Stressed? Overwhelmed? Give up, already!

Since I’m on a domestic tranquility kick, I’m going to tell you why the absolute, best way to reduce stress is to give up. I mean it. Just give up, already!

If your husband is anything like mine, he does this thing where he just throws his clothes on the floor. Not all over the floor, mind you, but in one designated spot. This spot is absolutely never the laundry hamper.

It’s not that big of a deal, really, except that since he throws clothes that are clean(ish?) enough to wear again (yuck) in the same pile with dirty clothes, I don’t like to throw the whole pile in the hamper in case he was planning on wearing something in it (double yuck).

But after several years of constant nagging and complaining, I realized that the sheer force of my irritation was not solving the problem. It was creating more problems. When the Ogre came home at the end of a long day feeling beaten down, instead of offering him comfort and succor I was just beating him down some more.

So I stopped nagging. The problem, however, remained, and it was a problem. I kept telling him that I would gladly put the clothes away for him if he would just tell me what was clean and what was dirty, but the poor man left the house at 8 am, came home at 6 for dinner and to help me get the kids in bed, and then left again at 7:30 to work at the writing center. By the time he finally got back home at 11, I didn’t have the heart to ask him about the clothes. I tried just guessing what was clean and what was dirty a few times, but inevitably the Ogre would come running out of the bedroom, late for class, searching for a shirt that was in the washing machine.

Then one day the kids and I were watching Singin’ in the Rain, and I found myself inspired by the wisdom of Cosmo Brown.

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How could I address the problem with a sense of humor, but without nagging or making the Ogre feel disparaged?

I couldn’t. At least, I couldn’t until I gave up my need to correct him and my expectation of an immediate response. I had to give up my desire for control. I had to stop trying to force my husband to conform to my wishes (even if they’re reasonable wishes!) and ask courteously, patiently, and cheerfully.

9 times out of 10, this works. He comes home, laughs, pulls me into a hug, and puts his clothes away. The 10th time, I go to bed before he even gets home, so I dump the clothes back on the floor and re-do the question mark the next day.

When the Ogre and I first started dating, his parents asked him what he saw in me. (I guess I wasn’t too charming back then.) His answer was the same one he gives whenever I have a fit of self-pity and ask why he bothers loving me, anyway: I make him laugh.

I’ve spent most of our marriage being too stressed-out and miserable to laugh at anything, much less to make anyone else laugh. It took me years to realize that the work I have to do will be there no matter how high my stress level gets. I used to say, “something’s gotta give! I can’t keep going on like this!” every other day. But nothing could give. Everything I was doing was necessary, either for my family or for me. I kept thinking that if I got more and more stressed, until I had a nervous breakdown or a heart attack or something, fairy unicorns would magically change things because doctor’s orders and I wouldn’t have as much to do.

Luckily I got too dang tired of constantly cranking my stress level up before I could stress myself into a breakdown, and the fairy unicorns bearing doctor’s orders never appeared. But I realized that the only way I’ll have less to do, even if I have a breakdown and the doctor orders it, is if the Ogre does more. But he’s already doing more. He’s working full-time and writing a dissertation, spending the weekends with the kids, changing the light bulbs, taking out the trash, walking Sienna to school, proofing my blog posts, making me tea, and taking 99% of the night shifts with Lincoln. The only thing that could give was me.

So I did. I gave up. Well, it’s a work in progress, so let’s say I’m giving up. I’m giving up being stressed and frazzled and frantic and overwhelmed, and settling for laughing again. I’m giving up trying to force my days to conform to a schedule, and settling for reading stories even if the dishes are piled up or playing outside with the kids even if it means dinner is PB&J on plastic plates in the front yard. I’m giving up nagging and settling for question marks made out of laundry.

I’m giving up resenting the work that must be done, and settling for doing it. Weirdly enough, even though there’s no less work to do, it seems like there’s a lot more time to do it. And plenty of time leftover to make my husband laugh again.

  • MeanLizzie

    There is a little book, a really tiny little book, that is sometimes in the back of churches, called “Acceptance.” It’s really good. But I like my new motto, too: Just kiss it up to God and calm your ass down.” Working for me. :-)

    • Maggie Goff

      It clicked with me when I read the part about the whirling dervishes.

  • Leticia Adams

    Awesome post. I have been thinking the same thing. I’m the clothes on the floor pile person in my marriage though. I have the walk in closet just because it’s big enough for me to throw whatever I want in there and my husband doesn’t ever EVER have to see it. LOL But I stress about other things. We just moved my mom into town and yesterday I was on the verge of a meltdown and telling him that I felt that the life was getting sucked out of me because everyone needs something all.the.time. Then this morning as I was holding my grand daughter and kissing her fats cheeks I just started crying. What a blessing it is to have all these people in my life. Before I know it they will all have lives of their own and I’ll be wishing for these days back.

    I’m also pretty sure that going from life sucking meltdown to hysterical crying is a sign that I’m PMSing, but you know, whatever. :)

  • Lindsay Amery Stehno

    I have the Exact. Same. Problem. Stupid laundry. I am usually more critical when it comes to the “smell test” about an article being worn again, So when the pile gets too big, *I* go through it. He’s not particular about what he wears, so I never here, “Why’s my Star Trek T-shirt in the wash? I was gonna wear that!

  • Cordelia

    Hey, I’ve been waiting for those unicorns, too! You mean they’ll NEVER COME? This is worse than finding out the news about the Easter Bunny…

    And, does nobody – really, really? – show up to take away your Motherhood Licence if you feed your family PBJ on plastic plates? For DINNER? What about paper plates? This might change my life.

    Seriously, I love this “new you” – if you don’t mind me calling it that. You inspire me to chill, pray, and smile – and find the “new me.” Keep it up! That question mark is awesome.

  • jen

    I love that solution!

  • Betsy

    I love the question mark! My husband does the same thing, but after our 2 year old son threw all his clothes down the laundry chute one too many times – including shorts he was planning on wearing again – he started to put any clothes he DOESN’T want thrown down the chute on the bed. (Our son doesn’t distinguish between dirty and clean. If it’s on the floor it’s fair game as far as he is concerned, and he LOVES throwing clothes down the chute.)

  • Brigitte

    You are very wise to figure this out so young. I’ve got almost thirty years on you and I still don’t get it as well as you do! For me it is caring what my husband wears. I am getting closer to not caring. He also saves clothes to wear again. Which would be okay if they weren’t his exercise clothes!

  • Mary’s hopefull

    Thank you! Love you! (: