by Amy Lawson, MBA, CDFA®
Divorce often leads to someone moving out, be it us or our soon-to-be-exes, STBXs for short.
Whether we were married for 3 years or 30, we accumulate STUFF. Big stuff, little stuff, funny stuff, stupid stuff. We may accumulate STUFF one piece at a time or in multiples of two or ten, but either way, before we know it, we have stuffed folders and shoe boxes and beautifully-papered cardboard containers and drawers and closets and attics with STUFF that only we, as the collectors, hold dear.
Accumulating STUFF has long been common. Back in 1991, Rubbermaid ran a 30-second television commercial, comically depicting how much stuff one women collected from the day she was born through the time she was married with 2 children. This woman and her bewildered family stood in the midst of a domestic mess, until they discovered Rubbermaid. Then, that same family, suddenly smiling, stood proudly among a collection of neatly organized Rubbermaid containers that smartly housed their belongings, happily proclaiming, “WE NEED MORE STUFF!!”
So, What Makes Moving So Daunting?
While changing addresses can be stressful in and of itself – exponentially stressful if the move is precipitated by divorce – the preparation of moving can be just as overwhelming as the move.
Why is this true? It’s true because moving is preceded by packing, and packing by sorting, and sorting by the essential state of readiness, or willingness, to let go of our STUFF. We know we NEED to be willing… we WANT to be willing… but sadly, we recognize that we lack The Right Stuff when it comes to parting with our STUFF.
It’s not because the act of throwing something away is difficult, mind you. The act of throwing something away could not be easier – we hold an object in our hand, walk over to a trash can and drop it in. The same is true with giving something away – we take said object in our hand and place it in someone else’s hand. Selling something may be a little trickier in that we need to find a buyer for the thing, but once the buyer/seller match is made and the price is agreed upon, it’s simple. So, while we readily recognize the act of paring down our stuff may be simple, we equally attest to the fact that is not easy, and it’s not easy because we LOVE our STUFF!
We especially love our STUFF when life takes an unexpected, or dreadfully anticipated, turn. When life goes sideways, we often look back in an attempt to cling to what felt safe, or right, or right enough, or at the very least, familiar, because looking ahead is fraught with fear of the unknown. But, looking ahead is what we must do if we want something better than we’ve had. And, letting go of the old is essential in order to make room for the new.
Sure, some things are easy to let go of. The scarf your best friend LOVES but you never wear because it’s not your color. It’s easy to let go of the scarf because you know if you beg your BFF long and hard enough, she will give it back to you… The 3 random bobby pins left from the pack of 50 you bought 10 years ago when you wore your hair up for the Red Cross Ball… That sample of the Aussie 3-Minute Miracle conditioner that sat in the drawer in the bathroom so long that you can’t remember where you got it.
Some things are easier to part with… That tube of lipstick you’ve had for so long that the lipstick itself is below the lip of the applicator and you need to use your pinky to apply it, yet you hold on to that tube despite having 2 (or, ummmm, 18) new tubes of the very same lipstick in the vanity drawer… The oh-so-soft, tattered t-shirt that is now too ratty to wear to weed the garden… The photos of those you once loved that stir up emotions you’ve tried so hard to work through.
But what about the other things? The difficult things? The stuff we love to look at but never use. The stuff we love knowing we have but never see. The gifts from those we love the most, the gifts we sort of don’t hate, but have no real desire to use? How do we sort through the years of things we’ve linked to our favorite people and our fondest memories in an attempt to pare down? How do we sort through our lifelong collection of STUFF?
Ask a friend to help. A GOOD friend, a KIND friend, a Kick-Your-Butt-With-A-Fuzzy-Slipper-When-You-Need-It friend. A friend who won’t make you feel bad about yourself for wanting to hold on to that size 4 red pencil skirt you rocked at 35 when your tummy was flat (in my case, flatt-er) or that Berlitz French For Beginners cassette tape that, along with an aptitude for pantomime and the ability to laugh long and hard at yourself, served as your life line when you solo-toured Paris and had the most wonderful love affair of your life. A friend who knows you so well and who loves you so much that she will gently remind you 12 times that you are no longer poor, and should you need something you have the money to go buy it. A friend who can point out the “blessings” you’ve acquired and who can convincingly point out how much you can bless others with the best of your STUFF.
Then, get started! TOSS, DONATE, SELL. Repeat.
Say it with me, “TOSS, DONATE, SELL. Repeat.”
One more time with feeling, “TOSS! DONATE! SELL! Repeat!”
Start with a category that is the easiest to tackle, such as your medicine cabinet – out-of-date Mucinex and that box of tampons you haven’t needed since menopause blessed you 12 years ago are EASY things to throw away and you’ll quickly SEE your lovely progress. Then, work your way up to the more difficult categories, saving the most difficult category (-ies) for last. (In my case that would be shoes… and handbags… and books… and bracelets.) By the time you sort your way to the category you believe will hurt your heart the most to tackle, you will be on such a roll that what you thought would be a stab will barely be a sting.
Make It Fun
Gamify the process if it helps you get through the task with your energy intact. I have a colleague who gamifies ANY chore she is prone to avoid and accomplishes a remarkable number of things that she and I, and probably you, consider soul-suckingly dull.
Turn on your favorite music, set a timer for 1 hour and see how many boxes (for the good stuff) or garbage bags (for the junk and stupid stuff) you can fill. Then, try to fill at least one more box and/or garbage bag the next hour. Because every game has a winner and that winner WILL BE YOU, reward yourself with a prize! But remember, dear friend, that prize can be NOT be more STUFF! Ideally, reward yourself with something consumable, such as a mani-pedi, or a glass (or two) of your “special-occasion” wine, or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, even if it isn’t on sale.
And, if you MUST reduce your collection of STUFF in order to make your current home more appealing to the next person who will love it so much that she will buy it so that you, in turn, can buy a new home for the new YOU, then keep your eye on the BIGGEST prize of all while you game your way through the clutter of the past.
What To Keep
Yes, there will be things large and small that you will keep, the most important of the important, the things that make your heart sing the loudest when you see them or use them or think about the memories you made acquiring them… The hand-carved, teak armoire from Indonesia, the stunning black, antique, tuxedo coat from the flea market in Paris (that luckily fit and still fits – it is a man’s coat, but gratefully, it was made for a very small man), or the ticket stub from the cutest-Beatle concert you saw with your BFF that proudly adorns the door of your refrigerator. By the way, the cutest Beatle would be Paul McCartney for those of you in doubt.
With a little practice and lots of patience with yourself, you’ll learn that less stuff doesn’t mean less memories, but more space – in your head, in your heart and in your new home – to enjoy all of the incredible memories you’ve made and will make.
Wishing you peace & plenty of incredible memories, old and new!
Your gray girlfriend,