Divorce registries could be the key to a fresh start

Looking to support a friend going through a breakup? Enter divorce registries. Amber Raiken examines how Fresh Starts Registry helps women in the aftermath of a divorce

Thursday 13 June 2024 20:55
In the months after her own divorce, Olivia Dreizen Howell came up with the idea of a divorce registry out of her own necessity
In the months after her own divorce, Olivia Dreizen Howell came up with the idea of a divorce registry out of her own necessity (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When mother-of-two Jolie Steele split from her now ex-husband in 2022, she was prepared to completely reorganize her professional and personal life. But when she encountered financial challenges she’d never had before, she turned to friends to ask for support – in the form of a divorce registry.

Speaking to The Independent, Steele – who’s based in Columbus, Ohio – acknowledged how eye-opening the beginning stages of her divorce were from a financial perspective. “I realized how quickly your income gets cut in half, and your life expenses pretty much stay the same,” she said. “Everything you’ve built up – all of your assets as the court calls them – gets split. So, I had been talking to friends and they were asking me: ‘What do you need? How can I help?’”

Because Steele is the primary caregiver for her children and only worked part-time when she was married, she said she was very financially impacted by her divorce. Although she admitted it initially felt inappropriate to accept monetary help from her friends, she wrote down everything she needed, then turned to Fresh Starts Registry, where she created an official divorce registry.

Following her own divorce in 2019, Olivia Dreizen Howell came up with the idea of a divorce registry out of her own necessity. Speaking to The Independent, Howell, a mother of two, recalled having to say goodbye to what she described as “emotionally charged items” when her ex moved out with his belongings.

“So these were the sheets we slept on together, the towels with our monogram from our wedding registry, right?” she explained. “So my sister, Jenny, came over and we kind of did a sweep of the house and thought: ‘Are these items going to be really hard to have in my space while I’m trying to heal?’ Since divorce is a grieving period.”

While in need of a restock from a practical perspective – and an emotional one – in the months after the divorce, Howell did a quick search through Google for divorce registries and realized they didn’t exist. She changed that in 2021 when she and her sister Genevive “Jenny” Dreizen – who’d recently ended her own relationship of more than 10 years – teamed up to launch Fresh Starts Registry.

Using Amazon as its registry engine, Fresh Starts Registry offers different bundles for restocking a home after a divorce. Items in each bundle are organized by category, including things for a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and children’s room. Requests can be fairly simple too, from a hamper for a young boy’s bedroom to a pack of Meyer’s hand soap for the kitchen, and users can choose whatever they want, and need, by mixing and matching items from each bundle. Dreizen and Howell also trust their Amazon shop, explaining that they’ve scoured the reviewers of these products and handpicked them, so people don’t have to worry about if the new bedsheets – which could be replacing the ones shared with an ex – are good quality.

Although it may feel strange to ask friends to donate to your gift registry after a divorce – as registries are typically used to celebrate a positive milestone such as a wedding or baby’s arrival – Fresh Starts Registry guides you through it. “We provide scripts for them to literally copy and paste into text messages to their friends,” Howell explained. “It could be like: ‘Hey you know, I’m going through this big life change, getting divorced. A lot of my friends and family have asked me how they can support me right now. No pressure at all, but here are some items for me and the kids to kind of have a start fresh.’”

Founders of Fresh Starts Registry, Genevive ‘Jenny’ Dreizen and Olivia Dreizen Howell
Founders of Fresh Starts Registry, Genevive ‘Jenny’ Dreizen and Olivia Dreizen Howell (Courtesy of Fresh Starts Registry)

For her registry, Steele opted for a variety of household items, like weights, since she was no longer going to the gym, and a Roomba vacuum because she had less time to clean. She also picked out containers for flour and sugar, and paper and marker sets for her children. Although the items on her divorce registry were not glamorous, such as what one may find on a wedding registry, she said the list was composed of the essentials needed in her life after being hit so hard financially by her divorce.

“As somebody who was the primary caretaker for the kids, my income drastically changed. Specifically, it was cut by more than half when I got divorced. So there were several months where I was pinching pennies and trying to find ways to make ends meet,” she said. “With the registry, I even asked for things like double A batteries because there’s a lot of things in my house that need them. When you’re budgeting down to the cent, dropping 20 bucks on batteries feels like a lot at the moment. Fresh Starts Registry helped alleviate a bit of the anxiety over the little things in life that were adding up for me financially.”

Research has shown that, in heterosexual relationships, divorces negatively impact women more than men. A 2020 study conducted by The Journal of Gerontology found that in divorces of couples who were 50 or older, women experienced a 45 percent decline in their standard of living, while men experienced a 21 percent decline. Researchers identified the standard of living as the degree of wealth and material comforts accessible to individuals.

The financial burdens that come with a divorce is another reason why Dreizen and Howell started Fresh Starts Registry. According to the pair, the registries are beneficial for much more than just giving someone a gift.

“We see it as bridging the gap between those who need support and those who are looking to support them,” Dreizen told The Independent. “Sometimes, something that you’ll hear when people talk about this negatively is: ‘Oh, you just send this registry out and you just expect people to buy you things?’ And it’s like, no, the connection is everything and so is the way you talk to people about it. Asking for help is such a vulnerable thing. We want to give people permission to ask for support and celebrate them when they do.”

‘We see it as bridging the gap between those who need support and those who are looking to support them’
‘We see it as bridging the gap between those who need support and those who are looking to support them’ (Courtesy of Fresh Starts Registry)

For those who don’t have the finances to contribute to a friend’s divorce registry, but who may be looking for budget-friendly ways to support their friends, Dreizen recommends offering them meal ideas for their children or sending a simple text to check in on how they’re doing.

“Take them to go run errands with you so they’re not thinking about their divorce for a couple minutes,” Dreizen suggested. “Help them back up the data on their phone so all of their text messages with their ex are saved. Then delete the messages with their ex from their phone, so they have everything in perpetuity, but they don’t have to keep looking at those texts. There’s a lot of really amazing ways to support people that cost nothing.”

Dreizen and Howell have stayed true to their brand’s name, with the goal of helping people find a “fresh start” after getting a divorce. Howell – who’s also a clinical hypnotherapist and life coach – shared her belief that with new items to replace the old and positive affirmations from loved ones, people can truly feel like they’re entering a new stage of their life.

“Just hearing the term fresh start in itself actually helps us look at a negative situation and completely reframes it as, not in a toxic positivity way, but a positive one, like: ‘Okay I had this thing happen to me and now I get to fully make decisions on my own from a confident and strong place about what I want to moving forward,’” she explained. “So the registries help you get to decide on things that bring you joy. And you get to see those things that bring you joy from the people you love.”

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