How Downsizing Helped Me Heal — And Start Over! — After My Divorce

published Mar 7, 2022
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It was an overcast February day when I met my ex-husband in a parking lot so I could sign away our house mortgage to him — the very last of our joint assets after finalizing our divorce a couple of weeks prior. I took a pen and wrote my name on the pages he had flagged. Suddenly, I felt a wave of freedom wash over me, and I felt lighter by the prospect of no longer being tied down to a mortgage for the first time since I was 23. It meant that I was now able to move wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. 

Leading up to that moment, we had filled out our divorce paperwork by hand on our living room floor, discussing how to divide up the stuff we had accumulated after 10 years of being together. Because he was going to keep the house, he told me I could take whatever I wanted, reminding me, “But you will have to be very careful about money going forward. Just remember that.” 

He was right. Going from a two-income household with his income being significantly higher than mine meant I would have to be cautious about how I spent money. I remember standing in the kitchen, a sea of boxes around me, feeling an internal pressure to take whatever I could fit inside these boxes since I might not be able to afford much on my new post-divorce budget.

As a consequence of taking whatever I could, my new apartment felt cluttered and chaotic, a miniature version of my former house. Within weeks I realized I needed to do a purge. So I gave away the food processor I used once a year to a coworker. I sold my juicer to someone on Craigslist. I made friends with an innkeeper who needed a new stand mixer — in exchange, she shared her beloved gingerbread cookie recipe with me. I found a buyer for the big-screen TV that I rarely watched. 

Meanwhile, I found budget-friendly ways to breathe freshness into my new place. I had my dad build a bookcase so I could display my prized collection of books, including first-edition Judy Blume novels with pastel colors that lent a little joy to those dreary early days of my divorce. I got some framed artwork at a local thrift store and picked up a funky patterned shower curtain from Urban Outfitters. 

I did hold onto a few items, like the Beau Manoir silverware and Apilco dishes gifted at our wedding, that I would have wanted whether I was getting married or not. Keeping these items let me hold on to a piece of myself. For a while, I also held onto photos, cards, and letters from my ex, but as the sadness wore away I got rid of them, keeping nothing sentimental but our wedding album simply because it felt like sacrilege to destroy history that way. 

I write in my debut book, How To Change Your Life: Tips, Tools, and Inspiring Anecdotes To Help You Transform Your Life For the Better, that leaving a marriage (or any long-term relationship) presents an exciting opportunity for starting anew, but there’s no escaping the reckoning and transitioning this period requires. Where paring down may be a practical necessity due to potential space limitations in your new home, there might still be an urge to cling to sentimental relics or your old oversized couch.

While that urge is natural, slowly getting rid of things proved that I was going to be fine. And as I shed items from my marriage, I was able to move forward without the weight of painful memories that might otherwise hold me back. Downsizing never felt so good.