A Few Right Ways to “Divide the Stove”

When we were researching our book, we came across the most interesting phrase, from China. “Dividing the stove,” we learned, is an expression used to describe the process of dismantling a family home. What a succinct and poetic way of suggesting at least part of why that process is so difficult! It involves “dividing” things that simply cannot be divided.

Last week in her post, my coauthor posed the question “What is Fair?” when deciding what to do with all the “stuff” in a family home that is being dismantled. I remember feeling frustrated when my family was figuring out how to go about this process: I knew there must be many stories out there of how other people had done it, but I didn’t know how to find them.

We’re hoping to get a conversation started on our blog, about ways people have found to get through this process happily, harmoniously, and more or less efficiently, so that people feeling similarly overwhelmed and confused when going about “dividing the stove” can benefit from the experience of those who have “been there, done that.”

One of the things we discovered in writing our book is that there are probably almost as many ways to move through this process as there are families doing it (some of them “right,” others not-so-right).

Here are just a few of the “right” ways to do it, from some of the people who shared their stories in our book:

  • We used colored stickers to indicate which of our kids wanted which items. We marked the things we wanted to keep with black stickers, and then gave each of them a different color. They marked anything they wanted with their colored stickers, and if an item had more than one sticker on it, they had to negotiate with each other to figure out who got what. We just stayed out of it, and they worked it out on their own.
  • I had a large lined notebook in which I wrote down what each of our children had taken for themselves, and when. I had a page for each of them, and in addition to the list of items they took, I made notes about who else might have wanted the item. The actual division of our possessions at the time we emptied the house went pretty smoothly, but as the months passed, and one or another of the children had second thoughts or regrets, we were able to refer to the notebook and see how and why things had been dispersed as they were. This helped, as they went about making trades until everyone was happy.
  • When my brothers and I emptied our mother’s home, we didn’t invite our wives or the grandchildren to be involved in the process of dividing the things. It seemed simpler that way, and it worked well for us.
  • My mom divvied up her most valuable things before she died. And she didn’t just hand them over to us–she gave them as Christmas, birthday, and anniversary presents. She actually joked that not having to shop for presents was so wonderful, she wished she had started doing it sooner. So my advice would be, find creative and joyous ways to give away your possessions, and save your loved ones potential headaches.

How has your family dealt with “dividing the stove”? Did you find a “right” way that you’d like to share? Or maybe you would like to share what went wrong in your family, and what you learned from that. We hope you’ll take a minute to comment on this post, and share your stories, so we can build up a bigger pool of creative solutions to the problem of dividing the stove.



3 Responses

  1. All of the suggestions for “Dividing The Stove” were terrific! I wrote about what adult children did when the estate was worth a fair amount of money, but the squabbles were often over the smallest “sentimental” items..and how they got through it all–in RIGHTSIZING YOUR LIFE: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most. For more info, see: http://www.rightsizingyourlife.com All best, Ciji Ware

  2. Thanks for your response, Ciji! One of the most fun things about working on our book was learning about all the simple, and yet ingenious ways people found to get through this process harmoniously, and especially how to get through those inevitable little squabbles without allowing them to turn into big squabbles (or worse). There ARE many ways to do that if everyone is committed to keeping the peace (and maintaining their sense of humor), as you no doubt discovered also in writing your book.

  3. Ah, yes…a sense of humor is ESSENTIAL!! 🙂

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