The 5 Stages of Cleaning After a Breakup

published Mar 6, 2017
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

No matter how long you’ve been dating someone, the ending is never fun. It can leave you feeling sad, confused and angry — and frankly, sometimes you just don’t know what to do with yourself. Often our post-breakup instincts fall somewhere between wallowing, wanting payback or finding something productive to focus on instead.

Personally, I’ve found that whenever I go through something upsetting like a breakup, I wind up cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing everything in sight (and I know I’m not alone in that!) If you’re also a stress-cleaner and you find yourself facing heartbreak, your recovery process probably looks a lot like this…

Stage 1: Denial

You’ve just been dumped, and you’re in search of a distraction. And nothing says “distraction” quite like trying to figure out how to clean the places in your apartment you’ve never dared to clean before. So, you’ll take to the kitchen to somehow get behind the fridge and do a deep clean. You’ll painstakingly wipe down every doorknob and light switch. You’ll dust the molding and the baseboards. Eventually your roommates will hear you ask “Siri, how do I clean between the glass on my oven door?” and know something’s up, but you’ll deny that anything’s wrong.

Stage 2: Anger

Reality has set in, and you feel like you’ve been wronged and need to take action. You know that seeking revenge isn’t healthy, but you can’t help feeling like you need to let your anger out and do something that’s both freeing and a little petty. You see the shelves in your bedroom complete with pictures and mementos from your relationship, and you know what you have to do. You take everything down and put it on the floor, dust the entirety of your bookcase, dust everything you own, and put it all back — with the exception of anything that reminds you of your ex. That all stays in a pile, ready to be tossed (or shredded, or burned—whatever).

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Stage 3: Bargaining

Now you start to wonder: “What if we get back together and I’ve gotten rid of all those memories?” so you spend the next stage tiptoeing around the “ex pile” trying to figure out if you really do want to destroy it or put it in a box in the back of your closet. You clean other things to distract yourself from the pile, mopping floors and de-streaking windows, but it doesn’t really work (even if the rest of your apartment looks tidier and shinier than ever). You transfer the pile to a box, but it still sits in the corner of your room, waiting to be dealt with.

Stage 4: Depression

You’ve made it past the bargaining stage, but it’s left you feeling sad and exhausted. You spend enough time laying in bed feeling awful, staring at the ceiling and everything you own, that you start thinking about all the things you would do if you weren’t so upset. Eventually you feel a small wave of energy and you use it to go through your wardrobe. You pull everything out and sit on the floor dividing your clothes into two piles: the first, the items that you’re keeping (you decide to only save the things you absolutely love); the second, anything that makes you feel less than your best, which will be donated. You put the “keep” pile back, then collapse on your bed. The “no thanks” pile gets shoved into the corner with the ex box.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Congratulations — you’ve made it through and reached the acceptance stage! You wake up feeling like a new person, ready to take on the day — and finally take on the piles. You go through the ex box, take out the things you want to keep (hey, there might be something you’ll regret throwing out) and get rid of the rest. You bag up the “no thanks” clothing pile and drop it off at a donation center. You vacuum and tidy up the rest of your room, and finally, you strip your bed and throw your bedding in the wash for a refresh. Nothing like clean, warm sheets and a fresh and fluffy comforter to usher in a new era. You’re comfortable, cozy and ready to move on.