Mean, Clean, and Green: How Cardboard Boxes Contained My Rage | Seventh Generation
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Mean, Clean, and Green: How Cardboard Boxes Contained My Rage

Author: BethArky

Card Board BoxesI never was much for housework. Don't get me wrong: I have to be bone-tired to leave dirty dishes in the sink, I vacuum before the dust bunnies roll into tumbleweeds and yes, I even do toilets. But amid the chaos of family life, a post-layoff career switch and the loss of that ultimate luxury, the occasional professional scrubbing, I've learned to live with what I view as a few neatly piled mounds on the floor of mommy and daddy's bedroom.

Seriously, big-picture-wise, who cares if I have some bags and boxes of loose receipts, photographs waiting to be framed, and shoes earmarked for charity scattered here and there, as long as no one's tripping over them? My DH, that's who.

The poor man. After six years, he still sees no reason why I can't maintain the nice, orderly apartment where we leisurely read the Sunday paper BTK -- Before the Kid. But these days, it's a win-lose situation and the chaos is winning. Admittedly, the DH does have a legitimate gripe. It's not just the bags in the bedroom. There are those ready-to-topple stacks of paperwork and junk mail in our allegedly shared home office and, even worse, on the long countertop that commands center stage in our living/dining/kitchen area.

At first, he asked me nicely to "take care" of the mess. Then he tried ignoring it, in hopes that I'd finally get to it of my own volition. When that didn't work, he used his angry voice. He even employed that annoying sweeping hand gesture along with the phrase, "If you have time today..." But none of his methods had their intended effect. On the contrary, they made me dig my hoarding heels in deeper.

The only thing that got me moving was rage. Hard, cold rage. It happened on a dark and stormy October day, in the wake of a marital "discussion" that ended in me breaking the cardinal rule by going to bed angry. I woke up livid. This time, however, I found a productive way to channel my aggression: I lit into the mess with a vengeance. I spent hours dumping, sifting, and organizing, scurrying crazily back and forth between rooms. But once I had all the stuff splayed across our king-size bed, the kitchen countertop, and the dining room table, I got a sinking feeling: Where was I going to put it all?

Once upon a time, my lust for picture-perfect drawers and closets would have led to aspirational fantasies of an ultra-luxurious organizing system. Now, the price tag stopped even my dreams in their tracks.

Then I remembered all the lower-priced products offering the same intoxicating promise of nirvana. Finally, everything would have a place, preferably one I could find. And if my DH came home to a tidy nest, Don Draper-style, he'd have to trade his agitation for serenity!

But I know myself. I'm one of those suckers who would buy pretty jewelry organizers and beautiful storage boxes, then simply add those filled shopping bags to the jumble in permanent residence on my closet floor. (Another thing that drives my DH to distraction: Once in a teensy while, I have some difficulty closing said closet doors. But is it my fault if the organizing gene got lost in the madness of motherhood?)

That's when my green senses began to stir. "Wait!" I thought, "aren't a lot of those organizing bins and boxes [long pause] plastic?" Maybe I should look at bamboo! Yes, friends, there are plenty of sock separators, stacking containers, and storage stools made from sustainable and recycled materials.

Cue the dark green voices in my head: "Stop consuming...Stop consuming...." Just then, my eyes fell on a strong, clean cardboard box earmarked for recycling. I spread the flaps wide and began stashing the numerous shampoo and lotion bottles and hotel soaps inside. No longer would they topple over, creating havoc on the high shelves of my toiletries/linens/cleaning/paper products closet. Then I found some more boxes and kept going.

I methodically organized my staples, rubber bands, and sticky note pads in the cardboard box decorated with ducks that once held my son's first pair of rain boots. I repurposed the zippered plastic blanket bags as under-the-bed shoe storage. The lovely French chocolate tin from one Valentine's Day now serves a much less romantic but very practical purpose -- holding all the batteries our son's toys require. (Yes, we recycle them.)

So, I've made a dent. (Now I just have to label those boxes so the DH knows what's in them.) By the end of my rainy-day organizing marathon, you would have thought I'd be exhausted. But I was still so pumped, I sorted out his ragged old socks.

They'll be ideal for dusting -- the next time I get really, really mad.

