After a breakup: Handling sentimental clutter

My friend and professional organizer D. Allison Lee sent me an amazing unitasker that I’ve been laughing about ever since: The Wedding Ring Coffin. It’s a burial coffin for your wedding ring if you get divorced.

Although this is an entertaining idea, it started me thinking about how objects like engagement rings, wedding bands, love letters, jewelry and sentimental trinkets can instantly turn into clutter after a breakup. What was once extremely valued can become worthless in a matter of minutes.

There are laws in each state that determine who is legally entitled to owning engagement and wedding rings when these contracts end, so always start by following the laws of your state regarding these items. If you turn out to be the owner of the engagement and/or wedding rings after a breakup, and the owner of the other sentimental gifts, you’ll have to decide what to do with these objects. You might want to keep them, sell them, donate them, trade them, give them back to the person who gave them to you, have the materials turned into another piece of jewelry, or even bury them.

I thought it might be interesting to start a conversation in the comments talking about what people have done with sentimental items after a breakup. People rarely talk about these objects, so a robust discussion could be really helpful for someone in this situation. Personally, after one college romance ended, I found that I really liked a necklace I’d been given and actually didn’t associate it with the guy who gave it to me. I still wear it because it really is a cool piece of jewelry. Another piece of jewelry, however, had a lot of emotions attached to it so I returned it to the store where the boyfriend had purchased it and traded it in for a new piece. Have you done anything creative with breakup items? Share your stories in the comments!

77 Comments for “After a breakup: Handling sentimental clutter”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    Oh man I’ve been waiting for this post for so long! I’ve been divorced for two years and I’m still wondering what to do with stuff. At first, I took the diamond out of my engagement ring and had it made into a pendant. But then I decided to sell all my jewelry from my marriage and did an eBay/pawn shop combo to get ‘er done. But what about the little things? The decor items that I still have up? The PHOTOS, oh my, the photos. I don’t want to see any of those photos, but they tell the story of a huge chunk of my life–I’m afraid to lose that part of the story. Interested to hear what others have done and the suggestions they have.

  2. posted by Vee on

    A few friends of mine and I all went through break-ups at similar times. So, we had a jewelery trade party. The pieces that were just too filled with bad juju for me to keep wearing went to loving homes, and I got some super-cool new jewelery in the process.

  3. posted by JKRose on

    What a timely discussion! I have been going through the very long, arduous end of a relationship for nearly a year now and last week I found myself in a space where I just couldn’t hang on to those objects any longer.

    However, unlike traditional clutter that you can pitch, I needed to ritualize letting go of the ring, the necklaces, the objects of affection between him and I. I spent some time with it all, saying good-bye to the items, wishing that this little ritual will help us both let go of the bad feelings still lingering from this relationship. I sealed everything up in a bag and it’s sitting in a box full of stuff that he’s left here over the years. Everything will be sent back to his house to do what he will with it. He could bury it, give it away to the next female in his life…but by ritualizing it, putting some ceremony to the letting go of the objects, I was giving myself permission to let go of the attachment and allow things to flow as they will.

    I’m hoping that when he receives the box, that he’ll respond with sending me the only item that I’ve told him over and over that I want back…a black and white photo of myself. I can only hope it will come back to me safely.

  4. posted by Rue on

    I threw everything into a box and dropped it off at the ex-boyfriend’s new mistress’s doorstep (since he was living there at the time). The only thing I kept was our prom picture, because it was my senior prom. I stuck Curious George stickers all over his face. 🙂

    I think it all really depends on how you feel about the breakup. If it’s good riddance (as that one was), it’s so much easier to chuck it all than if you end it amicably. I had one ex who broke up with me, even though I was still emotionally invested in the relationship. It took me a really long time to chuck everything that reminded me of him. =\

  5. posted by Sue on

    I’m helping a friend move right now. Yesterday, as I’m packing her kitchen stuff, I come across an A&W rootbeer mug, that is cracked. She told me that her “ex” had made hot tea in it and the crack resulted. She still wanted it. When I picked it up, the bottom of the mug remained on the shelf, but she still wanted to keep it & repair it.

    I asked her why she wanted to keep it. She had won the mug at a state fair. My reply was that the memory she has of the mug is not of winning it, but the memory that her jerk of an ex had broken it. Then I asked her why she wanted something that reminded her of her jerky ex.

    I got to throw the not-so-frosty mug out.

    (when packing things for other people, I never throw items out without their permission…. tempting though it may be. I wouldn’t want anyone to do it for me, so I don’t do it to them.)

  6. posted by linda on

    The longest relationship I was in was also my first one. A four year relationship ended when I was 22 years old (I’m now nearing 27) and it ended on bad terms. Not long after (6 months after) my two childhood friends were in town so we had a ‘funeral.’ I was certain that I will not want the gifts, photos, scrapbooks, letters from him at any time in the future (so far I’m still right :)) so I donated what I could, sold what I could, gifted what I could (a surround sound system to my brother) and then the rest was burnt. My girl friends and I wore black and someone baked a cookie in his likeness.

    It’s a fun memory, the relationship funeral. I still have that 4 years of my life story recorded in journals.

    The other break ups were much easier. I put those letters and gifts in a box. Photos remain in place in photo albums.

  7. posted by Dawn F on

    There were all great comments! I love the bad juju statement. 🙂

    My dearest friend held on to her wedding ring for awhile, but the constant reminder of its presence just wore her down (the marriage ended very badly). She was in financial distress (thanks the divorce) and one day out of the blue she went and sold her ring. The proceeds helped her out of a dire situation and removed that burden/reminder from her house and life for good. She said the sense of relief that she got from removing the ring from her life outweighed the money got for it (but the money was still great, too).

