How to Get Your Stuff Back After a Breakup

One of the worst parts of a breakup is when you come to from the initial crying and yelling and flouncing off and realize that your can opener/DVD player/French dictionary/pants are still at your now-ex's house. Or that you are unwillingly in possession of your until-recently-beloved's crap. Luckily, we have some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.

Wait for the rage to subside.

Maybe you've just had a nice, amicable breakup — in which case, congratulations! But if there were harsh words on either side, it can make sense to let both parties cool off before dealing with the redistribution of stuff. Rachel Sussman, LCSW, author of The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman's Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce, says one of the biggest mistakes people make after a breakup is storming over to demand their stuff back as a way to hurt their ex — or as a way to try to get back together. If you're screaming mad — or still in the first flush of misery — give yourself some time to chill out before you go pick up your pants. Says Sussman, "let it simmer."

An exception is if you're at the ex's house when the breakup happens, and you have the presence of mind to grab your most crucial items before you head out the door. Again, though, this is best done if things are a little more civil — you don't want to be whirling around the place yelling and digging through the laundry.

But don't wait too long.

MJ Acharya, author of The Breakup Workbook: A Common Sense Guide to Getting Over Your Ex, says the cooling-off period has a time limit: "I'd say not to give it more than a few weeks before you gather your things — you don't want to draw out the breakup longer than necessary." A bunch of stuff at your ex's house — or vice versa — can have a way of hanging over your head, and once you're feeling reasonably even-keeled, it can feel good to tie things up. Halle Kaye and Sophie Stone, authors of the newly released Maybe He's Just an Asshole: Sharpen Your Bullshit Meter, Rock Your Expectations, and Become Your Strongest Self, point out another reason not to drag things out: "If you wait too long, like a week or two or more, it might look like you don't really care about your boots and blow dryer and just made up an excuse to connect with your former beau because you miss him." In general, a few days to two weeks seems like the sweet spot here.

Decide what you actually need.

Kaye and Stone offer this advice:

Don't forget to ask yourself if you reaaally need whatever you left at this dude's place. If it's only a $9.99 American Apparel hoodie, write it off instead of convincing yourself you must have it. We've all made up stories to justify calling an ex but you have to try your damndest not to do that.

The truth is, you can buy another can opener. And if doing that can forestall a potentially traumatic (and possibly backslide-inducing) meeting with your ex, it's totally worth it.

Send a text.

If you've determined that you need some of your stuff back (or your ex does), and enough time has passed that you're no longer going to murder one another, Kaye and Stone also have suggestions for the best mode of communication:

Avoid the phone and email. Hearing his (potentially buttery) voice is dangerous and email is too formal. The best medium is text, since it's most conducive to quick and practical communication. Just grab your phone and bang out a non-bitter-sounding little note: "Hey there, just realized I need to get my stuff from your place. If I send you a list in a little while, can you put everything in a box for me to pick up? I would appreciate it. Thanks and hope all's well." No matter how ugly the break up was, you want to come off as breezy and mature. The best way to move through life is gracefully, even if you're dealing with an asshole.

Email, in addition to being formal, allows you to agonize over wording. A quick text allows you to get in and get out. Which is also how you should do the handoff itself:

Get in, get out.

Here's Kaye and Stone's prescription:

When it comes time to pick up your things, remember that this is a surgical strike. Your goals are clear and twofold: 1) get your shit and 2) avert problematic live interaction (i.e., looking at his face longingly, fighting, break-up sex, make-up sex). So, if your ex has a doorman, ask him to leave the box in the lobby. If he doesn't have a doorman, arrange a time to head over when your ex is home; just let him know that you'll text him when you're on your way so he can leave the box outside his door. When you arrive, discreetly grab your booty and bail.

Acharya offers a slightly different approach:

The least painful way to arrange a hand-off is to leave a box on your ex's doorstep and vice-versa. However, I think — especially when closure is still needed — an in-person hand-off is a much more valuable option. Meeting in person and giving back your ex's stuff helps to solidify the end of the relationship, leading the dumpee to be more likely to accept the reality of the breakup. If you dumped your ex, it would be a nice gesture to arrange the hand-off to occur at his/her home.

