Sign in to comment!

Fox Around the House

Expensive ex: When does a breakup warrant a remodel?

Crystal Etienne  CEO of PantyProp.jpg

 (Crystal Etienne, CEO of PantyProp)

When a breakup means someone is moving out, what should the one who stays in the house or apartment do to the place? Whether you knock down a wall and add a sunroom or simply swap out a mattress and get a new lamp, making changes to your surroundings can result in a brighter future. The trick is determining the price tag for that peace of mind.

Experts have mixed feelings about making significant changes in the home after an ex moves out. Some say yes—change the locks and even make structural changes. Some say no—especially within the first year of a breakup. But most experts say it’s a gray area. It depends on what you change, the reason you’re changing it and, for practical purposes, your finances.

Holly Parker, a Harvard lecturer on Psychology of Close Relationships, strongly cautions against adding any financial burdens to the stress of a breakup. Too often, post-breakup remodeling is an impulsive and reactive response. Parker believes remodeling should only come after substantial self-reflection. Dr. Carole Lieberman, a high profile psychiatrist in Hollywood, agrees. She believes if you invest in anything after a breakup, it should be yourself.

“Spend the time and money on getting a revenge body or psychotherapy so you can better understand why you pick the wrong partners,” advises Lieberman. She does recommend ridding your home of photos and objects associated with your ex, but any remodeling should be done on yourself, not your home. Furthermore, if your new significant other is so insecure they need you to make major changes, you should question the foundation of that relationship.

Major changes can also have a negative impact on the value of your home. Brooklyn-based real estate broker Janine Acquafredda says someone who has been separated for less than a year is not really in a position to make remodeling decisions. “So many times people get back together or make really emotional decisions that negatively impact the property value,” says Acquafredda who gives an example of a client who turned his three-bedroom family-friendly house into a bachelor bad right after a breakup. Shortly after the renovations he decided to sell the house. It sat on the market for a long time because it screamed frat house.

Other experts are more avid proponents of transforming the home post-breakup. “Sometimes home redesign is a practical and necessary part of becoming uncoupled,” says Kyle Canepa, CEO of Modern Shift, a support website for divorcees. Canepa admits it’s a daunting task and it shouldn’t be rushed, but notes partner purging is cathartic, and if you donate old things, charitable. Completely starting over with a blank canvas can be the best-case scenario, at least emotionally. Financially, it’s important to take children into consideration and assess how your spending will affect their needs. 

Redecorating or simply rearranging things is the easier route, but feng shui master Dana Claudat is a fan of the remodel and applauds people who are able to move forward with deeper transformations. “There’s a lot of science supporting the fact that environments can trigger both bad habits and trauma responses,” says Claudat. “If you’ve shared a space with someone who has hurt you, there’s great power in taking ownership of the space and transforming those bad memories in a very real, tangible way.” Humans relate to their surroundings rather viscerally so completely gutting a kitchen, or wherever you made the most memories, can work wonders that surface level changes can’t touch.

Crystal Etienne credits all of her happiness and career success to her remodel. Etienne was with her ex-husband since the age of 14, and when she divorced him 20 years later she began anew by completely overhauling her home. Today, she still lives in that home, but this time around she is happily remarried and the CEO of a new venture, PantyProp. Etienne made her changes immediately after her breakup, but others wait years, even decades.

Emily Lyons, a dating coach and CEO of the matchmaking agency Lyons Elite, says she had a client who stayed in his matrimonial home for more than a decade before he made even minor changes. In that interim he suffered from anxiety and depression. Her team advised him to update his home to reflect his now 10-year status as a single man and almost immediately he was leading a healthier lifestyle and dating again. “Remodeling after a breakup depends on the individual and the breakup,” says Lyons. “If it is going to help you be happy and move on then absolutely it’s a necessity.

At one New York City interior design firm they even have a term (used internally) for such projects: break-up decoration therapy. Sean Juneja, CEO of Décor Aid, says it’s important to start in the bedroom, the most intimate space you shared. Even if you can’t afford to knock down any walls, paint them. “Buy new bedding and pillows, incorporate a favorite object or two, and if it’s in the budget, buy a new bed.” Bill Howard of Howard Hauling in the Bay Area says a fair amount of his business comes from mattress removal. Often, it’s at the behest of a customer’s new partner.

Rearranging living area furniture should come next, and downsize if you are purchasing new things. That way, the missing person is less obvious. Accessories are also important. Recently, when Décor Aid was working with a freshly single male client, they removed the feminine touches and put up framed photos of him taken during different, positive, times in his life. Finally, invest in new lighting—a surefire way to change the mood and ambiance.

Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she’s not working, she’s chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.