    My parents are divorced and my mom saved her engagement ring to give to me and she removed the diamond from her wedding band and put my birthstone in its place. I will always appreciate her for saving the ring for me.

    Something that may not be sentimental to you may be very much appreciated by a daughter or son someday. Keep that in mind before heading off to the jewelry store, dumpster, pawn shop or eBay account.

    Great post today!

  8. posted by Julie on

    I haven’t used it, but found this site where people sell or trade mementos from relationships.

    I have a few things from exes; mostly because the associations with them also involve me son or good memories. So I keep them.

  9. posted by Darcie on

    Four years after my divorce I decided I *finally* needed to get rid of my ex-husband’s wedding band. I found a jeweler who would do an informal appraisal for free (rather than $75 for a written one). I then listed it on Craigslist. No takers. I took it to a pawn shop where I was offered 1/10 of what I’d paid for it. I wanted to get rid of it, not *give* it away. A friend then told me about her jeweler who took trade ins. I went in for another appraisal and was able to swap it for a very nice watch that I wear daily. Might be worth calling local jewelers to see if they have a similar policy.

  10. posted by Elizabeth on

    Dawn F.,

    My mother saved her engagement and wedding rings for her daughters, too, and gave the to us when we turned 16. I am older than my sister so got to pick which ring, and I picked the engagement ring since I figured the engagement ended happily. 🙂 My sister was happy to get the wedding ring, too, so it all worked out. I agree about keeping photos and other keepsakes for children if they are involved. My sister and I have enjoyed looking at wedding photos, etc.

  11. posted by Stephanie on

    I had three semi-precious gemstone rings sitting in a box for a decade. Last year I posted on CraigsList that whomever told me a great story could have one of the rings for free to give to their sweetheart. Now I have happy stories to associate with the rings and hopefully someone else does too.

  12. posted by Julia on

    After a short and disastrous marriage, I chose to wear the engagement ring on its own. It no longer looks like an engagement ring to me (and what it looks like to others doesn’t matter.)

    I also have my ex’s diamond wedding ring, which he made the mistake of throwing at me (and then expected I’d hand it back!) His ring has white and blue diamonds, and I wear it when it suits me.

    Interestingly – my mother “upgraded” her wedding rings several times over her married life – and we were each able to select a wedding ring of hers when she passed. Makes me wonder if she was upgrading on purpose…

  13. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    I still have an engagement ring from a past relationship. I don’t want to give it away (pawnshop) so it’s just been sitting in a drawer. I have a file in my filecabinet with pictures and letters from the relationship that I want to keep, since it ended well.

    My mom kept her engagement and wedding rings, as well as some other jewelry that Dad gave her. I got the rings, and used the stones for my wife’s rings. My sister will get the other jewelry.

  14. posted by tabatha on

    After one of my breaks ups I collected everything I had that he had given me or that reminded me of him into a small box(it was only 7 months but got kinda serious) with the exception of a brand new Bears scarf he got at a game he went to with his dad. I gave that to my dad as a Christmas gift since he liked the Bears. The rest got chucked into a fire at a bonfire some friends of mine were having. Most of the pictures were digital so I just deleted those. The few that were not got put into the box also.

    I did keep one thing and that was a bottle of perfume. It was some perfume I had wanted for a long long time and his neighbor sold Avon and had some samples. It was the first time I was able to actually smell the perfume b/c I had seen it in the catalog and wanted to try it b/c it looked like it would be something I liked. So he ordered for me for Christmas and gave it to me. I kept it b/c it doesn’t really remind me of him just that I wanted it for so long and finally got it.

    I had some other Christmas gifts, a board game I gave to my mom’s boyfriend’s daughters. A DVD set I think was eventually sold Amazon and maybe one other thing I can’t even remember.

    There were some things I gave him that he gave back, a small tv, just went ahead and sold or gave that stuff away to someone else.

  15. posted by Sky on

    I’ve been divorced for 20 years and just recently took my rings and other “reminders” to the pawn shop. It felt good!!

  16. posted by nicole 86 on

    My divorce ended a 35-ye

  17. posted by Carolyn on

    My ex-husband gave me a pair of diamond earrings. I never really liked them — much more ornate than the simple studs I would have preferred. I kept those and the old wedding rings for years, wondering what to do with them. They did not have any good associations connected with them when I saw them. I would have given them away if I’d had someone I thought would really enjoy or appreciate them. Finally, after about 20 years, I decided to sell them to a place that bought “pre-owned” jewelry. They only gave me $80 for the whole thing, rings and earrings. I suppose I could have dickered or taken them somewhere else but by then, I just wanted to be rid of them. It was a let down but I am glad they are gone.

  18. posted by nicole 86 on

    One year ago my divorce ended a 35-year marriage and 38-year relationship. I throw every letters but I kept photos for my daughters and grand-daughters (i hate photos). Sometimes I wear my engagement ring because it is my only ring and I do not feel comfortable without any ring ; I wish I had enough money to reuse the diameod and gold to get a new jewel. I would not like to give it to one of my daughters, because I feel it was kind of naughty ring.
    Luckily enough, my husband never gave me any other present :-))

  19. posted by Lisa on

    I love this article and the comments. My marriage is ending after 19.5 yeasrs.

  20. posted by Anita on

    I have no problem keeping jewelry that was given to me by ex-boyfriends any more than I object to keeping other wearable gifts (scarves, perfume…) that were birthday or Christmas presents from people I no longer talk to.

    As for the rest of the stuff, I’ve kept some and tossed some, depending on whether I still had any interest in the object itself. I’ve kept cards that were drawn by one of my ex’s, particularly moving letters and so on because I still enjoy looking at them. What no longer moves me gets tossed.

