Leave nothing behind
March 28, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

When you're dating, when (if?) do you start leaving personal items behind?

I've just come out of an 11 month relationship and had not so much as a pair of socks at my ex's (she did get me a toothbrush for her place). She had some underwear and a t-shirt or two at my place because I protested that it was just weird that she wouldn't ever leave anything behind/as a back up. She never invited me to leave anything at her place and if I accidentally left a pair of socks, it would immediately be delivered to me the next time we saw each other. She claimed this was because she lives in a studio apt and has no extra space for anything.

We slept over at each other's places two to four times a week. She claimed that no one she knew left things at other person's place until it was moving in time - at which point, of course, there are no separate places, so that made no sense to me. What's "normal"?
posted by ashworth to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Announcing: EmpressCallipygos' proven formula for ascertaining what is "normal" in any relationship.

Whatever you feel most comfortable with +
whatever your SO feels most comfortable with
divided by 2
= The unique thing that is normal for your unique relationship.
There is no "normal" for anything when you're talking about the specific comforts of two unique people. There is only "what you and I mutually agree we're comfortable with".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on March 28, 2013 [37 favorites]

"normal" is whatever the two people decide to do :)

Yeah, kinda thinking she was not terribly committed to the relationship and it mighta been coming out in the 'no stuff' thing. My gf and I... well, mostly I since she didnt like my bachelor cave... left all sorts of things at our (IE, her :D ) place all the time. Course, we were pretty much living together anyway and just killing time till the lease ran out.
posted by Jacen at 8:26 AM on March 28, 2013

Sigh, ok, yes I asked for this by using the term "normal" - but the quotation marks should have conveyed that I understand that there is no normative state. So, more specifically, what is your experience of this issue?
posted by ashworth at 8:29 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I cleared out a drawer for him when it was clear he would be staying over several nights a week. It remained his drawer when he moved in not long after.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:34 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's so variable that identifying "normal" is hard. My last couple of relationships, we didn't keep anything but toothbrushes, in part because we lived close to each other - it was easy to swing home on a regular basis to grab things, and I'd just pack a single night's Stuff each time I stayed over.

On the other hand, my current girlfriend lives further away and works longer hours than I do, so she generally doesn't stop home at all if she's coming over - so she's got a few changes of clothes, a jacket, a hairdryer...

Actually, come of think of it, the complexity of personal routine probably factors into this too. I can easily prep for the next day with nothing but a change of underwear, socks, and a new shirt; my girlfriend really does need more Stuff to get to a basic leave-the-house level each morning, so she's keeps more Stuff at my place.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:37 AM on March 28, 2013

I have a cousin with a tiny studio condo at the beach. Her space is tiny, but perfect. Everything she owns has a storage spot and there is no excess. If she buys a new shirt, then she gets rid of an old one.

She wouldn't let you leave anything either. She likes her space clean and well-ordered. In her case, you'd need to be damn near married before she let you put stuff in her place.
posted by 26.2 at 8:37 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is one of those "it is only weird if you make it weird" situations.

I will tell you one thing: having socks you left one day returned the next certainly beats the "I have no idea about these articles of clothing you speak of" treatment I got during a breakup many years ago.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, it isn't really about time so much as it is convenience. My girlfriend and I live across the street from one another, so there's no real reason for us to leave much at the other person's place other than a shirt and underwear. We've been together five years.

Before we lived close, she'd have a few outfits at my place and some makeup because my place was closer to her work. Really, I know there is some symbolic value to leaving things at one's significant other's place, but if you're pragmatic like me, unless there's a convenient reason to leave things, I won't.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:39 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My partner and I dated for several years before moving in together, and all I ever kept at his place was a toothbrush. I preferred to go home in the morning to get ready before work during the week because I hated his shower, and on weekends I'd just bring an overnight bag with a change of clothes or two. In a pinch, I could always borrow a hoodie from him or something. He did the same at my place.

We both had relatively small living spaces (mine a studio, his a master bedroom in a group house) and I'm sure that's part of why we didn't bother to create space for each others' things. It's probably also worth mentioning that we both stored our clothes in small closets, hanging or on shelves, and not dressers where we could assign someone their drawer.

