Decluttering After A Divorce

I recently had a friend over for dinner who has gone through a divorce and I peppered her with questions. I am always fascinated by divorces, not because I am planning one, but simply because being a family law lawyer was a part of my life for so long. I like seeing how people can get divorce right and I want to learn from what they did in order to give advice to friends in similar situations. I have seen too much of how divorce can go wrong…and it isn’t pretty. Not only isn’t it pretty but it is expensive and can leave lasting trauma for all involved. Divorce is a part of our culture. When we get married, we all plan on being married to this person for the rest of our lives, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes no amount of therapy can fix it. But besides all of the emotional stuff, what do you do with the physical stuff?

Chances are you were given gifts for your wedding that are a reminder of your now “failed” marriage. You were given gifts from your now ex and you don’t know what to do with them. Or maybe you purchased things together that you ended up with in the separation. My advice would be to treat the physical possessions like you would anything else in your life that reminds you of a loss. Sometimes the physical objects are a comfort and sometimes they are a hindrance to living your best life.


Here are a few steps to get you thinking and moving in the right direction:

1. Give yourself time. Making snap judgments are never a good idea. A year is an adequate amount of time to simply put the decisions on hold while you grieve the loss of the marriage. Don’t bag stuff up in trash bags and throw in the yard when angry. Wait and grieve and process.

2. Decide if you can keep the item without having negative thoughts. If whenever you pass the couch with the stain on it, does it make you angry towards your ex? Or do you pass the bedroom set and feel happy and relaxed? Realize that objects create emotions and separate the good from the bad.

3. Can you live without it. You may need the kitchen table to have dinner with your kids even though it may remind you of some bad memories. But sometimes the fact that you need it may outweigh the negative thoughts. Perhaps you can paint the table so that it takes on a new look and a new memory?

4. The guilt of wondering if you should return the object to the person who gave it to you. If you had a relatively short marriage, you perhaps are feeling guilt in having wedding gifts that were never used. My personal opinion is that if you went into the marriage with the best of intentions and you were blindsided by the end of the marriage, the last thing you need to worry about is guilt over gifts. If you do feel guilty there are ways that you can shed the guilt. Find a worthy organization that could use the gifts and donate them. Or just realize that nobody is judging you and they love you and wish you the best. If the blanket they gave as a wedding gift is an object of comfort, then use it. Nobody gives a gift with the intention of causing stress or guilt. Tell the guilt to hit the road once and for all.

5. Holding on to a name. For women there is often the name change associated with marriage. It is a process to change all of your documents back to your maiden name. But if you are using the excuse of not changing your name because you ordered a new pack of check blanks, you may need to dig a little deeper. A name can almost be an object that needs to be dealt with.

6. Photos. I am a sentimental fool for photos and I don’t like hearing that people destroy photos, especially if here are children involved. Put them in a box and store somewhere to give your kids someday. Sometimes out of sight is out of mind! If you have no kids, only go through the photos when you are no longer angry. There may be some with your parents or friends that you want to keep.

7. Wedding dress. I have been married for almost 25 years and I don’t know what to do with mine. I don’t want to have baptismal gowns made as I have my baptismal gown that I would rather my grandchildren use. But this large dress (yes I was married a the end of the 1980’s) is preserved in an equally large box. When we donate items, we always want to know that someone else will cherish the item. Finding the perfect dress is hard. But a dress does not make a marriage….so as Elsa reminds me in “Frozen”….let it go…let it go….


To Joyful, Simplified Organizing,

MS. Simplicity


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