    As a photographer, I do have photos of my ex’s who volunteered to model for me. Some of them are quite good shots; I just wish I’d had them all sign model releases so I could use their photos in my portfolio…

  21. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Oh, can I relate to this. I’ve been through a couple of bad, heart-wrenching breakups.

    The worst of it is that two of those relationships spanned a long time of my college/immediate postcollege life, so chucking everything felt like chucking away a big chunk of myself, too. My rule was that if it made me sad or angry or otherwise unhappy every time I looked at it or used it, it had to go.

    With photos, I kept a couple that happen to show the exes in happy circumstances; the rest I either chucked if they were too “couply” or stuffed in envelopes and sent off to the exes themselves to keep if they like.

    Like JKRose said, ritualizing the letting go helped me, although it did take some time to get to the point where I could let most of it go.

    For those wanting to sell quality jewelry, do yourself a favor and ask around for referrals to a reputable, independently owned jewelry store. Pawn shops and “we buy gold” places prey on the desperate, and the prices they pay reflect that. A good independent jeweler who buys from the public will give you the best fair price.

  22. posted by Jen on

    This also pertains to as e-mails and those sorts of things. The digital age has made it all too easy for us to just hit “delete” and get rid of things that we want out of our sight right now but may one day want back. Gmail and other e-mail providers make it pretty easy to stash stuff all in a folder and just ignore it. It’s way too easy to delete in a fit of rage, sadness, etc.

  23. posted by Haiden Designs on

    Very informative. Been divorced now for two years and ring has sat in safety deposit box. I am fighting with the emotional side of keeping it for “our” daughter yet it was a very bad/emotional split and I, like many above” feel the negative karma on the ring overshadows the need for our daughter to have it. Yet selling it NOW would bring me only minor money. In a quandry!

  24. posted by jill on

    My Mom has my grandparents’ wedding rings (they divorced after almost 30 years of marriage) Even though they hold a wide assortment of memories, both bad and good, for my Mom, I’m glad that she has them and that they will be passed on, as it is part of the storyline of all our lives.
    In high school I had a bad break up so I threw out anything the guy gave me, including a silver bracelet. It was right before eBay came about, otherwise I could have sold it, instead it went out with the trash and I found it VERY therapeutic.
    It seems that the best thing to do is what feels right to the person in possession of the item. If it is a beautiful piece of jewelry that you can wear without crying, then why not wear it??

  25. posted by LJK on

    We’ll take my current relationship as an example. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a card from him – it’s just clutter, and it’s the memories that count, not the crap.

    As for the engagement ring and/or any other jewelry, I’d ask him if he wanted it back – if not, I’m off to the pawn shop!

    Pictures … try to crop him out of them if possible … lol. If they can’t be cropped, I don’t keep them.

    TOTAL PURGE! lol. I wouldn’t keep anything sentimental – it’s just physical crap I don’t need anyways. lol.

  26. posted by Jeremy on

    Another thumbs up on There is only a small fee to list jewelry, and it’s very cathartic.

  27. posted by Caroline on

    I kept the best photos and put them in a scrapbook. I have scrapbook pages of my exes (in context to events in my life), but in a way, it validates the reason I was with them, even if we did break up eventually. Now that I am married, I look back on them with less harsh memories than I would have had I bitterly annexed and cut the tangible ephemera from my life. I am sure my husband finds it curious, but I explain that I refuse to not acknowledge the people that have made me who I am.

    I think the biggest clutter we hold onto in relationships is the hatred and resentment. Let it go, acknowledge your past, and be at peace with your decisions. You loved them once, and even if they were a jerk, at some point it was not bad. Celebrate that, not the outcome.

    The jewelry I received I loved when I received it, so why get rid of it? I wear it still, and enjoy the pendants and yes, even rings I got. They are still pretty, and still make me smile. Not clutter, in my mind, if you still use it and love it, despite the sadness or anger directed at the person who gave it to you. It is yours, no one elses, so instead of divorcing yourself from something you like, divorce the memory from the object and make new memories.

    Now, if on the other hand, it was ugly and you hated it… Sell it! Get rid of it!

  28. posted by Erica M. on

    Great topic… I’ve done different things with different mementos, depending on the break-up and relationship. I work at a museum, so I have strong ideas about how objects and their meanings relate to each other. With one relationship that I just couldn’t seem to get over, I burned everything – photos, letters, etc. Two other major relationships each have a small box dedicated to them, with selected mementos and letters, the ones that I feel are key to remembering/understanding our relationship. In another relationship (another that I had trouble getting over), I got rid of all but one or two letters and used them to make a “scrapbook” of the relationship, which helped me process it.

    I often wonder if men and women attach different meaning to relationship mementos. When my husband and I met, he was going through a divorce and his house was still chock full of stuff that were all about his wife. He didn’t seem to really notice it until I pointed it out and asked him to get rid of some of it, or at least put it away.

  29. posted by Beverly on

    I must not have a sentimental bone in my body! My first wedding ring probably got tossed (can’t remember). My second set of wedding rings . . . threw them at the jerk in the bar where I found him with someone else. Took the diamond from my third set and had it reset into another ring (because I got a bigger diamond ring from #3). That ring and many more (gifts from #3) just sit in a jewelry box and never get worn. Guess I don’t attach to “things” as much as other people. I’m of the “if you aren’t using it, get rid of it” group of people. I’d get rid of all the extra jewelry but I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I have requested NO MORE JEWELRY which he has translated into NO MORE GIFTS. I live with that because I don’t want anything more I won’t use. I solved the problem by asking him for what I want. If I don’t get it within a year, I buy it myself if I still want it.

