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Yours, Mine and Ours: A Painless Guide to Combining Households

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the excruciating process of deciding who gets the big closet.

The challenge of combining two households into one is one of those surprises for which newlyweds are rarely prepared – even when they’re young and haven’t had time to accumulate a lifetime of things. For a second marriage, this task almost seems impossible. When two individuals with decades of possessions move in together, any amount of space transforms into a cramped nightmare. Disagreements, unfortunately, are common.

But with a little guidance, this process can actually strengthen a relationship. Working together to decide which couch to keep and which set of dishes to give up can be a great opportunity to give each of you a fresh start – building the new relationship on a healthy, cooperative foundation.
Here are some guided steps to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Identify Duplicates
Few households need two vacuum cleaners. One coffee maker is enough to wake you both up in the morning. Presumably, you’ll be sharing a bed. When two households combine, there are bound to be a number of duplicate appliances or pieces of furniture that you simply don’t need. The best idea is to identify these before you move. Keep the nicest or newest of each pair, sell or donate the extra, and save time and energy on moving day.

Reduce Clutter
Once you’ve parted with duplicate items, go through your own belongings and decide which things you use, which things you love, and which things you can do without. Look at each item individually rather than as a whole unit. For instance, by considering certain books rather than your entire book collection, you may realize that you own dozens of books you don’t actually care about, or never plan to read. Be honest with yourself. This stage can be difficult for many, but remember that the end goal is an organized and orderly household. Every item takes up space. Make sure you save that space for possessions that are worth it.

Give and Take
The secret to any strong relationship is compromise. You may feel the items that survived the de-cluttering phase are absolutely indispensible. Your partner may feel otherwise. Be flexible on this. Be open to discussions about how much room your home allows, and which possessions should fill that precious amount of space. For example, if you don’t want to part with a certain desk, agree to use your partner’s desk chair instead of your own. Remember that you are combining two households of stuff. Compromise isn’t just part of the process – it’s essential.

Strive for Perspective
People get attached to their things. In the heat of the moment, as you work toward a compromise, it may seem like you are being personally attacked when your partner rejects an item that holds great significance for you. This is where communication becomes key. Talk to each other. Share about the item’s history. Make sure your partner understands why a certain lamp, vase, or decorative piece means so much to you.
At the same time, offer the same understanding toward your partner. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming the worst. Look ahead to the positive result to keep from getting bogged down and frustrated in the present.

Settle on “Ours”
Once you have sorted through your sets of belongings and decided what to keep, you’ve reached the final step: Moving into the new home, and then organizing it. Try to unpack and organize room by room. Consider the layout of each room individually and move each item into the space where it will fit best. This can be one of the most enjoyable times in a new relationship, as the two of you merge your personal styles together to create a home both of you enjoy.

Homes attract clutter. Once you’ve completed the previous steps, it’s crucial to maintain order in your new home. This keeps your newly purged possessions from multiplying, as they naturally tend to do. The following room-by-room tips can help you overcome the most common clutter-attracting spaces.

The Bathroom: “You’re hogging the whole drawer!” Shared bathrooms are the living space most likely to become contentious. Nip squabbling in the bud by making sure you divide out the drawers equally, giving each of you a specific allotment of space.

Next, keep the counter clean. Refuse to leave hairspray, makeup, razors, or any other personal grooming items out in the open. Buy reasonably sized containers to wrangle these items, sorting them into categories (hair products, makeup, daily essentials, etc.). Then, label the containers and stow them out of sight in your cabinets. More than anything, this will keep your bathroom from appearing cluttered.

The Kitchen: If any home has a junk drawer, it’s probably located in the kitchen. This highly trafficked space naturally becomes the home’s catch-all destination. Combat this disorganization by clearly defining every section of the kitchen. Place all baking dishes and cooking pots near the oven. Position cutting boards close to where you prepare food. Use a rotating tray to keep oils, spices and other items from disappearing in the dark abyss of cabinet corners. Keep associated supplies and ingredients together so you can always find what you need.

The Living Room: Most families, and their guests, spend the majority of their time in the living room – which means maintaining order here is important, too. Unless you’re proactive, coffee tables can easily turn into a mess of magazines, mail, remote controls, and other random items. If your coffee table has drawers, neatly tuck magazines and remotes into the storage space. If it lacks drawers, buy small bins to place under the table so items are contained.

For pesky papers and mail, sort everything into categories (home, school, car, bank, immediate attention, etc.) and keep it in a folder or accordion file. This is an easy way to locate important papers without having to search through an unwieldy stack.

Making a new home from two existing households may seem an overwhelming task, but it’s entirely possible. I’ve seen this become an important step as clients enter one of the most exciting times of their lives. All it takes is a little honesty, communication, and compromise – all of which are marriage essentials anyway – plus a commitment to organization. Good luck!

by Kallie Koumalats

Kallie is the owner of Joyful Organization, a local professional organizing business, and is a middle school Language Arts teacher. She writes a blog with tips and inspiration for organization, and enjoys helping others manage stress through simplifying. Learn more at joyfulorganization.com.
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