I was definitely the kind of studio-dweller who got greedy about my very limited storage space. A left-behind pair of socks would definitely get returned, but it was no reflection on our level of intimacy or my passion for the relationship. I just didn't want his socks because there wasn't space to keep them separate from mine and they made me twitchy just sitting there.
posted by juliplease at 8:40 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Back in prehistory when I was last dealing with this, my partner and I didn't leave much stuff at each other's places until we moved in together. (And we didn't move in together until 2 or 3 years in, so it was a long interval of living separately.) I didn't spend all that much time at his place so I didn't feel any need to have stuff there. He was at my place a few nights a week and I think he probably had a toothbrush, but I don't recall him leaving clothes over - he'd bring a backpack with his change of clothes and a small toiletry bag with whatever Man Stuff he needed. (Deodorant? Shaving stuff? I don't even know. Man Stuff.)

Wasn't a big deal for either of us. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be a big deal for you, if it makes you uncomfortable, but like anything else that's a couple-specific negotiation.
posted by Stacey at 8:41 AM on March 28, 2013

After spending 3-5 nights at their place?
posted by 99percentfake at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2013

Yes there are things that can be safely categorized as normal and not normal - not everything is relative.

Your ex-GF:

Avoided practicality
Gave you a reason that had no logic
And, "delivered" immediately socks back to you due to "space"

All of this points to idiosyncrasies - i.e. behavior peculiar to her. There could be many reasons for that.

Most people would not make such an issue, but in fact, find it practical and normal.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:42 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't care at all if people leave stuff at my place, whether we're SERIOUSLY DATING or not, but I have extra closet space and I'm not particularly finicky about organization. I can see where someone in a small studio would want to run a tighter ship.

However, I do think it's basic sleepover courtesy to allow regular guests a set of toiletries for morning presentability - toothbrush, deodorant, contact lens case, etc.
posted by lalex at 8:44 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

There might be some correlation between leaving stuff and commitment, but that doesn't mean not leaving stuff indicates not being serious.  I might exchange/loan some more sentimental possessions - photos or a book - but not something boring and practical like socks. I think what is "normal" also depends on the temperament of the people involved. I'm scatterbrained and I like having all my clothing options in one place. It would quickly drive me crazy wondering whether I couldn't find a shirt I wanted to wear that day because was at my place, my partner's place, or just lost.
posted by snappysnapper at 8:45 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would often go over to my ex's place after work so I left a few pairs of clean underwear / change of clothes, and extra shampoo / conditioner / misc Girl Stuff at his place so that in the morning I could go to work from his place instead of his place --> my place --> work, which would have been unnecessarily complicated. That probably started a few months in.

Personally, the way I look at it, when you both know that (1) you're for sure going to be staying over again; (2) you're in an exclusive relationship, there is no reason NOT to make your space comfortable for the other person.
posted by Asparagus at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing that this is only a big thing in sitcoms, romcoms, and if you want to make it A Thing. If you and your SO do not want to make it one, it is not one.

Personally I would think it was kind of weird if I was sleeping over 2-4 nights a week and did not have some extra clothes there. It's just a hassle to lug an extra pair of clothes around with you all the time, especially if you're sleeping over during the workweek.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:57 AM on March 28, 2013

I don't think I purposely left anything at my other half's place before we moved in together, aside from the occasional piece of clothing that was forgotten, or some item that I had specifically lent them. I think maybe extra toothbrushes might have have been bought and left in our bathrooms but that's about it. I don't think there was anything we ever "needed" to have living at the other one's house - anything we needed to use while we were there (shampoo, toothpaste) was borrowed from the other person. If we knew we were staying for more than just overnight we'd bring a bag with a change of clothes.

I can totally see someone who is very neat & tidy returning something small that was left behind because it bugged them that there wasn't a "place" for it and they didn't want it just hanging around "looking messy". I don't think that's particularly strange.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:58 AM on March 28, 2013

There is no normal, but there have been a few things I've noticed.

Hairpins left behind the first night.

Shirt or some kind of undergarment in the first month.

Bathroom kit (toothbrush, things I don't stock (tampons etc)) in the first three months.

