Dating Advice: Is an Old Relationship Holding You Back?

young couple not speaking after an argument

Young couple upset with each other |

If you’re having trouble getting over a past relationship, the clutter in your closet might be to blame. A recent study by Wakefield Research for SpareFoot found that 44% of U.S. millennials still hold on to their ex’s belongings and other items that remind them of the relationship. Consequently, this “relationship clutter” makes it difficult to move on.

“We often don’t think about why we keep certain things but rather just go through the motions. In reality, most people keep things to hold onto the past, and in hope for a better future,” said clinical psychologist Susan Bartell one of the sudy’s researchers. “We hold onto items that remind us of happier times, past relationships, and our childhood, but also things that we think we will need, such as clothing in a smaller size, our kids’ toys, and legacy items.” The Cheat Sheet caught up with Bartell  to learn more about how this emotional clutter could hold us back from fully engaging in a new relationship.  

The Cheat Sheet: What was the motivation for this study?

Susan Bartell: SpareFoot commissioned the study to explore the extent of Americans’ clutter and the impact it has on everyday life. With 40 million Americans expected to move this summer, the study set out to uncover findings on consumers’ storage and moving habits, including how clutter and moving affects our relationships, time management and overall well-being. The study uncovered differences and similarities across various demographics, revealing trends in how and why consumers are cluttered.

CS: What is relationship clutter?

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Boxes |

SB: Relationship clutter is a problem that many couples face; often the lingering items from a past relationship or past life are the source of the issue. Everyone comes with baggage, which is most apparent when couples move in together and merge lives. Space is valuable and it can be hard to have those difficult conversations about what gets to stay and what doesn’t. In fact, 56% of men in a relationship said they frequently stop their significant other from throwing out an item they want to keep.

CS: Why do we hold on to old items from past relationships?

Couple having a discussion

Young couple talking in bed |

SB: Nationwide, 27% of people in a relationship (and nearly 44% of all millennials in a relationship) are currently holding on to an item from an ex that they don’t want their significant other to know they are keeping. Why hang on to old stuff? Two of the main reasons people keep things around are emotional, and very much affected by romantic relationships:

  1. Holding on to the past: We hold onto items that remind us of happier times, better relationships, our childhood or feelings of being younger. People may hold onto a gift their ex bought them because it reminds them of a better time in their life, or of being young and in love.
  2. Hoping for a better future: We keep things that we hope we will need or in case we need them in the future. People may keep an item from an ex because it’s valuable (like an expensive watch), or that they think they’ll use it in the future (such as an expresso maker). But in many cases, we hold onto items from a former relationship because we aren’t quite over it yet; we don’t have closure. It is important to examine and come to terms with these feelings (and the associated items) so they don’t interfere with healthy relationships in the future.

CS: How does relationship clutter prevent us from moving forward with a new relationship?

Couple ignoring each other

Couple texting |

SB: According to SpareFoot’s study, 91% of Americans have kept or considered keeping a household item out of guilt. All that guilt and extra stuff you carry around is detrimental to your life at home, and your relationships. It can often be your significant others treasures that are the issue.

Roughly 90% of Americans in a relationship admit if they knew there wouldn’t be consequences, they’d get rid of some of their significant other’s possessions. With that clutter comes inevitable chaos and even some emotionally charged discussion of who gets to keep their stuff. Disagreements about household clutter can turn very serious. Roughly 1 in 3 Americans (34%) and nearly half (49%) of Millennials admit they would likely consider breaking up with someone if that person got rid of something that had sentimental value for them. To avoid going head-to-head, compromise is crucial. If a decision cannot be made right away, consider putting items in storage until the stress and emotion of moving has settled down.

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