A House Divided

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

Sorry if my long silence has made my corner of suburbia sound dull. Actually, it’s been anything but! I’ve alluded to ch- ch- changes underway — let’s just say that if they keep up at this pace I’m going to wake up metamorphosed into a basketcase. Or a fly.

What’s on my mind today: Dividing worldly possessions. You know that mental exercise of “what would you take with you in a fire?” Well, what would you take if you could have a whole houseful — er, *half* a houseful? How do you decide?

But first my update in a nutshell:

So, my divorce is nearing The End (in my state, North Carolina, it takes so long that Jon & Kate, the Sanfords of South Carolina, probably now even Sandra Bullock and Weird Jesse will have all had their marital crises explode and end in divorce since my date of separation but before my own is finalized!) I’ve also sold my house, made new housing plans, displayed uncool puppydog gratitude to the Apple employee who transferred the contents of my kaput laptop onto a shiny new one.  Also, sadly, my beloved mother-in-law died, at 94. (Which means my kids have lost all three of the grandparents they’ve ever known in under 2.5 years, two in six months!)

But I’m not recounting all that as a pity party. More as a re-cap (and explanation for being as quiet a winter field — or maybe more like a field planted but not sprouted?). The general trend is positive.

Dividing the stuff accumulated in a 20-year marriage is yet another seismic recent event. Still ongoing. How to decide?

Here are some related questions I’ve been mulling to help make choices:

Who started with it? This stuff is off-limits. I bought this ole bookcase as a singleton, for example, and  my sister gave me an oak farm table for my first apartment — and so I’ll return to singleness with them, too.

Was it a gift? Gifts stay with the recipients. Unfortunately I gave this lovely painting to my ex as a gift, so he gets to keep it. On the plus side, his mother gave me this old quilt as a birthday gift when I was a newlywed, and I ihope to keep that — and thus keep a tangible memory of her, as I now won’t inherit anything. (She also gave me the gold-rimmed glasses in bookcase photo above, which were among her 1941 wedding gifts, but I’m thinking about conceding these to be nice, and hoping that her son will give them to one of his three daughters one day.)

Is it sentimental? I collect Polish pottery and blue dishes. He collects postcards and magazines. Those kinds of delineations are easier. The needlepoint pillow my mom made? Mine. The toy box his dad made him? His. Trickier: Items of mutual affection, like this old hand-carved bowl we bought in Virginia.

Room by room or piece by piece? We have not one but two rooms that each contain a sofa, chair, ottoman, carpet, end tables, lamps, old trunk to put your feet up on. Do we each get a full room “set” — or get to pick and choose our favorite pieces? I’m opting for the latter, also because I think it will be easier on the kids to see things mixed-and-matched in fresh ways, instead of their old family home recreated like a museum set in two new homes.

Who picked it out? Okay now we’re on dicier terrain. Luckily in many cases, we have different tastes. (This might be seen as emblematic of the marriage itself, but that’s another post for another day.) Certain items just clearly seem “his” and “hers.”

Who used it? My office furniture is in my office, the office from which I’ve worked and made most of our income for as long as we’ve been in this house. (At the old house, I worked in our dining room or our basement, so having an office to call my own has been an indulgence of the highest order, nevermind that I spend a 40-50 hour week in it!) So it’s coming with me. Ditto his home office pieces to him, even though among those pieces is the sweetest little typewriter table I found at a flea market in Knoxville, Tenn., circa 1987. But he was the one with the typewriter, and he still gets it now.

Can it be replaced? Certain kitchen items and linens, for example, will be missed, once we divide, but most of this stuff is pretty memory-free and relatively inexpensive. Bye bye.

And then there’s kids’ stuff (they’ll decide where it goes), CDs (easier if I’d loaded that iPod!), books, family memorabilia (ouch!), Christmas decorations, and goodness-knows-what-lurks-in-the-attic!

