Who do we combine households in as respectful and unstressful a way possible?
November 16, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I will be moving into my fiancee's house after we get married in the summer. How do we combine our stuff in a way that is fair to both of us?

I'm getting married in the summer and I'll be moving in with my fiancee right after the wedding (actually, I'll be moving my stuff in a few weeks before and then living with my parents until we're officially married). I've lived with roommates and girlfriends in the past, but it was always a situation where we either happened to have complimentary stuff (i.e., one of us had the dishes, the other had a couch) or one of us had everything and the other had nothing. As a result, I've never really had to figure out how to combine homes before.

Since my fiancee and I have both been living on our own, without roommates, for several years, we both have all of the things that a household needs: dishes, bedding, furniture, etc.

We're planning to start sorting through our stuff soon, so that when the big move actually happens, it is fairly quick and painless -- one less source of stress to deal with as we get closer to the actual wedding.

How do we combine our things in a fair way?

Some decisions will be easy: her pots and pans are nicer than mine, so I'll get rid of mine; my microwave is better than hers, so she'll get rid of hers. When our things are of equal quality, and do not have any sort of sentimental value, like cutlery, I'll get rid of mine because that's one less thing to pack and move.

But what about things like art? She's got hers. I have mine. How do we decide what stays and what goes when we turn her space into our space?

The house is pretty small and we don't want to rent a storage unit. How do we decide what to keep and what to toss so that everything will fit into the house and we both still like each other at the end of the ordeal?
posted by asnider to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not to be snarky, but this is part of being WITH someone else, and the process will never end, as you each bring new things, activities, thoughts, and beliefs in.

As for art, just figure out what pieces look good where. If she wants to keep all of hers and trash all of yours, then this could be a red flag.
posted by Danf at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a question I could have written. My girlfriend is moving in soon and there's a certain amount of stress she's having about this, certainly more than I am.

Our situation is a bit different, but I'd like to think that in your situation we would compromise on the art. I've already put some things that she didn't care for away or gotten rid of them. She doesn't have much in the way of art, but what she intends to keep is something that we'll fit in. I imagine we'll have to reposition some items to make everything flow again, but that's what you do... you adjust.

Sounds like you've a handle on the other stuff - is there more than just art that you're concerned with?

Oh, and as a general rule... because the house is mine, I'm trying to be a bit understanding in that she's giving up a some things that she might otherwise hold onto in order to stay on her own. There are very few things which I'm dead set on not changing or adapting, so that makes it a bit easier in my mind. I've told her that if there are things that she really would rather keep, even if I don't like them... that we'd find a way. We have the luxury of a basement for the things that she doesn't want to get rid of but I might not be able to accept into the living space. That'll give us time to work toward a better solution.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:31 PM on November 16, 2011

Welcome to marriage.

Now, forget "fairness" and focus on other, more important topics, like "love," "communication" and, "communication." And oh yeah, "love."

Because we're not talking about a roommate you can decide to kick out if he/she is pissing you off. She's ain't going home. She is home. One day, you'll look up from your Cheerios and realize, "Holy shit! She's going to be here tomorrow, too!"

So, come back to communication. How do you decide on restaurants to eat at and movies to watch? Because your throwdowns about exact;y what art to hang will be pretty much the same. "I like this, what do you think?" "I fucking hate that; how about this?" "OK, I can live with this, and next time we can do that, deal?" "Deal." "I love you." "I love you, too."

Lather, rinse, repeat. For the next several decades, if you're lucky.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on November 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

The basic issue is that you will be putting more stuff into the same amount of space. It will feel more crowded. That's not unliveable, it's just a different feel. You'll adapt.

One of the best ways to be welcoming when households are combined is for the person who's already set up shop in the house to not only get rid of things they don't need to keep, but to temporarily uninstall things that you are planning to merge. Take down the art, empty the assorted kitchen-appliance cupboards into a few boxes, empty the bathroom medicine cabinet, etc. Then you can fill up the space together, with less sense of "move your stuff out of my way!!". It's easier to say "I'd like to have an entire cabinet for spices" when there's actually an empty cabinet available - and if all person A's spices are already put away it looks like there's not room, but if you are combining jars, throwing out old stuff, buying lazy susans and stacking shelves and storage whatnots, it's way more likely to all fit. (yes, extra drawer/shelves/organizers are essential!)

