Photo: James Bombales
Breakups often leave us with dirty tissues, empty pints of Ben & Jerry’s and that dreaded cardboard box of our ex’s belongings. Cutting down on clutter after a split can be a cathartic experience, but for many, it gives rise to a whole host of feelings — sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness. “Clutter puts an emotional burden on you when it’s just sitting there,” explains Rachael Stafford, President and Principal Organizer/Stager at Order In The House. If you’re looking to rid your home of bad breakup ju-ju, follow these seven expert decluttering tips (and maybe get yourself a ceremonial sage bundle).
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1. Identify sentimental clutter
“Sentimental items are those that remind us of a particular event or person, or were given to us by someone special,” says Stafford. “These items become sentimental clutter when they no longer bring us joy or we feel obliged to hold onto them.” Getting rid of a painting your ex made for you will not erase that memory, it’ll just clear up valuable space in your storage unit. Take a photo of the item if you must, and donate it to a local thrift shop — then pray your ex isn’t the next Gerhard Richter.
2. Resist the urge to burn your ex’s belongings
“I suggest giving your ex their belongings back,” says Stafford. “Obviously after a breakup we’re often angry or hurt, and we may do things out of that anger. If you throw out your ex’s belongings you may regret that later.” If an item does belong to you, but harbors painful memories, donate or dispose of it. “If you’re not ready for such drastic change, pack up some of the more sentimental items into one or two boxes — not a whole truckload — and store them away until you’re ready to go through them in the future.”
Photo: James Bombales
3. Don’t rush to discard all the sentimental items
“Sometimes we part ways with someone because we need a break or the timing just isn’t right, and eventually you get back together in a healthier version of the relationship,” says Stafford. If there’s a chance you will reconnect in the future, Stafford warns against discarding certain sentimental or high-value items, such as photos or jewelry. “If you’re really struggling with just one or a few items, it doesn’t hurt to hold onto them and then set a reminder to check back in in a couple months to see if you’re now ready to let them go.”
4. Know when to ask for help
“A friend or a professional organizer can be impartial and ask you why you’re struggling to let go of an item,” notes Stafford. “They can help you reflect on what’s holding you back so you can make a decision.” Inviting a friend over or making an appointment with a professional organizer also forces you to allot time for decluttering. “We live such busy lives, when we have a moment of free time, the last thing we want to do is declutter,” says Stafford. Scheduling a date and time makes it that much harder to put off. Stafford says it’s best to go the professional route if “the clutter is causing you a lot of overwhelming anxiety” or has “been on your to-do list for some time and you still haven’t gotten to it.”
5. Sanitize your online presence
“Our social profiles should reflect who we are, as well as the people and things that we love,” says Stafford. “It’s okay to include photos from the past, but they should reflect who you are today.” If you think that so-called “blind date” your coworker set you up with hasn’t creeped through the past five years of your Instagram feed, you are sadly mistaken. “I think that we should keep our profiles current, relevant and tasteful for the public,” says Stafford. “If you’ve just gone through a divorce and you have kids, you may not want to erase the father of your children off your Facebook page, but it’s best to take down wedding photos or other romantic moments.”
Photo: James Bombales
6. Start small if you’re feeling all the #feels
“Decluttering after a breakup could potentially be very emotional, so I would suggest choosing a specific area and allocating the right amount of time to complete that project from start to finish,” says Stafford. “Start with a drawer or a small closet, enlist someone to help and give yourself one hour.” Stafford also laments the importance of taking breaks. “Recharge and reflect on the decisions you still have to make, the decluttering process, and how you feel you’re doing so far,” she notes.
7. Banish bad energy
“Clutter holds onto negative energy,” explains Stafford. “Getting rid of it allows new positive energy to flow through your home.” Misery loves company, and surrounding yourself with mementos that evoke feelings of sadness will prevent you from moving on or finding joy. “Ridding yourself of that clutter will bring new opportunities into your life.”