Playing Your Assigned Familial Role


The thing about being in a family is, you get assigned a role within the family. They decide you’re a certain kind of person and, for the most part, treat you that way for most of your life. Growing up, I was the lazy kid who always made as little effort as possible just to get by. Even when I was a grown man, getting up at 2 am to write before I went to a 5 am dayjob shift, I still believed that’s who I was.

Anyway, we have family roles in our home, too. For instance, my wife is the one who Won’t Throw Anything Away. We live with a lot of clutter. I’ve always told myself that, if it were up to me, I would pitch out a great dumpster full of stuff so we would have more room. Can’t do that, though, because my wife collects blue glass bottles that she will Do Something With Someday, and jars of stones that she collected on a trip somewhere, which reminds her of the people and that time.

And it’s a touchy subject. From her perspective, we have a lot of useful things that could be kept neatly if we could just put them away. From mine, there’s no way I could know where everything goes and it would be like a wizard’s medicinal shop around here, with a thousand little drawers and shelves and boxes and cabinets. My failing is that I’m good at cleaning but terrible at creating order out of chaos. If it’s not simple, I can’t deal.

So imagine my surprise last Friday when my wife just went nuts on the kitchen, digging out all the old equipment that we never use and will never use, so she can donate it.

The result: our kitchen is much nicer than it was. Other result, I had a mild hoarder’s reaction to seeing all my old cooking stuff in plastic bags marked “BLIND”. The insulated cookie sheets that are genuinely awesome (but we don’t bake anymore). The potato cutter that never really worked. The plastic mandolin that’s just too fragile. That old pan! I used to cook with that pan all the time! And… this thing? What is it? It might be useful if I figured out what it’s for.

Essentially, the family role that I’d imagined for myself was taken by my wife, and I found myself fighting the same urge to hold on to possessions that I’d always attributed to her.


If she’s ready to let go of things, I think it’s great and I support her. I certainly don’t want to undermine the work she’s doing. I just have to guard against playing her “role” now that she’s letting go of it.