With my GF, I invited her to be completely at home after about a month. That meant specifically inviting her/setting her up to use wifi, printer, fridge, bed, bath even when I'm not at home. I also cleared out a shelf for her near the bed. I have resources to spare and relish the thought of her utilizing them. I understand this may not be normal, and it wasn't reciprocated explicitly for a long time- both fine by me. Aside from the obvious, this makes it possible for her to be near me without any worries about having the right clothes or toiletries. That's important to me - a pair of socks should never come between us.
posted by fake at 8:59 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was flip earlier; sorry.

I think it depends on some combination of when you both kind of agree that you're in A Relationship, and when it becomes inconvenient not to. Personally, I've seen things go all over the map, from never leaving things over at all (my most recent ex - we lived a couple blocks from each other, so it was no big deal for either of us to decamp back to our own place for morning ablutions) to having toiletries on hand right away (on my second date with one of my exes, I ended up contracting a freak medical problem and had to get emergency surgery, and he insisted on my recovering at his place for a week so he made a "girl toiletries" run and set things up for me right away).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2013

I usually start leaving a toothbrush, a few toiletries, and maybe a change of underwear and/or shirt at someone's house after about the third time I sleep over and have to go directly out into the world without going home first. Whether that's to work on a weekday, or to some Saturday morning appointment, or whatever.

This tends to coincide with around the point that we're not just two people sleeping together after a night of drunken fun, and it's becoming a regular thing/we're dating/I'm over at their house regularly.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2013

I would usually become less concerned with leaving some stuff behind when it became apparent I would be staying the night regularly (i.e. I wouldn't be without my spare toothbrush / lucky pants / book for long). For some relationships this took a good few months, some a few weeks, others never reached that stage.

Often the situation resolved itself organically; at some point the partner in question would just say 'well, if you're staying over on Wednesday, just leave your toothbrush in the bathroom.'
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:20 AM on March 28, 2013

It really depends on the couple. In past relationships I got somewhat grumpy if the man I was dating left anything in my house, and I had never left so much as a bobby pin at their house. I found it intrusive and weird. That said, none of those relationships lasted beyond the 6 month mark, so maybe that is telling. Maybe I never really saw those being long term relationships, hence my discomfort with leaving stuff behind?

As a contrast, in my current relationship I basically started leaving stuff there from day one. We had our first kiss and I knew it was going to be him for the rest of my life. Having known him for years as a friend we were already pretty familiar and on the first date over to his house to watch a movie I brought over a load of laundry to do (underpant situation was dire. it was either do laundry at home, or come over for the date and do laundry there). That first date at his place we stayed up all night talking (no hanky panky, thank you very much!). I ended up leaving a pair of jammies there I believe. The next time I came over (probably 2-3 days later) I was greeted with abrand new pillow for his bed (because I had commented on how flat his pillows were that first night) and I left a hairbrush there. Within probably a month I had my own shelf in the bathroom for my girl stuff. When I offically "moved in" in October (only 4 months in to the relationship) the bulk of my day to day stuff was already there. It was just a matter of getting out of my lease, moving over the rest of my clothing, and storing my furniture in my parents basement because we didn't need it there. It seems like we moved really quickly but it was a pace that we were both totally comfortable with and that made sense because we spent most of our time at his house (I had a cat that he was severely allergic to) and he lived out of town.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It just occurred to me that a factor in my answer above was probably pets. No matter what, my partner was going home at some point every day, because there were cats and they needed food. So he was never going to be away from home all that long, which might be part of the reason there was no obvious need to leave stuff at my place beyond the basic toiletries needed to face the world in the morning.
posted by Stacey at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2013

In relationships I have been in in the past, I would really only leave a toothbrush and would bring an overnight bag whenever I was going over with whatever I needed for a day or two. This was just easier for me since I worked close to home and could swing in to pack a back, check the mail, etc before heading to my then bfs place. But I think I am slightly weird in that I get really annoyed if I want to wear something and don't have access to it. I was convinced that if I left stuff there, I would want to wear it and I would be annoyed. And then I wanted to bring my clothes home to do laundry anyway so it was just easier to pack up.

