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Merging 2 Households
Advice from Jill Ellen Shankar

Q. I am a widow in my late 60's and am marrying a widower in his early 70's. Of course we will be moving in together (probably his place). Both of us have houses and have accumulated a lifetime of treasures (to us at least) We also have very different preferences in dishes, linens, etc.

How would you suggest we merge our two homes so that neither feels like they are giving up a lifetime of memories but one functioning household results?

A. Indeed, merging two households is an exciting, delightful time, and a trying one. However, when done well, planned out with patience and kindness, you will both benefit from the process.

Your first months together will be less stressful, and having a clutter free home means lots more energy to focus on the important things in your life, like hobbies, family, and of course, each other.

First, it is critical that both of you understand that it is impossible to keep everything you own; under no circumstances should you try to stuff everything that you both own into one home.

It is also terribly important that you maintain an open mind: your differing tastes are both legitimate, and you must learn to accept, then work with each others' preferences and clutter management styles.

That said, sit down together when you are both feeling relaxed and comfortable. Make sure you are well fed, have had enough sleep and have plenty of time. Don't answer the phone.

Using paper and pencil (or computer, or crayons), write down the items that you think you can not part with on the left side of the page. Note the items that you are willing to part with on the right side. Combine your lists, so each side of the page contains yours and his stuff.

Next, mentally walk yourselves through the house you will be living in, and place each object where you want it. Include everything, especially items to be stored. If necessary, get out the measuring tape and see what fits where.

Discuss, negotiate, listen to each other, and once you've made your decisions, diagram out each room on paper, seeing how it fits, and how you feel. You can always change things later if necessary!

If you're lucky, all the pain and compromise while sitting at the table will yield perfect results: enough space for your stuff. If not, go back to the lists and shift things around, until the items on your must-have side fit in the house. And so on.

You may find that what worked on paper does not work in reality. Should this occur, simply return to your lists and keep at it. Know that this may take several days, not just an hour. No problem.

The biggest issue you are likely to encounter is unwillingness to part with certain belongings, citing sentimental value. Your memories are in your mind and heart, not in your stuff. Remember that you are starting a new life together, and that if you clutch too tightly to the past, there is no room for growth and change; you will remain stuck.

Physical clutter is a metaphor for a cluttered mind-let go of your past and move on. There are plenty of organizations that will take your things, so be willing to share.

You mention another important element: differing tastes. Regardless of age, any two people must work through this, using the age old basic tools: negotiation and compromise.

You may not both love wildflower patterns, but you can find commonality in coloring, shape, size or texture. Grab onto the elements that you both like and find solutions therein.

Differing clutter management styles can be addressed as well. Where possible, divide up space into yours and his. For example, you take the left side of the vanity, he gets the right. Give yourselves the freedom to manage your individual spaces as you see fit.

In common areas, sit down again at the table and decide how you want to manage the space, who will clean and how often. Then write it down. For example, if you like to do dishes once a week and he does them after each meal, decide together what you can live with, respecting each other's positions (no name calling!).

Know that you will both be uncomfortable at first, but that if you both stick to your commitments, all will be well.

Lastly, know that merging two individuals into one home is not easy, and that above all, you must be tolerant, compassionate and gentle with each other.

Good systems take time to develop, but stick with it. Your attention will be well worth it!



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