Living on Your Own Terms

Faith Miller Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her blog. Read the full article below.

Moving forward after divorce: It’s time to start living, not just on your own, but on your own terms.

Guess who’s calling the shots now? In the mix of post-divorce sadness, anxiety, and relief, it’s easy to stumble.  You might try to put a stake down in your new life, only to get sidelined by stereotypes, minutiae, or catastrophic imaginings about life as a solo. Why not try a different path right out of the gate? Think about the excitement of living on your own terms and how that will shape your new life.

Santa Barbara-based psychologist and researcher Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., says that living on your own terms requires that you continually ask yourself: What lights me up? What really matters to me? “Only you can answer these questions. You’re in control,” she says. Answering these questions will also help you to ignore your inner critic and “to keep you on your side,” she adds.

A person’s inner critic, established in early life, may have gotten louder in a bad marriage, she cautions. “Your real self lies behind your inner critic.” Re-establishing a pipeline to the true you entails “knowing, and living, your unique wants and desires. Your real self is life-affirming and goal-directed,” she says.

To help you learn how to live on your own terms, following are some expert-based strategies on how to design a home on your own terms.

Be mindful when designing your home post-divorce

This is one of your first steps that will help drive the feeling of living on your own terms. Whether you keep your old house or move into a new one, ask yourself “what lights you up?” Think about how your taste has changed over the years, and keep only those items that align with your current taste—or that spark joy, to use the yardstick of tidying expert Marie Kondo. Forget the brown lumpy couch you tried to jazz up with some Crate & Barrel pillows. Dump the hand-me-down furniture, along with the guilt. Be careful of creeping nostalgia: you may wind up saddled with sadness if you don’t evaluate your old stuff/space with an eye toward your future. Take pictures of bittersweet things, and tell stories about them to kids or friends, before saying a reverent goodbye. Also, try this technique if you’re struggling: View yourself from a third-person perspective—see yourself as an observer would, as you declutter and downsize. When you view yourself from a third-person perspective, you’re less reactive to autobiographical memories, say Yale psychologists.

To create a new life-affirming vibe in your space, think about what you love in a favorite store or in your friends’ homes. What grabs your attention in design magazines (tear out those pages), or were you ever struck by a home interior in a movie? Browse sites like Maria Killam’s Colour Me Happy blog that showcase top designers’ work and then see if you can find any knock-offs on that achieve the same look. Consider going to a nearby town or city, where you may feel freer and more inspired to explore home design. Or, “run to your nearest West Elm!” says Maureen Taylor. “I just stood in the store and realized I loved practically everything in it. With 3 children and working full-time, I’m too busy to hunt down décor from a variety of stores that would mix well together and don’t have the budget to hire a professional. Best of all, I could picture myself living my best new life in an aesthetically pleasing space that makes me look forward to coming home each night.” 

6 things to consider when designing your home after divorce:

·      Home should be a healing space, say USC psychologists Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda Weinberger, Ph.D. “Decorating to make your home a psychological comfort zone is not a luxury; it is core to your well-being,” they say. Research shows interior design can affect mood both positively and negatively. Color, in particular, affects emotions, thought, and behavior. You’ll have to identify the colors that make you happy, they say.

·      Visualization using your “mind’s eye” is a key part of conquering a challenge, as athletes well know and research has established. You can improve your mental visualization skill by using a visual medium like design. Research shows that exposure to a desirable environment—especially one that involves the five senses–can improve visualization skill and lead to greater motivation and achievement of goals.

·      Express yourself. We use our things to tell the world who we are, says psychologist Sam Gosling, Ph.D., author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. “People tend to be happier and more productive when they are able to convince others to see them as they see themselves,” says Dr. Gosling. Now that you’re divorced, you may need to recall and reclaim parts of yourself—but expressing your inner self in the design of your environment can bolster this fuller understanding of yourself.

·      Don’t let your current “stuff” hold you back. Clear your home by selling your old furniture and accessories on your local Facebook page. Most community FB groups have a virtual garage and/or online yard sale where people buy and sell items quickly and easily to people who live near by. Sell two used items in order to buy one fabulous, new one. You can work your way through your clutter this way. Think of your unused items as “dormant value waiting to be exchanged for dollars,” says Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D., in How to Finally Start Living on Your Own Terms for Also, get rid of unused household items and clothing because “they are sucking energy from your life,” he adds. Donate or recycle what no longer holds any resale value.

·      Stick to a budget. Following a budget may also lead many newly divorced people to rent. “Six years after my divorce, I’m still enjoying the freedom of renting a house—no mortgage, no landscaping, no pressure,” says Christopher Murphy. “I’ll wait until my girls graduate from college before deciding my next move. I might even want to move to a different state—who knows?” he adds. His freedom-fueled reasoning is shared by many. But don’t lose sight of the fact that a mortgage payment can often be less than a rent payment. As Dr. Hardy puts it: “Paying rent is like working hourly. You get money while you’re on the clock. When you’re not on the clock, you get no money. Earning equity is like having residual income. Every month you pay down your mortgage, you actually keep that money. So you’re not ‘spending to live’ like most people do. You’re living for free while saving—often earning in appreciation.” 

·      Make your bed every morning. However you choose to nest on your own terms, remember this final fun tip from Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven. In his commencement speech to the University of Texas he said that one of the top ten things he learned in his Navy SEAL training was to make his bed every morning. It’s a simple act that can lead to bigger accomplishments because you’ve succeeded at the first task of the day and that encourages more task completion. It also holds visual power, and comfort, at the end of a challenging day.