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Yours, Mine – or Ours?

What to Keep, What to Toss, and What to Buy

With the median age of first-time marriages continuing to rise, more people have established households and amassed lots of belongings when the time comes to move in with Mr. or Ms. Right. Second (or third) marriages compound that quandary by adding even more items – accumulated over more time – to the mix.

Blending his collection of Pez dispensers and mid-century modern with her fondness for Williamsburg Colonial and antique silver might seem an impossible challenge, but it can be done. When approached with the same respect and love that brought you together in the first place, you can create a blended home that represents both of your personalities individually – and as a couple.

The best scenario is when you move into a new space together, because then it becomes “our space” immediately. When situations require you to choose one person’s home over the other, it’s time to go back to the rule of sharing. To make it “our space,” you’ll want to start from scratch and evaluate everything that’s already there, and everything the new person may bring.

Before you move in together, spend some time researching and looking at rooms (note: not items you each like, but rooms). Seeing a complete room provides a feeling of living in the space, while seeing an item suggests a utility for the item. Talk to each other about your aspirational home, and from there, look for inspirational room settings. How do you envision using each space: Entertaining? Watching movies together? Working out? Once you have an idea of how you want to use your spaces, you can move on to how you can furnish them in a way that you will both enjoy.

Whether it’s a new space or an old one that will be updated to feel new, there are priorities to consider:

1. Quality Look at the condition of the furniture you each own. Forget style for a moment, and consider how the fabric has held up on the sofa, or whether the tabletop is scratched, or if the bed is shaky (we’ll get to the mattress later). If you have quality pieces, put those immediately in the maybe column. When we get to number four, we’ll discuss the outcome.

2. Function Consider the multi-functionality of your furniture. A dresser could become a hall table. A desk could become a vanity in a guest room. A bookcase could hold china in a dining area. Side tables can be nightstands, plant stands, etc. If a piece has passed the quality and function test (numbers one and two), it is a strong contender to stay.

3. Love  Do you or your partner have pieces that hold special memories, that you use every single day, or that would break your heart to live without? Consider the importance of those feelings when making decisions. That collection of Pez dispensers, for example, could remind him of weekend visits with his granddad, and they could be artfully displayed to become a whimsical conversation piece. The same goes for her love of antique silver spoons. On the other hand, if he says the wagon wheel bar table from his fraternity house reminds him of his fraternity days, and she says the white and gold French Provincial chest from her childhood bedroom has sentimental value…
Well, let’s move on to number four.

4. Style This is a hard one. Fortunately, eclecticism is still the design choice of today. If the pieces have integrity of style, they will probably work together. You also don’t have to decorate every room with the same feel. Her Williamsburg Colonial cannon-ball bed may be a beautiful guest room piece, while his circa 1950 Nelson bench could be a perfect addition in the front hall. You can mix traditional and modern design, too, contrary to what your grandmother may have told you. Note that style is listed as number four for a reason. Quality, function, and love should come first when blending households. That said, if the quality is great, but the size and scale are wrong (i.e. a too-long dining table or an extraordinarily large sectional sofa), or you both agree you can and should move on from a style that neither of you really love, then sell or donate those pieces. The money can go into savings for new furniture you choose together. And the good feeling you get from donating is priceless.

5. And finally… If you invest in nothing else together as a new couple, invest in this: a new mattress.  You want to start your life together on the right foundation (get it?), and you cannot do that on a mattress that was selected by only one of you and used by one of you (um, and maybe others). A mattress you both find comfortable, and that will be slept on the first time by the two of you starts you on a path of mutual decisions, compromise, and respect.

Now, about that wagon wheel table and the white and gold chest? Maybe you need to rent a storage pod.

Sarah Paxton is president of LaDiff, which she co-owns with her husband Andy Thornton. She is also mom to a teenage daughter, Lucy, and tries to keep up with a shedding dog and cat.
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