Sarah Macnaught specialises in helping clients to rightsize their homes and their possessions as they move through the divorce process.
When people are going through a divorce I’m often brought in to help deal with their belongings. There are various scenarios. Sometimes the husband leaves to start a new relationship, taking the bare minimum of possessions. His wife is left feeling overwhelmed and resentful about having to deal with every single thing. So she calls me. On other occasions family lawyers and divorce coaches refer cases to me because their clients are arguing over Every. Single. Thing. As well as the negative moods and toxic atmosphere, couples fighting over joint possessions can lead to higher legal fees and longer settlement periods.
As a professional organiser and belongings coach I get my clients to approach dividing their belongings in various ways. But I encourage them to base each decision on this one value: “Is this fair and reasonable?”
Here are 3 steps to dividing up the home that all separating couples should follow to make the process as smooth as it can be.
Think like a removal company and draw up a home inventory. There are phone apps you can use – Sortly and Encircle are brilliant – and you can produce downloadable documents to share with each other and legal teams. Photograph stuff wherever possible and give each item some sense of size like this:
4 drawers obsolete black & cream computer cables
3 shelves football programmes
3 boxes old cosmetics
8 large boxes wine glasses
1 three-seater sofa
10 metres of DVDs
This will make you both stop and think. No, it isn’t fair for one partner to deal with everything. And the cost of setting up two new homes will be offset if belongings are distributed fairly and reasonably, just as financial assets are.
“If I keep (all) this, is that fair and reasonable?” Especially when children are involved, both homes will be family homes, so an even division of all utensils, furniture, clothing and toys is important. Though there are often things (mother-in-law’s ornate vase anyone?) that both partners will gleefully donate to charity rather than lay claim to. The excess of possessions in UK homes is well documented so there’s practically always enough to go around. One parent doesn’t need the standard British haul of 8 pots and 6 casserole dishes!
Also couples should think about their short term accommodation before making any decisions. One father told me, “I insisted on the 3-seater sofa and oversized armchairs from our 6 bedroom Victorian home. When the removal company arrived at my rented townhouse, absolutely nothing could fit up the narrow stairs to the living room on the first floor. It’s all still in storage, two years later.”
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin may have made conscious uncoupling a ‘thing’ but it was originally coined by US therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas in 2011. The idea here is that you give generously as you let go of your possessions – re-gifting large furniture you love but have no room for; selling old paintings and donating the proceeds to your favourite charity; setting up a Men’s Shed with all your DIY tools and materials. The bigger the act of generosity on your part, the better you’ll feel about letting go.
This guest blog highlights how versatile APDO members can be regarding the services they provide. If you’d like to find an accredited professional organiser near you, search here. If you feel decluttering and organising could be your dream career, visit the APDO website for details on how to join APDO plus training courses.