Divorce, Homemaking

Family Room: Creating new living spaces after divorce

Last week, as I was knee-deep in boxes and dust and the pet-hair tumbleweeds that emerged when we began moving sofas and desks, my eye happened to fall on this sign.


I’d bought it on an antiquing excursion with my sister-in-law Jenna, something we did a lot back in the days when I had more time on my hands and more energy to invest in my home. I’d loved its minimalist font, the black-and-white vintage flair. When I brought it home, this spot – next to the front door, at the intersection of the dining room, homework room, and living room – seemed like the perfect landing place for a piece that summed up exactly what was happening in those spaces at all times.

Years later, it was one of the hardest things for me to pack away as my – now somewhat smaller – family and I prepared to move into a new home.

After divorce, after what I thought would always be my family had been forever altered, could any room truly be a “family room”? Would putting the sign up in the new place feel like a hollow attempt to normalize something that still, 18 months after I took the first step on this journey, feels nothing like “normal” much of the time?

Moving out of a 2800+ square foot, 5 bedroom house into a 3-bedroom bungalow less than half its size meant making a lot of hard decisions about which physical items would get to accompany us. About 75% of my clothing didn’t make the cut. My glassware collection – and I do so love glassware – is greatly reduced. From furniture to cleaning supplies to books, the last couple of months have been one long and brutal edit in an effort to shrink my life and surroundings and belongings down to a more manageable picture.

But there are a few things I never considered letting go of, and the decor and artwork I’d spent years slowly accumulating were among the more sacred objects.

So here it is: my new Family Room. 

Smaller than the old one, but still big enough to fit us, plus the occasional friend or family member.

Missing a few objects I couldn’t make fit (like a TV), but with the addition of some new things that make it feel fresh and fun and ours in a new and necessary way.

Comfortable and clean and manageable and fun again.

For much of the year-plus that I lived in my old home after our separation, I found myself avoiding most of our communal living areas. I hovered between the kitchen – which had become a place of grudging necessity instead of the homey haven it had once been – and my bedroom, where I holed up the rest of the time. There are rooms in the old house that, out of overwhelm and sadness, I literally did not enter for over a year. While I still liked the house, I finally had to admit that the joy in caring for it had gone – not only because it was too big for me to manage on my own with a demanding work schedule, but also because the space itself was imbued with a sense of loss.

On the surface, it sounds so obvious as to almost be ridiculous – but when you’re in the thick of it you sometimes have to remind yourself that a divorced family is still a family. Forever changed in ways both positive and negative, but a family nonetheless. And families deserve and need homey spaces where thy feel safe and loved. The minute I started avoiding, rather than investing in, my physical space, was the moment my old house stopped feeling like my home, and it’s one of many reasons why moving was the right thing to do.

I’ll always be nostalgic for the old house. We had many happy memories there, and there were things I loved and miss about it. But moving into a new place has given me an opportunity to carve out a new space for myself – and for us.

So I’m glad I found a place for my “Family Room” sign. It felt symbolic, and it was one of the first things I made sure to find a home for when we moved in. But I’m also glad I didn’t bring over too much from the old place. Moving was painful, mentally, emotionally, and physically (two months later I’m pretty sure my legs are still bruised), but also a necessary step.

Here’s to families of all sizes and kinds, and the rooms they inhabit. Here’s to the family we were and the family we are and the family we will become. Here’s to family rooms.