  30. posted by Ris on

    I have some very nice jewelry from my ex. We broke up amicably and still talk occasionally so you know what? I kept it. I like those diamond earrings and I still wear them. To me they don’t symbolize our relationship, they’re just a nice set of earrings I like to wear. If anyone asks where I got them I say “they were a gift” and leave it at that. I understand that others need to get rid of things but when he and I broke up they went from the earrings he gave me to just earrings I like to wear occasionally.

  31. posted by Michele on

    I kept my engagement ring and I still wear it once a week or so — on my right hand, and not to events where my ex-husband and I may meet up (we share a large circle of friends). We designed our rings ourselves, and my engagement ring is a green sapphire set off-center, with two different shades of gold. It’s cute and distinctive, and I like to wear it. The ex’s wedding ring was the same thing, only larger, squarer, and “more masculine.” I don’t know what he did with it.

    The wedding band itself was a small round of gold that nested against the engagement ring. It’s in my jewelry box with a lot of other odds and ends that I intend to take to a jeweler and liquidate. However, that task is not high on my to-do list, because (1) I won’t get much cash for what I have, and (2) seeing the wedding band doesn’t cause me any bad feelings.

  32. posted by Mletta on

    One of the things I’ve learned is that one has to stop and pause before taking any action after a breakup, no matter who initiated it and how long the relationship lasted.

    In my late 20s, at the end of a 7-year relationship, in a breakup that I initiated despite still loving the person, I packed up and dropped off two boxes with years worth of gifts (really nice and expensive) and letters.

    For my sanity, I wanted no physical reminders. As I learned, it’s not the stuff that can hang you up. It’s the emotions. In the immediate years afterwards, I missed some of the stuff (we both were great gift-givers) and the letters. Years later, I still miss the letters.

    You really can’t know for sure what you should keep until you’ve really had time to process. All I know is that once it’s tossed, it’s gone and some people can and do regret the “total” purge that seems necessary in the face of huge pain.

    As someone said, these “souvenirs” and keepsakes often represent huge chunks of our lives. We may be different, we are living in the now, but there is a place for some of this, if only as something for ourselves in old(er) ages and for our families (pix).

    So tread carefully and try to avoid the “all or nothing” approach to tossing.

    And depending on the circumstances of the breakup, consider asking for your letters and other keepsakes. Sometimes, it’s what you gave away matters more than what you were given.

    I’m many decades past my college years and I am grateful that I kept, for example, some of the letters the guys I dated wrote back then. (Straight men, writing real letters. Sigh. A different time.)

    They remind me of the person I was then and the good times I had.

    Life changes, and sometimes we do need visceral reminders of what we shared.

    FYI: A lot of this would change if one was getting out of an abusive relationship where in fact, for one’s future life and sanity, one should really purge reminders.

    I would just say, don’t underestimate the value of something in the future. Especially if you’re very young now.

  33. posted by Mletta on

    One more thing.

    It’s important to really understand if something does cause some bad mojo and get rid of it. Regardless of what it is,including a house or apartment–something that is often the biggest issue in a breakup.

    It’s not easy, cause sometimes we’re talking about one’s actual home, which one loves and has created with love over many years. (Watch The War of the Roses, a tough but rings-true movie about divorce.)

    A friend of mine is moving out of her apartment of some 30 years (In NYC, you stay in an affordable apartment.) due to some problems with critters and other building-related issues that have made it so horrific, she has to leave. It’s huge, spacious and relatively affordable and she cannot even remotely duplicate it which is why she never even thought about moving before.

    It’s also the place where she lived with her future husband, who became her ex, and raised her son (who returned home for several years due to the job market).

    Ironically, now that she has committed to move she is so excited because it is the first time as an adult that she will have HER place, and no one else’s. “MY place” as she now refers to the much smaller place she’ll be moving to.

    Change is hard and letting go is even harder. But sometimes, it’s the only solution. “Space clearing and cleansing” doesn’t always work in a house or home.

    So, if you can possibly manage it, don’t overlook the BIG MOVE after a breakup.

  34. posted by Amy on

    After my husband of 26+ years left me for the skank he ran around with behind my back for 15 years, I sold several pieces of jewelry he gave me and used the money to buy a plane ticket to go & visit my son & his wife who live & work in Shanghai. I took my new BF(now DH) with me.

    I also donated some of his junque to a garage sale with the proceeds being donated to breast cancer research. The man had a whole collection of juicers and blenders. His golf clubs fetched $45.00, I was told.

    I still have my first & second (upgraded) wedding rings. The 1st is a white gold band and the second has a 1/2 karat diamond I bought at a pawn shop to replace the CZ originally on it that he tried to pass off as real when he gave it to me on our 15th anniversary.

    I also kept two diamond necklaces with the idea of someday gifting my daughter or potential granddaughters with them. I don’t wear any of them anymore. DH has given me a pretty diamond necklace in the shape of a cross and I wear that everyday, and I just got a ring that was my mother’s, given to her by my father as repayment demanded by the state of Nebraska for skipping out on child support owed over the years.

    All the previous men in my life have turned out to be skunks. I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I hope all their things fall off.

    And I hope my new relationship turns out better. If not, then I am through with men.

  35. posted by Amy on

    Oh, and it wasn’t until after we had been to court and the judge said that what ever was left behind in the house was mine that I got rid of his stuff.

    So don’t worry, I’m legal.

  36. posted by Nat on

    I have my mom’s engagement and wedding rings. It ended badly, so I always thought the rings had bad ju-ju attached to them. Besides, why on earth would I wear my mom’s rings anyway. Certainly, my daughter will never wear them. But it is a really nice 1/2 carat diamond.
    Thankfully, I have a friend that does great custom designed jewelry. The plan is to have him transform the rings into something else that I will wear.
    Otherwise, I’ve also heard that he has helped many divorced persons melt down their rings, some even with ceremony, and turn them into something wearable.

