11/19/2010 05:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reduce, Recycle: Toss His (or Her) Stuff

I was married to a pack rat.

When my ex-husband left, he took only what he wanted: his clothes (which, for reasons that are now unclear to me I had neatly folded and bagged), our financial statements, his comic book collection, and pictures of his beloved, deceased, mother. I was left to clean up the rest. Eight years of collecting and stuffing and piling, compounded by the decades of clutter that preceded me.

If it holds no intrinsic value, and your ex won't take his or her stuff within a reasonable time-frame, do not enshrine it. Toss it. My correlation was this: You toss me, I toss your stuff. A literal and figurative house cleaning. I kept our antique carpets, a Victorian bureau, two Danish-modern chairs, and a couch. I asked him to cart away the rest of his furniture (which I'd wanted to replace for years), but once again he only took what he wanted, and I was left with boxes of old textbooks, musty college anthologies, tattered posters, mismatched socks, photos of people I didn't know, and his hypochondriac's medicine chest. Somehow, the intimacy of his old antibiotic prescriptions, sticky bottles of Nyquil, half full tubes of Absorbine Jr., were the hardest items to toss. I filled several garbage bags, multiple recycling bins, and called Good Will.

But a marriage is not defined by a shared bottle of Tylenol.

On the contrary. We are defined by who we are, who we were, and who we will be. A marriage that is unsuccessful is part of the trajectory of our lives. One part. Potentially a large part, but therein is a place to learn large lessons. I've always found the line from Jerry Maguire, "You complete me," to be misleading and sanctimonious. We are complete within ourselves, and sometimes we lose that reality when we're coupled with the wrong person. One way to start sorting through the rubble of a divorce is to rid ourselves of some of the physical rubble. Toss those nose hair clippers, get rid of the jock itch ointment, try a new brand of condoms next time, go to Ikea if necessary, and definitely call Good Will.

We grow attached to objects as well as people, and once the people are gone the objects become imbued with a sort of magic, as if they carried a piece of that person, whether for good or bad. I might have been hasty or extreme in ridding myself of everything that had touched my ex-husband (including replacing all the silverware), but it was a sort of seismic smudge session for my home as well as for me. When it was done, and I'd finished painting the walls and replacing the bath towels, I felt lighter, cleaner, clearer. A new fork, a can of paint, a fresh tube of toothpaste, none of them will mend a shattered marriage, but every step forward is exactly that, a step toward the bountiful mystery of what comes next.