If you’ve been through, or are going through a divorce or separation yourself you’ll know all too well the overwhelm and cloud of disorientation that can accompany this period in your life. Recently I was working with a newly divorced lady and I realised that the circumstances around separation create a unique situation that I see again and again when I’m in clients homes.
My insights won’t be relevant to every divorce or separation but are my observations from my experiences helping people declutter after this period in their life. When a relationship breaks down it can be all consuming, leaving little time or head space for things like keeping the family home organised. So almost always, during this emotional and difficult time, clutter builds up around the house. Keeping a house clutter free requires communication between all family members, and when there is disunity, clutter accumulates.
Think about your own experience or that of a friend – when you feel down, lost or defeated your environment starts to reflect your emotional state. You stop putting clothes away in the cupboard and start leaving them on the floor of your bedroom. When you’re in a difficult relationship the last thing you feel like doing is creating a home that is warm, inviting and where your whole family can come home and feel the freedom of less each evening. People also try to distract themselves when big hard decisions need to be made, and clutter is a great distraction.
Clutter during this time may be shopping and buying unnecessary items for around the home. It may be retail therapy and buying new clothes. You may feel like spending hours on the couch watching TV so general housework builds up. Clutter may look like unpaid bills, unopened mail (too hard to deal with) and mounding paperwork. It may look like extra hours at the office to avoid confrontation at home or it may look like throwing yourself into a hobby or collection.
Often I don’t get called in until a separation has occurred and one person is left living in the family home. I get called in with the brief – “I don’t know where to start, it’s all gotten out of control”. This feeling is completely normal and reaching out for objective help at this time is really positive.
So a few tips for working through the clutter after a separation or divorce.
- Start with your own personal possessions.
If you still have shared possessions in your family home I suggest starting your decluttering with an area that is completely yours. Start with your own study, your wardrobe or your car. This way you’re taking responsibility for the clutter without stepping on your ex-partners toes. Freeing yourself from clutter is brilliant for your mental health – you’ll feel lighter and you’ll experience clarity in your thinking.
- Make a plan for shared possessions.
If you still have furniture or possessions that are shared, having a plan for how you will divide this will help you both move forward. I’d suggest not decluttering anything that is shared or your ex-partners without their permission. If furniture needs to be sold or moved to a new house do this in bulk if you can. Rather than sorting one couch at a time, do a walk through and decide what will happen with big items so you can start to plan for the future. If you have items you don’t want anymore, before decluttering them you may choose to offer them to your ex.
- Don’t become a storage unit
Whether you’re the person moving out or if you’re staying in the family home you don’t want to get yourself into the position where you complicate things by keeping your things at an ex-partners house after the separation has been finalised and time is moving on. I say this because I so often open a garage or door to the spare room and a clients says, “we can’t touch any of that because it belongs to my ex-husband”. Allowing someone else to control your space isn’t helpful for your dreams toward a clean, organised home. I’m certainly not saying to throw everything out on the lawn, but if a divorce happened 5 years ago maybe you need to reconsider allowing someone to keep a full room of clutter in your home. If after 5 years they haven’t come to collect their things or organised alternative storage (there are SO many options available) then maybe you need to make contact and explain that you’re decluttering and you need their things picked up.
- Remember the good times
More than likely, you can remember good times in a relationship from the past. You can remember holidays, your children growing up, renovating a home… but what is the balance of keeping the artwork you purchased on your honeymoon without feeling sad every time you see it? Can you keep the crockery from your in-laws and happily use them for years to come? Well the answer is different for everyone. Some clients I see need to do a cleanse and get rid of anything that reminds them of their past. Others can happily keep things that remind them of a time in their lives that was shared and had many good memories. Don’t rush, but listen to your heart and see what that balance is for you.
So whether this is a little too close for home or you’ve been happily married 35 years I hope these brief insights from my experiences with clients will help you consider how to best declutter and move forward after significant life changes. It’s often helpful to have a professional organiser guide you through reclaiming your space, especially when you’re tired of making emotional decisions and need some help. If this is you, get in contact and I’d love to come help you refresh your space ready for the next season of your life.
Enjoy the Freedom!