  37. posted by Patch on

    @ getting rid of sentimental stuff “rituals” — consider (safely) a fire ritual, as per Rachel and Monica’s Valentine’s Day “Ex-Boyfriend Bonfire” on an old episode of Friends.

    Just make sure to have water and/or an extinguisher close by just in case.

    It could be a bonfire on the beach, your fireplace indoors, or even your grill out on the deck next time you make hamburgers. It would work with photos, letters, or anything flammable; I once burned a shirt that had negative memories and it went up in flames beautifully.

    Currently, I’m keeping a (temporary) file folder to collect the letters and other documents from assorted painful periods of life, or just “closure” letters I’ve written but may or may not have mailed. Once I finish going through my papers, I’ll have another “document funeral pyre” to release them as well.

    Nothing beats cleansing by fire, and there’s nothing really to dispose of (ashes to ashes, dust to dust…)

  38. posted by EC74 on

    I’ve just been thinking about this topic, because of a break-up that happened 40+ years ago, and not even to me!

    My uncle was engaged to a woman who remained a family friend, and they broke it off. She returned the ring, a typical diamond solitaire. He ended up giving the ring to my grandmother. I was a mere babe when all this happened, and didn’t know anything about it. I saw my grandmother wearing the ring as far back as I can remember, and always thought it was her own engagement ring. When she died, I was to get it, although my mother held onto it in her safe deposit box for many years. Finally, my mother gave me the ring to put in our own safe deposit box, and I got the whole story.

    Here’s the thing. If it were a ring given to my grandmother by my grandfather, who I never met because he died fairly young, it would have great sentimental value to me. But now that I know it was a ring from a broken engagement between two people I was never that crazy about, I really don’t want it at all. In fact, I actively feel dislike toward it. But I know if I try to sell it while my mother is still alive, she’ll have a fit. Luckily it’s small, and tucked away at the bank so I don’t have to look at it every day.

  39. posted by Leah on

    I’ve still got an “engagement ring” from an ex (was actually a Christmas present, and then he went around telling people it was an engagement ring). It’s somewhere around here. For a long time, I didn’t feel right selling it. I kept looking for someplace to give it away, but I couldn’t find anything other than Goodwill. I wanted it to go somewhere more meaningful.

    Recently, I’m much less sentimental about it. Maybe I’ll sell it or do the “give away on Craigslist for the best story” bit.

  40. posted by Dawn F. on

    Amy – Your post was more hilarious than a Wipe Out episode! Thanks for sharing! Best wishes for good times with a good guy! There ARE decent guys out there (so I’ve heard). 🙂

  41. posted by Kristin on

    I just ended a 4 year relationship and have hidden a bag of the jewelry he gave me in my closet so I don’t have to look at it/think about him. I’m still trying to decide what to do with it, but some of it’s from Kay jewelers and I heard that you can trade it in and they’ll give you money toward an upgrade. I figured that since he didn’t return any of the expensive electronics I gave him, I’m allowed to do whatever I want with the jewelry…

    None of it was anywhere close to my style anyway…

  42. posted by Karen on

    When my aunt was in her 20s, she was engaged to a man who was in the Navy. He was deployed and his brother contacted my aunt and told her that he thought she should know that her fiance was already engaged to somebody else. My aunt took the diamond out of her engagement ring and sent the setting back to her (now ex) fiance with no note.

    Later, when she married my uncle, he had the diamond she’d saved made into a pendant. I always thought that was kind of cool.

  43. posted by Susan S. on

    I notice some folks are aware that more than the couple may be involved. His sister’s first marriage included rings made from gold in both sets of grandparent’s wedding rings. She tossed hers into the river and my DH wasn’t too pleased, since HIS grandparents gold rings were part of the wedding rings. Guess she had enough misery that she didn’t think of this.

  44. posted by Tex19 on

    I took my wedding ring to the store we bought it from and exchanged it up for a beautiful necklace, earrings and ring that matched. I wanted nothing to do with the diamonds he gave me. Now I have diamonds of my own

  45. posted by Angela on

    My marriage ended after 7 years while my husband was studying overseas. It was civil and respectful but still hugely distressing. I actually continued to wear my rings for some time as I didn’t announce my divorce to my colleagues and friends. Didn’t want to discuss it; didn’t want the sympathy. Eventually I moved to a new city and at that point I put the wedding band away and switched my engagement ring to my right hand where it’s been ever since. Ironically, I had always felt a certain antipathy towards the engagement ring, mainly because my fiancé had chosen it without consulting me and at that age I had some very fixed ideas about the style of ring I wanted. I gear I was actually a bit ungracious about it at the time! But following the divorce I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I actually quite like its design and so I wear it with pleasure. Since I don’t bear any hatred for my ex it doesn’t cause me pain to wear it. More important, it’s a reminder of that little lesson in gratitude, courtesy and not being too rigid about small things!

  46. posted by Calico ginger on

    I’ve got both my ex’s and my wedding rings and my engagement ring stashed away – but I look at them now as my “rainy day” gold. If things ever get REALLY tight I’ll sell them. This also applies to a small amount of gold given to my late step-dad by his awful relations – they would spit chips if they knew I had it, but he gave it me for exactly that purpose.

  47. posted by Jann Schott on

    I ended up trading in a lot of gold jewelry from my fiance, my mother and me, and had 3 sets of diamond earrings created, along with placing the center diamond (1/3 carat) into my new engagement ring. Fiance didn’t mind, and we feel it’s not bad luck.

