For the second time in as many weeks, my garbage has caused me reflection that led to gratitude. (See my blog post 2011AUG17 for the first one.) Why this is, I do not know. I won’t start to worry about my sanity just yet.
Late last night, after finishing the bedtime routine with my oldest child, I was dragging my tired self to bed when I realized I hadn’t taken out the garbage or the recyclables. <heavy sigh> I trudged toward the front of the house to do my job simply because it was the job I had agreed to do. I looked out the front door. Lo and behold, there were the recycle bins and the trash can out at the curb ready for the next day’s pickup!
It turns out my wife had put them out in the afternoon while she was watching our 3-year-old son zooming up and down the sidewalk on his scooter. It was a little thing, I suppose. She was out there anyway. But to me it was a major gift.
This caused me to remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine regarding his kitchen garbage and his spouse. He and his wife learned a lesson about their relationship after fighting for years about taking out the garbage. Here’s the story:
In their house, taking out the garbage was not a job given to any particular person. Their idea was that everyone should simply act as a responsible member of the household. If the kitchen trash can was full, whoever put the last piece of garbage in ought to empty the garbage (just like the person who uses the last toilet paper on the roll ought to replace it with a fresh roll).
Perhaps you have already spotted the problem with this arrangement. Unlike the toilet paper roll which has a definite ending point, the idea of when the garbage can is full is a) open to interpretation and b) somewhat flexible based on how hard you are willing to push down on the garbage. The end result was that everyone in the house would cram their last piece of garbage into the can without emptying it. You can imagine the scene, I’m sure.
This led to accusations that, while sometimes reasonable, were hard to prove. When is a trash can really full? The end result was that the garbage was an ongoing source of conflict with no possible resolution within their current way of doing things..
They found their answer in choosing a new strategy instead of arguing more forcefully. The answer was simple. In the end, it didn’t even change who took out the garbage all that much. But it brought peace to the household. Occasionally, it even brought joy.
The solution was this: they decided together that taking out the garbage would be the husband’s responsibility. Here is how this solution brought peace — and even joy — to their household.
First, the peace came from clearly marked lines of responsibility. There was no weaseling around. It was his job, and if it wasn’t done, there was no arguing about who should have done it. Voila! Most of the reason for the tension over the kitchen garbage vanished in a puff of new paradigm. The husband didn’t even mind, because at least things were clear and simple. The temptation to cram garbage was gone because it didn’t serve any purpose. It was also easier for him to do the job when he was tired because he knew it was his job and no one else’s. It’s amazing what a clearly defined job can do to a person’s day.
But wait, there’s more!
Joy unexpectedly was discovered as part of this clarified delineation of responsibilities. Sometimes the wife took out the garbage. In the long run, it was probably nearly as often as she used to. But now, because of the new way of looking at things, every time she took out the garbage it was a gift! The husband became the frequent recipient of a gift given in love, and the wife became the frequent giver of gifts to the husband with whom she was sharing her life.
Imagine! In deciding whose responsibility the garbage would be instead of simply arguing about it each time it started to overflow, this couple discovered three important truths about deciding who would be responsible for an unpleasant task. First, knowing it was his job allowed the husband to rustle up the strength to take out the garbage even when he was tired. Second, the husband could feel good instead of put upon when he took out the garbage because it was his responsibility. And the surprising third is that the new structure around kitchen garbage duty provided a whole new way for gifts to be given and received within their relationship.
I thought about my friends as I stared through tired eyes at the garbage can and recycle bins out at the curb under the streetlights. In the morning I made sure to thank my wife and tell her how much her little gift of taking out the garbage had meant to me.