Dear Prudence

Help! My Husband Throws Away My Things Without Asking in the Name of “Minimalism.”

We’re talking everything from furniture to Christmas cookies … that I wanted to eat!

A trash can with a little illustrated heart in it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been happily together for nearly 20 years; we have one son and lots of shared values. While we both tend towards minimalism, we disagree strongly on how to accomplish it. My husband is a tosser; I take a more measured approach. Here are some examples:

1) He throws perfectly usable items into the trash rather than donating them, mostly because of the time involved. For example, we recently bought our son a new bed frame. His old one was expensive and still usable, but all the donation centers in town were closed for the holidays. I was willing to take it when they opened, but he refused to wait and put it out on the curb.

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2) He throws things away before we are ready to do so. My coworker baked us holiday cookies, but we had them in the house less than 48 hours before hubby tossed them, claiming they weren’t being eaten. They were, just more slowly than he liked.

3) He’s not always gracious about it. My parents visited for Christmas, bringing gifts in boxes my mom had decorated by hand. She must have spent hours decoupaging these boxes, which were very pretty and could have been reused, if not by us, than by someone. But while they were still staying with us, he put them in the trash with the rest of the wrapping detritus. My mother noticed and was crushed, so I mumbled that it was a mistake and used them to store Christmas decorations when she took them down.

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Am I out of line when asking my husband to dial back on the quick trashing of things? I’m by no means a hoarder, but I can tolerate a small amount of clutter for a short amount of time. He can’t, and I recognize that. But might there be room for compromise? How do I word this?

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— Toss-Up Over Tossing

Dear Toss-Up,

Leaving aside the environmental and social impact of landfilling things unnecessarily, it’s not okay for him to throw away stuff that is also your property—whether that’s furniture or baked goods—without your approval. That borders on stealing, and I worry about what such a habit says about his respect for you and your preferences. (Trashing your mother’s handmade giftboxes—a lovely effort I’m sure she made clear to everyone—while she was still there is honestly kind of monstrous!) It’s interesting (read: concerning) that it’s obvious to both of you that you operate differently, but he doesn’t appear to be at all concerned about whether his behavior is out of line.

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But I guess it’s kind that you want to accommodate him and compromise; after all, it’s no fun to feel like you’re surrounded by junk. Can you come up with an area in the house, like a corner of the garage, a closet, or under a bed, where things can live when he is done with them but you aren’t? It’s reasonable to keep the clutter out of sight, but while you decide what to do with it, there are places it can go that aren’t the trash. And the very least he could do would be to have a conversation with you when he’s feeling the itch to purge something and let you figure out another option.

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Dear Prudence,

I am getting married to the love of my life in a few months. His family wasn’t thrilled about our engagement (they are socially conservative Catholics, and I am a nonbinary Jew), but they have come around somewhat since. I have been trying to keep them in mind while planning the wedding ceremony, and have offered to make several compromises that under other circumstances I would not be comfortable with.  My fiancé’s mother offered to have a necklace made for me. It is a lovely cultural practice where a mother passes down a necklace to the new brides in her immediate family, featuring a design also passed down from previous generations. The problem: I am neither a bride, nor a Christian. The family necklace design prominently features a cross, and the pattern is non-negotiable. I am touched that she offered to have a thali made for me, and I would like to accept it, but I am torn. This feels like betraying my identity. My partner says he will support whatever decision I make. What should I do? (My pronouns are they/them.)

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— (Don’t) Cross My Heart

Dear Cross My Heart,

The necklace doesn’t have to mean to you what it meant to your future mother-in-law. If I were you, I’d probably take it and accept it as a symbol of my new family’s love and acceptance, and of their willingness to adjust their traditions to modern times and new kinds of relationships. Agreeing to receive this gift could also serve to send a message to your fiancé’s relatives that you expect to be treated with the same respect they would offer to anyone else who married into the family. But, if that way of thinking about it just doesn’t resonate with you (and I do hear you about the gendered aspect), you can politely decline. I’d suggest sandwiching an explanation of why the gift doesn’t feel right to you between expressions of gratitude for the gesture.

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Dear Prudence,

I’ve been dating a guy for four months. It started out with us going out a lot, but with the pandemic, we barely do now. We almost always watch a movie. On the weekends, we might do a drinking game, but mostly it’s just watching movies. That’s fine with me, but there’s one issue: My boyfriend hates that I’m on my phone the entire time. I don’t sit still very well, and I barely ever just sit to watch a movie with no distractions, especially if it’s a movie we’ve watched before, which we do a lot. My boyfriend hates this. He says I’m not present. If we were having a conversation, I would put my phone away, but we rarely talk during the movies. These movie nights would be incredibly boring for me without my phone, and I don’t think watching a movie really makes you present with each other. What do you think? Am I being the rude one?

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— Phoning It In

Dear Phoning It In,

I’m biased because I also struggle to sit and watch a movie without doing something else or looking at my phone. But I also realize that watching a movie together is a very normal form of bonding for a lot of people. For people like you and me, it doesn’t make sense because you aren’t actually communicating with the other person in the room; but for movie lovers, I think it can be an important shared experience. All of which is to say: You’re not wrong and neither is the guy you’re dating.

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But it’s only been four months. You’re still getting to know each other, and I’d argue that you’re still mostly in the “figuring out whether we’re compatible” stage rather than the “working to be more compatible” stage. If you’re not enjoying the way he wants to spend most of your time together, and if he’s not happy with the way you handle it, well, that’s a big mark in the “don’t take this relationship to the next level” column. That doesn’t mean it has to end right this minute. You could certainly try pandemic-conscious suggestions like going for a walk or eating at an outdoor restaurant, or cooking a meal, or attending some kind of Zoom event every other time you hang out. Or you could explain to him that your brain and relationship with movies differ from his, that you’re going to be scrolling Instagram, and that it’s not personal. But don’t waste too much time pushing and negotiating. How you spend your free time is one thing about a relationship that shouldn’t be hard and stressful, especially this early on.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My wife and I had a threesome with a mutual friend a while back. It was fantastic, but we have no desire to repeat the experience, partly because we didn’t feel any physical chemistry with him. We’ve found a way to all enjoy each other, though: We have our own private porn channel of sorts. We tease each other with GIFs, often of threesomes or moresomes. My wife and I often use it as foreplay, and he knows that and is happy to be included. Sometimes I even throw in a pic I’ve taken, or we’ll do a live video chat with him. He’s a voyeur, and we’re exhibitionists, and it plays to all our kinks, and we feel safe with him. We’ve gotten each other off quite a bit this way. Is this a healthy boundary?

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