  48. posted by Katie on

    I’m not into receiving gifts, but did have a boyfriend that bought me a considerable amount of things, mostly jewelry. After throwing him out of my house, my first instinct was to get rid of it all. A friend advised me to wait and re-evaluate my feelings after a period of time. I listened to her and waited six months. After that time, I still connected the items with him, so I got rid of it all. (One necklace was engraved with our names, so that was a for sure anyway.) I did get rid of all photos of him and his family right away. I’ve had a hard time with some of the pictures of the dogs we got together (that I got to keep, so I guess not everything went away), as the only ones I have of them as puppies have him in them.

    I have to say the hardest “clutter” to get rid of was my mother’s continued relationship with him. She felt the need to update me on his life (and I’m sure she told him about mine), even though I had started dating someone new. And in fact, she has no interest in meeting my new boyfriend, even though we have been dating for a year now. She brings up stories of the ex, but at least I have stopped hearing about current events in his life.

  49. posted by Jenn on

    I love all of the great ideas here. When my marriage ended after 7 years, (and a daughter- my true gift from that marriage) I didn’t want to destroy everything, although the thought did occur to me. I saved up the things I thought might matter to my daughter, and stored them away in a small box. I took the three rings he had given me to a local jeweler, and had them create a beautiful cocktail ring out of them. I realized I can’t get rid of them any more than I can deny the history we had, but I can change how I see the experience. The ring symbolizes that for me.

  50. posted by Karen on

    I thought of another one. I have a friend whose parents, during an argument, took their wedding rings off. They remained marrried, but never put their rings back on, I guess. When my friend’s mother died after a long illness (she had many health problems throughout her life), my friend was in college. Her dad took his and her mom’s wedding rings and had them melted together and made into two pendants, one for my friend and one for her sister. I always thought that was kind of neat.

  51. posted by Jazmin on

    I took a practical turn after my divorce in 1994. After a few years, I saved up, and had my jeweler find a matching diamond and used my former engagement ring diamond to complete my diamond stud earrings.(I always wanted a set.) At $1200 an ounce, I’m glad I saved some of the gold jewelry and sold it about 6 weeks ago to provide a loan for a family member in need.
    My ex-husband died suddenly a year after our divorce. I have kept a few items for our children; his engraved gold cufflinks for my son, his religious medal for my daughter. My relationship with him is separate from the fact he was their dad and I want them to remember him fondly when they wear these very personal items. When I see those items it also helps me remember it wasn’t all bad and I’ve forgiven him as well as myself.

  52. posted by Jen on

    I had a TON of stuff from my most recent ex boyfriend. We were together over 5 years, and he was very materialistic (so was I, at the time). Stuffed animals, knick knacks, art books…When I moved, I left the stuffed animals in a rubbermaid container. Some were cute and I really liked them, but after 6 months or so, the rest went to garage sale. The knick knacks, I unpacked them all and thought about each, but kept only a handful. The rest – garage sale.

    The best item from an ex is a ring I have. My high school sweetheart gave me a silver ring with a giant moonstone in it. I wouldn’t have picked it for myself, but loved it. When we broke up, I packed it away in my memory box. Probably 7 or 8 years later I found it again. By that time the memories no longer hurt, and it is now one of my absolute favorite pieces of jewelry.

  53. posted by Sally on

    Well, I haven’t seen here yet a breakup with another type of person–how about one’s mother-in-law? Sad to say, after over 30 years of marriage and a MIL who, I found out later and it all made sense, was assasinating my character behind my back, and with time increased subtle to blatant “put-downs” to my face (all I ever tried to do was please her!), I gradually got rid of most things she ever gave me. This includes household decor-items, costume jewelry, kitchen gadgets, all Christmas or birthday gifts she had to give me to “look decent”. I call it an exhorcism. Now a days I don’t see her at all as she is in assisted living and my husband finally understands. Too bad. I would have embraced this lady, since my own parents passed on years ago. I’m trying to forgive, but it’s hard–you keep getting triggers for bad memories.

  54. posted by Nicole on

    I love this topic! When my best friend got divorced we made a ceremony of getting rid of her wedding dress. We went to a local camping spot and burned the dress on a BBQ. It was very freeing for her and made her feel like that part of her life was done and she could move on. When her next relationship failed and a subsequent one for me…we both burned the pictures of our exs’ just as we had that dress…ala BBQ style! Now we have great memories to black out the not so great ones of our previous relationships.

  55. posted by p on

    Maybe it is how I was raised but jewelry, stuff animals, clothes- to me, they are all “stuff.” However, god help me but I cannot get rid of ANY photos. Whether they’re good or bad times, I can’t help but think of photos as representing a part of my life. I almost think of it as bad luck to get rid of any of them! I threw out all photos of me and my first long-term relationship (3 years) and sadly now have a dearth of photos from those years. Even to have them to look back on and see what I wore, how I wore my hair, how I friggin looked would be worth it. Yes, photos are clutter but I can’t help myself to keep them!

  56. posted by Larissa Cookson on

    I have a box full of old letters love notes and pictures of ex-boyfriends that I can’t seem to let go. The box is not in a very prominent location so I often forget about it but sometimes it’s fun to look through the box and reread letters and remember the memories since I only keep the ones that are associated with good times and memories.

  57. posted by Matt T on

    Interesting timing…I am going through a breakup now with my girlfriend of 6 years, with whom I’ve been living for the past 9 months. It will take another 10 days for her to be able to move out, so now things are awkward and terrible. I’m dreading what to do with all the things that remind me of her. Worst of all, the entire apartment reminds me of her. The lease expires at the end of August, so I will have 2.5 months of living by myself there.

    For some amount of time I will likely have solely sentimental items such as letters, pictures, gifts in a box and put that away somewhere. Once I give myself time to grieve and move on I can decide what to do. It’s hard to feel like things are completely done when I still see her all the time.

    Most fun fact: it’s a one bedroom, so I’m sleeping on the living room floor. At least we have 2 floors. And at least there isn’t anger or hatred, only sadness at our relationship that became more of a friendship.

