Almost ten years ago I fell in love with a single dad with three kids and an ex wife.
I packed up my little city apartment and moved to a big Victorian Style home on a couple acre lot, in a Hamlet in Southwestern Ontario. For those city folks who don’t know what a Hamlet is, it’s “a small settlement, generally one smaller than a village”.
I’m sure you get the drift. It was a big change.
The house was beautiful. Many people’s dream. But I hated it. And the more I tried to convince myself not to hate it, the more I did.
You see, before me, my husband lived there with his ex-wife and kids. They had bought the house four years earlier. From what he told me, it was their dream property.
Moving into “their home” made me feel extremely uncomfortable, but I didn’t think it was fair to ask that he up and move the kids, because I wanted a fresh start. So I unpacked my bags and tried to make the best of it.
But I felt like I had moved into another woman’s house.
Probably, because I essentially did.
Even though she was gone, there was still remnants of their life together. Junk drawers with receipts from trips, belongings left in the storage rooms, decor that was her style not mine. It just didn’t feel like my home.
… and just when I would start to get used to things, something would happen to set me back.
For example, about a year in, JUST as I was starting to feel comfortable, I received a phone call from my husband’s first wife.
“Hey Jamie do you have a cake topper for [stepson’s name] birthday?” (sidebar, I didn’t even know what a cake topper was).
“No, sorry I don’t think so”.
“There should be one in drawer to the left of the stove”.
My stomach sank.
She knew what was in my drawers…
Because they were her drawers too…
And in that quick moment, I was back at square one.
Look, if you think I’m being a whiney brat, I’ll tell you this. Like many challenges that come with being a stepmom, this is something you won’t understand unless you’ve been there.
In fact, I’m sure any non-stepmom reading this is thinking “oh get over it girl”.
It’s okay. I’m not offended.
The good news is, I did.
9 years later, I’ll say this. Feeling like you’re living in another woman’s home is something that can only be cured with time (and a little redecorating).
Seriously, as time goes on and you create new memories together, things that once made you feel out of place and insecure, won’t even cross your mind.
Slowly but surely, I redecorated and put my touch on the place, while still respecting the memories and traditions that are important to my husband and the kids.
I’ve cleaned out those junk drawers, organized the storage room, painted walls, purged, donated and added my own personal style. After about five years, this place looked completely different.
In fact, now, sometimes my husband and I talk about this being our “forever home”.
This didn’t happen right away. It’s not like I moved in and was like, “we’re gutting this kitchen and painting all the walls”.
It was a process.
Over time we’ve renovated the kitchen, added a small addition and of course, re-did the bedroom.
It’s amazing how as this space has transformed, my feelings towards our home have too. It now feels like OUR HOME! To be honest, now I rarely think about the fact that it wasn’t always like this.
If you’re in the beginning stages, thinking to yourself, “okay Jamie, time doesn’t really help me feel better right now” here are some tips to get the process started.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
If you are on a mission to make changes, be patient with yourself. (I know, easier said than done). Start with one room and then go from there. Pick the room that means the most to you.
For obvious reasons, I think the bedroom is the best place to start. I find the bedroom is the most intimate and private part of the home. You want this to be YOUR space. It’s the space I have always retreated to when I need to recharge.
ASK YOUR PARTNER TO DO A ONCE OVER (OR MAYBE A TWICE OVER)
I am not going to make generalizations, but my husband wasn’t that detail oriented. He had no idea what was in the junk drawers or that there was old-make up left under the bathroom sink. He wasn’t thinking about it while I had assumed he had gotten rid all the remnants of the past life.
Looking back, we both wish that he would have taken some time to go through the house and make sure these little details were gone. However hindsight is 20/20.
PURGE WHEN YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT HEADSPACE
When you’re going through said junk drawer and closets, make sure that you’re in the right headspace. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and insecure, it’s not the time to be going into the unknown. It’s the time to go for a walk, call a girlfriend, or get our your journal.
Go through this stuff when you’re in a calm, rational headspace, feeling confident in your new life. This is just stuff. Stuff from the past. We all have a past. Their past does not define your future.
LITTLE DETAILS CAN GO A LONG WAY
I find it crazy how a little tweak to a rooms decor can change the entire vibe of a space. Switch up the throw pillows, get some new blankets, add a tree in the corner of the room, swap out the art. Slowly but surely, the vibe will change.
ADD SOME REMINDERS OF YOUR NEW LIFE TOGETHER
When my husband Darren and I first started dating, I gifted him a photoshoot with the kids for Fathers Day. It was for just him and the kids. When he asked me to be in it, I said no. It was for them. I wanted them to have have some documentation of the beginning of a new chapter for their family. I developed the photos in black and white and hung them in the house. I also added some candid photos that were taken of us. This helped the space begin to reflect our new life together.
BOOK A PHOTOSHOOT
After you book a photoshoot with just your partner and kids, book one for all of you together. Yes, the kids may grumble about family photos, but try and get everyone on board. Get some shots of everyone together, get some shots of you and your partner, get some shots with your partner and the kids, get some shots of you and your kids (if you have any). Document all the subfamilies within the big larger family. Then sprinkle these photos throughout your home.
CREATE A BIN FOR STUFF FROM THIER PAST
When you move into their house, you’re inevitably going to find blasts from the past. Old photos, the wedding album, memories from the kids bird. Heck I even found her wedding dress in the closet. Talk about awkward.
Depending on where you are in your healing process, these mementos may sting. Try and talk yourself out of those feelings though. Get real about the facts.
Here’s the truth. They have a past. They got married. There were pictures taken. The past has nothing to do with your future together nor does it make it any less important to your partner.
I have a bin in the basement with all the memories that I found. I think it’s important for the kids to have these. (Except for the wedding dress that is. That was returned to her).
Remember, their past made them into the person you fell in love with.
If you’re dying to change your space, but a reno isn’t in the cards right now, my good friend Abby from Abby Campbell design has put together some tips Changing The Vibe of Your Space on the Cheap! I personally used these tips while I was savings my pennies for my new kitchen, and these small changes really can make a difference!
You can find her tips HERE!