House Proud – Emotional Spring Cleaning Necessary (London Free Press)

It’s a ritual of spring: clearing out the clutter that accumulated over the long, dark months of winter. While most of us concentrate our efforts on closets, basements and places where dust bunnies gather, divorce expert Karen Stewart reminds us to also remove the items that create emotional clutter.

“Really take a look around your living space and be cognizant of how that’s affecting your life,” she says. Belongings left over from previous relationships, especially those that have unhealthy ties to the past, should be kicked to the curb.

Stewart founded Fairway Divorce Solutions after enduring the painful tug-of-war of her own marital split. Her approach is to have financial experts, not lawyers, take control of the divorce file, because decisions about money and property can be resolved rather quickly. Emotional issues, on the other hand, can take years to resolve and can stop you from moving forward – especially if you’re stuck in a decorating time-warp from where you were still a couple.

Her advice: remove negative emotional triggers from your home by assessing the feeling you get from your decor. Photos and mementoes that keep you thinking about what was, instead of what is or what will be, need to be edited out of the next chapter of your life.

Stewart maintains that many people know intuitively when they’re stuck and not moving on with their lives. But if you want to be really sure, ask a trusted friend. Let them tell you honestly if you’re still talking about your ex all the time or if they feel you’re still rooted in the past.

“Divorce is an event in your life; it doesn’t define it,” says Stewart. “The smoother and faster you can move through it, the better.” But, she cautions, “Not too fast, because you need to heal.”

Look ahead. Get out the measuring tape and decide whether your ex-spouse’s sewing room will accommodate the regulation-sized pool table that was always too extravagant when you were wed. Or perhaps the vacant space that used to be Manland would give you more living area with the bar torn out.

Some people in the throes of a distressing split mistake denying the past for moving ahead. Stewart believes in honouring the great years you had while acknowledging that the relationship is over. She says packing away a few special keepsakes may not be a bad thing.

“It all depends on the emotion that’s attached. If (the stuff) all goes away with detachment and clear boundaries, then that’s great. And keeping a few mementoes is very different than somebody who’s still got a photo of their ex hanging in an area where they spend a lot of time.”

The bedroom is a great place to start fresh with new linens and a different colour scheme. And those family photos on the dresser and walls? Ripping them all down can upset your children. Stewart suggests letting the kids take their pick, to allow them to be a part of the evolution of their family.

“So create a little place in their room,” Stewart says. “Let them have an area for photos and things that represent their entire life. It’s an opportunity for them to engage in this process. Let them have reminders of your family unit AND photos of you and them without your ex. They’ll be more understanding of your emotional spring cleaning process if they’re involved in it.”

Purging your belongings borrows some principals from the ancient Chinese system of feng shui, which relies on the belief that “stuff” has energy. The items you choose to live with determine what you attract and repel in your personal life, and that includes healing your heart and even meeting a new love. “See what’s in your home that’s holding you back,” says Stewart, “and let it go.”