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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

It’s Written Into Us

I would say Joshua and I are pretty neat people. We clean the house as a family every Saturday and keep it pretty picked up from day to day. All things told – especially now that the children are out of the destructive toddler phase — the house is usually comfortably habitable and more or less presentable without a lot of prep time.

However, even though we are collectively neat, we are tidy in completely different ways. While both of us might make a point of putting things away, I am more likely to find a permanent home for an object and return it to exactly the same place. Admittedly, sometimes its new permanent home is one of two or three “junk drawers” I have established around the house. For this reason, Joshua refers to this aspect of my method as “stuffing.” For me, the important thing is that whatever the object, it be out of sight.

By contrast, I would call Joshua’s method of tidying up as “stacking.” He does not so much find a home for things or even deal with them in any permanent way until they have spent some time in a stack. In fact we have established an entire short bookcase in an out-of-the-way corner of the house where he can stack to his heart’s content. One might reasonably suggest that I “stuffed” his bookcase since it meets the criterion of being out of sight. Call it what you will. My name for it is “marital harmony.”

Most years we do not do much by way of spring cleaning. But recently (read: yesterday) I got the bug for a much deeper, more thorough sort of cleaning than usual. Specifically, there is a space in the basement where we keep a stack of boxes that have served as archives of sorts: boxes of yearbooks, scrapbooks, notes from our undergraduate days, love letters (yes, we used to write each other using pens, paper, envelopes, and stamps), and various odd mementos.

This space had come to accumulate a number of other odds and ends that we didn’t feel like dealing with when we first moved, and then items that we just didn’t feel like dealing with at all. Yesterday, the time came to open it all up and pare down.

Now in the paring down there are two competing values.

First, we are both nostalgic and attach some value to items that commemorate the precious past. Joshua will argue this point saying that by “both” I mostly mean “me” – until I remind him of a certain poster of Pete Rose and a pair of Wheaties boxes featuring the World Champion Twins. Then he will gently agree: we are both nostalgic and attach some value to items that commemorate a bygone time.

Second, we both have a firm preference for simplicity in the form of freedom from stuff. At our best, we actively pursue relationships over accumulation of items and objects.

The reality is, this corner of our basement was not an exercise in simplicity. It was a monument to indulging our laziness in decision making – and, truth be told, a reminder of just how busy the last 15 months have been. Christmas and Easter storage boxes were so hastily packed that their lids could not even shut. Moving boxes that were opened just to retrieve one or two specific items were left half open, simultaneously packed and unpacked. Outgrown children’s clothes were folded in shopping bags and stacked on the pile.

Simplicity demanded that we at least look through all the items and intentionally decide if each was something that we desired to carry into the future or if it was time to let go of it.

Now, it was easy to repack the holiday boxes so as to care for the dear items inside. It was fairly obvious that anything we had not yet used from half-opened moving boxes could safely be passed on to St. Vincent de Paul. Other items, like outgrown children’s clothes could be challenging due to nostalgia.

But our biggest challenge was undergraduate notes. Between Joshua and me we had 6 boxes of notes. They have moved from South Bend to South Dakota to Florida to South Bend to Portland to South Bend.

I think for a lot of our post-graduation lives, we placed value in them simply because we couldn’t see our future and we wanted to be as prepared as possible. Their value was not only in the accumulation of knowledge they signified, but also in the security of having them as an easily accessed reference.

Well, we still can’t foresee our future. But our sources of security have shifted. We have reached a point where our most precious deposit of knowledge is not solely accumulated on the pages in those boxes. It is written into us as the product of experience, the result of relationship, the fruit of prayer.

Josh can’t stack it and I can’t stuff it. There is no need to pack it. It is ours for the journey.