to. Love your blog! I reference it all the time!! Were planning for a cross couNtry move soon and i definitely am going to move minimal possessions!
Oh, thanks Jen! I just emailed the designer and we’ll see if it can be fixed, I hadn’t realized what it was doing. Thanks so much!
It took a few years for my wife to get on board, but now that she is the minimalism ride is all the more enjoyable. Leading by example is the best thing you can do. Having casual conversations here and there on the benefits also helps in my opinion.
Jeffrey, really interesting story about the dishes, especially after I saw that it took your wife a few years to get onboard. I agree that leading by example, while also pointing out benefits, is the best thing you can do. Sometimes outside influences can unexpectedly turn the tide too.
Some great suggestions. I am right there with you on be married to someone who does not fully share my views on the amount of stuff we should have, although leading by example is helping ;). One of the things we did was to give my husband his own room that houses all of his collections and stuff. This way I can keep the main portions of our home clutter free and he can still enjoy his collections
Kristal, that’s a great solution. Having separate areas or even separate rooms specific to each person can really help with this, and each person keeping their own things from spilling over physically or visually into shared spaces.