When combining decorative stuff with roommates in the past, we each had a few favorite pieces and several filler pieces, and we mixed/matched. So, for example, her favorite big poster looked nice over the sofa, and I chose two of my filler pieces that had colors/themes that complemented it. I put my favorite piece in my bedroom because it's loud and obnoxious but sentimental, and my second-favorite at the top of the stairs.
posted by aimedwander at 2:34 PM on November 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

After you've done the easy part and picked the highest quality essentials, and you're faced with your own versions of the same types of items, why don't you decide how many things you each get to keep? For example, if you can only keep 20 things apiece, what would you choose? I'm assuming you're not talking about clothing and stuff, right? Have you worked out closet space?)

(I used to do this activity with my ESL students: they had a list of like 15 household items/furniture, and they had to decide in pairs and then groups, which 8 they were going to take to their new house. Then I backed off and let them decide together how to reconcile their needs and limitations. It was great for practicing compromise and fostering discussion.)
posted by swingbraid at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2011

I wouldn't worry about fair but about what makes sense. Do you both have so much art or taste/style that are incompatible? I have art that I love, some I like and some that seemed like a good idea at the time. So for art, I would let each person select their favorite pieces while thinking about where it might go in the house.

You both should purge as much as possible before discussing what to keep. And if you have a stylish friend with a good eye for interior design, ask for their two cents.
posted by shoesietart at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2011

This: You both should purge as much as possible before discussing what to keep.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:39 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

My GF and I did this this summer. The fact that it went on for weeks without discussion was the bigger problem. I hated the clutter and wondered when she was going to get her stuff sorted out and she was tip-toeing around the issue because it was my house and didn't know who's stuff to keep, etc.... I finally said, we need to take care of this, let's set aside a couple of nights to go through what needs to get dealt with and handle it.

As for art: I had a theme that worked pretty well for the house and her decorations didn't fit into it. She has her own room that she can do whatever she wants with it. I didn't get to tell her what to put up, and I had to help with the hanging/moving.
posted by kookywon at 2:48 PM on November 16, 2011

This was a similar question that was asked a ways back which was more about moving into a too-small place with a partner, but I think the advice in the thread is good [and as a bonus ORThey's questions now are all about his upcoming wedding]
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on November 16, 2011

oh... and approach decisions with emotional distance. The target ladle that you've had for 3 years is not a territorial dispute that is part of a slippery slope. Its a $2 ladle. We also made compromises by having a drawer for 'backup' utensils that get used frequently.
posted by kookywon at 2:51 PM on November 16, 2011

I'll touch on a few of the points raised so far:
  • The art is just an example of the sort of thing where the answer isn't as obvious as it is with, say, the pots and pans; maybe it was a bad example, because people are focusing a bit on decorating and art, which isn't really the question;
  • Closet space is at a premium, but the clothing situation is more or less dealt with already, this is more for things that we'll end up with two of because we've both kept a separate household prior to moving in together;
Thanks for the link, jessamyn. I missed that question when I did my usual pre-posting search for similar questions.
posted by asnider at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2011

Remember that fairness is not just about numbers. For things like art (to bring up one example mentioned in the thread), it's also about other concepts like placement. For instance, even if you get to keep 4 pieces of art and she gets to keep 4 pieces of art, if one person's art ends up in the guest bedroom and the other person's art ends up in the living room, someone isn't going to be happy.