That being said, my now husband cleared a drawer for me and I did end up leaving some clothes at his place... A month before we bought a house and moved in together. After dating seriously for two years. But I think the key difference is I always felt I could leave stuff at his place, I just found it easier not to in my case.

But now that I think about it, I think I had issues with this because with my bf before my now husband, I would leave stuff there. And we would break up. And I would have to pack it up. And then we would get back together. Rinse and repeat. By the last time I had to pack my stuff up, I was so done. Maybe she has had similar issues in the past and isn't comfortable discussing it yet?
posted by polkadot at 10:30 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was greeted with abrand new pillow for his bed

I just feel the need to clarify that HE surprised me with the new pillow. It wasn't something I brought over. Upon rereading my comment I think I read as being a great big imposition and pushy pusherson. I wasn't. He was totally down with my having my stuff in his house from day one. He encouraged it and set the tone by buying me my own pillow for his house so that I would be comfortable.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2013

In several multi-year relationships, I've never deliberately left something behind in the other person's house before moving in together. The only exception is shampoo and conditioner, I would leave that in the bathroom since I usually need way more shampoo than the average guy and they usually don't have conditioner at all. The thing is that I don't have tons and tons of stuff, I don't have many multiples of things that I can just leave around places, and it would bother me to have the stuff spread all around like that. I like having easy access to my own stuff and not leaving it places. I like for my stuff to be orderly and I would not want to have to go searching for it in multiple houses.

She claimed this was because she lives in a studio apt and has no extra space for anything.

You say this like it's bullshit but I think it's very very common to feel this way. My friends who live in studios are constantly purging belongings and stressing about not having enough space for their stuff. Extra items taking up the tiny amount of space someone has to live in, could really irritate that person. It might be no big deal to you, because you don't live there, but it can be very different for the person who has to live in that space all the time.
posted by cairdeas at 11:46 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say thank you all for sharing your experiences. I had no idea how common not leaving things was - and your explanations are helping me understand the ex's perspective on this a whole lot better.
posted by ashworth at 11:59 AM on March 28, 2013

Agree with above that it varies based on the individuals involved. I know you said you told her you felt comfortable with her leaving stuff but maybe she's cautious and doesn't want to overstep boundaries. I am very careful about stuff like this because I am afraid of seeming like I'm getting too comfortable too quickly. I'm neurotic about avoiding the "clingy gf" stereotype so I go a little overboard the other way. All I know is reading into these little things is the path to craziness.
posted by Valkyrie21 at 1:04 PM on March 28, 2013

It comes off to me like you're trying to retroactively read into this as a sign of doom for the relationship, or a sign of some sort of lack of interest/commitment from the ex, and while I have no idea of your ex's personality or motives, I can say frankly that this is completely a personal decision and has NO NECESSARY BEARING WHATSOEVER on other aspects of interest and commitment, unless your partner has already said that she is the kind of person who feels like leaving shit at her partner's place means you guys are close. A lot of people don't feel that way, as you can see above.

Personally - I have never intentionally left anything at a boyfriend's house. Ever. I'm 30 and have been in 3 long-term relationships all of which I eventually lived with the person. Maybe it's because I'm super independent. Maybe I'm possessive. Maybe I don't have a lot of stuff in general and I fear losing things because then I'll have to replace them and I can't afford to/really like the one I already have. Maybe it's because I am used to carrying around a ton of crap with me everywhere anyway, so I always have backups of whatever I need, and if I don't - oh well I don't worry about it. I don't have a problem with other people leaving things at my place, but unless they explicitly told me they were leaving it on purpose, I would also return it immediately the next time I saw them. I was raised to think that not returning someone's things ASAP was unequivocally rude, and this stuck in my head to the point where yeah, I'd be giving you back your socks, because ummm what if you ran out of clean socks? They're yours!

As for this indicating a lack of commitment or involvement, my current partner moved into my apartment exactly one month before I gave birth to his first child; and prior to that I had nothing at his house and he had nothing at mine. I can hardly say I was not committed or involved in that relationship!! We spent the night at each other's places at least twice a week, but brought our own things. I usually carry a big tote to work with a toothbrush anyway so I just lived out of that. It honestly never occurred to me to do otherwise.

