Divorce often brings with it a need to redesign your life. That redesign may include your home. Maybe your ex has taken some of the furniture. Perhaps you've had to move. Your new place might be smaller. Facing these changes can be difficult, but let's think of your new circumstances as an "opportunity." You may discover a silver lining. For one thing, you'll no longer need to please a spouse when it comes to decorating.
Creating a space to please yourself.
Altering your surroundings can boost your sense of well-being. Quite likely you want to create a space which feels secure and comforting. I speak from experience. Soon after my divorce, I began designing my new space just for me. Since then, I’ve discovered my urge to do so was a common one. While reading several divorce memoirs in preparation to writing my own, I found account after account of newly divorced women changing their personal environment to suit themselves.
In my one of my favorite divorce memoirs, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, Theo Nestor tells how her redecorating began with an eye-opening realization. She could fix a cupboard by buying and installing a new knob—something her husband never got around to doing and something she had never before thought of doing herself. This simple task morphed into switching bedrooms around, an arrangement that worked better for her and her children. In turn, that decision meant redecorating those rooms. Not a handy person by nature, Theo discovered the therapy of painting over the old and rejoicing in the new. From then on, Theo writes, “we [she and her ex] both know this house is no longer our house, this house will belong to me and just the girls.” What a wonderful way of describing the feeling of control and effectiveness Theo had discovered after her divorce.
It’s said the best revenge is living well, and I had that in mind on the heels of my divorce. I happily gave my husband our leather furniture on which his cat had made its mark. That left me with just one living room chair and the entertainment center I’d designed and painted, making room for new possibilities. My ex could have the big heavy bedroom furniture; I didn’t want to move it one more time. I kept the almost-new queen-sized mattress but gave him the sheets. (What would his new wife do with those sheets I wondered sardonically.) As much as possible, I wanted to erase the reminder of sharing an intimate space with him.
Here’s what I learned as I first rented, then purchased my own home.
What furnishings do you have and which ones do you love? Perhaps there are family hand-me-downs infused with comforting memories. Does a piece remind you of an important moment in your life? Are there a few pieces which set the tone or style of your home?
Visualize your future.
Perhaps right now you just want to cocoon but can see yourself doing some entertaining in the future. Do you want to pare down your furnishings and create a clean, uncluttered look? Maybe you’ll decide to entertain more casually from here on out and decide to part with your big dining table and chairs. My choice was to keep my old oak Craftsman table with its four leaves and six chairs. I'd had that set before we married, and I was determined this was something my ex couldn’t take from me. My townhouse had only a small dining area, but I felt vindicated when I realized, if I swapped out a few pieces, I had room for the expanded table in the living room when I entertained.
Keep what works and let go of the rest
Are you left with items that bring back painful memories, but you can’t bear to part with them just yet. Think about keeping them in storage until you’re in a better emotional place to make a final decision. Maybe a family member would love to have the very thing you need to part with. If you must let it go, sell it to someone who will love it. After several moves, I no longer had space for my mother’s little childhood rolltop desk. The pain of parting with it eased when a small woman living in a small house was over the moon with delight in purchasing it. (Sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?) I smile when I think of her working at the desk illuminated by the antique lamp I chose to include with it. Have a yard sale with the rest.
Thrift shopping and a little TLC
If you're like many of us newly divorced persons, you need to be careful with your spending. I’m always amazed at the wonderful selection of used furnishings I see at our local Habitat for Humanity store. Bargains can also be found online at such sites as OfferUp, Craig’s list, Facebook Marketplace, and Overstock.com.
Sometimes, all a piece needs is a little paint to make something look brand new. My need for a living room chair drew me to my parent’s attic where I rescued a well-worn upholstered rocking chair and stool. I refreshed their look with fabric paint, and they proved to a perfect complement my other living room furniture. Although they didn’t appear brand-new, their wabi-sabi appearance (a Japanese term for imperfection) brought back sweet memories.
Can you repurpose some items? For instance, I repainted a little magazine table and hung a mirror above it in the small foyer of my “new” townhouse. Would a certain chest help keep you organized or serve as a stand for a TV? A tall cupboard that had been in the guest bathroom of my previous home became storage for my folded garments. Imagine the possibilities! The opportunities!
myself. If at all possible, you’ll want to transform your bedroom, the most personal space in your home, beginning with a new bedcover and pillows. *”We need sleep to heal, restore, feel safe, be healthy, and calm our minds,” says Faith Sheridan who has degrees in psychology and interior design. Adjustable lighting is especially important, being able to have enough light to read in bed, and softer to sooth you as you prepare to sleep.
Paint the Town(house)
Hopefully, you’ll be able to repaint your walls like Theo did, if you so choose. Maybe your ex wanted only neutral wall colors, but you could use a dash of color. Go for it! When I purchased my townhouse, I went crazy with paint, experimenting with various techniques and even painting the once-dull parquet kitchen floor. I transformed my office walls were in dappled shades of sunny yellow. I envisioned a Coney Island vibe for the hall bath done in primary colors. (I completed the look with vintage photos of family members at the beach.) My bedroom walls were covered in calming pistachio with a glittery glaze peeking through. I reveled in it all.
Unless you absolutely have a brown thumb, consider adding plants to your environment. As living beings, plants can help us feel connected to the natural world. Indoor plants can boost mood, productivity, concentration, and creativity. They reduce stress and fatigue while absorbing toxins, increasing humidity, and producing oxygen in indoor air.
Personally, I love having live plants in my home. I once asked a fellow-plant lover what her secret to have so many beautiful, healthy-looking plants. “When one dies, I get a new one,” she told me with a grin. In other words, you’ll want to follow the recommended conditions for your new plants, but don’t be afraid of making a few mistakes when learning what works in your space. Your efforts will soon pay off. Indoor plants might even become your passion! Here’s a link to help you get started.
Visually transforming your home can have a positive influence on you as you transform your life. My hope is you’ll feel nurtured by your surroundings in this time of transition, and this transformation will be a sign of a new, hopeful beginning of your life full of yet-to-be-discovered opportunities.
*Quoted in the article “At Home in the Northwest: A Great Escape,” by Lora Shinn, The Seattle Times, 9/6/2020
Linda is a divorced and remarried Christian. Before taking up writing full-time, she was an interior designer and space planner for over ten years having studied Interior Design through UCLA’s Extension Certification program. Her romance, Home of the Heart, is based on her years as an interior designer.
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