Organizing my way to single-mom bliss


Over the past couple of months I’ve cleaned out every closet, drawer and cupboard in my house. A local handyman built out shelves into two of my closets, and I’ve hauled four carfulls of stuff to a local charity.

Now, what does this have to do with money and single moms, you ask? Well, a whole lot.

First, my husband had a shopping problem and a spending problem and a hoarding problem and a messy-as-fuck problem. Some of those problems were painfully familiar to me from my childhood. The amount of money being made had little to do with the amount of money being spent. The net result was that I felt out of control of our finances, and by proxy, my life. My quality of life overall suffered through my constant battle against a steady inflow of stuff that cluttered our home.

Now the apartment is all mine. And after this cleansing, I have more space than I know what to do with. I also have a grip on how much I have, how much I need to buy, a sense of what I want to buy — and how much of that I can afford.

As I mentioned, I am a spiritual person. I don’t answer a religion per se (I like to say that I have no problem with any religion – just the ones that suck), but I spend a lot of time thinking about a higher being. I also believe that things have power. Whether photographs and travel momentous physically contain energy, I don’t know. But there is is power attached to the ideas that things represent. And when things represent bad times or people who make you unhappy, it is time to get them out of your house. Open up space for good things.

Cases in point: In recent months I purged my wedding gown (beautiful – but I just can’t see myself wearing it on a date anytime soon, and I wouldn’t encourage a loved one to re-wear a frock that represents a failed relationship); a folder stuffed full of handwritten lists and clippings from Martha Stewart Weddings that I’d saved from my nuptial planning SEVEN YEARS AGO; and a beloved quilted silk coverlet for my bed – again used during my marriage.

To be clear, I have many, many great memories from my marriage, and I have zero regrets about marrying the man I did. But I’m not married to him anymore. It’s time to move on.

The cleaning extended to personal items, work-related clutter and sorting of the pantry. One huge upside of all this organizing and tossing is that you find out what is lurking in the dark reaches of your home. For example, I found I have six tubes of toothpaste and 23 florescent lightbulbs – gadgets designed to last half my lifetime. I have a half-dozen lamps in my house.

So what good came of all this work?In general, I feel a sense of lightness and control as I look at my kitchen cupboards and know just what selection of grains and spices are at my disposal for dinner. When I needed a certain drill bit the other day, I knew exactly where to find it. In the past I would have clenched up at the thought of slogging through a giant drawer of hardware and left the window blinds uninstalled. There is a serenity that comes with knowing that I have more than enough, and yet am closer to the leaner, more purposeful life that I crave.

But there have been other, less tangible changes that I believe are rooted in this house-cleanse. On the work front, I launched this blog, which I’ve been talking about for months and months. And on the personal side, I’ve been able to step away from a relationship that wasn’t right for me. Perhaps I closed some doors to my marriage that I didn’t realize needed addressing. And I’ve found enthusiasm for dating again (stay tuned, ladies!).

You could argue that I was simply ready to make these life changes, and the cleaning just stemmed from those motives, and that could be entirely true. But let me tell you — there is something truly cathartic about handing over a still-soiled silk wedding gown to the less fortunate knowing that you never have to inadvertently catch a glimpse of it — and all that it represents — when digging through the linen closet for the Neosporin.

Now, if anyone in the greater New York City metro area needs a florescent lightbulb, give me a shout. Pick-ups only, please.

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

5 thoughts on “Organizing my way to single-mom bliss

  1. Amen. The spiritual process of Clearing is profoundly beneficial. Clutter house = cluttered mind. If you want new things in your life you have to release what you don’t want. If your fists are full of what you don’t want – marriage, momentos, spiritual ties, and you don’t want to release them – where is your new life going to fit?

    Recently divorced and purging my life.

  2. This definitely speaks to me! I would also venture to say that where you start clearing says much about your relationship. I started by boxing up all of HIS books that were piled all over the house, as a testament to his greater knowledge. His response was, “I want the children to grow up surrounded by books, so you can keep them in the house.” My response, “I had my own books before you, had my own books during you, and will continue to have my own books in MY house!” Amazing how mere items can show you so much about yourself and your relationship. Very empowering

    1. I think it is hilarious that your ex believes that the kids will benefit from being near books — as if their contents will be imparted by osmosis. Um, maybe he could come by and READ those books to the kids?

  3. Amen, sister! I am still forced to live with my hoarder slob soon-to-be-ex husband (who also always spent much more than we earned without thinking and without a check, claiming that he never had when he was growing up), but I am already seeing all the beautifully harmonious place that will be my own. I am a person who makes lists and keeps like things together, and the forces of entropy he brings into our life do not agree with me:)
    Yes on the drill bits, too!

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *