Unspousing Your House: does the New Show have Merit?

Hello everyone:

The love of your life is no longer with you, after being a huge part of your life for many years. Where do you go from here? The temptation is to keep everything exactly like he or she had it, and that may work for a while. At some point in time, you will need new shoes that he or she hasn’t seen, new clothing that your beloved spouse hasn’t helped you pick out, and new furnishings for your home. Holding onto everything you had before might be comforting, but it will not bring that dear spouse back.

You are not being disloyal if you replace worn out shoes or buy clothing in your new size (you may gain or lose weight, depending on your personal style of grieving). Start small, but realize that eventually you will need to replace the worn bedspread on your former marital bed. This is simply practical, since a bedspread that is falling apart may not seem important but a new cover will actually lift your spirits (okay, I am a former decorator and old habits are hard to break- I would find a new bedspread incredibly encouraging).

Let’s try a different approach here: a disintegrating bedspread is bad for your lungs. When my dad finally replaced his marital bedspread, he found it remarkably uplifting. Dad kept the old bedspread on the chair next to my mom’s side of the bed because he was not yet ready to dispose of it. Keeping the spread for three years made the new spread easier to accept and enjoy. When the time finally came, his caregiver threw it away when he wasn’t looking. He’s forgotten he ever had it, now that he has dementia.  

When you are ready, go ahead and get rid of extra furniture that clutters the house but is not used. In their later years, my parents had a hobby of going to estate sales and buying new things that they thought would be fun to have. As a result of many years of doing this, they had a television in every room (but only watched two of them).  Only two of their sets actually worked when digital televisions came into being. My mom was gone for a full year before we convinced Dad to get rid of the excessive sets.

He also took the step of throwing out an unused chair that had rotting upholstery (they had gotten the chair for free but never sat on it and never replaced the fabric covering it). It was a huge step later when he sold an old kitchen table and chair set and got a new one.

The changes have been small but, after several years, he finally got to the place where he could comfortably give away things he never used. If he did it, you can too!

One word of warning: if you ever decide to remarry, your new spouse will not appreciate your telling him or her “but Annie liked things this way” when your spouse tries to redecorate. If you cannot accept the remodeling of your house by your new spouse, move! (This is actually a good idea, if it is in your budget. That way, the new home is “ours” rather than “yours” or “mine.”)

There’s a new show on HGTV (my go-to network) that’s called Unspouse Your House. I’ve watched it a few times out of curiosity and see how it might be a good idea, especially for someone who is continuing to reside in the marital home. I know a guy who un-decorated his house, even to removing the shower curtains. This may seem a bit extreme but, if it made him feel better, more power to him. If redecorating makes you feel better and you feel ready to do it, then go for it and enjoy your new old home.

Best,

Dr. Sheri

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