And how do we decide about the things we both want? We began with a master list of furniture, carpets, and larger miscellany (e.g. a fabo toaster that friends who’d stayed at our — now sold — beach house gave us as a thank-you gift). I checked off roughly half. So if we had two large carpets, I picked one. Four sofas (don’t ask how that happened!), I picked two. Then he did the same. Except it’s not a perfect world so of course we still seem to want some of the same things. And some of us want two large carpets and not just one.

How to mediate? Talk sensibly? Draw lots? Take turns (but he marked off more than half)? Assign values (it’s old basic suburbia furniture, not worth much)? Argue? I’m hoping for reasonable discussion without (ka-ching!) lawyers…and I’m also hoping for the wisdom of the crowd here, ladies, especially this commonsensical crowd. But fast!! Moving in a month!

  1. O'Dell says:

    Hi Paula,

    I was wondering when you would get back to blogging, but figured you must be very busy with "divorce" business. I too, am divorced after 20 years, with 3 children. Let me tell you that since then I was on my own for 4 years, did minimal dating…and for the past 14 years have been with a great guy! There is life after divorce. And a lot of it is good. I have been a grandma (meme’ to the babies) for 5 years now…and that is a huge blessing, too. I am now facing another upheaval,if my research is correct. I have been showing numerous signs of "Parkinson’s disease " the past few months, or more. I am just beginning to see a doctor for this, hope to have testing done this summer. My family is not aware of this yet, and I have been trying to figure out the best way to tell them. I am pondering having a family get together, without babies, to tell them all at once. I think that might be easier on me, and them. That way they can all discuss it with one another (this would be my daughter, sons, son-in-law & daughter in law). I would tell my fiance’ first. I am going to read Michael J Fox’s book, Always Looking UP, as I plan to push myself to do the best I can, with every obstical that gets in my way. I really don’t want my family to treat me any differently, but just to help me out a bit when I need it. I am fortunate in that the internet has been a resource that has shown me that my illness is most likely due to toxic pollutions and not genetic. The genetic form, like Michael has usually hits younger people (he was only 30)unlike myself who is 56, they say that others usually see symptoms after age 55 years. My only fear now, is the later years, and how it will affect my family. But I will push on….and for you I can only wish you good luck with all you are going thru….it does get easier, and the children do adjust after awhile. Life will get better…..all the best….O’Dell

  2. Melinda says:

    I am so sorry to see this happening to you and the kids.

    I have never been through a divorce, personally, so I cannot offer much in the way of advice. I only have this: Think of the kids first. If the item is something they could care less about, take the high road and let him take it rather than letting them see the back and forth about it (yes, they will see it even if they are not there, the tension will be visible to them). Maybe bringing that up with him will help? I do hope he will not be a mule about it *hugs*

  3. Luci says:

    Oh honey, I’ve been there. It is more difficult than people imagine, but you will come out of this a better person in the end.

    As far as dividing, just remember it’s only stuff and not worth the energy of fighting over. I let my ex have most of the household possessions just to avoid a fight. It’s 10 years later and I don’t miss any of it. There is no winner in a divorce – not even the person who walks away with the most stuff.

    Keep the lawyers out of it as much as possible. Try writing down those favorite items on slips of paper and each of you draws for them. If there is a respected friend or family member that can mediate the drawing that’s even better.

  4. Heather says:

    As horrible as divorce is, its good to see you are thinking clearly. I had a yard sale and sold everything! (i didnt want anything to remind me of our marriage.) that was a HUGE mistake. 🙂

  5. Cindy says:

    My Dear

    I am going through a divorce myself, still in the trauma stages. Just looking ahead at what’s to come is overwhelming . I pray for a good outcome for both of us. This is the one of the worst things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. Strength to us both, strength to any woman struggling with this issue. Keep the faith!

  6. Sylvia Sawyer says:

    Unless it’s something you truly can’t live without- remember it’s just a "thing". "Things" can be replaced. People can’t. I’ve lost many "things" but I’ve always been able to replace them with something equally dear if not different. Memories stay with you always and no one can take them away. Once put in perspective-the old saying-you can’t take it with you- is true.

