There’s no easy way around this in a breakup: If you shared a place together, one of you will stay and one of you will go. While at first it seems like the far better deal in a split to keep the real estate, you may soon realize that you got stuck with something far worse: the ghosts.
Not the real ones, of course, but the haunting spirit of the memories embedded in the objects left behind. Here lies a couch you had sex on. There rests the bed where she dumped you. R.I.P., the spot she kept her billions of face products. And over there is the kitchen table where you cooked dinner to celebrate her promotion.
You’d be forgiven for fantasizing about torching the place and never looking back. Because after the relief wears off that you aren’t the person who had to move, and that the other person got stuck with a boatload of hassle and expenses, you’ll realize they got something priceless: the promise of fresh paint and bare walls and none of your old bullshit hanging around.
Remedying that oversight appears to be the goal of a new HGTV show called Unspouse Your House, which pitches renovation as the cure to the pain of a bad split. Slated to run by year’s end, six half-hour episodes feature host and “breakup expert” Orlando Soria, who will work “with newly single clients to overhaul their homes and heal their lonely hearts with laughter, support and beautiful design.”
So presumably, if you can just dump their shit and rearrange a bookshelf or two, you can help the dead pass on and get back to the business of living. Death by exorcism.
The show is currently still looking for lovelorn Southern California candidates to presumably go through the relics of their failed relationship, one wincingly loaded talisman at a time.
“Are you still living in the home you once shared with your ex?” the show’s casting copy asks. “Are you ready to get rid of your ex’s remaining stuff once and for all? Are you ready for Orlando and his team to help rid you of your past and give you the revenge renovations you deserve?”
When I saw the show concept, my first thought was that this was a curious new chapter in the ongoing Marie Kondofication of our lives, only reverse-engineered. Instead of asking yourself if the things you own spark joy, you’ll ask if they spark spite, anger or pain. Even worse, you may have to admit they all sparked joy at one point, only now they’re way too painful to keep around. (Yikes.)
But that sounds depressing, more like Hoarders for the recently dumped. The “revenge renovations” line suggests it’s more like a vindication makeover — an interior design fuck-you to someone you’re glad to see go. That made me think of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as I often do, where the jilted could niftily erase the memories of their exes to avoid the haunting pain of the breakup. Death by amnesia.
The real question is, this might make for nice voyeuristic viewing, but will any of this actually help heal broken hearts?
After all, erasure doesn’t quite work out so hot in Eternal Sunshine, because no matter how vigilantly you try to scrub your brain of painful memories, there are some things you simply can’t outrun. It doesn’t work out so hot in real life, either.
I guess that’s my only hesitation with the show’s otherwise exciting premise, which is that you can rid yourself of every object in the world still hanging around from an old relationship. As someone who has stayed in a handful of places after the deed was done, I can tell you: The relationship is in the walls. It’s the house that’s haunted. Maybe it’s you, too.
You can change the pictures on the wall. You can buy a new couch. But you will still turn a corner down the hallway and your mind will still replay a scene of the relationship past regardless of the backdrop. And eventually, you’ll realize you have to do the same thing everyone has to do in every haunted house story, from Amityville to Poltergeist to The Haunting of Hill House: get the hell out of there and never look back.
Of course, that’s not realistic. Not everyone can pack up and leave, which is why I’ve spent years in houses post-breakup, and even had another partner move in after the fact. That’s always fun! Now you’re trying to make new memories on top of the old ones, like laying down a brand-new hardwood floor on top of some rotting old tile. Sure, it fades over time, but that, in my experience, isn’t something you can speed up with a trip to IKEA.
Still, we insist on and keep believing in the healing properties of the makeover, the haircut and clothing change that will make us whole again. In a guide to exorcising an ex from your abode, for instance, Apartment Therapy advises putting away any photos or mementos that still remind you of the ex in a box and changing things up a bit. “The best revenge is living well,” they write. “So treat yourself to the painting he never liked, and cook the meal he never appreciated.”
If only it were that simple. I mean, definitely do that. There’s no harm in helping the memories fade by switching out the wallpaper. Just don’t be surprised if even after installing new paint, new plants and a new shower curtain, you still see ghosts lurking around from time to time. Because no matter how much you change things up and think you’ll confuse them with a new arrangement, somehow, they still know the address.