When my husband left our family home 18 months ago, all he took with him was a small sports holdall and a clothes airer.
He walked down the garden path leaving me, our two teenage children and the life we had spent 26 years creating together — and even at that catastrophic moment, I was struck by how little he packed into the boot of his car.
As he drove away and I collapsed behind the closed front door, I noticed his slippers still sitting there in the hall. It was like he had gone on holiday.
Author Rosie Green was left blindsided when her husband left their family home where they lived with their two teenage children 18 months ago, after 26 years together
To say I was blindsided is an understatement. I knew he’d been increasingly cross about life in general — other people’s driving, my bad dishwasher stacking — but I hadn’t seen this coming for a second.
And it didn’t feel real. His gardening fleece was still hanging by the back door. The framed photo of him playing rugby and the message board crammed with our holiday pictures remained. His spanners, sanders and wrenches were still there — he had literally downed tools and left.
I always thought I’d be fiery and resolute if it happened to me. Shaking with fury, eyes glinting proudly like scorned women in the movies, slashing up suits, throwing his limited edition James Bond DVDs out on the lawn or even the street for passers-by to help themselves to.
But I couldn’t summon the anger — or perhaps bravery — to expose the entrails of our love in such a public act of defiance.
Although the split was the hardest thing I’ve ever endured, leaving me broken physically and mentally, there were no public displays of desperation.
A friend said I should spell out an expletive on the front lawn using his hammers and spanners, but I’m glad to say I resisted the temptation.
If I’m honest, I didn’t have the strength. Suddenly and ironically, he seemed to have the monopoly on anger. And I didn’t want to risk his wrath.
So his stuff just sat there. His golf clubs, his favourite John Grisham books.
A couple of months on, my friend Hils came round and made me at least move the slippers out of the hallway. She put the wedding photos in a drawer and replaced them with snaps of the kids. Silently we moved his stuff into cupboards and the garage.
Then we went to Ikea. I invested in feminine throws and cushions. We bought a truckload of fairy lights, because you can’t have those with a man in the house, and fairy lights banish darkness, right?
I thought about all his stuff — still, for the most part, sitting there, waiting for a man who no longer cared about it — when Ant McPartlin’s ex-wife Lisa Armstrong did the spurned woman thing recently.
The mother of two said she had always imagined she would be fiery if such a thing happened to her, but in reality she found she could not summon the anger
She dumped the TV presenter’s belongings on the street with a ‘help yourself’ sign, in a sort of public announcement that she is over him, and these mere objects can no longer cause her pain.
The thing is, his stuff — our stuff — does still mean a lot to me. When we split up, I cared deeply about how we’d disentangle the debris of our lives.
The wedding presents? The painting we bought on holiday? Even the sofa. I was grateful he wasn’t fighting me for custody of the Dualit toaster (only three slots work), but also hurt and perplexed. After 26 years, was a handful of clothes — enough for a fortnight — all he wanted? Did he need to shrink his world and his commitments so radically?
A friend of mine discovered her husband was having an affair while she was pregnant with their second child. He left. But it was the morning he came back to collect his Xbox that seemed to upset her more than anything. She was crushed to realise he wanted a games console over anything sentimental, such as pictures of his child.
I’ve come to realise that, in a marriage, differences of opinion over ‘stuff’ can be at the very heart of your problems.
Months after their split, her husband’s belongings still sat in the same place he had left them that heartbreaking day when he had packed his bag and walked out the door
Throughout our relationship, I wanted my stuff, my possessions, to reflect my good taste. I wanted a home littered with candles (Diptyque to show chic and the occasional Aldi dupe of Jo Malone to communicate savvy). Framed photos hinted at my wilder past, while posh invites were left casually on the mantelpiece long after the events had passed.
I crammed my bookshelves with Penguin classics to show the breadth of my reading and also because the spines looked nice. His Grishams and Alex Ferguson biographies were deemed too ugly and hidden in cupboards. I’m not proud of this. I now see that those undisplayed books represented so much more. I wasn’t allowing their owner to be himself.
We spent years chasing more stuff, flogging ourselves half to death to afford a kitchen island big enough to warrant its own postcode. We even took on a massive extension before our split. I was desperate for an eat-in kitchen, but then the build ran so over budget, we couldn’t afford the kitchen units.
Looking back I can see the madness of it all. I was consumed by the crackle pattern of tiles and the pressure output of boilers, while he was having sleepless nights worrying about the expense of additions like a fancy roof lantern I had long dreamed about.
Now I know that we should have spent less time striving and more time living. Who cares if you’ve got a £1,000 Fired Earth bath if you never share it?
I know it’s generalising, but I suspect women generally attach more importance to ‘things’.
The first pair of wellies our kids own, the photo-booth shots, the wedding invites, the key card from that hotel. I still have a tier of our wedding cake. No wonder we so often show our anger like Lisa Armstrong, by dumping a man’s stuff out of our homes and our lives.
Rosie admits while she obsessed over having the perfect kitchen with a island large enough to warrant its own postcode, her husband was left worrying about the money and if they could afford it
As for me, funnily enough now that he’s gone, I’ve grown used to the presence of my ex-husband’s stuff.
We’ve never talked about what he left behind. Eventually I would like to reclaim the armoire that’s stuffed with his belongings, sort out the drawer that’s still full of our framed wedding photos and have a house free from reminders of our life together. But I’m not in a rush.
I no longer see it as an insult that he didn’t want to take anything with him. He lives in a flat now, and there’s no garage for his tools.
I’m relieved I didn’t scratch across our wedding pictures or burn his first love letters, because I’m confident that one day I will be able to look at them with fondness and even share the memories with my children and maybe grandchildren. He will always be a part of their lives. And mine, too.
I even manage to raise a wry smile when I open a certain cupboard and see the shabby ranks of his John Grisham thrillers.
Rosie’s book, How To Heal A Broken Heart, is available for pre-order now at Waterstones