  7. cindy says:

    Hi Paula – I am very sorry to hear about your divorce!

    It sounds like you have a pretty clear picture who’s is what for some of your possessions. For the others, why don’t you just have a sale and split half of the funds? Maybe you could use the money to buy something that really indicates a new start, such as new living room furniture?

    Best of luck to you, you and your family will be in my prayers. Cindy

  8. Tracy says:

    Oh dear Paula!

    I feel your pain and the upheaval that it all causes. I too am going through a divorce after 26 years of marriage! We are in the thick of the dividing of possessions, house, etc. When I made my vows, it was for life! My husband believes he has found greener pasture elsewhere. After reading over the comments made, I would have to agree that other than the items that you have brought into the marriage that are important to you, family heirlooms and such, everything else is just "stuff". My counselor has also suggested letting my four grown children choose some things that they would like to keep. After all, it is their home and memories that are being "divided", too! I now know why the Lord
    hates divorce and I do too. You will be in my prayers, dear one.


  9. Nella says:

    Hi, I’ve read the blogs before, but this is the first time I’ve responded. I’ve been divorced for 10 years after 17 years of marriage. I divorced when my daughter(who is mentally and physically disabled) was 15 and my son was 13. My ex and I fortunately stayed friends and he passed away three years ago at 56. So what have I learned? Don’t sweat over "stuff" it can all be replaced. Life is a lot easier without "stuff". What’s the most important thing is that you take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual self because that you cannot replace. If you’re in a good place and happy then your children will be happy. That’s all that really matters. My best regards with your transitioning.

  10. Bonnie Russell says:


    I’ve advised or observed friends in similar situations in the past, and my take on dividing/keeping things from a former relationship is basically, "if you can afford to do so, get a fresh start in a new location with new things or arranged in new ways." Get your kids involved in the choices, and let them in on what your budget can comfortably be. If you have friends who have a knack with interior design, you might get their advise as well.

    Good idea gifting back the gold glasses to your ex’es kids. I’m finding as I thin out over 30 years of clutter in our home that LESS is definately MORE! It creates a feeling of freedom and serenity and helps the creative flow to have things in order, and organized. There is another plus to all of this, and that is letting go of negative energy and things that will cause the tears to flow.

    If you can manage the time and funds to do so, choose color schemes for rooms and paint them before moving in. Fresh paint also adds to the feeling of having a fresh start and helps to lift spirits.

    Spend extra time with your kids and let them know how very much you love them. Let them know that they were not the cause for your split. If you can somehow maintain friendly terms with your ex, that may help them accept the break if they know it will still be easy for them to visit back and forth if the need and desire is there. Help them to understand that sometimes as years go by, we find differences and hurts that go deep make it hard to continue to live with someone even when we love them…that you can love someone and not like them or what they do.

    God bless you and your family and a new beginning.

    Bonnie Russell

  11. emily says:

    As tough as it is, I would take this opportunity as a chance to redefine what is important to you and your children and what can be purged without pain from your life. Moving is traumatic enough and if the kids see your place as the one with the ‘comforts of our old home’ and his stripped of memories, it’s going to be more difficult for them to adjust and settle in when they are away from you.
    Be sure to make both places comfortable for them and then go from there. Remember, that although this is difficult for you two, it was a decision made by the two of you and the kids had no say. Their lives need stability above all.
    {Hugs} You can do it! :o)

  12. Diva Kreszl says:

    Above all else try to remember these are only things! If it means being the bigger person, do it. You will be gald you did, for the children and for maintaining the peace. Things can be replaced, and think about it when you die you can’t take it with you. When my first marriage dissolved I returned anything my MIL gave me, instructing my ex that should he ever decide to get rid of it he should return it to his Mom. We to this day all have a great relationship and it’s been 27 years. Sadly my current husband and his ex made it into a ‘War of the Roses’, I tell him all the time he fought to keep half the china of a set we rarely use and that it is not our taste. Splitting the china servings down the middle was easy, it was service for 24. It was the serving pieces that presented the problem, there were only one of each. We now own a butter dish that cost us in the vicinity of $10,000 in lawyers fees. This was just the dishes, you can well imagine how long the entire household took to divide. Far worse than the fiancial woes however was the toll the constant bickering took on my two step sons. It has taken twenty years to mend this and my husband and his ex still do not speak. Why this log winded comment? To tell you that what really matters is not the things you divide but the way you work to maintain a relationship for the sake of your children. Good Luck!

