Downsize after divorce: Turn your breakup into a makeover

redecorate after divorce

Quick take: After a breakup or divorce, your life and finances are different, and you likely need to reconsider moving house. Many moms find that downsizing to a smaller, more affordable home that is also easy to maintain gives them the freedom and confidence they need to move forward with their new life. Plus: a feng-shui home makeover post-divorce or breakup is good for the soul, inviting in new, positive experiences and people. 

Whether you just got served divorce papers or you’ve been separated for years, happily separated, or still grieving the relationship — it’s time to take steps cleanse your ex from your life.

Look at these changes as a divorce makeover.

Think of it: Now you can turn your bedroom into a cozy, overstuffed refuge rather than the minimalist grotto your now-ex insisted on. You can join (or quit!) a book club, cook the foods that you like, binge-watch your favorite Netflix shows —— all in the comforts a home that you now easily afford, and gleefully decorated yourself.

But to get there, you have to get rid of stuff: furniture, dishes, old photos, and sell that engagement ring already.

Another self-care option: going for a dramatic new look after divorce. Dye your hair! Sell that anniversary ring, diamond necklace, or push-present earrings and use the proceeds to get your nose pierced! Purge the super-basic wardrobe you somehow accumulated in the past decade! (Hint: Moms don’t have to wear mom jeans.)

A divorce makeover won’t happen overnight, unless you’re financially secure enough just to dump everything and start over. Take your time, make thoughtful decisions about what you will get rid of as you can afford them. Give yourself the time and permission to discover – and to meet – your own needs and desires, now .

Here’s how to get started on your post-divorce journey:

Downsize after divorce?

But be honest: Is your current house barely — or not — affordable on your income alone? Are you even struggling with child support or alimony? If so, then they’re not affordable at all. Using most of your moola just to keep a roof over your head is shortsighted in the extreme, because personal finance isn’t just about covering the bills. You need an emergency fund. You need to save for retirement. And all women — not just single moms — need to invest and grow their wealth.

If you’ve got enough equity, you might be able to keep the house through a variety of options you may discuss with your attorney or banker. Educate yourself about your options, but remember that the best choice might be to move. You can look for a cheaper place in the same school district – but be prepared to start over in a different neighborhood altogether.

Sure, it’ll be a major disruption. But you know what else is disruptive? Getting evicted! Or even just having a mom who’s constantly freaked out about whether she can afford to pay for that unexpected car repair.

Finally, how much work do you want to do? In a condo or townhome, someone else mows the lawn or shovels the snow. (There’s zero shame in wanting to outsource household tasks.) In an apartment, it’s the landlord that deals with the Revolt of the Appliances. Once again: Moving might be the right choice, even if it isn’t an easy choice.

There is also the emotional equation of living your own home, that you can afford. In her book The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), Emma Johnson writes:

Ohio mom Wendy, together with her teenage daughters, moved out of a four-thousand-square foot spread with five bedrooms and four bathrooms and into a three-bedroom, one-bath rental that was one-third the size. She took very few things from her previous home, which had been largely decorated with gifts and heirlooms from her ex-husband’s parents.

“Starting from nothing was daunting, but it was also completely liberating. I didn’t have to ask anyone else their opinion. My choices were mine, and mine alone. It was a huge adjustment for my kids moving from a fancier home into a quite spare rental house. But it was a very valuable lesson in what actually makes a home: people, feelings, and memories, and not granite countertops and spiffy bathrooms. A year ago, I purchased a home just a few blocks from our rental house. We had grown to love our neighborhood and neighbors. Our new home is still small, and we still have only one bathroom, but the girls now regard this as their home.

Their dad is now under contract with his latest girlfriend on a six-bedroom, five-bath stately Tudor on a very fancy street about a mile from us. The contrast between my house and that house could not be greater. And though I know we would all like more bathroom space, I have no doubt that this will continue to feel like my kids’ home, however spacious and upscale his new digs are.”

