The following content obviously contains generalisations that are solely based on my own impressions while working with clients. Furthermore, most of my clients belong to the older age bracket and have lived in households with traditional male/female task separations.
Now add to this dire situation the internal processes that allow us to even ASK for help when it’s needed. One of the main ingredient of traditional upbringing has been for a long time that we should grow up to be self-sufficient and able to provide for ourselves. In the case of men it was still expected to provide financially for a whole household until not so long ago. Remember those days when men went out to make the money and women were mainly taking care of the household and the children?
Luckily, those times are now behind us for the most part, but many of the 50-plus members of our society have been brought up along those ideals, and even younger generations will not have gotten out of the claws of such ideals completely, if the statistics regarding equality in society and workplace between men and women are any indication.
Why bring this up at all in the context of decluttering? Of course, the way someone is brought up has a huge effect on the way they feel about dealing with adversity and enlisting the support of others. The financial element I described above is no longer prominent, now that women and men share the workspace, if still with distinct differences in remuneration in certain areas of work. That is not the element I’d like to focus on, but rather have a look at the way this particular set of precepts in upbringing affects men’s and women’s likelihood to need and ask for help at home.
Let’s see: traditionally women are more associated with household tasks to start with, where men rather expect to leave these tasks to their partners. Besides having their own friends, women tend to be the social glue for long-term friendships of the couple with outsiders, where men tend to be lone cowboys and have friends they only meet on their own rather than bring them into the fold as family friends. The social goings-on in a household therefore often focus on the mother in the family for keeping the external channels open, and that involves a steady give and take with those other people. I believe that this makes it more likely for them to ask for help when it is needed, be it from family members or friends and acquaintances. There is a social element to how women tend to engage that men often lack.
How about men, then? As mentioned, they tend to have one-way relationships with other men, and none of them are used to ask for favours in most situations. To most men, it feels like a failure to ask for help, where women simply acknowledge a lack of ability and move on to ask someone who is better suited to solve the problem. The way men usually interact outside of the family does not allow for them to show weakness, and that precludes asking for help in the first place. They are more likely to use strategies they have adopted from the workplace, competitive behaviours that are meant to make for a smooth rise in responsibility, income and status at work. And let’s face it: those strategies are not suitable for social interactions with friends.
Furthermore, there is a clear imbalance between the traditional social engagements of women as compared to men: both men and women have friends of their own, of course, but when it comes to shared friends, it tends to be the women who bring those into the fold. There is an element of ‘exchange’ to the women’s approach that men sometimes lack.
I often work with widowers of a certain age, and I have observed that they tend to have fewer social contacts, they fall back on social services often because they simply couldn’t bring themselves to ask for help. Seeking out and accepting my help already was a huge step out of their comfort zone for them that could only happen because they realised that they simply couldn’t go on the way they did before. Our professional relationship aligns better with their way of thinking than having to ask friends or family and show weakness to those who have known them for a lifetime.
Often I find that they have been coasting on systems their late wives had set up, and those systems sometimes relied on outside help they had been happy to ask for, but the men either did not realise their wives had done that, or were unable to replicate those support systems because they had nobody to replicate it with. This is also why most of my clients are women: they are more down to earth when it comes to looking and asking for help. If they don’t know anyone who can do this, they are more likely to reach out. Shame no longer plays a huge role in this, they don’t see this as a failure, but rather a solution to a problem they couldn’t solve themselves.
I’m always amazed at just how much dealing with the stuff that surrounds us relies not only on mental processes but also to a good degree on how someone has been brought up and how their life was lived. It makes my work all the more interesting.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.