After a bad break-up last year, I finally started dating again, and I recently met someone I really like. I'm not sure if we're getting serious or not, but either way, it seems like this is a good time to figure out what to do with all the stuff I have around my apartment that reminds me of my ex. Should I get rid of all the gifts he gave me and all the pictures that include both of us? What if there are some things I really like? What's appropriate here, and what do I do if a new boyfriend asks me where something came from, and the answer is from my ex?
Dear Moving On,
Mazel tov on finding someone who makes you feel ready to move on! You're right that even if this new relationship doesn't go anywhere, it's a positive motivator to get past the old one. Getting past that mental hurdle of not thinking about him all the time, wondering if he's going to call and fantasizing about getting back together is the hard part; unloading the physical reminders now should be easy compared with that.
Get rid of pictures and sentimental garbage that only meant something because you were with this guy. If you want to, keep jewelry, clothes, books or anything that he gave you that you use and get enjoyment out of using. Get rid of whatever reminds you of him in a baggage-that's-holding-you-back kind of way. If he gave you a copy of your favorite book but now you can't read it anymore without thinking of him, free yourself to give that copy to a friend or a library and buy yourself a new one. It may also make sense to unload anything that's explicitly relationship-based (say, lingerie) even if you still like it. Make room for new people to give you new gifts! Make room for the thiings and the people you decide you need in this new chapter of your life.
Just as you wouldn't (please say you wouldn't!) talk about exes on your first date, at the beginning of a new relationship, it's fine to say, "Oh, I've had that necklace for a while," or, "I got that shot glass on vacation," or even, "An old friend gave it to me who I'm not in touch with anymore." As any new relationship grows, though, there's an increasing need for increasing honesty, and at some point, you can say, without apology, "Oh, my ipod? The ex gave it to me. At least I got one good thing out of that relationship!"
For that matter, at some point, I think couples can benefit from talking openly about past relationships and both the physical and emotional stuff that gets left behind. Pretending you've never been involved with anyway else is naive and closes off a part of yourself to your new partner. The flip side is that keeping too many mementos around prevents your new partner from fully being able to be part of your life. You have to find the balance and you have to do so in a way that feels right to you, so doing it now, before you get serious with anyone new, is the right way to go. Do a little clean-up, see how you feel, and keep moving on from there!