Sussman points out that there's another option — if you really, really don't want to go anywhere near your ex, you can have a friend stop by and pick up or drop off the necessary stuff. Or if you can arrange a drop at your ex's office, that can be good neutral ground (just don't make a scene, obviously). You know your (former) relationship best, and you can probably gauge whether this is a breakup that calls for the box at the door, or whether an in-person meeting will be a nice gesture of good faith. If you opt for the latter, however, still keep it quick. The time for catching up/showing off how awesome your new life is will be a few months from now, when you're not holding your pants in your hand.

Keep gifts, return heirlooms.

After a breakup, you're under no obligation to return gifts your ex gave you. And such a return could have unintended consequences. Says Acharya,

[Y]ou may greatly offend your ex if you give back everything he ever gave you. This may send a signal that he never meant anything to you — further adding insult to injury. Of course, this all depends on the circumstances surrounding the breakup; you may want to offend him, in which case, I say, go ahead!

There's an exception to this rule, however — the family heirloom. Kaye and Stone advise, "if either of you gave each other something that falls into that category — a grandparent's watch, a mother's ring, a family quilt — it's fair to ask for it to be returned if you did the giving, and it's kind to return it if you were the recipient."

If your ex demands a gift back, take the high road.

This advice comes courtesy of Sussman, who says that if your ex demands a gift back from you, you can say something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way. That gift meant a lot to me, and I'd like to keep it as a memory of the good times. But if you feel really strongly, I'll be happy to return it to you."

Then again, there's also the low road. Kaye and Stone told me this anecdote:

If your ex demands a non-heirloom gift that he gave you back, there's a good chance he's a cheap/tacky asshole and you should be glad you dodged that bullet. It's up to you if you want to honor his request — some women find that's simplest — or reject it. Just know that, if you choose to keep the gift, that choice is totally socially acceptable, ethical, and legal.

When you let him know, you could explain your decision as one of our girlfriends once did when her ex asked her to return a pair of diamond studs. She replied via text: "I'll give you back the studs after you give me back all the time I spent sucking your 4 inch dick." (He was apparently more of a receiver than a giver.)

They do not actually recommend this approach. And they offer a quick legal caveat to anyone with a broken engagement:

In many states, engagement rings are not considered outright gifts but are considered conditional gifts. This means that, in some parts of the country, an engagement ring doesn't belong to a woman until the wedding occurs. If the wedding doesn't occur, some courts will require the woman to give the ring back, while others will only require her to give it back if she broke off the engagement.

Find a good place for anything left over.

Once everything's sorted out, you may have a pan your ex didn't feel like picking up, or a cache of trinkets she gave you over the years that you don't quite want to throw away. If you're still hurting from the breakup, you can take Acharya's advice and box it all up: "put away everything you ex ever gave you, so you're not staring at constant reminders of him (out of sight, out of mind!)." If your no-longer-love left behind stuff you just can't use, Acharya says, "I'm a big proponent of giving your ex's clothes to charity (saving one super comfy sweatshirt for yourself) or selling it to a consignment shop. (There is also the option to burn your ex's clothing, but for safety reasons, that may not be a good idea)."

Ultimately, though, your ex is gone now, so you get to decide what to do with all that stuff. Say Kaye and Stone,

This comes down to personal taste. Some women have a trunk filled with ex-boyfriend memorabilia. Others have ritual bonfires to exorcise their exes out of their lives. Still others keep a few photos and souvenirs hidden away in a drawer. All of those are fine ways to deal with the spoils of a relationship as long as you're not stuck in the past.

The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman's Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce
Maybe He's Just an Asshole: Sharpen Your Bullshit Meter, Rock Your Expectations, and Become Your Strongest Self
The Breakup Workbook: A Common Sense Guide to Getting Over Your Ex

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