I think Dan lacked Object Permanence. That is the developmental stage during which babies learn that, if Mommy steps out of the room, she is not gone forever. Most children gain object permanence when they are six or seven months old. Usually, by the time a baby is crawling, he knows that the red polka-dotted ball that he threw behind the couch five minutes ago is still there. Not my husband. If his stuff was not out in plain sight right where he can see it, it was thrown away, lost, or stolen! Why would I want to steal his 2 mm drill bit? Or his spark plug gapping tool? Or his half-eaten Mars bar? Okay, maybe that one was a bad example.
Unlike my husband, I liked stuff to be just that: stuffed. Nowhere was the struggle more evident than in our bedroom. Every day I would send Dan off to work with clean clothes and empty pockets. Every evening he would come home with his pockets full of junk to dump onto the dresser. Small tools, receipts, gum wrappers, phone numbers, phone numbers written on receipts and gum wrappers, trinkets, whatnots, and goo-gaws were unloaded routinely every night. This would not have been a problem, if he would put everything back in his pocket the next day. Every morning he went away with his pockets empty. Every night he added to the pile.
I started sliding his pocket junk into a little box which I placed in the top drawer of the dresser. That way, I was moving his stuff only about six inches, but it would be out of sight. He didn’t like it, but he put up with it temporarily. When the little box was full, I emptied it into a shoe box, which I stored neatly underneath the dresser. When the shoe box filled up, I moved it over and started another. The space under the dresser could hold three shoe boxes. When those were filled, I taped them closed, labeled each one with the date and stored them out in the shed with the old box of Reader’s Digests and, no kidding, that original box of ironing.
Dan could see that my system worked well, but he was never really happy about it. Cognitively he could grasp that, if he ever needed any of his pocket trinkets, he could find them. If he tried to argue with me about it, he always ended up agreeing with me rationally. Emotionally, though, he felt violated. It was his stuff. He liked his stuff. He wanted his stuff, and most of all, he wanted his stuff left out where he could see it.
Whether from conscious rebellion or from unconscious passive aggression, Dan began leaving bigger and sometimes more disgusting things on his dresser for me to deal with. He piled everything from masonry tools and magazines to Halloween costumes and already chewed gum. While he was at work, I would daily squirrel his stuff out of sight.