Fifteen years ago, if you had looked up the word “bachelor,” you would have found my picture next to the definition. Thanks to unresolved ghosts from my childhood and family expectations that I’d marry the “right” woman, I had a better chance of getting struck by lightening than finding a bride.

So imagine my surprise when a woman I had been dating reached across the table, took both of my hands in hers, and said, “You’re my grand passion and I want to marry you.” I was hesitant, so I jumped on my motorcycle, huddled at the coast for a few days, and let voices of my past do battle with the desires of my present.

And I got there.

I rented the bottom floor of a restaurant, sent a limo for my girlfriend, and got down on one knee. She said yes, and there I was: finally engaged to be married. Six weeks later, in a bizarre set of twists and turns, it all fell apart. Frustrated, angry, and confused, I turned to my table saw for help. After receiving the green light from the homrowner's association, I started to work: 31 post holes, 67 bags of concrete, and piles of wood in the driveway—all dug, mixed, carried, and hammered by hand. Two weeks later, I finished building a fence around my backyard; a metaphorically-perfect project for a man with a broken heart.

Unfortunately, the pain went deeper than a single fence, so I hired an architect and drew up even more ambitious plans for an addition to the house and a completely re-engineered backyard. This went on for four years. Every weekend, I’d strap on my tool belt, plug in my headphones, and spend the day with my power tools, processing what had happened. Eventually, I screwed down the last deck board and planted the last shrub. My projects and my mourning had come to an end.

When they’re broken-hearted, some people put their money up their nose. Some put it in the bottom of a glass. I gave all of mine to Home Depot. Here’s what I learned from that.

1. Garbage will always block my way if I let it. Instead of focusing on what I truly wanted in a relationship, I let a ton of trash pile up in my head: other people’s expectations, how love is supposed to feel, and notions of the perfect relationship, to name a few. Noticing that garbage would have helped me make different choices.

2. Give it time. It’s a process, not an event. We don’t generate all of our garbage in one fell swoop, just like tossing it is not a once-and-done event. If it’s emotional and it hits home, it’s gong to take time to dump. As long as you recognize that it has no value to you and it’s on the way to your mental landfill, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get rid of it.

3. That was then. This is now. Just because this relationship didn’t work out doesn’t mean that the next one will fail or that I’m lousy at love. In fact, what happened in my past means nothing at all—unless I give it the power to stop me.

I don’t recommend getting your heart broken as a way to jump-start a home improvement project. In my case, however, it really helped me spot the garbage in a very important relationship and move beyond it. As it turned out, that was good for my heart and my house value. As spring—the annual time of renewal—approaches, look through your life and Toss That Trash. You may be surprised how much value you find once the garbage is gone.


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An Introduction to Forgiveness

Is the Value Really There?

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

The #1 Tool for Tossing Trash

Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Perfect Garbage Metaphor

What to Do When Life Throws Garbage at You

Why Recycling is a Waste of Time

Routes, Goals, and Garbage

Cerebral Spring Cleaning

How Breaking My Arms Got Me Into College

How to Trash Your Career

The Unconscious Connection

How a Broken Heart Can Increase Your Property Value

A Tribute to Sam Berns

Why Thoughts Smell

Why the Holidays Have No Value

Why Dumping Trash Matters