Home & Garden

Garage spring cleaning a year after divorce leads to enlightened moments

Paula Ellen

3 years ago

This past weekend, I spent time in my garage cleaning up and trying to purge what I no longer needed. I bought a house last summer, and although it is a wonderful, artsy abode that fills my soul on a daily basis, it has one big problem.... a teeny, tiny one-stall garage that was built by hand, by someone’s grandfather, in a generation long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

I decided to clean up the way I always, do, by starting in one corner and systematically working my way around, eventually getting through everything. I bought the house in late summer last year, and ran out of nice weather (I live in Wisconsin) before I could get everything quite the way I wanted it to be organized.

The way it was, I had to get a lot of things up and off the floor in order to get my car to fit inside. I bought long straps and hooks and strung my kayak up along one side of the garage, and hung my Trek from the rafters in the back. I own a Yamaha 950 V-Star, so I had to find a way to fit that in there, too. I do a lot of gardening, so I have a lot of tools, pots and soil to keep track of as well. At the end of September I jammed a lot of stuff into plastic bins and stacked them in every possible space I could find.

Earlier that summer, I had moved out of an apartment that I had been living in for two years, while I went through a separation and divorce. I had only taken what I really needed, so most of my  things were still being stored at the house where I raised a family for 23 years. In June my lease was up, and while negotiating on the house I had found to purchase, the simplest thing to do was move back in to the house... with my ex.

Buying a house is not a simple, easy process. There are many steps forward and backward. And when you haven’t done it before, it’s quite a daunting experience. Over the two months of negotiations, I started going through all the things at the house I was going to have to move.

Talk about daunting! There were memory-mines everywhere. I would try to work at it when I had a lot of energy, and a positive state of mind. Even then, I could only go at it for a few hours before the despair would catch up with me, and I would have to stop. Years earlier, my then husband had told me that it was okay to leave my stuff behind, since we would have time to go through it when we sold the house, but what we didn’t realize then was that he was going to be the buyer, and dating the woman who broke up our marriage and family at the time.

Yeah, you read that right.

I spent hours in the basement going through box after box, stopping to cry now and then, and then continuing on. I had to make all the decisions about what to keep myself, because my ex was not available. He was at “her” house constantly, and sometimes I didn’t see him at all for days at a time. Of course he accused me of stealing all sorts of things, and I simply told him that I couldn’t wait for him to be available to review my selections, since I was under a tense timeline and if he would like to make a list of the things I took that he felt were his, I would be  happy to return them. I knew he would never take the time to make that list. He was too busy with his new girl, and his new life.

During one particularly rebellious moment, I found some chalk and wrote in big letters on the basement wall... “STRONGER THAN YOU.”

When I finally moved out, I did it in the pouring rain, completely without his help. 23 years of memories, a life stuffed into boxes. When I packed the last box into my car, I kissed the cat and dog goodbye for the last time, and tearfully drove out of the driveway. I hadn’t lived alone since 1985, when I got my first job out of college. I was 51 years old, and scared to death.

This past weekend, as I was going through the boxes almost a year later, I realized something. As I looked into each box, I was surprised at the things I had chosen to take. Nothing that I really needed, or even really wanted. I took it because I didn’t want him to have it. I didn’t want him to “win.” It wasn’t fair, to have given him over two decades of my love and my life, not to mention two beautiful children, for him to throw it all away on some little tart from the office. This wasn’t my life.

That was how I felt when I was packing things up, but now, almost a year later, I saw something that I hadn’t seen last year. I had so much trouble moving on because I was clinging so desperately to a life I was losing. I was grieving that loss, and holding on tightly to every last shred of it. What I didn’t realize was that doing exactly that made it more difficult to move on, not easier.

Had I just let it all go and started over with nothing, I would have had an easier time of it, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It would have been easier to redefine myself and accept the new tack of my life if I hadn’t been using the old one as a template. I wanted to share this with others who might be struggling with the same dynamic. In the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” Diane Lane’s character goes through a painful divorce and decides to leave everything behind and begin anew in Italy. When I first saw the movie, I loved the story, yet I thought that was a bit extreme and unrealistic. But now, after distancing myself from what I consider literally another life ago, I see the wisdom in it.

Don’t be afraid. Cut the ties and take the leap. You are more amazing than you can ever realize.


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