The time has come. You realize you haven’t slept in your own bed for weeks because you’re always at your partner’s place. Your plants are dead. Your fridge is empty. You’re done with schlepping across town and paying two rents. But more importantly, you’d rather go to sleep and wake up with this person. You’re in love, and you want to live together.
While the decision to move in together may be easy to make, the act of actually doing it can be difficult. We want this move to be a romantic experience, but how do you combine two households without getting under each other’s skin? People who cohabitate right out of school have it easy—they have next to nothing to their name now. But now more people are building full lives before they take that plunge.
The biggest challenges of combining households with a partner.
I wish I could tell you love conquers clutter, but merging homes takes a lot of compromise. Be warned: You are most likely about to have duplicates of everything. Who decides who gets to keep what? Sometimes the things in better condition win, but it’s also possible that your styles don’t exactly match. Maybe you’re a saver and your significant other is a tosser.
My friend, Lanny, the proverbial bachelor and tiniest of pack rats, just moved in with his girlfriend after living alone for 14 years. I wanted to get his point of view on the matter, so I asked about the hardest part of decluttering for the move:
“Living alone for so many years skews your perception of what is an appropriate amount of stuff to keep, store, and save,” he said. “When you’re not sharing closets with somebody, who cares! I had VHS tapes, high school yearbooks, photos from childhood, and random souvenirs from around the world. I am the kind of guy who saves bubblewrap and says, ‘What if I need to package something one day?’ Except I apply that to everything, plus I’m a bit sentimental. Shakespeare was wise beyond his years in saying, ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow.’ It was really hard for me to admit defeat and let things go, but then you feel an inherent proverbial and literal weight lifted.”
In the end, having an organized girlfriend helped him see the great opportunity to donate clothes he hadn’t worn in ages and throw out stuff he had been hoarding for years. His story got me thinking of ways that all of us can be as supportive as possible when treading these new, uncertain waters with our loved ones.
Here are six tips that will help you decide what to keep and what to nix when you move in with a partner:
1. If thinking about decluttering your stuff to move in together gives you the same feeling as when your mom yelled at you to clean your room, then I suggest trying to flip the narrative. View moving in together as an opportunity to let go. Let go of what you don’t need, use, or want anymore. It’s the start of a new chapter. Build a life with the person you love…without dragging your old Beanie Babies into it.
2. Remind yourself that you are creating a home with another person. Instead of seeing it as “mine” or “theirs,” start to think about “ours.”
3. Identify what you have doubles of (two sets of dishes, two sets of towels), pick the set in better condition, and let go of the other one.
4. Each person gets to bring five items of theirs into the shared space without judgment by the other.
5. If there are some items you just can’t agree on, consider donating them and replacing them with ones you both love.
6. Be patient with yourself and your partner. Having a hard time letting go of her Hello Kitty toaster doesn’t mean she isn’t emotionally invested in the relationship. Expect that there will be some friction, and don’t let it derail what is, ultimately, a wonderful life milestone.