MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF MERGING HOUSEHOLDS

Marrying and Merging Households

Getting married is a reason to celebrate! However, deciding to take the plunge and cohabitate isn’t a decision to take lightly, especially if you both can remember using eight-track tapes.

You’ll need to make some important decisions about how to blend your possessions, handle issues that arise with stepchildren, and adjust to a peaceful life together.

It’s estimated that the average American home contains around 300,000 objects. When two middle-aged folks get married and are merging households, then they’re probably looking at packing and moving something in the neighborhood of at least 500,000 items.

Marrying and Merging Households is Challenging!

Take the case of fifty-something Keith, a second-time groom with a home out in Ottawa Hills.

He just finished raising a son and a daughter by himself, and still caring for a sweet but slightly neurotic dog.
Keith is now engaged to fifty-something Dana, who has never been married but has done well for herself, living in her own place in Northwood along with her shifty but adorable cat.
While planning their wedding, they began searching for a home in which to start their lives together. When they found a brick house with bright, sunny rooms and a wide front porch overlooking a local park in Point Place, they were thrilled.

But Keith and Dana soon learned that marrying and merging households comes with a lot of challenges:
Negotiating shifting family roles in a step-family environment, re-learning how to share a bathroom, ensuring the bride’s cat doesn’t blind the groom’s dog in a territorial rage.

But nothing could have prepared them for the sheer amount of stuff they now had to navigate. They both had a lot of accumulated furniture, collectibles, kitchen items that took up space in their new home.

4 Tips to Successfully Merging Households

Perhaps you are merging households and can relate to Keith and Dana’s predicament. Besides saying, “I do,” to ensure marital bliss at the outset you’ll need to answer, “What will happen to all my stuff when we move in together? How will we combine our belongings after marriage?”

Here are four suggestions to help you meet the challenge of merging households.

1. Measure your space and let space dictate the compromise

Whether you’re moving into a new home or one you or your partner already occupies, it’s helpful to know how much space you have.

Measure the different rooms and take stock of your furniture. It’s possible the bedroom set you love won’t fit in the new home. Or a giant, L-shaped couch may not fit in the new family room.

Instead of arguing over whose couch is the comfiest, let your new home decide which pieces will stay. Start with a floor plan. That will make it easier to part with certain items. Next…

2. Find a Style You Both Like

Your new home should reflect both your styles.

For some, that means embracing eclectic décor that allows each person’s personality to shine through. For others, it means deciding on something new that pleases each of your aesthetics.

Take some time to browse through home design sites together and see if you can find an aesthetic that you both agree upon. Just make sure that each person has a designated space where they’re in charge of choosing the décor.

Perhaps you want furniture that matches rather than a hodge-podge of items that are functional but not attractive together. The new home should be a place where both people feel comfortable. Now you have to…

3. Decide what to keep or purge

Brainteaser: If Keith brings four cookie sheets to the union and bakes two kinds of cookies three times a year, and Dana owns five cookie sheets and bakes six kinds of cookies one time a year, how many total cookie sheets will the newlyweds donate to their local charity?

If you’re marrying someone older or getting married later in life yourself, it often comes with decades of belongings.

Too many dishes, furniture, clothes, and memorabilia could lead to a fight or a compromise.
There will probably be more than a few duplicate items between the two of you that you both want to keep. But you definitely won’t need two coffee makers, blenders, or microwaves, and having multiple sets of dishes or glassware can take up a lot of valuable space.

Each of you should go through your things individually before combining households. Identify items that won’t be needed after getting married. It’s also helpful to make a shortlist of sentimental, must-have items you’re not ready to part with yet.

Closet space may be limited once you have two wardrobes occupying the same space. This is the perfect time for both of you to go through your clothing and get rid of any items you no longer wear or that you don’t need.

Once that’s done, discuss your inventories and, above all, be respectful of your partner’s wishes.

Before moving in together, identify duplicates first and then any essential pieces that may be missing. If your budget allows, splurge on something new that you both love–it might even become a family heirloom.

Keep in mind, too much of even a good thing is clutter. That’s true even if you talking about attractively designed cherry end tables (Keith had eight!). The loveliest piece loses its luster if you trip over it often enough. 

4. Remember Your Pets 

Most couples have to worry about their in-laws, stepchildren, or friends getting along with one another. But for couples moving with pets, there is the genuine possibility these family members won’t play nice! There are plenty of stories of newlywed’s cats and dogs fighting, well, like cats and dogs.


Introduce new pets gradually and supervise the first several weeks.

  • Make sure your pet is comfortable
  • Use rewards to ensure a positive meet and greet for dog
  • Be sure you feel relaxed, happy, and optimistic
  • When introducing dogs limit their movements by keeping them leashed
  • Don’t punish pets for inappropriate behavior but do use rewards for exemplary behavior

Now what?

Now that you both have decided on what you will keep, no doubt you have a lot of items waiting for their destiny to be determined.
What items can be recycled? Can you sell some items online? Other things in good condition can be donated to a local charity. And some items, well, you just have to put them in the trash. That may be a lot of stuff that the city garbage removal may not be willing to take away from the curb.

Don’t worry! 

Keith and Dana did the smart thing and called a local junk removal company in Toledo, Ohio, and they came and removed all the unwanted items that Keith and Dana could not sell. The junk removal company was even willing to take the donated items to a local charity, recycle all the recyclables, and responsibly dispose of all the leftover items.

Of course, there are more issues to be resolved when merging households, especially when there are children involved. How to discipline the children? How do you handle finances? 

Merging households can be likened to the seams in a patchwork quilt. Even though the seams are weak when the stitching begins, when completed they can be as strong as the original fabric – if they are sewn carefully.
Keith and Dana were able to “stitch” their lives together successfully, and so can you!

By Derik Hicks

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