Last month, I threw out all of my things. And I’m much happier for it.
I did it as a final step in moving on from a relationship where I had no voice, and I neglected my own needs.
It started with a giant king-sized bed.
My boyfriend at the time and I were living in a 400-square-foot studio in Washington, D.C. We lived there because when we moved to D.C., he was unemployed and it was what we could afford.
After we chose the apartment and signed a lease, he insisted on bringing his king-sized bed — though we knew it would be a tight space, when I had a queen in perfect condition that would have fit perfectly into that closet of an apartment.
“I’m tall,” he said.
“But wouldn’t it make more sense to take a smaller bed? Smaller space, smaller furniture?” I said, knowing it would likely be too large for a studio. Instead of reasoning with me, he argued. “You won’t let me make any decisions,” he said. “Next time you ask me my opinion on this move, I just won’t answer.”
To avoid yet another fight, I stayed quiet. We fought a lot like this. It usually began with me disagreeing with a suggestion or opinion he had, and ended with him getting offended and accusing me of devaluing his opinion and experience. So, over the course of our three years together, I slowly fell into silence.
To be honest, I spent most of our relationship in disbelief that he wanted to be with my short and unpretty self. I thought he deserved someone who looked a little less plain. I was silent because I knew that one day, I was going to say the wrong thing to make him leave.
He was the love of my life. We met at a training to teach us how to run a political campaign. I walked in with my friends and took a seat, when I noticed him standing up. My eyes lit up, he was one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. Although everyone else near him was also standing, he appeared tree-like around the others. He smiled like he was holding back a laugh, and I swear I caught him looking at me. I pushed the possibility that he was flirting with me to the back of my mind.
I couldn’t believe that he had even taken a second look at me. I didn’t even think to put on makeup, I was wearing brown and orange, a color combo I swore never to wear again, and I didn’t spend enough time making sure my coily hair was sitting properly at the top of my head. So when he approached me to introduce himself, I was so embarrassed that I decided to tease him to take the attention off me.
“Is that your real name?” I asked. He looked slightly annoyed at the question. “Yes?” he answered. Great. I had been successfully friend-zoned.
As it turned out, he didn’t friend-zone me, although I tried to sabotage our first interaction. He didn’t run away when I sat across from him at lunch. He didn’t say no when I asked to work on our project together, and when I asked him for his number at the end of the conference, he gave it to me without protest. He even said yes when I invited him out on a date.
We were a couple not long after our first date. That first few months, I kept waiting for the moment to come when he found someone else prettier or more interesting.
That moment never came. I never truly got comfortable with the fact that he wanted to be there. If he was there, in spite of my plainness, I reasoned that we were destined to be together, at least, as long as I didn’t talk back, disagree with him, or in any way make him uncomfortable.
His employment problems began about six months after we started dating. The first time he quit a job, I blamed the employers for not appreciating all the hard work he was giving to the company. I also rationalized that some positions aren’t for everyone. I’ve quit jobs before too, when I felt that I wasn’t working to my full potential.
He found another job and also left that organization. And again. And still after the fourth time, I was still defending him.
And I was the supportive girlfriend through it all. I buried the possibility that it may have been his own work ethic that put him at odds with his employers because I was so lucky to have him in my life. I was still waiting for him to find that prettier girl out there that he deserved.
He deserved a prettier girl. He also deserved someone who could be gentle with him. Sensitive. It would be inherently insensitive not to bend to his desires, when he was moving for me, and he had the option of staying in North Carolina and breaking up with me.
That meant, giving away some of my power by letting him make some decisions.
Which brings us back to the bed. The bed was his, and it was his stake in our move.
Just as I expected, our studio was packed. Every morning, I had to climb over him in the bed to step into the bathroom. The couch was pressed right up against the bed, so there was only a narrow space to walk. The closet was overflowing and I could barely enter it; I climbed over boxes to choose my outfit for the day. I only felt real movement when I opened the apartment door and walked to work.
I was so uncomfortable. We have to get rid of some things, I thought. Which meant, I had to get rid of my things. It never occurred to me that I should ask him to get rid of some of his things because he had moved to DC for me, and he could walk away at any time.
Sometimes I would complain. “There isn’t any room in here. I don’t even have space to turn around.” He would reply, “It’s because you have sooo many clothes. You have way more clothes than I do, that closet is full of your things.” Then he would describe, in detail, how the moving company brought in boxes and boxes of my things.
