Who Gets What?


Who Gets What?

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A divorcing mom’s guide to splitting up the house

“So, what am I supposed to do? I take the salt shaker, and he takes the pepper shaker?”

The other day I was hanging out with a friend who is in the early stages of a divorce. We were talking about how depressing it is to try and divide things. You see, people expect that breaking up is the hardest part—and it is, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the little things that can become the most painful wounds, like tiny little paper cuts all over your soul: Will Jenny and Mike be my friends or his? Will he keep the house? Those issues are frustrating to deal with, but it can get a whole lot more complicated when you start actually dividing each and every little piece of your lives together—right down to the salt-and-pepper shakers.

I’ve been there, and I wanted to offer my friend advice. But the discussion also got me thinking about my own divorce. I still have days when I think, Oh, I’m going to watch that movie, only to realize that that particular DVD is now residing with my ex. Splitting up the house is about taking apart your shared existence, piece by piece. There are easy things: the things that belonged to one or the other before the marriage. Then there are the really hard things: the keepsakes and mementos, the souvenirs from vacations, the family heirlooms that were gifted to you as a couple. And when all the dust has settled on those divisions, you still have to decide who gets the cheese grater and who’s going to have to buy a new one.

Before you start making stacks, here’s some advice that will help you get through deciding who gets what.

1. Give yourself a reality check. Everything is going to be different from this point on. Take a few moments to get into the right frame of mind because trying to keep things the same will only result in bad feelings.

2. Start by being practical. Check sentimentality at the door. Leave the hard decisions for the end, and start with the basic household items. You’ll both be establishing new lives, so think about what you really need. Yes, you’ll both end up having to replace things. But those things also become a part of making new memories.

3. Don’t be an ass. If his grandmother made him that quilt, don’t even think about trying to keep it, even if you love it. Splitting up the stuff is one area where divorcing couples lash out and become petty. Be bigger than that. Material things can be replaced, and even though you’re breaking up, splitting hairs over dividing your things does a disservice to the good times you’ve shared.

4. Make a list. Get out the pen and paper and make records. You may find that there is some negotiating and compromising to be done before long, so keeping track of your progress can be really helpful.

5. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Some things simply can’t be split, and one of you will have to say good-bye to that item. But take a picture so you can keep the memories close. After all, the memories are what count.

6. Breathe. This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. But the process of splitting up the house affords you and your ex an opportunity to work together toward a common goal, even if it’s sad. Treating each other with respect and compromising when necessary will help ensure an amicable split. This is especially important when there are children involved.

I remember going through CDs with my ex-husband when we got divorced. We had hundreds, so it was a long process. Music was one of the things we had in common, so it wasn’t an easy split. We both loved most everything in our collection. There was a lot of “No, you really love that so why don’t you keep it.” There were a lot of tears. It’s funny how the big decisions in that breakup were the easy ones. Dividing those CDs was heart-wrenching and not because of the actual CDs, but because there was so much sentimental value in those individual pieces of plastic.

In divorce, there’s no such thing as equal. When it comes to monetary value, the best you can strive for in dividing your property is “equitable.” That being said, there are more important things at stake during this process. There’s stability and your ability to set up a new house and a new life. There’s the relationship between you and your ex, which, if you have children, will far outlive the marriage. And most important, there’s your self-respect. Don’t compromise your integrity and your mental well-being over material possessions.

So, as you might have guessed by now, my answer to the salt-and-pepper-shakers question is pretty simple. One of you gets both, and the other gets a new set. Yes, there are considerations about respective incomes and even attachment, but at the end of the day, it’s clear that these are the debates on which resentments are built. It’s time to let go and move forward. The future awaits—as does a new salt-and-pepper-shaker set.


Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.

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