Feng shui after breakup

The Chinese practice of feng shui is designed to create harmony between you and your environment. The premise is that objects hold energy – energy can be positive, and sometimes = energy is super-negative. Feng shui has various fixes, which can include clearing clutter, growing houseplants, rearranging furniture, adding mirrors to specific places in the home, and purging any belongings associated with bad memories (like, say, having been married to a total jerk).

In some cities you can hire a professional to feng shui your living space. Books have been published on the topic, too. But start with this in-depth article on feng shui — whether you are moving into the house of your dreams, or a 1-bedroom apartment (or maybe the home of your dreams is a cozy 1-bedroom apartment!).

As Emma’s article points out, some of the stuff you want to toss could be worth something to someone else. Nothing wrong with a little extra post-divorce cash.

Home makeover after divorce

While the urge to purge is understandable, pause and see if you can make cash from any post-divorce rejects methodically. Sell rather than give away furniture and other valuable items (including your wedding and/or engagement ring). The money from this continued cleansing will help pay for your post-breakup furniture and décor.

Move-out cleaning: How to get rid of stuff?

Junk removal services near you might be an answer. If your local charity won't or can't take your old household items and clothes, check out 1-800-Got-Junk‘s prices, and College Hunks Hauling Junk prices.

Sell your engagement ring gold jewelry, diamond rings, and wedding rings after a breakup or divorce

For gold, gemstone, diamonds, watches and branded jewelry like Tiffany, Bulgari, Cartier and David Yurman, online jewelry auction site Worthy.com is our recommendation. Learn more about Worthy in our review, including its an A+ BBB rating, mentions in the New York Times, Business insider, Bravo and others.

For gold jewelry and coins and diamond jewelry, CashforGoldUSA is a quality choice to sell your jewelry online, quickly, for the highest price. Be sure to first learn more about what your gold is worth, and how to sell it safely with CashforGoldUSA's online gold calculator.

If you’ve got the funds, engage a designer to help. Designers can see things you can’t — like your home’s potential. 

Note: If you can’t pay cash as you go, throttle back a bit. Don’t go into debt for a makeover. Besides, easing into any changes is probably the smartest way to go. Do it slowly and intentionally and you’ll wind up with a look you truly love.

The first apartment after divorce

Maybe you decided to make a clean break from the marital house, condo or apartment. (Or maybe you couldn’t afford to keep it.) Jumping straight into a new home purchase isn’t always the best move.

You might still be raw from grief if the breakup was sprung on you, or wiped out by the divorce process even if you initiated it. Helping your kids cope with the new normal can be pretty migraine-inducing, too. So instead of rushing into homeownership, consider renting for a year to get your finances – and maybe your head – in order.

Best-case scenario: You find an affordable rental in the neighborhood and the kids don’t have to switch schools.

Or maybe the scenario isn’t best-case. Maybe it’s crap-case: There wasn’t much money to begin with so now you and your ex are both poorer, or there once was money before your ex made good on his threat to drag things out as long as possible.

And maybe, just maybe, your folks have been begging you to come home. On the face of it, moving back into your childhood bedroom is no one’s idea of successful adulting. Yet it could actually be a shrewd choice for the short term. (Assuming, of course, that you and your parents generally got along before you left home.)

Regardless, you may likely need to learn how to live alone — with or without children — maybe even for the first time of your life.

This can be challenging, lonely, heartbreaking. Living alone can also be freeing, healing and life-changing in important ways. In fact, living alone is one of the important things on our list of things every woman should do in her life.

Moving home after divorce

Before you say “OMG yes, thanks!” to the offer, make a game plan. First, figure out how much cash you’ll need to tidy up your finances and move back out. Next, do the math: Based on your current salary plus careful budgeting and maybe a side hustle, how long will it take to get those dollars?

Set some guidelines: You won’t be a pain in the ass and they won’t infantilize you. Is this a free flop or are you required to pay rent? How many chores will you be expected to do? Which nights will you cook?

