A divorce not only affects the two people directly involved.
Often, it’s a huge life-change challenge for other family members, too. A bold decluttering project can help to redefine relationships within the family.
For many years, Stephanie had been very good at organising her busy life.
As one of three senior partners in a law firm, she was used to working not only full-time but extremely long hours every day. Until recently it hadn’t been a problem that she had had only the weekends to spend time with her family. Her husband had managed the daily family life and taken care of their two teenage girls.
However, life had changed for everyone in the family 6 months ago when her husband moved out. They had both suffered in their unhappy marriage for some years and had decided to get divorced.
Now Stephanie struggled to find her way into her new role as a single mom.
Keeping the household running and taking care of her daughters’ daily needs was very demanding.
And her relationship with the girls had changed and become difficult after the divorce. She had endless discussions with them about the separation and why it had been the right decision (or, in her daughters’ opinion, the wrong decision).
Stephanie felt lonely and overwhelmed, and her daughters felt angry and wanted their father back.
When I met Stephanie for the first time in her house, she told me that she wanted to make bigger changes in her home which – she hoped – would make life easier again.
Stephanie wanted to declutter, massively, and as quickly as possible.
When she took me on a tour through her home, I understood: The kitchen, the living room, and especially the home office and the basement were really ‘stuffed’, up to the ceiling.
Stephanie wanted to ‘get rid of everything’ and asked me to order a skip and ‘just’ get the house cleared.
But then we had a longer conversation, and she changed her mind.
She began to see that the decluttering process could become a ‘healing’ process for herself, and hopefully also for her relationship with her daughters.
She now wanted to get the girls involved and asked me to organise the decluttering activities as a ‘team project’.
We decided that I would take the role of the ‘neutral’ organising expert who would treat Stephanie and her daughters as three ‘housemates’ with equal rights.
We invited her daughters to our next meeting.
When we all were sitting around the dinner table, I presented the plan:
- The main goal was to create a home in which each of them could feel relaxed and happy.
- The basic requirement for achieving this goal was that each of them felt responsible for the creation and maintenance of the new order.
- The bathroom, kitchen, and living room were declared as ‘shared spaces’ and the design, furnishings, decorations and contents of these rooms would be discussed between all of them. Everyone should make suggestions but also be willing to make compromises, if necessary.
- The girls’ rooms were completely their responsibility. They were free to re-arrange their rooms if they wanted and they both got a budget to be used for any desired changes or renovations.
- The basement was full of stuff nobody any longer wanted to keep and would be decluttered and organised together, over a long weekend.
- An action plan and a time schedule had to be agreed on.
At the end of my presentation, nobody said anything and I got a bit nervous.
The success of this project depended completely on the willingness and motivation of the two girls to be part of the team. We didn’t have a plan B. Stephanie also looked nervous.
However, suddenly the girls both started to talk, at the same time. And they were as excited as we had hoped they would be! Yes, they wanted to be part of the decluttering/organising team!
We could get started!
Of course, during the decluttering process – which finally took 3 months – it wasn’t all ‘rainbows and daisies’ all the time.
We could only work on weekend days and in the very beginning it couldn’t go fast enough for Stephanie’s daughters.
After some working sessions, however, everyone’s motivation levels went down and we needed more frequent breaks with ice cream and burgers.
Also, the girls would have wanted to work on the redesign of their rooms first but the action plan determined that the basement and the shared spaces had priority. They didn’t like that.
It was actually a lot of fun for them to clear out the basement – most of the stuff ended up in a skip we had organised. But we took the time to sort everything with care and carried a lot of still useful items to a charity shop. The girls also collected some of the things that had belonged to their father in 2 boxes and took them along to him. (Which he very much appreciated.)
However, the decluttering and reorganisation especially of the kitchen and the living room required many – sometimes very heated – discussions and arguments. Yes, and some difficult-to-digest compromises.
The biggest fun came up, of course, when everyone started to declutter and re-arrange their rooms.
Stephanie, too, enjoyed this part. Yes, she shed some tears when she cleared up the master bedroom. But she took all the time she needed to find out what was really important to her now and how she wanted to feel in this – her! – room in the future.
She felt excited when she then started to design the room completely according to her very personal ideas and needs.
We all agreed that the ‘after-divorce-decluttering project’ was a success:
We had achieved the main goal: The house was clutterfree and freshly organised, with open spaces and clearly defined activity areas.
However, even more important was that Stephanie and her daughters had successfully ‘decluttered’ their relationship, too.
Everyone had been part of the team and had contributed to its success. Stephanie and her daughters were more aware now of their respective strengths and weaknesses, and they all felt responsible for what happened in their home.
Stephanie no longer felt lonely – she felt closely connected to her daughters.