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Making Space for You and Me

Yitti Berkovic

Last Sunday, my husband and I steeled ourselves for what we knew would be a precarious test for our shalom bayis: attempting to clean out the garage. 

We’d tried to avoid it for as long as possible, but when we realized that our sukkah boards were buried beneath boxes of junk, we knew the time had finally come. Filled with dread, we girded ourselves for what would be an emotionally challenging endeavor.

Let me tell you how we got here. 

This summer, while I was recuperating upstate after having a baby, my husband decided it was the perfect time to paint our whole house. In my post C-section haze, it sounded like a good idea. I was far enough away that I wouldn’t see the mess, and by the time I’d get back home, a cleaning crew would have gotten rid of all the dust and muck painters usually leave behind. But maybe my lack of sleep explains my lack of sound judgment.

When I gave my husband the greenlight, what I forgot to consider was that in order to paint my house, every closet and every shelf would need to be emptied. 

My poor husband is a relatively organized guy, but he had to pull this off while working full-time, traveling back and forth to the mountains, and dealing with the mood swings of his exhausted postpartum wife (who couldn’t help but call him when she needed company during 3 A.M. feedings.)

Let’s just say he didn’t have much time to prepare the house in an  efficient manner.

When the painters showed up and the closets were still full, my panicked husband frantically dumped everything we owned out of the closets and into the garage into one colossal heap. Up in the country, I was blissfully unaware that my garage now looked like one of those dumpsters at a Goodwill donation center.    

My husband sent me pictures of the painters’ progress, and I was absolutely thrilled.

Until I got home.

After I plunked my suitcases in the right bedrooms, I couldn’t wait to make a cup of coffee and sit on the couch, where I’d marvel about how a fresh coat of paint could bring a house back to life. But then I discovered that my coffee machine was lost in the garage. And my coffee mugs were lost in the garage. And, yes, my coffee pods were lost in the garage (the pantry had to be emptied too). Luckily, my couch was too large to fit in the garage, because otherwise, my husband might have moved that there too.

I think I might have stayed on the couch a little too long. Because it’s been a month since the summer, and I imagine you’re wondering – why are we first tackling the garage now?  Let’s just say that until this point, we embraced every excuse to push it off: It’s back to school season. It’s the Yamim Nora’im. We have to cook for Sukkos.

In the meantime, we picked out the things we needed, digging through the rubble like scavengers to find school uniforms, Rosh Hashanah machzorim, and kittels. We kept procrastinating because we knew this job would not be fun, and, more importantly, the job would not be good for our shalom bayis. You see, Yossi and I have very different philosophies on organization: He says, Keep it. I say, Toss it. He thinks every item has a purpose, and if not, it can be repurposed. I want everything gone. 

I’ve never been a sentimental person. I don’t want to save the napkin from our first date. I don’t want hospital bracelets from when my babies were born (my kids are good enough souvenirs). I want shelves without clutter. I want closet doors that close. I want a garage where I can see the floor (and perhaps park a car?). He likes keepsakes. He likes keeping printers that don’t work because maybe we’ll need one of the parts one day. He likes stuff he had to buy because it was on sale on DansDeals, and if Dan says it’s worth it, it’s worth it (even if we have no use for it).  

So, as we began to dig through the mound in the garage, this is what our conversation sounded like:

Me: “I’m throwing out this half-broken vase.”

Him: “Why would you throw it out? We can still use it for something!” 

Me: “For what? 

Him (triumphantly): “We can use it as a fishbowl!”

Me: “We don’t even own a fish!”

Him (with a shrug): “So let’s get one!”

This is when the tension starts to boil over. He calls me a party pooper. I call him a hoarder. He insists he appreciates the value of a dollar. I insist I appreciate the value of not tripping over something when I walk.   Each of us retreats into our corner, feeling attacked and misunderstood. I’m convinced he should see things my way since my way is more efficient and more practical. If he valued my need for space, he’d see that the garage is not big enough for stuff we don’t need. But he can say the same thing about me: These things are important to me, and if she valued that, she’d see that this garage is big enough for the both of us. 

I guess cleaning the garage is the perfect metaphor for our marriage: Two divergent personalities who come together and try to be reasonable, try to compromise, try to see things the way the other one does, but sometimes get tripped up by obstacles (like printers that don’t work) strewn in our path.

It’s tempting to dig in my heels. He might be annoyed now, but he’ll thank me later, when he can actually find something he’s looking for. But I know that “solution” won’t get me anywhere. He won’t thank me later.

People are who they are, and they’re likely to stay that way, no matter how much we nudge and prod, nitpick and gripe, micromanage and set down the law. We can dig in our heels all we want, but then we only end up stepping on someone else’s toes.

If marriage has taught me anything, it’s that spouses deserve the space (literal and figurative) to be themselves – and we owe it to each other to make room, even when it makes us a little uncomfortable.

So, we finally tackled the colossal heap in the garage, and baruch Hashem, we made it out mostly unscathed (and we rescued our sukkah boards just in the nick of time!)  I managed to sneak a few things into my garbage bag, and my husband managed to provide safe haven for a few things he couldn’t part with.

The printer that will never work again – that had to go. But the new snowblower on DansDeals that was just a steal

You win some, you lose some.

You can call it compromise or you can call it one of life’s sweetest challenges, but either way, I’m just happy it’s done (and I finally have my coffee machine back!).


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