If a breakup means someone moving out, what should whoever stay in the house or apartment do with the place? Whether you’re tearing down a wall and adding a sun room, or simply swapping out a mattress and getting a new lamp, changes to your surroundings can result in a better future. The trick is to determine the price for this security.
Experts have mixed feelings about making significant household changes after an ex moves out. Some say yes – change the locks and even make structural changes. Some say no – especially within the first year after a breakup. But most experts say it’s a gray area. It depends on what you are changing, why you are changing it and, on practical grounds, your finances.
Holly Parker, a Harvard lecturer in close relationship psychology, warns against putting the financial burden of the stress of a breakup on. Too often, the breakup remodeling is an impulsive and reactive response. Parker believes that the remodeling should only be done after careful self-reflection. Dr. Carole Lieberman, a high-profile Hollywood psychiatrist, agrees. She believes if you invest in something after a breakup, it should be you.
“Take the time and money to get revenge or get psychotherapy so you can better understand why you’re choosing the wrong partners,” advises Lieberman. She recommends stripping your home of photos and objects associated with your ex, but any remodeling should be done on yourself, not your home. Additionally, if your new significant other is so insecure that they need to make major changes, then you should question the very foundation of that relationship.
Significant changes can also have a negative impact on the value of your home. Brooklyn-based real estate agent Janine Acquafredda says someone who has been apart for less than a year is not really in a position to make any remodeling decisions. “So often people get back together or make really emotional decisions that negatively impact property value,” says Acquafredda, who gives an example of a client who turned their family-friendly three-bedroom home into a bad bachelorette house right after a breakup . Shortly after the renovation work, he decided to sell the house. It was on the market for a long time because it screamed frat house.
Other experts are more ardent proponents of home remodeling after separation. “Sometimes home remodeling is a practical and necessary part of decoupling,” says Kyle Canepa, CEO of Modern Shift, a support website for divorced people. Canepa admits that it’s a daunting task and shouldn’t be rushed, but notes that flushing partners is cathartic and, when you donate old things, charitable. Starting over from scratch with a blank canvas can be the best scenario, at least emotionally. Financially, it is important to consider children and evaluate how your spending impacts their needs.
Remodeling or rearranging things is the easier way, but Feng Shui master Dana Claudat is a fan of remodeling and applauds people who are able to advance deeper transformations. “There’s a lot of science to support the fact that environments can trigger both bad habits and trauma responses,” says Claudat. “When you’ve shared a room with someone who hurt you, there is a great power to take possession of the room and transform those bad memories in a very real, tangible way.” People relate to their surroundings more viscerally, so completely gutting a kitchen or wherever you have the most memories can work wonders that changes in surface level cannot affect.
Crystal Etienne attributes all of her happiness and professional success to her remodeling. Etienne had been with her ex-husband since she was 14, and when she divorced him 20 years later, she began completely renovating her house again. Today she still lives in this house, but this time she is happily married again and is CEO of a new company, PantyProp. Etienne made her changes immediately after they split up, but others wait years, even decades.
Emily Lyons, dating coach and CEO of matchmaking agency Lyons Elite, says she had a client who stayed in their marriage home for more than a decade before making even minor changes. In the meantime, he suffered from anxiety and depression. Her team advised him to update his home to reflect his now 10-year status as a single man. Almost immediately, he led a healthier lifestyle and started dating again. “Remodeling after a breakup depends on the person and the breakup,” says Lyons. “If it is to help you be happy and move on, it is absolutely a necessity.
At an interior design firm in New York City, they even have a term (used internally) for such projects: Separation Decoration Therapy. Sean Juneja, CEO of Décor Aid, says it’s important to start in the bedroom, the most intimate space you’ve shared. Even if you can’t afford to tear down walls, paint them. “Buy new linens and pillows, add a favorite or two, and buy a new bed if it’s on budget.” Bill Howard of Howard Hauling in the Bay Area says much of his business comes from removing mattresses. Often it is at the behest of a customer’s new partner.
The next thing to do is to rearrange and shrink the furniture in the living area as you buy new things. That way, the missing person is less obvious. Accessories are also important. When Décor Aid was working with a new male client recently, they removed the feminine touch and put up framed photos of him that were taken at various positive times in his life. Finally, invest in new lighting – a surefire way to change the mood and ambience.