Ask Amy: Cohabiting couple struggles to unpack their “stuff”

Dear Amy: I’m a middle-aged man. My fiancée recently moved in with me.

My family had hoarding issues for generations. Long before Marie Kondo and hoarding intervention TV came along, I was in therapy and successfully dealing with this.

I’ve disposed of multiple dumpster loads of my ancestors’ stuff, in order to have room to live in my inherited home.

My possessions bring me joy.

I’m a design professional with a lot of experience working with clients in their homes.

I understand that hoarding is an obsessive compulsive disorder, but I also see compulsive decluttering as a big problem. I’ve been inside homes that were virtually empty due to this.

While visiting a friend who was downsizing I realized how anxious stuff, boxes and clutter made my fiancée. We had to end the visit early because she was so anxious!

When she is stressed, she “purges” objects and sometimes buys others, only to return or donate them. Some things I treasure have “disappeared.”

I make space for her in our home (by removing my stuff) and she leaves the space empty, but then complains there is no room for her things.

We have no photos or artwork on our bedroom walls because the visual incompatibility makes her anxious and upset.

If something is not being used NOW (even if needed or useful later), out it goes.

She donated an occasionally used, older kitchen appliance and later the same day purchased another.

I’m not sure how to help her (or keep my stuff), as she says I need help with “hoarding.”

Please raise awareness of compulsive decluttering.

How do I defend decisions when being branded a “hoarder” for useful/needed/cherished objects?

— R

Dear R: Several years ago, I sardonically suggested that decluttering expert Marie Kondo had a compulsive disorder (she sends so much to the landfill!). And then earlier this year, Ms. Kondo announced that the quest for tidy perfection had taken up too much space in her own life, and that she was now rearranging her priorities in a quest for more balance.

Compulsive decluttering does resemble hoarding, in that extreme anxiety and compulsions drive the desire to obsessively remove “stuff.” People who suffer with this will get rid of things they will need later, then replace the item, and then remove that, too. So yes, according to your description, your fiancée may suffer from a version of this.

But she has moved into “your” house. Like every cohabiting couple, you will have to negotiate the issue of combining your possessions and arriving at a lifestyle that you both can manage.

It is vital that she feels comfortable and at peace in her home.

Because you two have such opposing styles — and are quick to label each other as having a serious disorder — it would be important to sit down with a couples therapist who could help you to sort out, rearrange, and unpack the considerable baggage you each bring into this relationship.

Dear Amy: You and I are about the same age, and I’m wondering if some of our peers did something wrong raising their kids?

When I walk in my suburban neighborhood (I’ve done this every day for years), I say hello to everyone, whether they are sitting on their porch, or out walking the same or opposite way as me.

Most everyone the same age as me (or older) returns the greeting.

Everyone from approximately age 50 and below will either glare at me or act like I’m not there.

Amy, what is up with that? Why is it acceptable to be so rude?

These are not children, so “not talking to strangers” is not the problem!

What is your take on this?

— Perplexed in Suburbia

Dear Perplexed: During my travels, I’ve noted general regional differences regarding how outwardly “friendly” strangers are to one another.

I was raised in an area that is overall on the far less-friendly side of the spectrum (whereas I tend to be more outgoing). It has never occurred to me that this behavior might be generational, however.

I’d be interested to hear from readers: Has my generation raised a passel of rude-niks?

Dear Amy: I must admit that I am often impressed by how you handle questions related to addiction, and I wonder how you gained this insight.

I hope it’s not too personal, but I’m curious.

— Curious

Dear Curious: Addiction is an issue I’ve studied extensively. Fortunately, I don’t have personal experience with addiction, but the relationship problems triggered by addiction are devastating, and important to understand.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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