I co-habited with a guy for a few years and when we broke up it was far from amicable. Even so, I’ll never forget the day he left our flat – mainly because he packed his bomb of a car with just his computer and the clothes on his back. He took nothing. He didn’t even want copies of photos from the many holidays we’d taken together.
While I think he thought he was being magnanimous, and causing me the least amount of pain by not asking me to dig through folders of happy snaps and divvy up all the pots and pans, his actions stung. Did he not want even one keepsake? How could he neglect to grab the lumpy yet much-loved pillow he’d slept on for years? Was he really not going to fight me over the couch or that funny little footrest we bought together? Was his ability to walk away from all the stuff without a backward glance serve up a deeper message about how little he actually cared for me?
To be honest, I didn’t dwell on it too long. At the end of the day, I was just glad he was out of my life and that I’d been spared a prolonged and surely painful session of the What’s Yours and What’s Mine game.
That said, those little markers of a love affair – the toothbrush sitting innocently by the bathroom sink, the book she was reading by the bed, the photos of you in happier times on the fridge – can cause such immense pain when it ends. Tiny things, but such massive reminders of the person who’s no longer in your life.
Leaving those things around may be tempting, but it can also become way creepy. Facing up to the end is awful and horrible and agonising, but the stuff’s not helping you out of that hole. Not by a long shot.
So. Here are my tips for splitting the stuff and moving on.
If their stuff is at your place…. box it up now. Not next week, next month, next year. Get it in a box today and gaffa tape that sucker so you’re not agonising over it or taking tearful trips down memory land at the sight of your ex’s toothbrush. Drop it off at their place, ask a friend to do it, post it or, if you’d rather not see them for about 678 years, stash their stuff in a dark corner of your wardrobe and forget about it til things aren’t quite so raw.
If your stuff is at their place… Decide whether you’re happy to walk away from it (some people don’t care about stuff and find it easier to ‘clean-slate’ things) or, if there are things you do want, get it sooner rather than later. The physical act of removing your things may hurt but hopefully there’ll be some relief and some weight off your shoulders, too.
If you’re tempted to leave stuff behind… don’t. You may think – whoopsie – that ‘forgetting’ to take something from your ex’s place creates a great excuse for you to go back and try to reconcile things but seriously – if you’re meant to get back together, it won’t be because of the Game of Thrones boxset you neglected to pick up for six months.
Don’t be a dick about the stuff your ex gave you… even if you think it’ll make you feel better. People do a lot of things in the white-hot rage and pain at the end of a breakup (at least once or twice a month, I get emails from letter-writers asking me to take their angry letters down because they’d calmed down and sorely regretted putting them out into the ether). And, one thing that’s so tempting is to box up all the love letters and birthday cards and gifts your ex gave you and chuck it back at them like you never cared a jot about the relationship at all. But chances are, you’ll regret it. Those things are part of your history and in 50-odd years you might actually get a kick of going through them again.
If you lived together, the stuff’s more complicated… and may involve kids and pets and home ownership and years and years of history and heirlooms and art collections and the like. Of course, there’s always the risk your lawyers will end up bickering over it but try to avoid that (for your sanity and your hip pockets). Make a list and work through it to figure out who’ll take what. Ideally, you’ll both make separate lists, swap them and then negotiate. Whatever you brought into the relationship should obviously stay with you. If you bought stuff together like appliances and furniture it’s only fair to split these 50/50. Get jewellery or art collections valued. If you can’t agree on who takes what or things are especially heated, a trusted friend or mediator should probably be your last resort before going to court.
Do you think it’s best to split the stuff fast – like ripping off a bandaid? Or after a breakup, are you notorious for walking away from ‘the stuff’ or leaving it for months before collecting it / sending it on?