    Sorry to whine, but being in the middle of it makes it hard to be objective about what people actually care to hear.

  58. posted by Vanessa H. on

    I have found that boxing up everything and sticking it in the attic gives me the time and emotional distance to later go through those items and get rid of them easily. I have kept one item from each relationship that had value; everything else goes.

  59. posted by Vanessa H. on

    I will also say that getting rid of things too soon, especially under pressure from someone else, always leads to regret. Do it at your own pace and you won’t regret anything!

  60. posted by pam on

    Married for 17 years and divorced. When I learned that he was getting re-married 6 months after our divorce was final, I decided to get rid of the wedding dress. A nice bottle of wine, a full moon, and to the song
    “Fairy Tales” by Anita Baker. The dress was cotton by Gunne Sax with lots of lace, floor length. It was a very therapeutic thing for me! I have never seen anything burn like this before or since. I had it on the clothes line on a hanger, and at the stroke of midnight on the day he was to be re-married I lit the match!! That dress caught the fire, fell off of the hanger to the ground, where the flames seemed to dance to the rhythm of Anita’s song (my song!) and I kid not… the flames slowed and sort of danced up and down with the tempo of the music and with the very final notes of the song, the flames…just went out with the very last note!! It could not have been a more perfect ending.

    I was all by myself and that was fine for me, but why not have a dinner party and share the moment with a friend or friends that need to fan the final flames of an ending and start a new beginning. You will want to include Anita’s song to your songlist.

    And don’t worry Be Happy!!

  61. posted by Sally J. (Practical Archivist) on

    I’m all for purging — even sentimental clutter. As a consulting archivist I spend a lot of time explaining that just because SOME of your photos are priceless, that doesn’t mean that every single one is priceless. Lose the dreck, treat the keepers right!

    My only caution is not to delete/toss in the height of anger. As Mletta learned the hard way, “It’s not the stuff that can hang you up. It’s the emotions. In the immediate years afterwards, I missed some of the stuff (we both were great gift-givers) and the letters. Years later, I still miss the letters.”

    P.S. There’s an artist in NYC who created a character called “Death Bear” for just this purpose. You make an arrangement for him to come to your place and pick up the sentimental items from your (now dead) relationship. He takes them away to his secret cave. Here’s an article about Death Bear from MSNBC ->

  62. posted by Wende on

    Great post! I still have a ring from my first boyfriend. I love it and it has good memories attached. Now if it only still fit…

    I gave an engagement ring back to my ex after we split and he symbolically threw it off a bridge, which he later admitted regretting. That ring had bad memories, so good riddance.

    When my parents split, Mom had to pawn her wedding set for money to live. For Christmas that year, she gave me two rings that she had worn every day, and I now wear them every day. I have Dad’s wedding band too, but he never wore it anyway.

    My husband, after his divorce from his first wife, gave his wedding band to one of his daughters who wears it on her thumb.

    I have kept pictures from good relationships in old photo albums and pitched all photos from bad relationships. Bad juju. But I didn’t pitch them for a few years. After a few years, if they still gave me the heebie jeebies, out they went.

    My mom recently passed away, and I took all the old family jewelry and left her current wedding set with my stepfather. Shhh, she never liked it and neither did I. Not her style at all, and I figured he would like to hang onto that memento for himself. Now I have a bunch of old jewelry that I need to have appraised and decide what to do with. You guys have given me some ideas to ponder!

  63. posted by Kris on

    As a grown child of divorce, I wish my mother had NOT burned all the wedding photos.

  64. posted by Tiffany on

    oh man…i was engaged to the guy i had been dating for 5 years and living with for two. he was doing the whole back and forth thing about me and marriage, and then i found out he was cheating, so i kicked him out. one of the comments he made about us breaking up was how entangles our lives were and how hard it was going to be to separate our stuff. that very night i went through everything in the house and put all of HIS stuff, and the stuff we had gotten together that had sentimental value (including jewelery, gifts, and the engagement ring) into a designated room in the house. when he moved out for good i made him take every little thing in that room….i figured he was the only screwing things up, he could deal with figuring out what to do with the stuff.

    simple, clean, effective. most of the pictures i’ve gotten rid of. i kept some because they were of amazing things that i have done, and he is now just some guy that happened to be there at the time.

    it really is about just letting go of all sentimental attachment to things.

  65. posted by Pam on

    I agree with several of the comments, don’t do anything too quickly, or in anger. I put the pictures away. Put them in a box in a closet along with anything else I wasn’t sure how to keep or get rid of. Then I dealt with them when I was ready, not when the anger or sadness was the driving force. I sold my rings early on…wish I had that decision back, when I look at the recent price of gold! Another thing that I’ve read, don’t have anything around that you wouldn’t want someone to have to go through after you die. That helped me to decide to shred the letters and cards. It was very freeing, and I didn’t want my children to wonder why I kept letters from the X. Pictures? They can decide on those I’ve decided, but letters, no. They are now in a landfill somewhere. I haven’t regretted that. I can appreciate one comment about not destroying letters, however, these letters weren’t of historical significance.

  66. posted by shelterrific » Blog Archive » blogwatch: where we’ve been clicking this week on

    […] your ex gave you now that you are paramours no more? Unclutterer has got some great advice on handling sentimental clutter after a breakup. And yes, many commenters had fire-based ritualistic purging […]

  67. posted by Jessica on

    A dear friend of mine had an engagement breakup that left her with homewares that had never been used and a debt to pay for them. While she has been working on passing them on and clearing up the issue, she also has had a very redemptive experience coming out of this situation. She started working part-time (in addition to her regular job) at William Sonoma, and over the course of her time there she has been able to start paying off the debt and also rack up on her most treasured items from the store using their discount. It really inspires me hearing this story because something tremendously good came out of this for her. She was able to get a sense of herself and enjoy those things she cherished while letting go of the negative memories.

