Would you happen to have any pictures you can send me?”
Would you happen to have any pictures you can send to me?” he asked.
Many years have passed, and I’ve moved several times since the divorce. Thanks to the journals I kept, however, I remember my decisions on what to keep and what to eliminate. I’d felt great rage when I learned my ex had a serious relationship with another woman during the latter part of our marriage. My instinct was to throw out everything he’d touched. The pragmatic side of me prevented that from happening (well mostly), which left me with some tough decisions to make. What I learned from that experience may help those of you who are newly divorced to make good decisions about what to toss, what to keep, and how to do it. The following is in the order that makes the most sense to me, but your circumstance may dictate a different order.
Get rid of (most) items that trigger bad memories
Take inventory of your items and consider what they mean to you. Unless these are things your children might want later, dispose of them now. I found satisfaction in passing off to my soon-to-be ex those items that reminded me of unpleasant parts of our marriage. Here’s a journal entry from my memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, of our divvying up our belongings:
Jim came over in the evening to get more of his stuff. I gave him some of our dishes and the tortilla press. When he saw the press, a half-smile passed across his face. He and I had attended a session at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and he’d implied we’d try making some of the dishes together when we returned home. When I realized his help was not to be, I made the them by myself. He declared he didn’t like tortillas.”
Are you moving? Sell or give away what you don’t like or have use for before the move
Many divorces result in one or both parties having to move. The more items you retain, the more expensive the move. Again, envision what you want your new surroundings to look like and let those things go that don’t fit your new life.
I began by selling a few antiques I would no longer be using to an antique shop. I employed a moving service as well as the help of family. When one cousin helping out admired a heavy chest, I gave it to him. I gave my ex the leather sofa and chair his cat had scratched up, plus our big bedroom furniture. This saved me a ton of moving expense and cleared the way for creating an atmosphere in my new place that was just for me. Another cousin helped me with a garage sale. From my journal:
Ros comes over to help with my garage sale. I sell the tent that we seldom used along with silver, china, and the crystal Jim’s mother had given me. We do a happy dance when she totals the proceeds. After the sale, I take a big box of Jim’s things to the post office, remembering the character in the movie Saint Maybe, who spent her last dime getting rid of her ex-husband’s stuff. The postage comes to $16.00—a cheap price for “shaking off” more of Jim from my life.
I felt fine giving up the idea of entertaining on a grand scale. Not only did parting with these things cut down even more on my moving cost, the sale helped pay for it! Focus on the benefits to you and others in selling or giving away items.
What about the dog?
You may have to decide who gets the pets. Hopefully you and your ex can avoid a custody dispute. If it comes to that, a judge will look at who took the most care of the pet. Try doing that yourselves without it becoming a legal matter. In our case, we agreed that my ex would get the cat that scratched furniture, and I would get the older cat and the dog, as those two had always been my primary responsibility. Since I wasn’t employed, my ex promised to take care of any vet bills that might occur. I suppose I should have asked for that promise in writing, but he did follow through even though he whined about it.
Evidence of cheating
Talk about triggering! If you have proof of his cheating during your marriage, what do you do with it? Simply tearing up the incriminating evidence and throwing it in the trash may not feel significant enough. I solved that with a lovely divorce ceremony attended by my pastor and close friends.
During the ceremony, I burn our marriage vows and the papers from Jim’s desk that fateful night I discovered his betrayal —a receipt from Skamania Lodge [where he took his new woman for dinner] and programs from church services he attended with her. I resolve to no longer let those bitter memories have a hold on me. Instead, I’ll rely on the Lord’s help in creating a better future.
Should you keep his name or “let go” of it? What if you change your mind?
You might have several reasons for keeping his name including the perceived benefit for your children or if it’s part of your professional name. This decision will likely be included in the divorce decree. But what if you have second thoughts perhaps triggered by new revelations of your ex’s betrayal, and you feel you must rid yourself of his name?
That was my experience. Since I’d had my ex’s name for twenty-five years, I'd decided to keep it. But after my ex secretly married within a month of our divorce, my eyes were fully opened, and I couldn’t get rid of his name fast enough. So much time had passed since I’d had my maiden name that I didn’t care to go back to it. I decided to keep it as my middle name and adopt a favorite grandmother’s maiden name as my last name. It turned out it was pretty easy to do. In a short while, I was before a judge and had my new name.
