The relationship ended. You never imagined that you would be here. You stand in your place full of memories, looking at all the little reminders of the person with whom you thought you had a promising future. What do you do with the mementos, the gifts, the personal things that are left behind?
At Relationup, an app that provides 24/7 live relationship advice from professionals via chat, we were curious about how people handled the keepsakes they accumulated during their relationships after they had fizzled. We conducted a survey and discovered that 56% of people (70% women; 33% men) kept mementos from a past relationship(s).
Our data also revealed that there were 5 common ways people dealt with their keepsakes in the aftermath of their relationship.
They held onto a few unique gifts they loved. This group described keeping unique items (e.g. jewelry, vintage jazz shirt, sweatshirts, teddy bear) because they loved them and didn't want to part with them--regardless of who gave it to them or the circumstances surrounding the ending of the relationship. One man commented, "I loved that t-shirt so much that there was no way that I was going to throw it out".
They kept things about which they were sentimental. This group hung onto items (e.g. plush dog, ticket stubs, airline boarding pass, mementos from travel) because they represented meaningful and significant experiences. Some kept things that represented the relationship ("my first love," "the first time time my heart was broken," "the first time that I felt that someone was really paying attention to me"), while others kept things that related to an event/experience ("the first time I went to Europe," "my first concert," "being at Coachella").
They kept everything and boxed it up. This group liked to avoid facing their feelings by packing up everything to deal with later. In the majority of scenarios, this was motivated by painful endings and people wanted to wait until they felt emotionally ready to do a post-mortem on the relationship. One woman commented, "I just couldn't look at anything to do with him for months."
They threw everything out. This group preferred to pitch everything, regardless of whether they ended the relationship, or were sad about the ending. They wanted to disconnect, compartmentalize and put the past behind them. One man called it the "get rid of it all and move on" technique.
They got rid of everything but engaged in a cleansing ritual by dramatically discarding a few items. This group acted out their pain by engaging in a behavior that felt empowering. This strategy was highly correlated to feeling "used/betrayed/abused/ manipulated" in the relationship. People often chose to engage in an experience that purged the negative break-up energy. Some of the women described lighting fires, cutting things up, dropping items off cliffs and buildings, and burning objects and spreading the ashes.
Endings are complicated. It is difficult to deal with why something that once felt so good went south. But when you are faced with this circumstance, you will figure out what is the best way to handle all the mementos that you accumulated during the relationship and decide whether you want to do a box run to a packing company, give your local Goodwill donation center a visit, or create a bonfire and torch a few things. As long as your destruction is reserved solely for inanimate objects and won't cause any physical harm, you've got nothing to worry about.