To be honest, if my partner made a big deal of this or suspected me of ulterior motives, that itself would cause problems in our relationship more than the original issue. If a partner got upset at me for returning their socks - I would be really insulted. I would think this person is looking for a reason to critique and question my interest, or that the person had issues with insecurity/clinginess. Particularly if I tried to justify myself by saying "well, I was just returning it, because I don't have a place to put it, my place is small" and they didn't believe me.
posted by celtalitha at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's weird to read emotional meaning into this. My personal experience has been all over the map. I will say that it happened pretty organically -- stuff either got left, or it didn't. I never felt like it was a thing that had to be addressed one way or the other.
posted by sm1tten at 4:44 PM on March 28, 2013

My boyfriend of 5 months has nothing at my house, I have a toothbrush, deoderant, shower gel and just now pyjamas at his flat. This is partly becauses my house is messy, but also becauses I stay at his flat during the work week going to and from work each time, whereas when he stays at mine he's always coming directly from his house to mine.
posted by plonkee at 5:11 PM on March 28, 2013

It takes me about six to eight months to get to the point where I'm comfortable enough in a relationship to start mingling our things. Before I get to that point I'm careful about respecting boundaries and not cluttering up the other person's place with my stuff. That said, I do understand how comforting it is to have your significant other's stuff around. Not everyone is wired this way though, so it's quite possible that there wasn't anything personal or sinister about your ex's refusal to do this. It's just a sign that the two of you weren't compatible. I mean, some people don't like to cuddle. I can't date those people because that would not be a relationship that worked for me, no matter how into them I was.

As a data point, I'm head over heels for my boyfriend of eight months. This is the best relationship I've ever been in. I'm still returning his socks to him this weekend. My place is a tiny studio apartment where his socks will be lost forever if I don't make an effort to return them now.
posted by rhythm and booze at 5:28 PM on March 28, 2013

I'm a "leave nothing unless invited" person. However, the first time one of you thinks to yourself, ugh, I want to go over, but bleh, the shlepping of stuff, or coming home before work tomorrow, etc, you should probably just mention that thought.

I'd sooner let someone leave some things over than choose to stay home. And I'd rather not stay home myself over something like that if leaving a few things to make it easier would be ok.

Did you ever say you actually wanted to leave something at her place, or did she just assume you were absent-mindedly leaving stuff?
posted by ctmf at 6:08 PM on March 28, 2013

I used to leave stuff at my long-distance boyfriend's place. After we broke up, it took a year for him to bring any of it back. And he only brought back the stuff I didn't care about--somehow all the things I really wanted back were lost (or "lost").

I do not ever plan on leaving stuff at a future ex-boyfriend's again after that. Your girlfriend could have similar reasons to mine for not doing this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:40 PM on March 28, 2013

On perhaps the 2nd or 3rd time I slept at my ex's place, he invited me to leave some stuff at his place. This offer was possibly influenced by me lacking space in the bag I carried. Any clothing I left that was dirty proceeded through the wash and would be clean the next time I visited. At this point, I was leaving a calico bag with some stuff in in the corner.

I suspect this happened quite soon in the relationship because of the relative distances between our place, and the difficulty of carrying things with me all day.

Over the next few months, my toothbrush moved from 'my bag' to the bathroom, I started to keep a few more things there like pjs and a heatpack, and then a few months later I progressed to a shelf rather than a bag in the corner.

I suspect I would have been unhappy if I hadn't had an option to leave clothes there at some point, although the laundry-done-for-me part wasn't something I could have 'expected', it was something I was very grateful for.
posted by Ashlyth at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2013

I never left anything behind except some feminine hygiene products (for territory marking purposes). Otherwise, things either travelled with me or I just went home even if I was spending a lot time with said boyfriend. I felt weird about boyfriends leaving things behind and returned items promptly.
posted by jadepearl at 8:35 PM on March 28, 2013

(for territory marking purposes)

Yes, exactly. I don't want to be marked territory until I'm ready to be marked territory.
posted by ctmf at 11:45 AM on March 29, 2013

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