The Pack-Rat and the Neat-Nik

Differences don't cause stress—but our attitudes do.

Posted Mar 17, 2020

Linda: I believe that opposites attract. Although discrepant styles of being in the world can cause a great deal of friction, they don’t have to. It’s not the differences themselves that cause stress. Rather, it’s the heavy judgments that spoil a couple’s harmony when they have not yet learned how to make a space large enough for both ways of being to peacefully co-exist.

Consider the story of Ruben and Selah. Ruben is fifty-two. He has 14,247 emails in the inbox of his laptop computer. He still keeps his stamp album collection from when he was 11 years old. He has saved all his notes in notebooks from his undergraduate and graduate work in college, believing he may have to refer to them one day. He has never balanced one bank statement in his entire life. Ruben is passionately interested in personal growth and spiritual development and has hundreds of tape recordings of lectures of the best luminaries of our time. He has not listened to any of those tapes for years but has a strong sentimental attachment to each and every one and can’t let them go.

Selah is a neat-nik. She likes order in their home. Whenever she buys a new article of clothing, she gives away something she’s enjoyed for a while to a friend to make space for the new purchase. She would be happiest in a Zen style home with a few pieces of lovely comfortable furniture, some inspirational pieces of art, and a few healthy plants. She loves the beauty of open space.

Ruben does most of the grocery shopping, where his “more is better” philosophy shows up once again. The refrigerator, freezer, kitchen shelves, and pantry are all stuffed to capacity. This is a slight irritant for Selah because she does most of the cooking and finds it frustrating to spend so much time searching for food in the refrigerator or on shelves, hidden behind the excess of items. She clears her frustration by reminding herself that it is a big help that Ruben does so much of the shopping and respects that he likes to do it his way.

Selah had her handyman build floor to ceiling shelving in their garage to de-clutter their home. She puts Ruben’s collections of all kinds in their six file cabinets and large plastic containers on the shelves in the garage. She put labels on everything so they could be located in the future, but for the most part, the collections just sit there collecting dust. For a couple with such different ways of being, there could be clashes. One partner might bring pressure on the other to get rid of things so that their home wouldn’t be so bloated with stuff. But Selah learned over time that the disconnection and tension were not worth the price of orderliness in the house.

Salah says, “Ruben has his own office that he can keep as sloppy as he likes. The garage is filled to the brim with big plastic containers that are mostly his belongings. I can close the door to the garage and my husband’s office and have our kitchen dining room, living room, and bedroom arranged in my simple style.”

Ruben offers, “It’s not just Selah doing all the accommodating. I’m attempting to be more orderly with my possessions and not leave them all over the house. We both are stretching from our different ways of being to make our partnership work.”

In Selah’s words, “In the places where we do meet, the values that we share, generosity, commitment, contribution, and being devoted parents is much bigger than our differences about how we organize the stuff of our lives.”

In Ruben’s words, “I know I’m a pack-rat, and I’m truly grateful for Selah’s flexibility. We are a happy couple who have learned how to co-create an expansive environment that makes room for both of us to be ourselves."