I change my name on everything, even my car registration. I’m told it’s not necessary, but it’s necessary to me. I don’t want his name on anything of mine. The photo on my new driver’s license is one of my best ever.
Here’s a link that tells how to go about changing your name:
Your wedding ring
Your wedding ring may very well remind you of your broken marriage; so why keep it? Unless it's a family heirloom, you’ll probably want to part with it. If it has some monetary value, you may want to sell it or have it remade into a different piece of jewelry. Selling it can help pay for expenses related to your divorce, allow you to buy a new ring, or the money can be put aside for something special in the future for you or your children. My wedding ring had little value, so after discovering my spouse's duplicity, I gave it back to him.
I want to tear Jim limb from limb. I tear apart a picture of the two of us and take off my wedding ring, one of the matching bands we’d had made by a Santa Fe jeweler, designed with circles (my preference), and squares (Jim’s preference). I leave the photo and the ring on his office chair. What symbolism!
If I hadn’t gotten rid of the ring then, it would have been appropriate to do something with it at the divorce ceremony.
Gifts from your spouse and mementos purchased together
In happier days, your spouse may have given you some gifts that were both sentimental and valuable. If they were given to appease you, by all means dispose of them by selling or giving them away. However, there may be a part of you that still wants to hang on to some evidence of value in your marriage. Most likely there were some good things that occurred, and it’s all right to remember those. While you might not want to wear a dress he bought you, sometime in the future you might enjoy a special piece of jewelry or a work of art he gave you.
I’m glad I kept the squash blossom turquoise necklace my ex gave me as a wedding gift. I also cherish an unusual collector’s items he went miles out of his way to get for me. Enough time has elapsed since our divorce, I can allow some memories of the good moments we had to warm my heart.
Bedding and sleepwear
You may want to discard everything that touched your ex’s skin, especially bedding and sleepwear. I certainly did. I gave all our bedding to my ex, perversely chuckling at what his new love might think of it. You might even want to begin anew with fresh towels.
I revel in the freedom of making the interior of the townhouse my own. I indulge myself, buying yards of paisley-and-rose-patterned Ralph Lauren fabric and make a duvet cover of my own design. I’m crazy for paisley. I spend hours sewing, and it turns out well, with a big, contrasting welt around the sides and bottom. I also buy new sheets, untouched by Jim’s skin, and silk pajamas, giving me comfort these dark nights.
When you can’t decide
Create a stash. You’ve been having to make so many decisions your probably emotionally spent. Hopefully you have a space where you can keep a few boxes for items you’ve yet to decide upon. Give yourself a break. Put your feet up and take a breath. Maybe even a little snooze.
At long last, I take a load off, resting in the old rocking chair while rubbing my hands over the worn raised pattern of the fabric. Rachel Cat jumps in my lap and almost tips me backwards. After regaining our balance, we settle in for a little snooze. I dream Jim has a choice between eating three pieces of bacon and saving our marriage. He chooses the bacon. Pretty accurate, I think, when I awake.
What Not to throw Out
Here’s what I suggest you keep. If you still have some things belonging to your ex, ask him what he’d like done with them. Create a filing system for important papers like your divorce decree, spousal support documents, papers relating to a house you may own, tax returns, etc. What about those family photos? Those may go into that stash to be decided upon later when you have more emotional energy. If you have children, they will probably enjoy having some visual reminders of happier times with your intact family. If the times were tough, if there had been abuse, perhaps the photos can help your children process that.
What did I do about my sons’ request for photos of his father? I found a few good ones I’d kept in a basket of family photos. It had been years since I’d looked at them, and they were a nice reminder of the good times we’d had together. I scanned them and sent them off, at peace with how my life has unfolded.
I applaud you for your intentionality in navigating the beginning of this new chapter in your life. My wish for you is that you can eventually find that same contentment I've found.
Blessings on your journey,
The quotes in this post are from Linda's recently published memoir. She is a writer and a divorced and remarried Christian. In going through the divorce, she experienced a dichotomy of responses from the Christian community. After sharing some of those experiences in her new memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, she's heard many stories of divorced Christians who have struggled with the same issues. This blog invites divorced Christians to tell their stories with the goal of encouraging churches to resist condemnation and become a source of healing and grace.
I welcome your comments and feedback.
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