How to Sort Through the Ex-Files

Everyone has a past -- and that includes relationships. So what do you do with that old teddy bear, postcard, or necklace now? If you’re tired of worrying about a shoebox in the closet, then it might be time to ditch the evidence and get rid of the potential problem-causers. Here’s how you can sift through all of your swag so you won’t feel guilty.

The Evidence: Love Letters
Case to Keep Them

-- Remember those days before text messages and tweets when people expressed themselves with…what's the word…sentences? And those sentences -- at least from that guy you dated a few years ago -- weren't simply expressive, they were practically poetry. You don't still have feelings for him (just for the record, you broke up with him), but you have a nagging feeling that when you're 80, you'll be happy to have his prose stashed away someplace.

Case to Trash Them

-- The thing about love letters is that they're about, well, love. And not love with your current guy, but your ex, who might have been better at putting his thoughts down on paper. The personal nature of letters like this makes them like a land mine -- if your spouse happens to stumble on them, he's bound to explode.

The Verdict

-- If the letter is a one-pager about him looking forward to seeing you again or a note he wrote for your birthday, that's fine. (But honestly, why would you want to keep that?) If it's full of sentiments like how much he loves you and always will, you're better off tossing it. He's your past, not your present, and certainly not your future. If you really can't part with it, keep it at your parents' house (just make sure your husband won't notice it while visiting).

The Evidence: Stuffed Animal
Case to Keep It -- You can't help it that the stuffed frog your ex won for you at a local fair still makes you laugh every time you look at it. It's also the perfect item to lighten up your otherwise stale guest room (okay, you're working on it!), and your nephew asks for “Froggy" whenever he comes over.
Case to Trash It -- Sure, the frog's cute. But it's not like your spouse has never brought home some “stuffed love" (what about the hot pink flamingo from his trip to Miami or the teddy bear he bought you when you had the flu?). How many stuffed animals do you need stashed around the house?
The Verdict -- Fine, you can keep it. Let's be real: One stuffed animal isn't going to make or break your relationship, and your spouse should be mature enough to realize this isn't a highly personal item. Just don't keep it on your actual bed. That's kinda creepy. Your best option is to store it in a room where your spouse doesn't spend a ton of time (not counting the laundry room).

The Evidence: Jewelry
Case to Keep It -- Hey, those sapphire earrings were super-expensive, and they look great with everything from a button-down shirt to your favorite going-out dress. Plus, it's not like you think of your ex when you wear them. You just know that they look fab!
Case to Trash It -- You're not the only one who loves your studs. In fact, practically every time you're out, someone asks you where you got them -- including when you're out with your guy. The response? Awkward silence interrupted by bits of, “Uh, um, they were a gift," and your spouse rolling his eyes from across the table. Did we mention it doesn't exactly help that he bought you a pair of earrings for your birthday and those are sitting at home in your jewelry box?
The Verdict -- As long as the jewelry that's in question isn't a diamond ring, you're okay. Just don't make your ex's gifts a staple with your everyday wardrobe, and mix them up with a necklace and bracelet so you're not spotlighting just one piece.

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The Evidence: Vacation Scrapbook
Case to Keep It

-- So it's not like you sit in your room every night flipping through the photographs of you and your ex backpacking through Europe. But you like knowing they're still around. And those pics are irreplaceable -- you didn't have a digital camera then, and she's got the negatives!

Case to Trash It

-- A few photos here or there (think: prom shots with your high school sweetheart or you and your college girlfriend throwing caps off at graduation) shouldn't really be something your spouse can't handle -- as long as they're not framed on the mantel. But an entire scrapbook (or two) filled with photos of you and your ex doing everything from kayaking to kissing might be a little bit too much.

The Verdict

-- If your spouse has her own scrapbook lying around somewhere, you're in the clear. But if she's hopped off the ex train, you should take a cue and do the same. Loophole: Snag a few of your favorite pics from the book before tossing it -- but throw out any romantic shots.

The Evidence: Your Facebook Page
Case to Keep It

-- Old wall posts and photos with your former flame don't mean anything now, and it would seem weird to go through all the effort of deleting them or untagging the picture of you two at the birthday party you threw for her -- four years ago.

Case to Trash It

-- Sites like Facebook have taken the term “PDA" to a whole new level, making it possible for all those pictures, notes, and comments to linger in cyberspace for as long as you let them. So why not take action? Untagging photos or de-friending an ex (especially if you're no longer friends in real life) is easy enough to do and will likely prevent drama with your spouse.

The Verdict

-- Hate to break it to you, but keeping a (very) public record of your prior relationships isn't just lame -- it puts your spouse in an unfair position. Would you want to see images of your wife with her ex? Didn't think so. Unless you and your ex have both totally moved on and have a true friendship that includes your spouse, get rid of all those past pics and posts.