My wife married me for my charm, patience and my soulful brown eyes. It was not for my organizational skills or general tidiness. My office looks like I’ve been receiving love letters from the Unabomber. There are things in the trunk of my car that have become antiques since I put them there. The wife on the other hand (God bless her), is the terror of tidy. She’s a one woman war on filth and disorder. She’s always felt Mr. Clean could have used a little bleach on that t-shirt. Marine drill sergeants could not pass her inspections. She dusts places I didn’t know you could dust. Her idea of a satisfying Sunday is to scrub the baseboards, disassemble and dust all the light fixtures and send everyone out to eat so she can get all the vacuum cleaner lines on the carpet straight at the same time.
When we were dating, she broke up with me the day she first visited my home! Had not God intervened and told her she had to marry me, that would have been that. The apostle Paul once wrote that each of us has a cross to bear. My poor wife’s personal cross is me!
You see, my wife believes that there are only two kinds of people in the world. She doesn’t buy the whole Phlegmatic/Melancholic/Choleric/Sanguine thing. She totally rejects Erickson’s stages of life theories. Freud’s id, ego and superego and Jung’s thinking, feeling, sensing and intuitive personality types are unadulterated balderdash. Instead, my beloved, based upon her lifetime of observing human nature, believes there are just two basic personality types in the world: the "Adders" and "Subtracters".
Here’s how the theory works. When people are under stress they react in one of two ways. They either hoard or they throw things away. She knows this from the years of anthropological studies she’s done on our two families and how they respond to crisis. The data she’s collected, confirms her hypothesis perfectly. I am an "Adder", She is a "Subtracter", and God will have his little jokes.
I can see how she got the idea for her new psychology of human behavior. Just look at the subjects of her study. First there’s my people. I come from a long line of pack rats. The basic lesson my poor dirt farmer ancestors drew from the depressions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was "You might need that some day!" We hover over garbage cans, dangling big bags of trash, reluctant to commit ourselves to actually dropping it into the hopper. The thought that something might have gotten in there accidentally tortures us. What if we need that some day? What if the roads are blocked by rising flood waters and we’re cut off and there’s just a little duct tape on that roll - not much but just enough to patch the leaky life raft we’ve got shoved in a box somewhere in the attic! Then, we could blow up the raft and use it to escape and that would show them! "Yeah, what if I hadn’t had that duct tape," I would smirk. "Then where would we be?" We’d be drowned like rats! Now, aren’t you glad I kept that duct tape? I told you it would come in handy some day!"
Have you ever carefully slit open the side of a trash sack to retrieve something you noticed that your spouse had pitched without your knowledge? Have you ever used clear strapping tape to cover the hole so it wouldn’t show?. Have you ever had to make sure that you were the one who took out the trash on trash day so you could make sure and turn the taped up sack to the inside of the pile so certain persons wouldn’t notice that you’d been "digging in the trash" again? Has your wife ever thrown something of yours away as a form of retaliation? Have you and all your stuff been shoved into a corner, closet or shed and told not to step outside the designated area on pain of being flung into the nearest sanitary landfill? If you live alone, is your house so full of cats, old clothes, "antiques", vintage magazines or empty banana boxes that you have to periodically clean out little walking paths in order to get to the bathroom? Does the idea of moving make you hyperventilate? Do you still have a complete collection of your sixth grade essays on famous explorers? Can you find it?
Then, according to my wife’s personality inventory profile, you, my friend, are an "Adder" and you are part of what’s wrong with the world. "She", if you haven’t already guessed, is a subtracter. She’s not happy with a house cleaning job unless the resulting trash pile is high enough to develop a snow cap before morning. She loves the finality of a garbage disposal. I can’t trust her with a paper shredder. My wife’s rule for making purchases from the store is, "One sack of trash out for every sack of stuff we bring in." She even tried to extend the "One in/one out" rule to my book collection arguing that I’d "already read the old ones, so I didn’t need them any more!" When she's depressed, she rents a dumpster.
Her family formed the basis for her theories about the "Subtracter" personality type. Her dad was a prodigious subtracter. His shed was a brutally tidy collection of baby food jars screwed to shelves, each one holding one variety each of fasteners, screws or nuts. He kept the shed’s dirt floor carefully raked so that the lines were exactly parallel. Footprints were raked out each time he locked the shed door. Her grandmother couldn’t bear sick or damaged animals and had them shot or drowned as quickly as possible. During the depression, members of her family coped by doing massive spring cleaning and by butchering the weakest of the cattle, pigs and sheep. They make me nervous. I try to avoid limping, wheezing or dozing off at her family reunions. There are some family members who’ve gone missing recently and nobody will talk much about it. I’ve heard them refer to the dead as "...useful right up to the end."
My wife considers being an "Adder" something of a sickness like schizophrenia or serial killing. Someone once wrote an article on organizing yourself in one those women’s magazines - Better Homes and Hospital Wards or something like that. She left it lying open on the stool in the bathroom with passages highlighted in neon yellow. One statement that was triple underlined said, "If you haven’t used it in six months, you don’t need it!" She marked out "six" and wrote "three". Her philosophy is, "If it’s damaged or not in use, it’s headed for the dumpster." And she’s serious about it. I’ve trained the kids and the dog to get up from the TV once in a while and make a few passes in front of her just to let her know they’re still breathing. I go out to the tool shed and move things around every two and a half months so everything looks recently used. I have a storage building in another city that she doesn’t know about or have a key to.
When she used to have PMS, I could tell where she was in the cycle by the size of the trash pile at the curb. She threw away my sixth grade essays on Napoleonic era naval battles. My first (unpublished) novel is rotting in a landfill on the outskirts of Alexandria Louisiana. My collection of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys is gone. Three collections of rusty screws have mysteriously disappeared along with the mildewed box they came in as well as 25 pounds of leftover clips, tags, spare parts, nuts and bolts left over from years of late Christmas Eve toy assembly projects.
And she thinks I’m crazy! I mean, we might have grandkids some day and I might just be assembling one of their toys late some Christmas Eve and I might just need that part and I won’t have it and whose fault will it be? Who will be responsible for the tears in the eyes of our favorite grandchild when her toy is not completely assembled on that tragic Christmas morning?
"SOMEONE" who didn’t think we’d need that some day, that’s who!
Just one man's opinion....
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