  13. MollyMae says:

    Paula, I was married for 10+ years, with 3 children, and got divorced almost 4 years ago. HUGS to you. Going through this life-upheaval is so difficult. We didn’t have anything of "worth", so splitting up the belongings was fairly easy; however, my ordeal was figuring out just what "things" were the most important to me. This was a life-altering moment for me, as I realized that the "things" I had lived surrounded by were just that..THINGS. I also had to narrow everything down to the bare essentials..I was renting a minivan, loaded with my mother, myself and my 3 children to basically "escape" my life in Wisconsin to make a fresh start in California. So, what I took with us was what would fit in the van: Family photos, my personal and my grandmothers’ china, my quilts, my computer, a week’s worth of clothes for each of us (plus about 2 pairs of shoes each..not easy for a shoe-queen such as myself!). We took a few of the childrens’ favorite toys and loaded up. Before that, I gave away EVERYTHING ELSE, using Freecycle, and left my ex’s stuff there for him to deal with. Paula, it’s truly amazing what you realize you can live without, once you put the value on the people in your life instead of the "stuff". Good luck to you, dear heart.

  14. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    What collective wisdom! I knew only had to ask. thank you!!

  15. MaryFrantic says:

    My prayers for you and the children (and for your ex) as you go through this uneasy period. I lost "almost everything" when I divorced. I was unlucky in that "himself" burned my diaries and my photos and broke my vinyl records and took the jewelry, china and silver to the hockshop and then destroyed some quilted, croched, art pieces. However, my son and I got through it safely and I know now how STRONG it made me. Don’t sweat the small stuff! You will be fine in a little while. As pretty and sweet and kind as you seem to be, your next big problem will probably be chasing away guys from your doorstep.

  16. Ann says:

    The best I can give is this.
    If your home burnt what would you be left with…
    As others have stated it is only things.
    If you were to die today would any of it matter.
    Someone has to be the bigger person…
    Divorce is sad and bad…
    Look to the future.

  17. Marilyn Collins says:

    Hi Paula,
    I have missed your blogs as well as your column in Womans Day. Sorry to hear about your loss and all your problems. Keep a positive outlook. Better days are sure to come. Hope yuo get to keep the things you want in the settlelment.

  18. Brickhorse says:

    I am sorry to hear about your divorce – I’ve gone through one and so I know how hard it is. I let him have the majority of the stuff, and it was just fine! The declutter group I am on say to only have in your home what you believe is beautiful and useful for your lifestyle, PLUS that makes you feel good when you look at it. If it’s a downer, let it go. Items from a previous marriage can bring good memories or sorrowful ones – let the sorrowful items go. Lemonade from lemons — use this event as an opportunity to refine your possessions to the "cream", and to open up space that will allow new possessions to come for your new life. Anything you love that he gets, take a photo in remembrance. It sounds as if you are already on your way with your thoughtful choices so far. Thinking of you….

  19. RobinA says:

    Dear Paula,
    You have my deepest sympathy and I hope that he will work with you on all these matters. Our daughter has been going through a nasty divorce since Dec 09, and I mean nasty. Her soon to be ex has harrassed and intimidated her every chance he’s gotten. They didn’t have a whole lot of possessions but what they had she paid for. She only got the baby’s furniture but that’s okay. At least she doesn’t have to deal with him but on a limited basis now. The divorce won’t be final until this summer. We live one day at a time, one step at a time. Take your time and don’t let anyone intimidate you OR steal your joy. God bless you and good luck!! RobinA Texas

  20. carol branum says:

