On my sink, there is a toothbrush in the cup that’s not mine. It was left by the man I was dating for the past year. He lives on the other side of the country and, as much as we tried, the logistics got to be more than we could overcome. Yet I can’t bring myself to toss it.
This is not normal for me. For the last 11 years, I have been a professional declutterer. I help people let go of the stuff they no longer need, and I rarely have trouble purging my own. But this toothbrush is tough. I was staring at it the other night and kept asking myself, "Why are you keeping it? To remind yourself of what was? Just throw it out." And then I said out loud, "What if he comes back? He’ll need his toothbrush." Then I realized I was hanging on to the what-if. The fantasy of "If he comes back." Not the reality of "He can’t give me the kind of relationship I want."
We hang onto stuff for all kinds of reasons, and most of the time they’re emotional, not practical. When it comes to a breakup, we are often pushed into a situation in which we have to deal with sorting, packing, keeping, and rejecting a tremendous amount of stuff from a very emotional place. Which is what differentiates breakup decluttering from grief decluttering. We find ourselves having to let go of things while we’re still in the throes of all the emotions, and the result can be, well, messy.