Also, mutual happiness is more important than bright-line fairness. That doesn't mean you should just keep her stuff and ditch yours, but that both of you should recognize that someone who cooks will care more about kitchen stuff, the music fan will care more about CDs and shelving, the reader will care more about books, etc. Somebody else's idea of fairness may not work for you and your fiancee. Look for compromises you two can live with and don't worry about what your friends or people on the internet think.
posted by immlass at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can swing it, hire a cleaning service to deep-clean the house before you move in. Move the furniture around where possible. Switch up art. It's important that you get over the feeling of it being her house-- it will be your house.
posted by charmcityblues at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Her house is fully furnished, correct? Unless any of your stuff is obviously better than her stuff or you're particularly attached to it, get rid of yours so you don't have to move it. Over time stuff will break or you'll grow to hate it or you'll redecorate/move and it wont match the new decor and you'll choose stuff as a couple.

As for the art, well you'll just have to compromise (unless your stuff just really doesn't go with the decor in her place). If you can't work that out as a couple, you're going to have big problems.
posted by missmagenta at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2011

Also, mutual happiness is more important than bright-line fairness.

Excellent point. I think fairness was probably the wrong word, because mutual happiness is really what we're aiming for. Fairness, in the strictest sense, isn't really that important.
posted by asnider at 3:01 PM on November 16, 2011

What things are there two of *and* that you both have sentimental attachment to? Because for anything you have no sentimental attachment to, and where your stuff is not better than hers, why not sell yours? Less moving of stuff.

As for art, if it's not tacky, I'm not sure how two people have so much stuff that there is insufficient wall space for it. (I'm assuming neither of you have art the other person really hates.) You can always decide later to get rid of some art, but that's something that I never regret keeping.
posted by jeather at 3:03 PM on November 16, 2011

May I just suggest that you not get rid of your cutlery? There are some things you can never have too much of. When you end up having a dozen people over for the holidays one year, you'll be glad you kept the extras tucked in the bottom drawer.
posted by Georgina at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Things to say often:
What do *you* think?
Does it have sentimental value?
Is it still under warranty?
Are you sure you feel okay about this?

Give the extra stuff to Goodwill or freecycle and think of every discard as a gift to someone.

Art doesn't have to match the couch. Keep art if somebody loves it.

The stuff is just stuff, but being generous to your sweetie is love.
posted by theora55 at 6:23 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

When my S.O. and I tackled this, there was an initial process of weeding out the obvious (two microwaves? lets keep this one that's better quality and give away the other). The initial process was followed by small waves of Goodwill visits for donations over the following months...nothing too drastic or dramatic, just practical decision that made the "donation pile" grow every so often. We still have duplicates of things years later, but it is manageable and tidy now...and you never appreciate having plenty of spatulas until that day you REALLY need them!

Since those first days, there's also been a concerted effort to reduce clutter possesions that have little sentimental value...I think the most clever gift I gave recently was a Kindle to help clear out over filled bookshelves...another fun Goodwill trip with books came out of that one. The important thing is to be practical, sensible, and honest about your posessions. The suggestion above to treat these reductions of property as gifts to others is spot on....wholeheartedly agree with that approach.
posted by samsara at 10:08 PM on November 16, 2011

For you, I'd suggest sitting down and getting an express agreement to change the way the place looks so that it turns into a home for both of you, rather than "her place that you moved in to." Talk about a look that you both will like, and select a color scheme (paint). Unless someone's furniture is superior in quality, choose the furniture that looks best with your agreed-on concept, and choose the art that goes best with the concept. Sell everything that doesn't match the concept and roll the return into stuff that does.

Mrs. Hylas and I painted our walls with warm colors, framed some posters I'd given her as gifts, and bought a painting. It was not as big a deal as I thought it might be. She also agreed to let me choose a color to paint some of her wood furniture to match the scheme she wanted in our kitchen/dining area. It all worked out rather well, after we committed to planning it together.

As for the practical things, keep the dishes that are the best looking; for things with more utility, keep whatever works the best. If you have W├╝sthof and she has Farberware, ditch hers. Now is a good time for both of you to be ruthless about down-sizing, except for a few non-tacky things that hold sentimental value. But the starting point has to be a conversation about what you want your living space to feel like.
posted by Hylas at 11:14 AM on November 17, 2011

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