Before my divorce, I lived in big houses and had lots of stuff. Now I live in a little house with about half the stuff I had before, which is still a lot of stuff for my little house. I love my little house and I love my stuff. I'm not a hoarder, but there are items that mean a lot to me and I want to keep them.
When we moved to New Mexico in 2003, we built a house to live in temporarily, with the intention of selling it in a couple years and building our "dream house." It didn't really feel like a permanent space for us, although we ended up living there for ten years. In the last few years there, because of the on again- off again theme to the marriage, that unanchored feeling was even more compounded. There were many things that we brought from Washington that I'd never even really unpacked, with the hopes of using them in the "next" home.
We sold that place in the spring of 2014 and our plans to build a beautiful, large home were about to come to fruition. It was going to be a showcase for our combined building and designing talents. Among the highlights, it was going to have one pantry for food and one for all the china and serving pieces we had. It was going to be awesome.
In the meantime, we were going to have to rent a home and the only one I could find on short notice that would take pets was, in Trump lingo, YUGE. It was fine, it was temporary, and so exciting to be finally building another home for ourselves. We moved all our stuff in there (didn't need a storage unit!) and were about to break ground. Or so I thought.
While we could build great houses together, we were no Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV's Fixer Upper. A couple months after moving into the rental, X moved out and I found myself living in that ginormous house all by myself, with my first full time job ever and a lot of broken dreams. And stuff. Lots of stuff. A lot of time went by before I could even watch Fixer Upper again. I had so wanted us to be like them.
The lease ran out before the divorce was final, and I was faced with all that stuff- 26 years of accumulation, including the belongings of our two college aged children. Even though kids move out, they sure do leave a lot behind.
Maybe, if you've been through a divorce, you can relate: I had a lot of angst around what to keep and what to get rid of. The china we used on Thanksgiving might be meaningful to one of our kids, can't get rid of that. What about P's dolls and B's Brio trains? Nope. And all the holiday decorations. Again, the kids will probably want those things.
I had a further problem in that X built most of our furniture. We had two tables, one, a seven foot long trestle that he built for me in the early years of our marriage, and another, a beautiful nine foot long table that he crafted from a tree cut from our yard.
I couldn't take the nine foot table with me to my smaller home and it was something X actually requested, which was a surprise as he never seemed to enjoy eating. The trestle table was destroyed by me one lonely night after X moved out in an angry fit that wasn't one of my finer moments. Thank you Estwing ax company.
I still have many intact and lovely pieces built by X and someday I hope our kids will use them and love them. In some ways, I don't mind having them around.
Another issue that arises is what to do with the wedding albums and rings and couple mementos. My best advice here is to give it time. It is extremely hard to look back at your wedding photos and know how the story ends. I boxed up all these things and took them to my parent's house. If you can't do that, perhaps a friend will store them for you. Ditto the rings and all the jewelry. A whole industry has popped up, focused on people who want to sell their used gold and diamonds. All this is personal and I am certainly sensitive to the less than positive energy that surrounds these items. You are in a very different frame of mind the week your divorce is final than you are a year or two after. I don't see a need to rush, but that is just me.
As for the basic household stuff- when downsizing in a situation like this, it really becomes a three edged sword. (Is that a saying?) You probably can't fit everything into your smaller space, so you do have to give stuff away, but you are also dealing with hurt and anger and think that you never want to see the vase from his Aunt Edna again so you toss it. Worse, you may think that your life is so over that it doesn't matter anyway.
It does matter. I would caution you not to give/throw/donate things too soon. In my case, moving all that stuff to my new condo was too daunting to face, on top of still being in the middle of the divorce process. I felt like I was swimming in a pool of molasses. Luckily, my cousin came and helped me for three days straight and we packed up everything I decided I was keeping. I hired movers and X agreed to come after I moved out to get the incredibly large amounts of Goodwill donations and take them to the drop off center.
At the time, I felt like two different people. On one hand, it was killing me inside to let the Martha Stewart pie basket go, but on the other hand, when would I ever make a pie again? My life was OVER. I weighed each item in the same way, determining about 75% of the time that there was no way I would ever need to use a rolling pin again, or why would I ever want to thinly slice apples or wrap a gift? My life was over. Nobody wanted my pies, or cookies or gifts or company. I was about to be alone, which , actually, I had already become pretty used to over the past few years. My identity was that of a wife and mother and I had amassed a pretty good collection of household items that helped me carry out my role. Parting with them was like breaking off pieces of myself.
All this to say, if you find yourself in this situation: your life is not over. You will bake a pie again, you will wrap a gift. Keep the rolling pin, keep the wrap and ribbons. You are still you and the things you loved to do before your divorce are just as possible for you after. You'll be sharing your freshly baked pie with different people- that is okay. They'll love the pie and they'll love you and you will thrive. Give yourself time and don't toss anything out of hurt or anger. Feelings change, but the garbage dump is forever.