'Why I stopped treating my post-breakup home as a temporary shelter'

"The years have rolled on, and I've been in this state of flux. There has to come a point where you embrace what you've got."

"The years have rolled on, and I've been in this state of flux. There has to come a point where you embrace what you've got." Photo: Stocksy

Ending a relationship is fraught with uncertainty. Where will you go, what will you do, will you buy a place, rent a place, move into your friend's spare room? You can barely deal with the pain let alone deciding what's next.

Even if you can afford to buy a place, you want to find the right one so chances are you'll move into a rental first, especially if you're not sure if this break-up is final. Many couples separate also don't have access to ready funds. They might have a mortgaged home with not much money in the bank. If you're not sure the split is final, then you're not going to want to sell the house. This means cash flow is going to be tight until you know what's going on.

For many women who flee a relationship, getting access to money can be a real problem, especially if there's an impending custody battle or property settlement looming that could get nasty. You don't want to spend the money you do have on buying a house if you might need that money to fight in court. Even with government benefits and child support – if there are kids involved – and you may never go back to the same kind of income again.

I, like many women, faced a dramatic change in lifestyle when my marriage broke up. My husband had a well-paying job and I worked too so we had a combined income. But because we share care of our daughter post-separation, and maintain two households, that's double the expenses, so even though I get child support, I am financially worse off than when I was when I was married. Adjusting to less income has been difficult, and although I am much more careful with my money, the hardest thing to accept has been that I may never own my own home. Coming from a migrant background where buying your own home is pivotal, you can feel like a real failure. I think that's why I have never seen my current home as mine, I've always seen it as temporary.


I've moved twice since my initial separation from my ex-husband six years ago. In the first move I was living downstairs from an elderly couple. Eight months later I moved to my current place. I can't believe after all these years I'm still renting. I never expected it. In hindsight, one of the biggest mistakes I made is that I never treated the places I've lived like home. I've always been 'waiting' for things to get better, to put me in a position where I can buy. But they haven't. The years have rolled on, and I've been in this state of flux. There has to come a point where you embrace what you've got.

For me, this means that even though this isn't my dream place, and my next rental may not be my dream place either, that I've got to start respecting my places as home. Because what ends up happening is you don't sort out those boxes in the corner and you don't rearrange the place to make it homely and warm. You don't pick some nice flowers and put them in a vase and you don't grow some veggies and herbs in pots. And that can have a really negative impact on your emotional wellbeing. The end of a marriage or long-term relationship is hard enough. Being kind to yourself and doing nice things not only for yourself but also your home, can make a real difference to how you and your child or children feel on a daily basis.

For example, my daughter's room has always been crammed with stuff. As she gets older it accumulates with more and more stuff. This has always been the biggest stress for me and the cause of a lot of my guilt. I constantly tell myself that I should get a bigger place to have more room for her. I need to buy a home for her. But I can't do that right now. So I umm and ahh about if I should move to another rental. But the rent is cheap here. To get the same rent I will need to move way out, away from her school, so it's not worth it. I could get another place but it would be more rent and I'm trying to save for a house. But will I ever be able to buy a house? I don't know. And I've gone round and round in these circles for six years!

So last weekend I decided enough is enough. I sat in my daughter's room and I came up with a way to rearrange her bed, desk and other things in a way that doubled the space she has to play in her room. And it felt so great. A huge burden lifted, because every time I went in her room I felt sad that I was not providing for her.  After I organised her room, I wondered to myself why it has taken me so long to do this. I should have done this sooner.

What I never anticipated from separation is how long it takes to get back on your feet and find a place you can call home, even if it's not exactly what you pictured. I wish I had started this redecorating sooner, but the fact that I've started is all that matters. I'm onto the kitchen next!