If we had more space, I thought, we wouldn’t be so irritated. Therefore, I put it on myself to really super-shrink my item load. I got rid of junk, like those free bags they give you at conferences, dresses I hadn’t worn in years, shoes that I promised myself to get repaired. After all the junk was gone and the apartment was still full, I started digging into things I actually liked. My collection of merino wool sweaters that I got from my stint at Banana Republic over eight years ago. My favorite t-shirts, because I only wore them on weekends and we needed the space. High heels that I adored but were impractical in the city.
I never even considered that perhaps it wasn’t my things, but the large bed he insisted on, that was crowding me out of my own apartment.
Lessening my load didn’t change the space, and our constant sniping didn’t end. We had the final, relationship-ending fight, and I came home from work a couple evenings later to discover that he and most of his things were gone. He left the bed.
I wasn’t even sad. I was relieved. I kicked off my shoes into a now empty corner, threw my jacket on the sofa, and walked around freely to examine what he had taken — and what he had left.
The bed was still a problem for me. Although the space was devoid of his personal items, and I had a little more space, every time I smacked my thigh against the bed trying to get to the bathroom, I got so angry at myself. I’m the one who insisted that we move to D.C. together. I’m the one who allowed him to bring the bed in the first place. I could have left this bed, and him, back in North Carolina and been able to move around freely with my more sensible queen sized bed.
I tried decorating around the bed. I bought a sofa because I figured, well, if I’m going to be stuck with this bed, I’m going to need somewhere to sit that’s mine. I bought bright white and pink decor to brighten the space and make it feel larger. I laid a large silver mirror against the wall because I read once that mirrors can expand the space. I bought plants for the illusion that I was outside, in an open space.
None of it worked. I knew the solution was to throw out the bed. I knew it, but although I was relieved that he was gone and was mad I let him bring the bed in the first place, I still guilty about throwing out his things, because it just wasn’t practical. He may return to pick up his things once he settled down, and he’s going to need that bed.
Then I reasoned with myself: it wasn’t practical being uncomfortable in my own space because someone else could use a bed.
That realization made me reevaluate all the items I had around me. What else have I been hanging onto because it didn’t make sense to replace, or because I’ve had it forever, or because others can use it?
The new couch, for one. It was also too large for the space, but I bought it quickly, just so I can have something that was mine.
The new decor, designed to make the bed truly mine, was unnecessary.
This spiraled into going through everything in that small space that I was hanging onto for any other reason other than this is useful for ME NOW, not for others at some undetermined time.
I sifted through clothing and kept only one of each item. I sold my clothes to my Instagram followers. The rest went to charity. I threw out everything in the kitchen, because it was mostly stuff my ex left behind. Throwing away my items felt good because many of them were full of painful memories of him and our falling out. For example, I’d bought a coffee pot, the first purchase of the apartment. I can only remember my ex teasing me, saying, “You shopping already? That paycheck hit and you just want to spend!” Trashed.
After a week of selling, donating and trashing, I got my clothes down to two boxes and two suitcases. I didn’t sign a new lease on an apartment yet, choosing instead to stay in a friend’s extra room for a few weeks. I didn’t want to rush into a new living space, and I needed time to think about what I wanted next.
It’s so crazy to me that I relinquished control over my living space and my choices — all over a man I thought I needed to boost my self esteem, to feel pretty, to feel needed. I made the mistake of thinking a silly argument over a bed was trivial and our relationship was more important, when in fact, the bed was significant and our relationship was fragile, because I thought I had to do everything in my power to make him stay.
I know getting rid of my stuff was a bit extreme. Feasibly, I could have gotten rid of his things, and kept and moved some of the things that I purchased on my own. But the thought of moving alone, packing, hiring movers, carrying large items from this apartment and finding a new place to live without him was too overwhelming. One, he usually handled this task, and I couldn’t do heartbreak and move at the same time. Almost everything in that apartment either belonged to him, or it was something I bought in a wild attempt to reclaim my space. Besides, knowing I was getting rid of everything helped me be indiscriminate; I could get rid of both my new items and things I knew I was hanging on to just in case he returned to retrieve them.
Now, I’m moving into a furnished house so I won’t have to purchase new furniture or new things. I don’t want to focus my energy on shopping, redecorating right now because it would remind me too much of the short months after the falling out, when I went out and shopped to reclaim my space.
When I do move into a new house alone, I’m looking forward to buying artwork and furniture, decor and paint. I know this time, I won’t be rushing to replace my heartbreak with things, but buying things because I need or want them.
Trashing everything and starting over cleared my mind and heart so I could truly listen to my own voice, and learn of my true desires.