Mary Killen

Dear Mary: how can I learn to cope with my husband’s mess?

Dear Mary: how can I learn to cope with my husband’s mess?
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Q. My husband has fallen in love with ‘the country’ and retired to Exmoor while I maintain a presence in our Notting Hill residence for work. The problem is he has left his London study, carved from half our ground-floor sitting room, in its traditional disordered condition as if he has only popped out to buy milk — drifts of detritus, newspapers and plastic bags on every surface. I would like to Marie Kondo the study but I don’t dare tidy it as he will accuse me of throwing away even more things he has in fact lost himself. It is also a terrible waste to have half our available reception space reduced to a Tracey Emin-style installation. Your solution please?

— R.J., London W11

A. Think Francis Bacon rather than Marie Kondo. When the artist died in 1992, all 7,000 items in his famously chaotic studio in Reece Mews, SW7, were painstakingly photographed and logged, and faithfully reassembled for posterity in Dublin City Art Gallery. Hire an intern to photograph and log your husband’s — by contrast minimal — chaos and consign it to storage. No need to accurately reassemble the ‘oeuvre’ until he is heading back to London. In this way, you reclaim the space in his absence and he continues to feel welcome in his old home.

Q. We have friends who we enjoy meeting for dinner from time to time. However they always bring out their diary before the drinks have arrived to plan our next date. As much as we like them, we dislike the pressure and would prefer a more informal arrangement, but we don’t want to offend them.

— H.L., Cirencester

A. Invent an exciting Big Project that may or may not come off but that you are not allowed to discuss. When they get their diary out, groan in frustration that you can no longer be certain when you will be free. Can you play things by ear?

Q. We recently made the first move by inviting to dinner our daughter’s potential future in-laws whom we’d never met before. Our invitation was gently declined by text and instead they suggested we lunch in a restaurant, which we enjoyed. However we now feel resigned to always meeting on neutral ground, which feels so impersonal. How can we avoid being snubbed a second time?

— Name and address withheld

A. The other parents may have perceived inadequacy issues and are ducking your viewing of their premises. Equally, they may feel their son could feel pressured by the assumptions inherent in socialising between parents. Try inviting them again as members of a larger group — perhaps with the young couple and some of their friends. Sell it as a big get-together with everyone bringing a bottle and you supplying the food. With the company diluted in this way, they might feel less intimidated.