DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been married for seven years, and I care for him deeply. When we got married, I sold my house and he kept his as a rental, because he wanted the rental income. We bought a larger house than I wanted, but he wanted acreage and a detached garage. I did not realize he just wanted to fill the extra space with junk. He has now a two-car detached garage full of stuff he collects and buys. He has two tractors, two four-wheelers, six trailers, four riding lawnmowers, about five rolling toolboxes, many desks and a wrecked car. If he sees a “good deal,” he buys it. I used to think that he would buy something and then resell it to make money, but he does not part with anything. He has to have two or more of everything, and most of it is junk. I am 65 and have serious health problems. I cannot handle the stress of all this stuff we do not need. I get exhausted and feel smothered. I want to live a stress-free, minimalist lifestyle. He laughs and makes fun of me when I try to explain to him how I feel. That hurts! When I ask him to just clean up the messes or to get rid of stuff, he says, “Wa-wa-wa-wa! Get used to it because this is me.” I am not sure I can get used to it. I find myself longing for a nice, neat cottage somewhere. Everybody says if I love him it should not matter, I say if he loves me he should hear me and try to make some changes. What do you say?
DEAR NEATFREAK: Your husband sounds as if he has some hoarding (or at least, “pack rat”) tendencies, and unfortunately this practice of buying, accumulating and never getting rid of anything is a very hard habit to break. Studies of hoarders seem to conclude that this tendency has a relationship to some mental health issues — mainly anxiety. Accumulating things relieves anxiety, while parting with them causes it. Your husband is demonstrating his extreme attachment to things when he discounts your discomfort and the impact on your health. He announces that he will not try to do things differently, but that you are the one who will have to change.
If you want to stay married to the person who accuses you of whining about his unhealthy lifestyle, the answer for you might be to basically sell your half of the house to him, and set yourself up in a small, tidy place nearby. That way you two could share meals and conjugal visits, but you would be relieved of the stress of cohabiting.
DEAR AMY: Our son married a lovely girl — an only child of very kind, generous parents. The “other” in-laws have two vacation homes, which are basically extensions of my son and daughter in-law’s home. The in-laws frequently take them out to eat when they’re at their vacation homes. My husband and I are often included, and this is the problem. We are on a fixed income. We are not necessarily cheap, but are still frugal. The in-laws always want to pay and have the means to do so at these nice restaurants. Our son rarely reaches for the check at the end of a meal, which we do not think is right. We want to pay our way, but can’t cover all. Sometimes we split the check half and half. Even that kind of becomes a scene, as the in-laws want to pay the entire bill. We are all about to go on a trip together, so how do we delicately handle this situation?
DEAR WORRIED: You should accept the occasional generosity of these in-laws, with grace and gratitude. People of great means are often very happy and most comfortable when they pick up the check — and these in-laws seem to fall into that category.
If you are traveling together, it would be a good idea if you and your spouse could plan (and pay for) a special outing for the group — a tour of a special attraction, perhaps, followed by a meal.
DEAR AMY: Poor “Lonely Girlfriend!” She was whining about how her hardworking boyfriend didn’t have time for her. Thank you for suggesting that if she became more hardworking, she wouldn’t feel so lonely!
DEAR EMPLOYED: Yes, “Lonely Girlfriend” definitely needed to get a job.