When two people decide to end their marriage and go their separate ways in life, the practical issue of who gets what in the divorce settlement is only the beginning.
Divorce is not anyone’s idea of fun. But after all the legal processes have been completed, how you handle what happens next can make a huge difference to the future happiness of all concerned.
If your ex-partner had a lot of clutter, the first thing you will experience is how much lighter your home feels now that all that stuff has gone. If it was the other way around and you are the one who has the most clutter, you’ll be left with the stark reality of how much stuff you have accumulated. Either way, it’s time to make a fresh start.
Reclaiming your life one item at a time
I often say that clutter clearing is the art of reclaiming your life one item at a time, and this is particularly relevant in the aftermath of a divorce. After the emotional dust has settled, it’s time to go through everything you own and make decisions about what stays and what goes.
It’s best to do this in a series of passes, as you feel ready, perhaps a few months apart, as your new life takes shape. Do it at your own pace but don’t delay too long.
Whatever you have kept after the relationship has ended may belong in the past and can hold you back. Or it may help you move forward. Go through all the things you own, one by one, and make a conscious decision about what you want to keep and why. As one friend told me, the most useful questions she asked herself again and again as she sorted through her belongings was, ‘Who am I now that I’m not married?’ and ‘Does this fit with the new me or not?’.
If you didn’t choose to end the relationship and haven’t fully accepted that it’s happened, you may find yourself feeling stuck and wanting to hold on to a lot of items for sentimental reasons. In that situation, I recommend you also use my Clutter Test technique. It will help you to navigate through all the emotions that come up and find your way through them.
No need to compromise anymore
Decluttering after a divorce is an opportunity to reinvent yourself. You are at a crossroads in your life when you are now “I”, not “we”. You can make choices that you were not free to make before. The things you decide to have in your home can now become an expression of who you truly are, without any need for compromise or taking’s your partner’s likes and dislikes into account. For some people this can be immediately joyful and liberating. For others it will be a gradual process of self-discovery.
First to go can be any items that remind you of unhappy times in the relationship. This may not be practical with large items you will need to save up to replace, but you can certainly do it with smaller things as you come across them and realize how you feel about them.
Another good area to take a look at is your clothes. How do you really want to look and feel now that you are single again? Let go of any clothes that remind you of times you’d rather forget or that you bought because your partner liked you to look a certain way. You can choose your own style now.
If you are living in the same place you lived in when you were with your partner, redecorate some of the rooms according to your own taste, or at least move your furniture around. It will allow you to take fuller energetic ownership of the space. And if you have moved to a new home, use the opportunity of the blank canvas to decorate the place exactly as you like.
Helping children after a divorce
If you have children, it is usually best not to make any changes in their rooms unless they specifically request it. A bedroom that stays the same can provide a much-needed source of stability in a child’s life during this emotionally turbulent period.
If a child has two bedrooms after the divorce (one in each parent’s home), as far as is practical let them choose which items they want to have in each place. That’s how they can take ownership of their own space and adjust more easily to the new situation too.
Children generally don’t like change. They want things to stay the same. So don’t expect or encourage them to declutter as you are doing. If they decide to do this by themselves, that’s fine, but don’t force it.
Do look out for any tendency to acquire new things they really don’t need, though, as this can signal the early signs of hoarding disorder that can develop later in life. Get them to talk through what’s going on for them instead of acquiring material things to try to stuff their feelings down. If they won’t talk to you, find someone they will open up to (a relative or a professional counsellor).
What to do with all the photos?
Many people find that they do several passes of decluttering their home before they feel ready to sort through the photos from their married life.
If the relationship ended badly, it may be better not to keep many photos or any at all. But if it ended amicably and you have fully let the person go, it’s fine to keep some photos that remind you of happy times. Not so many that you stay stuck in the past and are not open to a new relationship in the future, but a few that still bring a smile to your face each time you see them.
