Moving out and forward: The guide to planning new living arrangements as your divorce is finalized
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Anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you that it doesn’t just happen — it’s a process. It can take weeks, sometimes even months, for all the details to be negotiated and finalized; for some families, that means cohabitation until the end. Still, there are steps you can take to prepare and ensure that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to move forward.
The following guide will help you plan your next steps as you approach your separation. By establishing a firm grasp on the who, what, where, when, and how, you’ll be able to take a practical approach to a difficult situation and start the healing process that much quicker. Bear in mind any considerations you’ll need to make regarding the divorce settlement, and when in doubt, consult your attorney.
The first question to consider will seem obvious, but it’s important nevertheless: who will be making the move? If it’s only you, you’ll know exactly what will make your new arrangements feel like home. If you have children to consider, however, you must keep them involved throughout the process.
The first step is to simply talk to your child about what they would appreciate in a home. Make sure that their expectations are realistic, but don’t be deterred by a special request. If your child specifically mentions wanting a big backyard, for example, it’s valuable input even if large backyards fall out of your price range; finding a home with a nearby park can be an excellent substitute. Your child will appreciate feeling heard, and it might even give them a greater sense of control in a situation that leaves them feeling powerless.
Give your child the option of going with you to look at new homes. For some, it might be too traumatic to imagine living without the other parent constantly present, but for others, it could add an exciting element to the move. Don’t pressure them either way, but always ask them to tag along. Make sure you stay focused on the idea of moving to a new home rather than from the old one, and keep the visits light. Highlight the benefits of each home, but don’t let yourself compare it to the home they’re leaving behind (even if they’ll be staying in their old home part-time). The key is to create a silver lining amid the major changes in their life, so focus on the positives.
The kind of space you’ll be moving into makes a crucial difference in your planning process. Is it a house? Apartment? Condo? Townhome? What kind of space will you have? Is there enough storage to bring along all of your personal belongings, or will you need some kind of storage unit?
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Note that downsizing after a divorce is common, and for some, it’s the perfect opportunity to finally go through their belongings and let go. If you’ll be moving into a smaller space, you might even find it somewhat liberating to separate yourself from items that have great sentimental value related to your ex or that you’ve outgrown in other ways. Consider making the conscious decision to donate or otherwise re-home some of your belongings; a fresh start is often easier to make without reminders of your old life hanging around.
Keep in mind, however, that there might be some items you’ll regret tossing aside later on. You might hate to look back on your ski trip vacation photos while your divorce wounds are still fresh, but in a few years, you might wish you had more than just your memories of the snow to look back on. Don’t be too hasty, and when in doubt, opt for sending belongings to storage instead of completely getting rid of them. You can always label boxes a special way or compile inventory lists for your storage to avoid running into old memories unexpectedly, but you won’t be able to get an item back once it’s donated or sold.
It’s especially important to remember the role sentimental items will play with your children; while you’ll be severing your emotional ties with your ex, your kids will still be completely invested. Talk to them about items they’re familiar with that you’re considering giving away, and hear out any concerns they might have. Be willing to compromise: if you hate the idea of looking at your family collage from the living room but your son can’t stand the idea of being without it, offer to let him keep the collage in his bedroom instead. It’s crucial to let your children hold onto the memories of happier times, especially while you’re still in transition with the divorce.
How far away is your new home? Is it an easy drive from your old address, or a completely different part of town? A different state?
Your new location is important for a few reasons. First, it will determine the kind of move you’ll be making in general and the support you’ll require. (For example, if you’re moving across town, you probably won’t need as much help as if you’re moving across the country.) Next, it will affect whether or not you can begin transporting your belongings early. Finally, it will play a role in how your children adapt.
If you’ll be moving a great distance, the sooner you start planning the move, the better. Don’t take a short distance for granted and assume you won’t need any extra help: if you’re only going three blocks down the street but your new place is on the fifth floor, you’ll certainly appreciate a few helping hands. Friends and family will probably be able to help you pack and take inventory of your belongings, and might even be able to help you avoid some painful processes (like putting your wedding album in a storage box). Book movers well in advance, offering plenty of details about where you’ll be going, how much stuff will be transported, and any special equipment required.
If you have children, let them get acquainted with their new neighborhood ahead of the move, if possible. It will be tough for them, so start small by simply driving through the new area and pointing out some of the most exciting features: is there a movie theater right around the corner? A dog park down the street? Lots of children their age in the area? Don’t oversell it or portray it to be a perfect Pleasantville, but do help them find the silver linings.
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As things in your divorce progress, find ways to spend more time in that area with your child — perhaps there’s a restaurant you’re interested in trying, a museum you want to visit, or a store you’ve been dying to check out. Not only will you get further acquainted with your new home, you’ll meet people from the area and give your child a chance to do the same. Work up to letting them choose the next destination in that area, even if it’s not something you’re particularly excited about; even a small sacrifice on your part can be comforting to your child, who probably feels they are making an incredibly huge sacrifice in moving.
You might have an “official” move-in date arranged, but it never hurts to ask if you can start moving things a little bit early. Even just a few items being moved ahead of time can make a difference on moving day, especially if you have large items like a grill or children’s playhouse. However, it’s important not to get too ahead of yourself in moving your items. It’s important to keep your life (and the lives of your children) as normal as possible while you wait for the divorce to be finalized.
If you do have the option to move in some of your items early, go with items that won’t be missed in the interim, such as extra linens from the closet and spare dishes or cookware your partner never uses. Go through your closet and create a “donate, new home, old home” categorization system; plan to move the clothes you won’t need anytime soon, keep the ones you’ll need handy, and donate the rest. Be decisive, but wise. Downsizing can make the entire process less stressful and more rewarding in the end.
If you have children, avoid changing the appearance of your current home too much while you’re transitioning into the new one. Plan to move in their stuff — toys, clothes, books, etc — last, and if they’re old enough, let them help plan the layout of their new room. Bear in mind, though, that you might benefit from moving some of their larger items early: a swing set will be a great way to keep your child busy while you work on fixing up the kitchen cabinets in the new home, for instance.
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Moving to a new home, whether it’s near or far, almost always seems easier in theory. Plan as much as you can in advance about the “how”: packing, transporting, unpacking, furniture arrangement, and even housewarming aspects. The sooner you can make your new place feel like home, the smoother the transition will be for both you and your kids.
Friends and family are usually more than happy to help out, so don’t hesitate to accept their help if it’s offered. Do what you can to keep the mood positive; you’re allowed to grieve for what you’ve lost, but it’s also important to recognize that you’re gaining a fresh start. Instead of reminiscing over items while you pack, speculate about the new places you’ll find for them.
When it comes to the final big move, do your best to make the process as quick and simple as possible. If you have children, it might be best to work with a moving company so that your focus can be on supporting your little ones. Having a director role is significantly less taxing on both body and mind. Depending on how your kids are handling the divorce and subsequent relocation, it might be best to send them on a play date for the day while you move your items. Some kids may find it easier to see more of a final result, plus it can be genuinely traumatizing to watch the home they’ve loved be taken apart.
While the idea of moving or downsizing may seem daunting — especially while you’re navigating your new life post-separation — the process doesn’t have to be difficult or traumatic. Plan ahead as much as possible, accept help from loved ones, support your children, and most of all, show yourself some compassion and flexibility as you embrace your next chapter.