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Marriage After Kids: The Junk Drawer Effect

02/05/2015 10:42 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015
Kristin Shaw

I save things. I save everything. The TV people are not going to come knocking at my door to film a Hoarders episode, but if it has sentimental value, I save it. I have relics from the proms I attended; love letters from a sweet sophomore boy when I was in my senior year; tickets from a concert years ago.

I have a junk drawer, like my mother and my mother's mother before me. It holds Sharpies, balloons, straws and menus from various restaurants, and other items for which there is no category. I also have a junk box sitting on my counter, housing all kinds of things that are perhaps temporary, but have no home. Homeless items. I pass it every day, as it sits in plain sight in a heavily-traveled area.

I throw items into the box, making a mental note of where they are so I can find them later. Too often, I either forget that they're there, or they're items so unimportant that by the time I go back to see what's in the box, I throw them away.

The problem is that the box becomes invisible as I go about my day around it, ignoring it altogether or seeing it out of the corner of my eye and saying to myself, I'll get around to that box later on. Every once in a while, I'll go through the box and decide what I should move to a more permanent home, and what should be thrown away.

My husband does not find my saving strategies amusing, but he tolerates them as a part of who I am. I save and save and save things, and if I come across an item that makes me smile or brings to mind a memory that had long been buried, I save it again, reprieving it from the fate of the trash can.

In some ways, I can see how a marriage, especially with children in the mix, might be confused with a junk drawer -- unnoticed until it's necessary to de-clutter. I can see how easy it is to walk by a loved one every day, not truly seeing that person from the inside out. Without looking into that person's eyes and noticing what is going on in his heart. Letting various and sundry fragments of conversations and harsh words land where they may until it has become a tangled-up mess.

There have been many times when I have done this myself. Sometimes, it takes seeing someone through the eyes of another to really see.

A few weeks ago, I made dinner for a friend who was in the middle of a stressful family situation. My husband, son and I drove to her house, dinner in hand. When we arrived, the children played together, and I unpacked the dinner piece by piece, making myself at home in order to help as much as possible while being the least amount of trouble.

As I prepared the dinner plates, I noticed that my husband was playing with the kids, a big smile on his face. I noticed that he was talking to my friend, taking interest in her words and sincerely listening to her. I noticed the way he showed the kids how to properly use the tee in the yard, and he picked up the baby out of harm's way while the preschoolers were wielding bats. I could see the smile and relief on my friend's face as she felt included in our family and felt a little less alone. I could see my husband through the eyes of someone who appreciated his kindness.

It seemed silly that I hadn't really looked at him lately -- instead allowing my focus to settle on our disagreements, our financial worries, our squabbles over household duties. I had spent all of my attention on our son, and neglected to offer the same to my husband.

The junk drawer effect: Neglecting to notice what is in front of our faces. Tossing more junk on the pile, until the day we can get around to it.

I cleaned out my junk drawer this week and threw out the things I didn't need. I rearranged the area and found homes for things that were useful. I gently washed the basket holding a miscellany of items, including half-melted lollipops, and laid it back on the shelf.

As I processed and cleaned and rearranged, I thought of ways I could do this within my marriage. What can I remove? What do we no longer need? How can I better see what is in this drawer?

Marriages crack and bend and break under the strain of everyday family life. Our son is 5, and he requires less attention than he did when he was 1 and 2, but it is easy to give him the lion's share of my attention. For the most part, we are a happy family. However, I can tell when we are not balanced; it's worth making an extra effort to ensure that my husband and I are giving each other the thoughtfulness we need, too.

I will be more careful about what I toss in the box.

I will tend to it more often, to keep the detritus from overflowing.

I will give this drawer attention, too. It's not just junk, but things that I need, often.

When I was finished, it all made so much more sense. I don't want to keep walking by and missing the opportunity to see all that I have.

Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year, and co-producer of the Listen to Your Mother show in Austin, where she is the mother of a mini-Texan. Her work has been featured at Huffington Post; Washington Post; Brain, Child; Erma Bombeck Workshop; In The Powder Room; and Scary Mommy, among others.

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