Set some boundaries, too. Chief among them: 

  • Mom, not Grandma and Grandpa, will be in charge of raising the children.
  • Mom is also in charge of her own life, and will not accept being chided for wearing bright-red lipstick or staying out late.

Talk these things over with your parents. Heck, print out your game plan and have them sign it. Should friction develop later on you’ll be able to say, “Hey, we agreed that…”

Remember: Your being there could be as good for them as it is for you. They get loads of grandbaby time, and you could take on some of the heavier chores – yard work, deep cleaning – that aren’t as easy for your folks as they used to be. (Or, again, you could outsource those chores.)

In return? You get a cheap (or free) place to stay as you power closer to your financial goals.

Still, it can be frustrating to be back where you started. So while you’re home, practice self-care with an eye toward improved health and beauty, rather than eating alllll the ice cream and bingeing on British TV mysteries. A new look after divorce might be just the thing you need to convince yourself that life does, in fact, go on.

Tips on how to move on after a breakup or divorce

Of course, all this relocation, redecorating, budgeting and purging is about cleansing your mind, heart and soul from the pain of your divorce or breakup.

How do you get over a divorce?

Post-divorce counseling of course can help — whether this means working with your regular therapist, joining a post-divorce support group, or seeking out services like online therapy — sometimes just an objective, patient ear to listen can change your life.

[8 reasons online therapy is great for single moms]

Post-divorce dating can be exhilarating — when you're ready. The joys of connecting as a mature adult with other evolved people, dating and sex without the pressures of marriage or commitment, are some of the great surprises at this time of your life.

Word of warning: The pain that comes with the first breakup after divorce is a phenomenon that few talk about. Wealthysinglemommy founder Emma Johnson wrote about her first post-divorce breakup — and how she got over it.

The best way to move on after breakup?

Time. Patience with yourself. Self-reflection. Focus on thriving as a single woman while also being open to fun, dating, partnership.

Post-divorce makeover?

Divorce can do a number on your mind, body and soul. Take charge.

If your insurance includes coverage for therapy, get yourself a counselor. It is so freeing to talk with someone with absolutely zero stake in your personal life. Relatives and friends can be judgy about your breakup; a counselor just wants to help you move past it.

(And if your insurance coverage doesn’t include therapy? Look for affordable – and maybe even free – help through online counseling services.)

Next, talk to your primary care physician. Explain what’s been going on in your life and get a full physical. It could turn out that your exhaustion is due to an underactive thyroid rather than breakup-related stress. Talk with the doc about any issues that concern you – weight, cholesterol, disease risk – and ask for help mapping out a healthy lifestyle.

Weight loss after breakup isn’t always an issue, of course. Some people are just naturally slim. Others have already lost weight due to the “relationship breakup diet” of stress and worry. But if you do decide to drop those extra pounds, the divorce weight loss transformation could do wonders for your self-confidence – and for your overall health, since you’ll be doing it through better eating and regular exercise.

Bonus: When you’re ready to date again, you’ll feel totally up to the challenge. The comedian Elayne Boosler once referred to post-breakup food and exercise as the “new people are going to see me naked diet.” She’s not wrong.

Nothing wrong with cultivating a “revenge body.” Let’s be honest: Doesn’t part of you really want your ex to hear about (or see) how great you’re doing – and how great you look?

The takeaway

Downsizing after divorce includes  getting rid of unwanted possessions, downsizing or otherwise changing homes, losing weight or an unhealthy mindset (“What kind of awful mother am I to be putting my kids through all this?”). Take what’s worth keeping from your old life and use it to create a meaningful new life of your own design. 

About Donna Freedman

Longtime personal finance journalist Donna Freedman created the Smart Spending blog for MSN Money and has written for dozens of other publications, including The New York Times Review of Books, NerdWallet, Magnify Money, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Vox, Get Rich Slowly, All You, The Simple Dollar, the Chicago Tribune and Wise Bread. Her work has won regional and national awards. She is a member of Mensa, but people are much more impressed by the fact that she was once on the game show "Jeopardy!" Donna lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.

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