boxes in empty room
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How to move with a broken heart

Ella Risbridger thought that moving out would be an impossible, monumental task. It turned out to be a series of tiny heartbreaking ones, each more important and worthwhile than the last

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By Ella Risbridger on

Here’s the thing: everyone tells you to go to the supermarket for boxes.

This is the kind of simple answer someone will give you who doesn’t understand what it’s like when your life has fallen apart and doesn’t understand that the big Sainsbury’s has been your local supermarket for half a decade and soon won’t be any more. That going into the big Sainsbury’s leaves you crying by the trolleys for all the times you were happy, as well as the times when you didn’t even know you were happy; you just thought you were doing the big shop or popping in for bread and milk.

Anyway: don’t do any of this. Don’t go to the supermarket if you can’t go to the supermarket. You’re going to chuck money at the problem.

Moving, it turns out, is horrible.

Moving on your own is really horrible.

Moving on your own because you have to move out of the flat you shared with someone you loved; and you don’t have any proof of income for a landlord; and having to explain the wreck of your life to estate agents twice a day; and you can’t drive; and you don’t think you’ll ever be at home anywhere else ever again; and you don’t even know where to buy boxes?

Really, really fucking horrible.

Back to the boxes. Go to the Argos website. Order mostly small boxes, with maybe 10 medium boxes. Don’t buy a single large box; you cannot lift large boxes. You’re doing this alone, or with a similar-sized friend; you cannot lift large boxes. You also want to order four rolls of tape and a roll of bubble wrap. On the way to Argos, you pick up an armful of newspapers and some heavy duty (like, outdoor refuse) binbags. And then you get a taxi home. Do not even think about going on the bus.

Give stuff to charity if you can; don’t feel too bad if some of it goes in the bin – you’re having a time and the important thing is to get your clutter away before you change your mind

Sorting through possessions has to be done. I have no tips for this. It was awful and took three weeks. Start as early as you can. Chuck out everything you can bear to chuck and a lot of things you can’t. Give stuff to charity if you can; don’t feel too bad if some of it goes in the bin – you’re having a time and the important thing is to get your clutter away before you change your mind. Take a lot of pictures of everything you’re throwing out.

Watch a bunch of Marie Kondo videos; try tentatively thanking your possessions; feel silly; stop; try again; it does sort of help. Keep things if it makes you too sad to throw them out. I kept a pair of red boots too battered to wear, because I don’t know who I am if I don’t have those in my wardrobe. I kept so much, and chucked out probably 400 books and 60 lipsticks and eight binliners of assorted stuff. You have so much stuff. We had so much stuff.

Expect your heart to break on the regular. You can survive it. I promise.

You can stuff socks into almost anything. Crumpled up newspaper, too. Wrap everything in bubblewrap and tape everything double.

You will lose the tape 300 times while you’re packing. Just buy more tape. The tape is lost forever.

Your friends want to help. Let them. You can pay them in cakes or roast-lamb dinners.

If you don’t have any proof of income – maybe because you’ve been a carer for nearly three years, or because of some other thing that turned your world upside down – renting a flat is going to be tricky, but not as tricky as you think. I promise you.

An estate agent explains this to me, when I’ve stopped crying. He tells me that I’m going to need a guarantor; and/or a chunk of money for a bigger deposit than usual; and/or a flatmate who earns more (or at least more regularly) than I do. Then he gives up on professional norms and gives me a hug. Then he drives us (me and said potential new flatmate) to another estate agent’s, to see if we can find something else there.

We don’t find anyone who will take me as a tenant in that one. Not in the one after that, either. And then – a week later – we do.

We find a landlord who gets it. We find a landlord who’s prepared to accept all my careful paperwork to prove that I can probably pay the rent, and we find a flat with two big bedrooms and a kitchen with a balcony. It’s full of light and almost no furniture, and I think: I could be at home here.

And, writing this, I am. My life has changed immeasurably, in ways I’m not really ready to write about yet – and I have changed, too, in ways I don’t even know how to explain. But, I can tell you this: it’s been three months since I cried by the trolleys – maybe a little over – and I’m at home here.

I didn’t think I would ever be at home anywhere else, but I am. I’m broken in so many ways, now, still; changed and heartsore and sad and lost and scared. But, as I write this, I’m safe and at home and surrounded by love. I think, maybe, that all those things together – the pain and the love and the scared and the safe – are all being alive really is.

It feels – this strange, painful, beautiful new life – like a miracle to me, and I’m telling you this because if I can do it, you can do it: it can happen for you, too. It can happen for you.


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