Merging Households: The Art Of Negotiation

Cohabitation is at an all-time high. Whether due to the economy, an impending marriage, or just plain, sweet, sweet love, every day couples move in together. In the excitement and confusion of a move, the artful negotiation of what stays and what goes is often overlooked. To some, this is an exercise in cultivating engagement, “Hey Baby, don’t you want to go shopping for furniture every day, all day this weekend?’ For others, merging households is an exercise in passive-aggression, as in, “I will slowly push his recliner to the curb and maybe he won’t notice.” Still to others, this is an exercise in zen-like patience and 12-step acceptance ala, “the first step is admitting we have a problem…”

At the end of the day, regardless of your approach, you are faced with the task of combining two households into one, and regardless of your aesthetic disposition, everyone agrees they want to live in a comfortable space. So, how do we arrive at a happy ‘home’?

When faced with big life changes, one needs a strategy. In the instance of merging households, mine includes detachment. Above all else, I want to engage this process without saying something, or being told something, that can’t be unsaid. So, it’s not personal; it can’t be. Enter the process as partners rather than rivals. Once the ground rules are established both partners need to identify ‘sacred cows.’ If his boyhood decoupaged chest of drawers is too dear to him, accept that it may live somewhere in your house—perhaps in a closet, but still, in your space, nonetheless. On the other hand, if your doll collection creeps him out, accept that it may be relegated to the guest bedroom.


Next, take inventory. For items that are not on display, a general guideline is to choose quality over aesthetics; the hand mixer that is least likely to burst into flames stays. For items that are seen all the time, you might invert that equation. He may have his parents’ top of the line Drexel Heritage living room suite, but if it’s from the 1970’s and is best suited in a paneled rumpus room under a black light poster, and that’s not the look you’re going for, you might opt to keep, say, your IKEA sofa. Consider in this step that the scale of your furniture counts. If you are moving into your partner’s space, chances are it’s already filled. Keep the editing negotiations going. Do you really need a king-sized bed, two dressers, a lingerie chest and two night tables in a Manhattan apartment? Probably not if you’re a ninety-nine percenter, like, well, ninety-nine percent of us.

Once you’ve identified the keepers, the fun begins. Consider color. You may not be able to change the line of your combined kitchen chairs, but you might be able to change the color, either through fabric slipcovers or paint. Paint is also your friend when dealing with competing wood finishes. In the event you have room for, and will truly use, two couches, you might tie them together with complimentary pillows. You might break up the wood finishes by inserting some metallic occasional tables or upholstered ottoman/coffee tables. Or, consider creating a sense of cohesion with a carefully chosen rug to ground your seating area. What was once mismatched is now eclectic. Go you!

Above all, remember what you are doing: you are building a life with someone else, whom you presumably adore, so take your time and enjoy.

Shannon Signature

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