Bitty Baby sat in a cardboard box near the trash dumpster of the storage unit building as fresh snowflakes cascaded on top of her newborn baby head. Several of her fancy holiday outfits from the American Girl Doll Collection surrounded her- still appearing pristine on their bitty-sized doll wardrobe hangers.
As I reached into the cardboard box near the dumpster to take the doll to my car, my 23 year old daughter yelled at me, “That’s MY stuff! Leave it there!”
My daughter along with her teen-aged brother and I kept lugging heavy plastic containers crammed full of the weight of their interrupted childhoods as we dragged them from the storage unit into our cars and then up the stairs and into my 2 bedroom rental.
Knowing that I would have to move locally yet again for a 4th time in seven years since a judge ruled that we sell our marital home during the divorce added even more fuel to the fire of what to do with all this stuff.
This was NOT the Life I Expected.
Back during 2006, my soon-to-be ex had insisted on becoming self-employed before the divorce wars started. I had spent 15 years at home caring for our 3 kids due to his frequent job transfers along with the constant travel demands that came with my husband’s corporate sales positions.
It was extremely challenging to find a rental home that aligned with my younger two kids’ public school bus stops and would also accept a large dog when the judge ruled that we had to sell our marital home due to my husband’s sudden lack of income since he had decided to become self-employed.
Soon-to-be ex had already rented a luxury apartment nearby with the other woman as the divorce began. He stopped by the marital home a few times to cherry pick some leather furniture he coveted and scour through his personal items as I watched his every move.
Everything else he left for me to deal with: our 2 story family home of 3500 square feet that included 4 bedrooms and a basement which I now had to compress into 1500 square feet of living space in a much smaller rental home.
Sitting on the laundry room floor as we moved into that first rental house in 2007, I sobbed and shook as I tried to catch my breath.
I could hear the movers hollering as they came in and out of the front door, “Lady we’re out of room here- where should we put this?”
After we settled into the rental house, I enrolled in a Law School Paralegal Program with high hopes that when I graduated I’d get a full time legal job with benefits and then the kids and I could feel more stable and secure with our housing situation.
But the very month I graduated- August 2008 was the month that the economic recession began to take hold, my retirement savings went up in smoke and jobs were slashed every day. Without a resume full of legal experience and having to compete every day for paralegal jobs with younger attorneys who were let go from the larger firms, I was not able to find a permanent full-time position that could lead us to a more spacious housing situation.
Each time my year-long lease renewed- the landlord would hike my rent at least $100 per month, claiming that property taxes had gone up and that his investors demanded a better return.
After 3 years of job applications without securing a long term legal job that met my basic expectations, I decided during 2011 to start my Divorce and Co-Parenting guidance business: Moving Forward Through Divorce
Since then I’ve downsized several more times, all while having to remain within my kids public school district parameters as the parenting legal agreement requires.
What were the lessons that I unearthed from all our stuff?
I have learned not to measure my self-worth by how much stuff I have acquired and have on display in my home.
I have learned to let go of what’s not currently serving me.
And I long ago stopped trying to compete with the latest possessions of my neighbors and the parents of my kids’ friends.
Bitty Baby never did make it into my car. I did not go back to rescue her.
As the kids and I donated plenty of bags and boxes to Goodwill and continued the exhausting process of clearing out the storage unit, we felt our anger, frustration and resentment begin to ease.
We grieved our losses and finally each let go of the expectation for the un-ruptured family life that we had so much wanted to believe in but that was not possible to truly have.
Have you had the experience of dealing with way too much stuff during or after divorce?