5 Tips to Downsize After Divorce

Declutter Your Life After Divorce
Emma Johnson

By Emma Johnson | Dec 5th, 2019

Don’t make my mistake.

My ex and I split eight years ago. I am still decluttering him from my life, downsizing into my future. Every time I get rid of a piece of furniture, art, jewelry or clothing, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. After all, I have long believed that things contain energy — memories of experiences that are either positive or negative. Of course, sometimes memories are complicated, much like how you probably feel about your ex. I do. But that doesn’t mean that holding on to artifacts from your former life does anything but hold you back.

Here are some ways to cleanse your life after a split, with examples from my own downsizing after divorce:

1. Shop Less After Divorce

First, you must know that I prefer a simple lifestyle: a few items of favorite clothing I feel confident in, quality kitchenware that I love and that lasts, and good furniture that I cherish long-term. Nothing makes me happier than tossing out out-grown kids’ clothes and toys, giving away books I’ve enjoyed, and knowing that everything I own is of value to me — and will be used and appreciated. This message of gratitude is core to my parenting, and to how I find joy and meaning in my everyday life.

My ex was not like me. He loved to shop, loved to keep stuff, and a common argument was about clutter, mess and credit card charges.

2. Get rid of furniture and home goods from your marriage

Fast forward. A few weeks ago my current boyfriend wonderfully helped me re-do my kids’ bedroom. For more than a decade, from before they were born, their bedroom was crowded with ginormous white Ikea cupboards their dad and I installed to accommodate for all the books, files, papers, mementos that we had.

Come to find out, these 8-foot particle board monstrosities accommodated all the books, files, papers, mementos and crappola that my ex hoarded. I cleaned those out, and my boyfriend hauled them to the literal and proverbial curb. Only then did I realize that in these years that I have slowly but systematically decluttered, downsized and simplified, my house now has an additional human living in it (one mom + two kids = 3 people + 1 ginger cat — + 1 boyfriend who stays over half-time) , opposed to my then-husband and me = 2 people and no cat), yet that same house contains about one-third of the stuff.

3. Sell your engagement ring, bridal jewelry and gifts from your ex-husband

After my split, I put my bridal jewelry in the safe, and tried to forget it. But then, a few years ago, I was feeling broke and dug the two rings out. I shopped around to assess their value, and realized it was almost the same dollar figure as it would cost to send my kids to Greece with their dad to visit family there. I wanted them to go to Greece (in part — not gonna lie! — to get a break!). I sold the engagement and wedding rings, bought the tickets. It seemed to me a fair thing to spend money from the engagement rings on a meaningful gift of travel for the kids who came out of the marriage those rings represented. Ladies, you don’t have to be as symbolic or sentimental about it. Just sell the rings, and use the money for whatever you want or need.

Note: about a minute after I sold those relics of my marriage, I fell into a great relationship with a hot guy. Coincidence?

As I write this in my living room, from my favorite rocking chair, looking at my stylish but tidy home, I feel light, focused and in-control — the opposite of how I felt in my marriage. 

4. Donate or sell clothes that have negative memories attached

Just yesterday I went through my “out of season” clothes, in effort to whittle that collection down to fit in my main closet. I realized that I held on to many very nice items, designer dresses, jackets and blouses, that I once wore regularly and still love, but never put on any more. When I was brutally honest with myself, each of those items were attached to some not-so-great memory — the black cotton BCBG number that recalls a date gone wrong, that time I was on TV and felt like I made an ass out of myself wearing the royal blue DVF silk, or, like the pretty blue Tracy Reece sun dress, that I last wore before my husband and I broke up. Gone to the resale shop with you all!

As I write this in my living room, from my favorite rocking chair, looking at my stylish but tidy home, I feel light, focused and in-control — the opposite of how I felt in my marriage. My only regret it that I wish I had been more ruthless in my pursuit of purging sooner and with more abandon.

5. Downsize your home after divorce

Many women make the mistake of fighting for and keeping the marital house at all costs — even when they cannot comfortably afford the mortgage, tax, insurance and upkeep. Not only is this financially very risky, it is also emotionally draining — and keeps you attached to ideas of what your life would look like while you were married. 

On the other hand, I have heard from dozens of moms who downsized their homes after divorce, sometimes staying with family or renting when they were used to owning a large house during their marriage. I have never heard of one woman who regretted downsizing her home. But I have heard from so many who report that they were thrilled to move out of a house they’d shared with a man they no longer like, feel empowered and confident thanks to the financial security that came with the more affordable housing. They also love decorating their new single-mom house without compromise, thrill in learning new DIY skills, and enjoy keeping the house as spotless or messy as they please — without argument. 


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