How should you decide which things to keep?
According to Barnett, there’s no one rule for what to do with items post-breakup – it depends a lot on what the things are. “Wearing a watch that an ex got you is a bit more acceptable than wearing a 'commitment' ring, or even engagement ring,” she says. “It’s really up to you to use your common sense.”
As for sentimental things you don’t wear – such as love letters – Barnett doesn’t believe we need to throw these memories away. “Accumulating things from your ex is part of creating memories that at the time were special and grown from love,” she explains.
Photos: to rip or save?
Barnett believes that unless you’ve been cheated on, abused or treated particularly badly by your ex, there’s absolutely no reason to rip up photos of the two of you in happier times.
“If it was a loving relationship that came to a mutual or natural end, then store the photos away and one day you may want to look back with love and remember how you were loved by different special people in your life,” she says.
What about pictures on social media?
When you break up with someone, it can be tempting to remove all evidence of your relationship from social media – after all, if you’re met with a beaming photo of the pair of you together every time you click on your profile, it can be both upsetting to you and misleading to others. But is deleting all evidence of your relationship on social media a way of moving on, or a form of censoring your past?
“If you have photos of you and your ex on your profile page looking like a couple from Hello! magazine it may give out the wrong impression,” agrees Barnett, who suggests moving images into private albums so you can look at them if and when you feel ready, but deleting them altogether if they really are too painful to keep.
Should you ask for your own stuff back?
If you’ve left some belongings – clothes, makeup, household items – at your ex’s place, it’s understandable to want them back. However, it’s probably best to get your things sooner rather than later and think about sending a trusted friend or family member to collect them, if your breakup was less than amicable.
On the other hand, while you might cringe at the thought of sentimental letters you wrote to your ex when you were in love, or resent the presents you bought them, these things are now theirs to do with as they please – and Barnett cautions you could fuel the breakup fire by attempting to dictate what should be done with them once you split. “It would be both cheap and childish to ask for presents back,” she says.
What if your new partner has keepsakes from their ex?
Perhaps you’re in a relationship with someone new, and notice they’ve kept memories from a past relationship – sweet-looking cards and photographs pinned to the wall, feminine hair products you know they don’t use – can you call them out without looking like a psycho?
Barnett’s advice is not to stress yourself out about it: “Be thankful that you’re with a loving person who has loving relationships,” she says. “At the same time, if the item is something personal that is right on display [such as a photo of their ex] then ask them gently if they would mind moving it to a less obvious place so you don’t have to look at it.”
Most importantly, don’t have double standards: if you keep mementoes from an ex, don’t be angry at your partner for doing so also.
The bottom line?
If you’re unsure about whether to throw something away, Barnett advises not to – especially if you’re doing it in the heat of a breakup.
“Why not put keepsakes and photos away somewhere safe, so you can take them out and look at them with a smile once you’re over your ex and have moved on?” she suggests.
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