Update: Bethina thanks everyone who has posted helpful tips to this article and hopes to try out many of them soon! She also wants to assure all that her husband has two very fine, working hands; in fact, he would love to attack the chaos. But bethina feels very proprietary about her piles and is reluctant to let anyone else mess with them.

photo: t whalen


coultersca picture
try the best help to homemaking and decluttering i know.
danielle milligan picture
danielle milligan
I like to wait until my husband gets fed up with it and then finally goes on a cleaning spree himself. Sure, lots of things are thrown out, but thats the price I am willing to pay for not having to do it myself! The writer paints herself as someone who lives under her husband's thumb, as a child. Her update seemed like an excuse. Stand up for yourself! If you don't want to organize and the mess doesn't bother you, then don't do it!
Kaytee picture
---Why couldn't your husband help you clean? What's wrong with his hands? If he wanted to complain so much why not offer to help you?--- Mmm... no. Not a good idea, unless it is HIS stuff, or you don't want it anyway, because if the "neatnik" spouse cleans up the "saver's" piles, it will all be trashed. The better solution, would be for the "neatnik" to take care of some of your OTHER tasks, and get everybody else out of the house to give you the time and "space" to work on them. Do the dishes and a load of laundry, then take the kids out to eat, and take them and the dog on a long walk so there is nobody else home to distract you with another "need" that only you can resolve.
Undomesticated Me picture
Undomesticated Me
I like to turn my music up loud and then scrub the tub/toilet/sink, etc. It helps me work through unresolved anger! Paula
KarolJean picture
I have recently been vindicated for my hoarding of oatmeal boxes. My daughter's teacher requested each student bring one to class for a project. I was able to supply enough so no child was left out. It also cleared a shelf in my laundry room!
yvonnespeck picture
I can relate. I have been receiving emails daily from a wonderful (though a little quaint) website called The Organizer Lady on yahoo groups. Lots of great tips. Also, I've been a member of (may have changed thier name)in my neighborhood. Check it out. It's a great way to find a home for junk and find things you need without consuming. Good Luck!
kgrace picture
Great web site.
t4cmanning picture
You need to try She can help you get rid of your clutter and organize your stuff. She is even VERY Green to the point of being PURPLE!
kgrace picture
No box could contain my rage if my husband pointed to clutter and then told me to "take care of it" as if I was his employee. When we as women submit to such sexist behavior we only miss the opportunity to grow and help our partners grow in consciousness. A relationship between wife and husband is a relationship between two adults as equal partners. It is not parent/child or employer/employee or royalty /servant. My DH and I have been married for nearly 40 years. Respect must be the groundwork for a good relationship and the respect must go both ways.
michelelyl picture
I had a huge disorganization problem that my Dear Husband tolerated for, oh, 23 years and two kids. He's pretty neat and organized but I'm a big disorganized, housework-hating slob. When we decided to remodel our house one room at a time, we had no choice. We sorted, shredded and donated the entire house, keeping only those items either most precious or needed. Then, after the remodel, the house looks so nice (DH installed glass doors in the kitchen cabinets so I could display some of the precious cooking things) we had to keep it looking nice and neat. We made a deal to do housework, bills, sorting, recycling, donating and tossing once a week. It also coincided with 'trash and recycle day'. The weekly date changed our lives! By the way, he's always done the laundry, ironing, vaccuming, windows, and everything outdoors (lawn, gardening, trash) since we got married... When we moved three years ago, it was amazingly easy to pack up the entire house and move 1000 miles away to another state. Although the kids are now on their own (one in college, one married in another state) and it's just me, the DH and the dogs, we have maintained our habit and our home always looks very nice- and we can find everything, and the bills are all paid on time.
pennysmom picture
Hey, I can't knock you for anything. In fact, I think my DH ticks me off so I will go on an organizing/things to Goodwill kick every few months :) Then, I'm very happy with myself and he's even happier later! ;)
bgee picture
Why couldn't your husband help you clean instead of just complaining and "using his angry voice" with you. You're not the child doing her chores here.
sfreg711 picture
We use the cartons the wipes come in to store baby toys. We were buying them by the case initially, although we don't use that many any more.
Marzena Ziembicka picture
Marzena Ziembicka
Don't wait to organize when you get mad. Just make a schedule: small project for every day or one project for two days. Keep it simple. Great idea with reusing boxes. I keep stamps in little cute box, which I bought with Thank You cards.
Pirogoeth picture
of myself! At work they order paper by the box. So instead of letting them get thrown out, I snag them and take them home to use for storage. I've got a stack of 6 up in my office, I just need to figure out what to use them for at home!
NiveditaVidula picture
Why couldn't your husband help you clean? What's wrong with his hands? If he wanted to complain so much why not offer to help you?