Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Menacing Mail

We used to have a large countertop in our kitchen that drove me mad.  Everyone dropped their keys, wallets, newspapers, mail, change, whatever onto it until the entire counter was covered and not one inch of tile could be seen.  The mail was the worst.  One week of mail in my house could fill a bucket, and for some reason, instead of having one pile to go through, the mail was left in smaller separate piles, one pile for each day, until the entire counter was landscaped in it.  Realty flyers, Sudoku puzzles, receipts, and unopened bills multiplied like weeds until I would reach a breaking point and mow the whole thing down.   Then there would be one day of blessed control and the whole debacle would begin again. 

Everyone knew it was my pet peeve, but no one helped, no one opened the bills, no one threw away the junk mail.   And so it continued… on, and on, and on…..until I had the counter removed from the house.  Literally.  With the remodel complete, and only two of us left in the house, I thought I would finally be rid of this constant irritation, but much to my dismay, the piles began to appear on the kitchen table,  where they continue to grow to this day.

To me, the mail represents responsibility.  Every envelope that arrives is a reminder of money due, and opening it is part of taking responsibility for its payment.  When the mail is brought in day after day and left in frustrating little piles across the counter, it makes a very clear statement to me, “Hi, I brought the responsibilities in for you and I’ll just leave them right here for you to handle.”  My husband, who is currently struggling with unemployment, once asked me what he could do to help.  “Simple”, I told him, “If you could just open the mail, throw away the junk and leave only what needs to be paid in the basket, that would help keep my stress down.”  But he can’t seem to bring himself to do it, and so it continues.  I grow more irritated by the piles of responsibility sprouting on the table, martyred by a letter opener.

But I have to remind myself that not everyone looks at a pile of mail and hears the booming voice of responsibility.  To some, mail is just mail, and the kind of clutter that makes me cringe in disgust is usually no more invisible to a man than a dirty toilet.   We do, after all, have different standards about these things. 

I also get caught up in the “representative acts” that make small things into big things.  My husband isn’t in a position to take responsibility for paying the bills right now, but if he were to open them up at least, it would feel like a gesture of support to me.   But that’s my perspective.  I forget what that would feel like to him.  When you are feeling guilty about being unemployed,  sitting down day after day to look at the dollars and cents of it all would be torture.  For him to engage in the mail the way I want him to would be a daily flogging to remind him that he’s not where he wants to be right now.  Do I need to see him suffer to feel better?  Do I really need to read so much into the mail?  No. 

The mail is just mail and the responsibilities are falling where they are right now.  That’s just what is.   There’s no need to turn the letter opener into a righteous sword of martyrdom just to even the score.  That has no purpose other than to inflict pain.  I did consider having the kitchen table removed from the house, but we’re running out of places to eat, so for now, I’ll resist the urge.

(inspired by Courage to Change - January 27th)

© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit:  www.iStockphoto.com/05-04-11 © T-STUDIO


  1. When I was married to an alcoholic, I'd ask him to do something, he'd agree, then he wouldn't do it. I then had a choice: ask again,with perhaps the same result, or choose to let it go, and do it myself, if it was bothering me.

    Courage to Change has a great phrase - "An expectation is a premeditated resentment."

    When I have no expectations, life is much more peaceful and serene.

  2. Oh wow! That is an awesome observation. I am going to try to remember this. Thanks for a great post.

  3. I am a neat person, so having things pile up isn't an option for me. I do open the mail and throw away the junk. My wife and I share in the responsibility of running the house. I don't want to be the one expecting more from a person than they can do. I do my best to keep a balanced perspective.

  4. How have you met the challenge of the overwhelming responsibility of doing everything while he's unemployed. Does he have other household responsibilities that balance the work