A rantbox

Uncluttering my wife's brain

I am digitally pretty well organised. I keep notes in places I can actually find them back, I use proper ways of keeping the codebases and projects I work on maintainable not only for myself, but for others (quite a fascinating thought), photo archives are sorted by date, subject, I hopefully backup my stuff correctly and so on.

My nerdcave reflects that part by stashing a quite staggering collection of tidbits I assembled during life, in places and ways I can easily retrieve them again. However, that is not the whole story, as anyone entering said room can attest to.

A while ago (well, at the start of this year actually) I happened upon the post Resolution of the Future – Part 1: Orderly Conduct by Ryan Costello, author of the Least I Could Do webcomic. It is about getting organised because physical clutter reflects on your state of mind. It was followed up by Clone Wives which frankly was a great article on how to help his wife Tina by taking tasks, cognitive load and other burdens from her, without tasking her by telling him what or how to actually do that.

The latter is important, as too often I found myself asking people "what can I do to help you?", putting another task on their plate, while intending to actually help them with that plate.

Those two articles stuck with me, as I noticed quite some parallels with my own relationship.

Lately, both by spending a lot more time together at home (kids included) because of the whole COVID-19 Situation, and because we were both growing uncomfortable with some parts of the status quo, we started talking about the multitude of aspects of our family situation, and our relation.

Growing into my role as dad, I somehow already took more tasks upon myself than before, but I realised how much work is drifting around waiting for someone to pick it up. That someone generally is my wife, as she her irritation level is slightly more easily reached than mine, and her mindset is to immediately do something about it.

I have a bit more relaxed state of mind, which registers the task at hand, but prioritises it in relation to the other things in my mind. In the years, I have learned how to keep myself from going mad, by forcing myself out of some situations for a while to have some time for myself. Those moments could be prioritised above some task at hand, meaning I want to charge myself a bit before I clean up that mess on the table, clear out the dishwasher or whatever else needs to be done. Or maybe I have some planning in my mind to bunch a few tasks together.

The thing is, my wife at a similar point in time also notes said task, and wants it dealt with. Now. As I am currently not doing it, she will.

See the pattern?

Combine that with the character traits to not want to complain, to deprioritise herself under the well-being of others, the tendency to not delegate and some healthy dose of perfectionism, and the burn-out recipe basically writes itself.

As this is not sustainable, I started asking what things I could do, not realising this of course added yet another thing to do to her collection.

When we finally got ourselves a tumble dryer last year, I took it upon myself to do the washing. Something about not having to hang everything to dry made it a lot less of a chore. Also, folding warm towels, and plucking the soft fluff from the dryer's filters is oddly satisfying.

This, combined with some remarks made by her, made something click inside my head.

Back to our recent conversations. As I can not read minds, and am not clairvoyant, and did not want to ask about everything, things still went awry, as my wife was still in her 'I do not want to complain and ask help for every frigging little thing' mode. No surprise here that we were both still uncomfortable with how things were going.

So, how to solve this?

Of course, that is a puzzle we need to solve. We started by actually voicing some wishes and irritation points, as we both do not always realise what is bothering the other. By voicing those, and making agreements about how to divide certain tasks amongst our both (and maybe even the kids), we improved our daily routines. We both now do not have to think about certain tasks, as we know who is responsible for them. A gentle reminder here and there, or some quick help is of course still possible, but all-in-all, things are already a tad smoother, making for example our morning routine with the kids a lot less frustrating.

She also gets rather annoyed about the amount of boxes in my nerdcave, so I will be doing some sorting and throwing away in the near-ish future.

But first, some reading to put my own mind at rest.

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