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What to Do with the Mementos of Your Marriage after Divorce

There is life after divorce. In that life, your everyday belongings might suddenly seem like a minefield of memories. That vase you always use suddenly screams, “Remember me? I was the cute flea market find you bought together in the early days of dating!” The casserole dish you use at least once a week taunts you: “I was the first wedding gift you used after getting married!”

Even harder to deal with are the mementos that more obviously symbolize your marriage: wedding photos, wedding dress/suit, and your engagement ring and wedding rings, to name a few.

What you do with these items – or what you don’t do with them – can have serious implications for your mental health and how you move forward post-divorce. Here are some thoughts to consider when deciding what to do with the mementos from your married life.

What is a memento?

A memento is a keepsake, an object kept as a reminder of a place or an event. For example, a seashell may be a memento from a trip to the beach. Wedding mementos may include a wedding dress or suit, wedding rings, or wedding photos. They may also include marital gifts given to you by your ex-partner at milestone moments such as anniversaries, birthdays, or holidays. 

What to do with wedding photos after divorce

Reasons to keep wedding photos

The pictures from your wedding are part of your story and personal history, so for that reason alone, you may decide to keep them. Not only are you and your ex-spouse featured, but beloved family members are likely pictured as well. In fact, some of your wedding photos may contain images of special friends and relatives that you want to hold on to.

That said, due to the negative emotions they might stir up, you probably don’t want to display your wedding photos in your home. In fact, leaving such a blatant reminder of your old life on display could actually deter your emotional healing as you move through the grief stages of divorce and make this vital life change.

If you decide to keep the photos, you may want to downsize them. If they’re in a large photo album that takes up space, consider paring it down to a smaller wedding album. Or, digitize them – a thumb drive takes up a lot less space than a book, and it allows you to avoid throwing the photos away without having them in your face and taking up space.

Reasons to get rid of wedding photos

On the other hand, if you’ve been looking forward to the disposal, tearing, or even burning of your wedding photos as part of your new beginning, this could be a cathartic release of some negative emotions. But before you do this, make sure it’s not an impulsive decision you make in the heat of an emotional moment. Ask yourself if there is any reason why future you might want to peek at these photos. If you have children from this marriage, for example, they may want you to show them the photos someday.

What to do with your wedding dress after divorce

Reasons to keep the dress

Many divorced women decide to part with their wedding dresses, and that’s okay. But what if you aren’t one of those women?

Your wedding dress may hold sentimental value for you that has nothing (or little) to do with your ex. For example, you might have fond memories of shopping for the dress with close friends or family members. Perhaps a generous family member purchased the dress for you – or even made the dress for you. Maybe it’s a treasured heirloom that symbolizes a lot more than your wedding alone. Or maybe you love the dress so much that you’d like to see a daughter, niece, or another special person in your life wear it one day. 

If your wedding dress symbolizes something bigger and greater than the relationship you once had, act as your heart dictates. As long as you’re looking after you’re well-being and setting boundaries with your ex, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it.

Reasons to get rid of the dress

On the other hand, a wedding dress takes up a significant chunk of space in a closet. For you, it may evoke bad memories of a hard time in your life you’d rather forget. The good news here is: you can turn your unwanted dress into a charitable contribution to a worthy cause.

Here are some great organizations that accept donated wedding dresses.

  • Brides for a Cause operates showrooms throughout the Northwest that sell used wedding gowns. The profits from the dresses are distributed to nonprofit charities. This organization has recycled over 23,000 dresses and made more than $1.4 million in charitable donations.
  • Brides Across America has gifted more than 26,000 military or first-responder brides with the wedding dress of their dreams courtesy of wedding dress donations.
  • NICU Helping Hands Angel Gowns has a mission to support bereaved families who have lost a baby. Donated gowns are sent to seamstresses to create custom attire for infants to be used for funeral services or photos.
  • Brides Against Breast Cancer resells donated dresses, and the revenue goes toward education about breast cancer prevention and early detection.

What to do with your wedding jewelry after divorce

Reasons to keep your wedding jewelry

Although you probably don’t want to wear your engagement ring or wedding ring now that you’re single, you might decide to keep it if it’s a family heirloom – or if you just like the looks of it. Although things didn’t work out for you and your ex-partner, it’s possible that you could pass the ring on to the next generation – particularly if it holds sentimental value for your family already.

Redesigning your wedding ring is another option. Maybe you want to keep the ring but turn it into something that symbolizes your new life. For example, you could remove the original gem and replace it with your birthstone. There are many creative possibilities, so if this idea speaks to you, take your ring to a jeweler for inspection and to ask about redesigns.

Is your wedding ring a marital asset that must be divided in divorce? It depends on your state law. In many cases, it’s considered a gift that belongs to the recipient after they say, “I do.” If you and your ex can’t agree on who should get the ring, seek legal advice.

Reasons to get rid of your wedding jewelry

Wedding jewelry has monetary value. Maybe you want to sell it! Consider putting the profit toward a worthy goal in your post-divorce life, such as paying down your credit cards, saving for a home, or starting a small business. For more information about assessing the value of your engagement ring, see What to Do With Your Wedding Ring after Divorce

Ultimately, the decision about which mementos to keep at the end of your marriage is a personal one based on many factors. Trust your intuition, and release when you need to do so. If you need additional help with divorce recovery, consider joining a support group for divorced spouses. These groups can be virtual or in-person, and you are likely to get some much-needed validation and emotional support from new friends there.

Look after your physical health, perform meaningful acts of self-care (whatever that means to you), and seek the assistance of a therapist if needed. Lots of divorced people go through therapy, and they find it makes their new reality much easier to deal with.

At Hello Divorce, we’re committed to helping people through all phases of divorce with as little stress and as much positive energy as possible.