Peacefully integrating my partner into my house

April 7 2011 | Guest post by Shelly G
Free Child Walking on White Round Spheres Balance Creative Commons
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography. Used under Creative Commons license.
I bought my house three and a half years ago at age twenty-two. This was huge for me. When all of my friends were renting, I had a place where I could put any color I wanted on the walls, pick out new tile or flooring — and completely make my own. Through trial and error, I learned basic plumbing and electric skills.

I also learned that I am a control freak and that my younger brother, who moved in with me at the start, was an excellent roommate — possibly because he saw me as the house matriarch and went along with my controlling ways. I had three years to settle into My Way before my then-fiance/now-husband moved in.

And we learned I'm not very good at sharing my space.

After a very tense month of Mo walking on eggshells and me taking the brunt of the housework, I realized something needed to give… and that thing was me. One day when Mo was at work, I took on my bathroom and bedroom. Two large bags of clothes for donation later, he had his own drawer in the bathroom and I had moved his side of the bed away from the wall and given him a nightstand. I even moved his musical and recording equipment into the spare bedroom, turning it into a music room. When I did that, I vowed to not be bothered if those spaces, his spaces, got a little messy, and so far I've kept that promise.

Through giving him his own space in the house, even something as small as a drawer, I realized I expressed to him that he is a welcome member of this house.

The next weekend, I got Mo and my brother together and we reorganized the rest of the house. We went through everything, consolidated our belongings, and donated the things we had two of (or had never used). We comprised on where to rearrange the living room furniture and even bought a rug. We also divided up chores, and the house has maintained a level of clean and organization that thrills me — especially since I'm no longer doing all the work.

It's rarely easy when one-half of a couple moves into a home that's been established by the other half. The best way to overcome that, at least for me, was to embark on a sort of "spring cleaning" with my husband. Through giving him his own space in the house, even something as small as a drawer, I realized I expressed to him that he is a welcome member of this house. Through reorganizing the shared space, we both became more comfortable with sharing. Though I still have final say in large projects around the house, it's become less "mine" and more "ours." And once he realized he's welcome here for good, he became more than happy to help out around the house. Our home, like our marriage, is a work in progress, but we're in it together and that's all that matters.

  1. This piece rings true for me. While I am not a homeowner yet when my boyfriend moved in with me 7 years ago there was a definite bumpy patch. While our living styles clashed, and still do from time to time, we have learned to keep one another happy regarding the state of our home.

  2. I've found it hard to get rid of things or keep my stuff in common areas since my (then-boyfriend) fiance moved in. I sometimes feel like if I have my stuff in common areas, then I'm bein selfish with space. I'm still working on that because it's more cluttered now because I don't have a place for everything. I should just get over it and say "This is where the camera is going to live."
    But, the smartest thing we did when he moved in was switching the bedroom. My old bedroom became the computer room and the old computer room because the bedroom. That meant that I wasn't making room for him, we were moving in together.

    5 agree
    • I do the hiding here also. I tend to not display my things and just display his things because of that selfish feeling. I have a few things out but his things rule the space. I tend to deal more with the placement of said things though. I need that control, I suppose.

  3. M wife owned her own house when we met 3.5 yrs ago. Fortunately we avoided this problem by moving from Portland to Seattle so our first experience of living together was in a new apartment. When we move back in another year and a half it will still be her house but we'll have one toddler and maybe a second baby so I think that it will be different enough to work out okay.

  4. Moving into my partner's home was a challenge, namely because he wasn't very good at that "making space" concept. It's not that he didn't want me there, but he just didn't enjoy doing that kind of work and had a hard time understanding why it was important to me.

    However, one of the best things we did right when I moved in was go out a buy a comfy chair, one that was almost entirely my choice. I didn't have much furniture to bring into the home, and he had a lot in there already. That chair became my cozy "just me" sanctuary when I needed a corner to call my own. He still hardly sits in it.

    Making joint purchases together also helped, stuff like a bookcase, new comforter, or cookware. Because I moved in when we got married, our wedding gifts were a great help in making our home "us" because the items were new to both of us and given in love and support of our life together. Joint home-improvement projects have also made a difference.

    For those of you in this transition phase, don't worry–it can suck, but it will get better. It's been nearly a year and we're still ironing out the wrinkles of sharing a home that was previously all his, but it is so much easier and more joyful now than it was at some earlier points. Don't expect it to be magically easy just because you love each other, but trust that because you love each other, you'll figure it out in time.

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  5. Kristin – getting together to organize the common space is huge in helping the "am I taking up too much space with my stuff" issue. It took some compromise ("Shelly, when's the last time you sat in that chair?" "But it's my pregnancy chair… from five years ago…" "I get that, but your water broke on it and the dog has since destroyed the cushion." "Fine, but when you get rid of it, I don't want to be here." And my absolute favorite – because I won – "We should move the dart board." "We can't, the ex-roommate tried to take it and stripped the screws, it stays where it is.") but ultimately, it felt like it would have if we had moved into the house at the same time and everyone is happy. Kinda like switching rooms, rearranging furniture helps to combine both people into the space.

