My Hot Mess

Kate (my wife) gets away with a lot being a foreigner. The Marmite she spreads on her toast in the morning (“devil’s toe jam” as I cleverly like to call it) is gross but it’s a little exotic so I let her do it. The toilet-flushing issue, as I’ve discussed previously, goes down easier when it’s a foreigner that’s to blame and that foreigner inherited, in a Lemarkian sort of way, her grandparent’s wartime need to conserve water. Most impressive though is the duping that occurs with Kate’s profound messiness. In short, it’s taken me about seven years to realize that a person can be British and be a slob. The two have always felt mutually exclusive somehow. Every time Kate spoke, her tidy little accent would instantly negate a few items of clothes she just left on the bathroom floor. Problem is, she’s off at work all day and the confusion she perpetuates in my brain by simply saying stuff fades and I start to see Kate for what she really is: A lovely, cute-talking, really, really messy woman.

I’ve spent years battling Kate’s messiness. I’ve given ultimatums, made reward charts, written up semi-legal documents, threatened affairs with really neat women, tried positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement…At one point, I tried to get her to wear one of the dog’s citronella spray collars (the dogs have since graduated to electric shock ones) and suggested I follow her around for a day with the remote, “correcting” her when she’s left food out (the dogs eat, on average, one loaf of fresh bread every two days) or stepped over a pile of clothes she’d left from the night before. She wouldn’t do it.

I soon turned to photo-documentation. It started out as part of her training –instead of dragging her over to her mess and holding her there while smacking her with a newspaper, I found it easier to just document as I went and collect the evidence en masse for presentations I’d give to her with titles like “Infractions of the Week” or “Here’s why I don’t cuddle you at night”. At some point I gave up the training. Like Greeley, the horrible dog she brought into this marriage, Kate proved to be untrainable.

One of several contracts I’ve written up for Kate over the years (Louisa later drew on it)

Our bathroom floor…the morning after the signing of the contract.

Her drawers…Two days later. TWO!

These contact cases were the subject of an ugly drawn-out battle of which Kate had no idea she was fighting. Five days these cases sat in the sink before Kate threw them away!

If right now you’re thinking “oh, man, it sure would suck to be married to Ben”, let me just tell you that you’re missing the point. The point is I’m the good guy here. I work hard on Kate’s self-improvement. And if Kate doesn’t like our dirty laundry aired out on a blog for tens of people to see, then she shouldn’t leave hers on the bathroom floor.

So, at some point thereafter, in either an act of marital heroism or simply an effort to preserve what was left of my sanity, I decided Kate, not I, was the victim. I diagnosed her with a mental illness. She was now “pathologically messy”. She had a retardation of the brain, if you will. Thus, she was suffering. The next logical step then was to seek professional help. Being the son of a psycho-therapist (honestly, this should’ve been a huge red flag for Kate seven years ago), I looked to fix it the touchy-feely way…I dragged Kate to a therapist so she, we all, could uncover the childhood traumas that led to her disease.

The plan backfired considerably, but probably not surprisingly. Kate was cleared for departure a couple months after we started and I somehow was “suggested” to stay on for some solo counseling. It made some sense I suppose. I’m the one with the baggage, the “crazy one” as Kate likes to say. Plus, the mess bothers me a lot more than her . I’m the one home all day, surrounded by reminders that Kate has chosen the luxury of leaving her post-Theo grandma underwear on the bathroom floor over her husband’s sanity. Note: If the underwear were little and sexy I wouldn’t mind as much, partly because they would take up a lot less room on the floor.

It’s taken several months and a lot of money we don’t have but I think I’m now able to blame my parents instead of Kate. In other words, I’m back to where I feel most comfortable…as the victim.

My childhood was dicey. Not to take any credit away from my mom or dad but I was mostly raised by our maid (they were called ‘maids’ then) and my sister. My sister was famously messy. You could never really see the floor of her bedroom. We had a pet tarantula that escaped and lived free-range in our house for years. He probably lived in a burrow in Ann’s clothes. Then there was our maid, Elena, who was paid to a) clean and b) keep me alive. I feel very indebted to her. Then there was my mom. She was a nervous traveler and found that keeping food in her purse –preferably free-range (as in no container) hard-boiled eggs—helped keep her calm. I had to hold my nose and try to keep from gagging whenever I’d have to steal money from her purse. So, you can see, my issues with messiness run pretty deep. It’s been nice rediscovering these memories with a therapist but it hasn’t helped our situation at home much. Kate’s still messy and I still take it all very personally. I still document the messes but it’s mostly just to help illustrate the stories I tell bartenders.

Here’s cheese Kate put back in the fridge…just like this.

Here’s the plastic bag she took the cheese out of and just left on the counter after putting the cheese back!

Louisa took this picture of me yesterday at around 3:30pm


  1. You really do make me laugh out loud!! Sorry if it is at someone else’s expense, but I don’t really know Kate, so it doesn’t bother me very much.
    Love the image of stealing $$ from a smelly purse (sorry, Jane)!
    You are the wordsmith!

  2. Geez Ben it’s a miracle u r still alive but it does make me chuckle!!!!
    Those Brits eh??!!

  3. Ben, I have the SAME memory of your mom always having loose hard boiled eggs in the bottom of her purse! Glad I got to read this before your wife forces you to remove it.

  4. Suck it up boychik.

    It’s been proven that in most couples, one person has to clean up after the other. Even if they are both compulsively neat.

    Thresholds are the key. Take the classic “washing up the other’s dishes” scenario. It doesn’t matter if A’s breaking point is a single dirty knife on the counter or all but the last good plate rotting in the basin. As long as B’s threshold is a bit further along the spectrum: A is condemned to forever clean up.

    To address this situation (divorce is not an option), A may either come to accept the status quo, or move B’s threshold. Any bets as to which will happen first?

  5. Matthew Work says

    You neat people are all the same. Arbitrary decision the neat/clean is somehow better than dirty/messy. Like the decision that north is up. Who decided that anyway?

  6. Hmm. I see a familiar pattern, though I hasten to add my predicament is less acute (ie a considerably less untidy wife). In a fit of rage because I’d been ‘forced’ to put the luggage away (by my wife not caring a lot if it went away or not) I managed to fall off our loft ladder onto my back on the bannisters. It really hurt. I was packed off to therapy soon after that incident…

  7. I swing between neat and messy depending. Most of the time I have a “controlled mess” piles of paper and drawings stashed on one side of my desk at work. Things sit on surfaces, never floor though. I laughed myself silly reading your post. Stay sane Ben.

  8. Louisa Finch says

    Your wife sounds like a pathological slob. You’re being taken advantage of my friend! Do you also do her laundry and polish her shoes?

    How do you say emasculate??