    DIVORCE IS A VERY SERIOUS SUBJECT FOR ME,I AM STILL MAD AFTER 27 YEARS,CAN YOU TELL.I THINK IT IS WRONG.Hell have no furry like a scorned woman,but,their is nothing that I can do.I was one of those women,who thought,I,ll be nice,and it got me no where.I will never get over the pain and suffering for the rest of my life,and their is nothing I can do.My hands are tied.Can you imagine how Elizibeth Edwards feels,I can. Yes,I have dated,and I do not like it.No one wants someone that has a child with disabilities.I hurt.I stay busy,and Maryjanes farm,has helped me cope,but,I am bitter.I sold everything I had about five years after,but,so many of my things are antiques also,family tresures,that I could not part with.The less you give him the better,the new girlfriend won,t want it anyway.But,if you redecorate,you will feel better.I do try to think only of my favorite things,so concentrate on the positives,thats what I have to do.Things really arent that bad.think positive.Carol Branum,themofarmersdaughter@blogspot.com

  21. Tammie says:

    Hi Paula,
    I know this time is mind boggling painful. Divorce is worse than death. In death we morn the person we loved and after a period of morning are able to move on. With divorce that person is still there. They, whoever "they" are) say to give yourself at least 3 years to "morn" this loss. The things are only that in the big picture, just "things." Pictures, things passed down to us from lost loved ones or ancestors…these are irreplacable. Tables, chairs…these are things you can accumulate again.
    Your children are also going through this loss and this makes it even harder for you. (It did me…I couldn’t cry without my daughter coming unglued. I would go outside and try to be alone and she was so in tune with me it’s like she just knew.) It has been 19 years now since my divorce. My children are grown and I have grandchildren now. Looking back what was the most important thing? My ex and I decided not to put our children in the middle. (So much easier said than done). They could be at either house without feeling like they had betrayed one or the other. The only rules were, they couldn’t go to other parent’s house simply because they were angry with the residing parent…(great rule for the teen years 🙂 and they couldn’t move back and forth during a school year. It turned out to be the best choices we made.
    My ex and I had a disagreement. He had a girlfriend and I disagreed. However, a child’s self worth is based on the relationship they have with both of their parents. All three of our children turned out to be adults any parent would be proud of.
    I am so sorry for your loss and the pain you and your family are going through. Believe it or not, it will get better and easier. It just won’t get there quickly.
    You and your family are in our prayers.

  22. Pam O says:

    I am so, so sorry you’re going through this. My prayers are with you and your kids as you go through this.

  23. ozjane says:

    Oh dear…you take me back to 1982 when after 3 yrs of marriage, having met my DH when studying psychology..he went on into the job and was heading towards a breakdown (which came 6 yrs later, along with an apology) and so he left.
    Came home and told me he had a flat…..so I found boxes and went around the kitchen on the premise of, was it his 3 yrs ago or mine….was it a present from my friends or his.
    The furniture stayed here for another 6 months or so….and then I bought the sofa and chairs that was all I could afford at the time……and believe it or not…I am still using the wooden framed sofa. Did sell the chairs.
    All the best…..It does settle.

  24. Krissi says:

    I know that this comes as a late arrival to the blog, but I am new to the sisterhood and most definitely blogging (between you and me this is my first time). I do however know a little something about divorce and division of property. I was married for 18 years I will be divorced 5 yrs this Dec. There was and still is a lot of stuff to get rid of. Turns out a lot of the things I held on to ended up being just that s-t-u-f-f! I now have a house cluttered with it all, did the garage sale thing, the purge thing, the donation thing, and I feel like the stuff is actually a couple of rabbits multiplying rapidly. I had an epiphany the other day. If there were (God forbid) a fire what would I take? Turns out very little. Of course I would take my 17yr old son, my dog and the little metal safety box. I realized that stuff is stuff, but no one can take away my memories and the joys that they bring. I can leave the bad ones behind. Move on thats what I need to do, that and find those rabbits! Anyone looking for some rabbits?
    Krissi J

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