The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Stealth action on irresolvable issues might be it

I am an organizer and a thrower-outer. My husband is a pile-maker and a saver-in-case-you-might-need-it-somedayer. My favorite gizmo is my label maker. His is… something that is probably under a pile of things in a corner. Despite this, we have a happy marriage. (Because he is probably reading this: I love you, John!) Still, there is a gulf between us regarding the management of stuff. I can’t see how he could object to my neatly labeled, orderly array of things; my alphabetized spices; my photo-labeled clear shoe boxes; my colorized closet, but I suppose in a moment of weakness, he might dismiss me as being a bit anal. On the other hand, I despair at his mounds of junk.

Having spent the last seven years writing a book about libraries, I was made acutely aware of how critical organization is. If a book is shelved wrong in a library, it might as well be thrown away — in other words, if it can’t be found easily using the Dewey Decimal system, it’s as good as gone. When my husband wants to keep something in case he might someday have a use for it, but puts it in an undifferentiated mountain of other rainy-day items, it’s effectively useless because it would be unfindable if that rainy day ever happens to come. Imagine your computer without a search function and you get the picture. Knowing that somewhere in your house you have a roll of Velcro tape is meaningless if you don’t know where it is.

Whenever my husband is out of town, I choose one of his trash heaps and sort it out. I am judicious; I only throw away items of obvious non-value, like dirty tissues, empty envelopes, and candy wrappers. Then I try to impose order on the rest. The results please me, even though I know the order won’t last long. The process is kind of fascinating, because I can’t quite believe what he manages to squirrel away. Today, while he’s away (HI AGAIN I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS DON’T BE MAD AT ME!) I decided to tackle his closet, which was literally exploding with accumulated mysteries. In it I found:

— An iPad

— Two hundred-dollar bills and four two-dollar bills

— A large bottle of something that kills bugs

— Six empty eyeglass cases

— Three semi-empty carry-on suitcases and a backpack

— An umbrella

— Tea bags

— Seven hardcover books

— A sock of mine that’s been missing for six months

— A decorative Kleenex box holder

These were buried in a hillside of papers, notebooks, pressed shirts, sneakers, and hats, many of which he has, at various times, complained bitterly about having lost. My work here is done.

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own book club (join me!)

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