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Decorating SOS for the Suddenly Single

Breakups are difficult.

Getting a divorce, or facing the end of a relationship with a live-in partner, is on another level. Not only are you dealing with your broken heart, you have to deal with the stress of moving. It’s not necessarily easier if your ex is the one who’s leaving. Either way, this can be an extremely emotional and disruptive period in your life.

Here are some tips to help.

If your spouse/partner is the one leaving, it might be temping to put all their things in the driveway and light them on fire. Don’t do this. It’s illegal and going to jail is the last thing you need right now.

How was the divorce/breakup? Was it amicable or was it filled with rancor? If it was the latter perhaps a friend or family member can be with you when your ex comes to get their things. If it’s best that you’re not there at all, have someone you trust oversee the move (so that your ex doesn’t get any crazy ideas).

Once that’s done sit down and think about what new things you need for your space to replace items that belonged to your ex. If you rent, check with your landlord/the lease regarding what changes you’re allowed to make. Look at this moment as an opportunity to decorate the space in the way you want. Maybe you’re a maximalist who was married to a minimalist. Girl, paint those rooms. Be free.

Minimalism. Photo credit: Modern Home Beautiful

Maximalism. Photo credit: House Beautiful

If the breakup has put a large dent in your budget, painting is one of the most

economical ways to redecorate. If you cannot afford a new sofa, reupholster or get a fitted slipcover for your current one. You can DIY stain jobs on furniture, check out flea markets, yard sales, and estates sales for some great finds. If you have children include them when re-decorating their rooms. Change can be very difficult for children and having a say (within reason) will help them through this transition.

If you have the funds to redecorate, give yourself some time before you start any kind of major renovation unless re-doing your kitchen or bathroom was on your list for years. In that case, go for it.

If you afford to focus on only one room, go for the bedroom. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary.

If you’re the one who has to move out:

Perhaps your former home was too big or you sold it and split the profits. You’ve moved to a new city, or state, even country.

Again if this is an amicable divorce/breakup you shouldn’t have any issues regarding what you can take from your current place. If it wasn’t do not go alone, have someone go with you.

Keep in mind that you can always re-purpose furniture for your new space. That bedroom dresser could go in a guest room. Those dining room chairs you hated could be reupholstered with a fabric you love.

Don’t live too long with your moving boxes and/or empty walls. You want your new place place to feel like a home. If you have children, try to get them settled as soon as possible.

If you’re moving with only your suitcases and have a tight budget, buy a mix of high and low. Buy quality for the big-ticket items like your sofa or bed. A store like IKEA can be a great resource but choose carefully.

In both situations you may want to start with a clean slate and get rid of almost everything. If so, use the profits from what you sell (via yard sales, online, antiques shops, etc.) toward your new place. What doesn’t sell you can donate if it’s in good condition. If the kitchen table holds too many bad memories for you, it could be a wonderful and helpful piece of furniture for someone else.

This period may be overwhelming. If you decide to hire a professional to help you with your decorating/renovations, make sure they’re sympathetic to your situation. Decorating and renovations will have their speed bumps so it’s important to work with someone that you can collaborate with. Everyone has their own definition of working together. Some clients tell me their budget, give me general idea of what they like, and look to me to do the rest. Others know exactly what they want but don’t have the time to source fabric, furniture, etc. etc. for their home.

The most important thing is to focus on what you really need and want in your home. There’s no need to walk into a space every day to be reminded of the life you used to have or one that you thought you had. This is your time.

Arlene Gibbs is a decorator, writer, and recovering Hollywood film executive.

Born in New York City to parents from the French/Dutch Caribbean island of St. Martin, Arlene (and her French passport) has found her home in Rome.

Arlene co-wrote the hit Hollywood film JUMPING THE BROOM (aka Amore e Altri Guai in Italian) and was VP of Production and Development for several high profile actors/directors. She has written travel articles about Italy and the Caribbean for FATHOM magazine.

Arlene is currently working on interior design projects in Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Anguilla, British West Indies. She can be reached at,

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