If you have children, you’ll need to consider their current and future needs too. You can weed out the photos you really don’t like and keep the rest until they are old enough to decide for themselves which they want to keep or let go.
As I said earlier, it will work best if you can do each new layer of clutter clearing as you feel ready. But there’s a fine line between waiting for the right time and endlessly procrastinating. You’ll need to be honest with yourself about that so that you don’t block yourself from moving forward.
Life after divorce
Divorce is a major life change. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale that psychologists use, it’s the second most stressful thing that can happen in ordinary life. The only thing that is worse is the death of a spouse.
So do be kind to yourself during the process. Even if you initiated the divorce, parts of you may still be grieving for what could have been. A very helpful book to read during this time is Moving On by Russell Friedman & John W. James. It contains excellent advice about how to complete past relationships and not sabotage future ones.
You really do start a new timeline after a divorce or the break-up of a major relationship and if you embrace that opportunity and make the most of it, I guarantee you’ll look back at some future time and realize it all happened for the best. Always remember, you can’t change what’s already happened but you sure as heck can choose how you handle it and move on.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2019
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Thank you Karen for pointing out Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It only surprises me that nowhere is the child’s death listed. Only on the 5th place death of a close familiy member. But for most parents, the death of the child means a major loss at all.
Hi Marketa – The death of a child is indeed a major omission from the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale and I understand most psychologists today include it on a par with the death of a spouse as the most stressful life event there is. The Scale is also seriously in need of updating to reflect stresses that weren’t even part of our way of life back in 1967 when it was first compiled (cyberbullying, for example).
When I divorced in ’83, well-meaning people in my life who wanted the best for me advised me to throw everything into a storage unit and go on my way. I did this because it seemed practical at the time; I still had unopened wedding gifts, paid-off furniture and a paid-off car–all of which would prove very useful once I recreated myself and got a new place to live.
Time passed; I moved on and forgot about the household of past memories stored away, yet I dutifully sent a monthly payment and the years trudged on. One day, six thousand dollars later, I wound up inheriting my parents’ home and realized, “Finally! I’ll be able to use all those new old things.”
Not only do I have a bunch of unopened wedding gifts that are “new” and old simultaneously; I also have to make decisions about which item is best to keep: mom’s tried and true old thing or my own “new” old wedding gift. Then, there are the old, unpleasant memories associated with various items: the pink towel, the plaid placemats, the serving dish he held when … all that gunk that drudged up past unpleasantness I had to deal with in my bright new future.
I don’t begrudge my well-meaning loved ones’ advice; nor do I begrudge the $6K (well, maybe a little) thrown after an old unfulfilled life that wasn’t to be because I LEARNED lessons like
(1) it’s okay to let go of paid-off items I can’t use right now in order to find my new life;
(2) though difficult, it’s probably better to deal with the lousy memories when they occur in order to avoid them tripping me up later;
(3) it’s okay to hold onto one or two especially-cherished items even though I don’t know where life will take me;
(4) it’s okay to let go of sentimental stuff and not feel guilty, despite the fact I worked three jobs plus overtime for two years in order to pay off everything so I could start married life with zero debt or the fact that my mother killed herself to handsew / handbead my gorgeous custom wedding dress that I have no hope of ever fitting into again without modern medical miracles nor have I children who might, someday, even be interested in wearing the wedding dress.
Some of these lessons I’m still working on … like #4. The guilt thing still grabs me occasionally, but I’m getting better at letting go of the past in order to have space for whatever lies in my future.
Actually, it has now been proven that divorce is well more stressful than death.
Hi Dina – The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale was developed in 1967 so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that more recent studies rate the stress of divorce differently. Can you tell me which studies your information about this comes from?
Thank you, Karen.
I‘m in a crossroad in my life, finding “me” and recreating “us”.
We both struggle with being…
I‘m so happy for all the support that‘s flowing to my heart.
I‘m waiting to replace your old books with your new one.