  68. posted by Tiffany on

    My friends and I did an accessories swap a while ago- basically we all brought accessories that were in good condition but which we didn’t want anymore and went “shopping” in each other’s stuff. I got some of my favorite jewelry that way, and I also got rid of a bunch of ex-boyfriend jewelry that is now actually getting worn by people who want it.

  69. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I went out with someone for about 3 or so years while I was at uni. During that time he gave me a number of gift certificates from a few stores. I still have several items I bought with those certificates. I expect that I still have them because I chose them and they are items that are useful / something I’d had my eyes on for a while.

  70. posted by Gilrean on

    The engagement ring: I took out the one part I liked (sapphire) and had a nice silver modern ring made with it to match a ring given to me by a friend as a very special present.
    Most of the rest I got rid of. Sort of to cleanse myself from a bad relationship. Now have less than 10 items from those 6 years left and that is enough to remember the few good times

  71. posted by disconnect on

    My sister got engaged at Niagara Falls in a storybook proposal. Then, divorced several time periods later. After it was finalized, she moved back to upstate NY. A few months after that, she drove to a friend’s house in Chicago for a visit. It just so happened that said friend lived in the same city where my sister’s engagement ring had been purchased, so my sister stopped by the jeweler’s. He was only too happy to take back the 2 carat stone and give her a good amount of store credit, which she used to buy diamond earrings and a snazzy pendant. She loves the stuff and calls it her “freedom jewels”.

    The astute reader will have noticed that I said nothing about the jeweler’s purchasing the setting. Also, a working knowledge of geography will reveal that Niagara Falls is somewhere between upstate NY and Chicago.

    Yup. Bye bye, ring.

  72. posted by disconnect on

    My own story is a little different. I had a rough time in high school – untreated bipolar disorder, megalomania, psychological scarring from many years of being bullied and abused and not being taught how to defend myself (or even that it was okay for me to do so) – so when it was all over, I took my yearbooks and put them on a shelf in my closet. There they sat, as I moved out of the house, moved around a bit, and got my life back together. When my parents moved a few years later, I went back to help, and wound up with the last three boxes of my stuff. The yearbooks promptly took up residence in my cellar, and there they sat for another five years.

    One day, I heard part of a radio programme on survivors of abuse, and as I listened, it gradually dawned on me that this was my relationship with my high school years: I was traumatized by everything that had happened, and I was allowing the memory of a horrible past to still my hand from disposing of the yearbooks, and their presence was reinforcing all the bad memories, and there was just no way out. So that night, I went into the basement and sat seiza for an hour. I opened the books for the first time since h.s. graduation, looked at every page, and continually repeated the mantra, “Thank you for this.” Through shame and rage, and the occasional laugh, I accepted it and moved on.

    When I was done, the sting was gone. I put them in the trash, and that was it.

    I thought about what my own kids would say (even though at the time I had none). But even now that I have kids, I have zero regrets for what I did. Sure, it would be great for them to have mementos of who Dad was, and they’re within their rights to be pissed at what I did. BUT, those things had no place in my life, just as my sister’s engagement ring served more utility to her at the bottom of Niagara Falls than it would have in $20 of store credit. I wish that I could have been strong enough to have kept my yearbooks and still been the person I am today, but I’m not that strong. I’m a good person and a GREAT father, and I wouldn’t trade anything I have today for those yearbooks back in my basement.

  73. posted by Maggie Rose on

    It took several years before I was able to get rid of my first relationship’s STUFF. It was a very emotional and rollercoaster high school relationship. We broke up on not-happy terms, but luckily a few years of cooling off and meeting someone else in college did me well. I was able to get rid of most of the paper clutter (just kept a few cards and only the photos that I look good in!) and I kept the jewelry for now, though I don’t wear it. We have become friends again somewhat, and I do have many fond memories of him (and in hindsight, much of the drama makes soooo much more sense now that he’s out of the closet). Other shorter relationships I tossed without thought but just stuck the keeper stuff with other high school memory items and will likely weed again much later.

  74. posted by Julie S in VA on

    My best friend got dressed up in her wedding dress and tossed her wedding band into the Tidal Basin (in DC) following her divorce. We got cake and champagne and made a whole event out of it.

  75. posted by Quatrefoil on

    I had a ring given to me by a boyfriend in a relationship that broke up very painfully. I held on to it until I had the chance to go to the sea and then I threw it into open water. If someone ever finds it, the sea will have cleansed it of any bad feelings associated with it.

  76. posted by Elizabeth on

    Oy! Went through a terrible break up a few years ago. Was engaged, didnt know what to do with the ring. Things did not end well. I threw out everything-photos, letters, EVERYTHING. I was tempted to throw the ring in the ocean, since like the last poster, I heard it cleanses bad mojo. But I put it on the railroad tracks instead and let the train do my dirty work for me

  77. posted by Caroline on

    I kept all my mementos for a long time – I kept thinking I might want to read the letters again. But when I finally did, I didn’t care anymore. I also had more photos than I needed, so I mailed some to those people who were in them, but kept my favorites. I’m glad I waited awhile because I’m happy to have a few things now, but I don’t need everything.

    Really, the thought that I could die suddenly and people would find all that stuff was the biggest reason for finally going through it and tossing. The second reason was to let go of stuff that was taking up space but serving no real purpose.

    In fact, I still use a lot of the practical gifts I received. The sentimental stuff I got was letters and cards and art, but I don’t even think about some of the stuff I use everyday (like my alarm clock).

    It’s tempting to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when something ends, but if you have a lot of good memories from that relationship you’ll probably eventually regret it.

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