"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 13, 2012
It's the Principle of the Thing!
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


In the middle of my bedroom are three boxes of my husband’s old clothes, papers, and random junk. The boxes have been there for three months. They are in the way. They smell musty. And every time I see them I get angry that he hasn’t donated the clothes, shredded the papers, and thrown away the junk.

It’s like that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray won’t take the suitcase upstairs, and it sits on the landing for three weeks. It’s his responsibility, but he won’t do it.

So my question is, how can I get my husband to get rid of these boxes? And don’t say I should do it, because that will only encourage him to leave his mess for me next time, too. It’s the principle of the thing that matters here.


You are making a mountain out of a molehill.

Just move the boxes. And stop taking marital advice from a sitcom about married people who snipe and pick at each other!

Take the clothes to Goodwill.

Shred the papers.

Throw away the junk

It is the principle that matters here, but you have the wrong principle. If your husband were a child, and you were his mother, you would be right to make him clean up his mess because it would be your responsibility to rear him properly. You would even have the right to scold him for his behavior. (Whether or not scolding is effective is another question entirely.)

But your husband is not a child. You are not his mother. It is not within your power to rear him because he is already grown up. And you don’t get to scold him any more than he gets to scold you. If he is untidy, or not thoughtful, or has any other bad qualities, it’s too late. You are already married. You’ll just have to focus on his good points, instead.

Does he work and earn a living? Is he an attentive father? Does he do his home teaching? Is he kind and generous? Those are all excellent qualities. Way more important than being good at box disposal.

And it sounds like you might be very good at box disposal! You obviously notice the boxes, know what is in them, and know what needs to be done with them. I bet you could do all of it in less than an hour.

So instead of being angry about your role here, embrace it. Say to yourself, “Look at those boxes! My dear husband doesn’t seem to even notice them anymore. He must be preoccupied—probably thinking about race cars again! Well, I love that he’s always thinking about things. I will go ahead and move them for him. He’s busy with other things and they are clearly bothering me more than they bother him.”

If you do this, the boxes will be gone. You will be less angry. And most importantly, you will have treated your husband like a treasured friend instead of like a naughty child.

Finally, this might be stating the obvious, but I hope you have actually asked him to dispose of the boxes. Not, “Hey, will you deal with this mess, because it’s driving me nuts!”

Instead, try this: “Dear, would you please shred the papers in that box after the kids go to bed tonight?” Or, “Would you please carry that box to the curb on your way to work this morning?” Or, “Would you please drop off that box of clothes at Goodwill on your way to the store after breakfast?”

Notice that each of these requests is, (1) a polite request, complete with “please,” (2) concrete as to what you would like him to do, and (3) specific as to the time at which you’d like the task done. There is no allegedly greater principle at stake in these kinds of questions. You are just asking him to please help you with something. You are turning your mountain back into a molehill, where it belongs.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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