    Emily – I think just living together in a different place and moving everything back would be enough of a difference. Plus, by that time, you won't have to deal with the "well, she could kick me out at any moment and it'll be like I was never here" fear that Mo finally admitted to me he had felt until I made an effort to make him feel like it was his home, too.

  6. My husband and I moved across the country together (From Gainesville, FL to here in Albuquerque!) and could only keep what we could fit in our car. We already had a kid together, so absolutely necessary kid items were first priority, and then absolutely necessary household items. We got rid of at least 75% of our "things," and that turned out to be really good for us because it was a crash course in keeping the most useful and meaningful items. I don't know how we would have taken the plunge in purging and starting an "us" home if it wasn't necessitated by the move, so I commend you on finding a way to integrate your husband into a space that was all yours.

    • And even though we didn't share a space that had been all mine, I had a really hard time letting his stuff hold equal regard to my stuff. My stuff was really meaningful to me, ie, My grandfather made that clock! I've had that wooden stool since PreK!… And his stuff was mostly things he'd picked up in college. I felt like, "Sure you like your stuff but mine obviously trumps yours!" It has been hard for me to keep the perspective that he deserves his own things, even if it means the space on top of a bookshelf is given to a piece he picked up at an art crawl yesterday instead of something I've had for 25 years.

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  7. oh man.

    when i moved in with my other half, he'd already been in the house almost 10 years. he was VERY well established in the house, and had … difficulty … in making space for me. i had to shove an apartment full of furniture and crap into one small room in the house. at the time? it was absolutely unfathomable. it's taken 2 years to finally feel like my space is *mine* (important, since i need my quiet reading space that isn't the bed/in the bedroom). this involved dozens of trips to goodwill to offload the unnecessary crap i'd acquired over the years that just cluttered the space further…and i still have at least another couple of trips in my immediate future. i haven't even made the attempt to go through the crap in the basement. that actually scares me!

    the one thing he did, though, that made me feel truly welcome? he gave me half the closet room. we live in an old Victorian with tiny closets, so he converted a bedroom into a closet. giving half of it to me wasn't a huge sacrifice (it just meant he finally tossed or gave away shirts he'd never wear again), but it definitely gave me the feeling like i was welcome in his house.

  8. Reading this makes me realize how awesome my husband is. When I flew out for an extended visit with him (during which we got engaged) he immediately gave me half the dresser drawers and half the closet space. I didn't realize that that's why I felt at home, not like I was in his space. But if he had been better established there, and hadn't given me those spaces, I'm very sure that I'd've felt on eggshells.

  9. I would love to read a piece about buying a home at such a young age. Tips about land/home ownership please! Also, great flexibility, well done!

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    • Honestly, I bought it off my parents, who basically said "we'll sign the mortgage over to you and that house will be your problem." So I got a three-bedroom, two bathroom, around 1500 sq. ft. house on a fully fenced half an acre for about half what it was worth (and about $20K less than what they were planning on selling it for). However, I'm already forming the article in my head, lol.

      1 agrees
      • I bought my house at age 22 (closing was 2 days after my 22nd birthday, so I was practically 21). I'm proud of that because it was something I've always wanted, and the exact house I wanted! My family lived 1,000 miles away also, so it was really just me! It was a little over 2 years later that my then-boyfriend/later fiance/now husband moved in with me. I really wanted him to feel like it was his home, so we painted the living & dining rooms and got a new couch and dinning room table together. I also moved some of my unimportant stuff out of the way so he could display his things, like his big Master Chief helmet. I guess we had it pretty easy in regards to him "fitting in" to my house because he's so easy going and didn't have a ton of his own furniture, and also because I WANTED his stuff everywhere. I adore him to I wanted to see "him" all over the house. Does that make sense? I wanted to be able to see that he is here in my home; our home. (Cheesy, yes, but I'm allowed.) ๐Ÿ™‚

        Anyhoot, I've lived there for over 7 years now so I'd be happy to contribute to a post about land/home ownership. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I've had problems with the moving in transition… he came and moved into my apartment, I gave him a corner of the main room for his stuff, computer and desk, half the closet, a dresser, and two shelves on my bookcases ๐Ÿ™‚ But all the furnature other than his desk are mine so we get into conversations of "I hate your couch" "But it's mine and I love it!" It's in great condition but it's purple/grey and oval instead of square…

  11. not only did i move in on his house, I moved in on his kids. I became mom in an instant and i have my own parenting style, rules, and routines. This didn't go over well in the first few months.

    The one thing that helped the most was moving. We moved out of "his" apartment and found "our" house. The mentality of "our" is so so helpful in sharing space and responsibility.

    Not to mention I really hated that tiny apartment… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Mu husband and I took a similar approach when we moved in together. At first, he moved into the suite I was renting, and once that lease was up we moved in to rent a place for the two of us. Since then, every place that we've lived in has been ours, which made a huge difference for us. Luckily, we were also poor students so we didn't own very much at the time.

  12. Ah! I had the same smack of reality last year… and continue to do so with my husband. I like my stuff everywhere… and it took me a while to wrap my brain around that he needed space of his own too. If he did leave a mess, I couldn't really get mad at him because I leave a mess.

    Learning to live and clean with one's significant other is so challenging, but it is a great lesson for communication.

    1 agrees
  13. This couldn't have come at a better time. My Nerd is moving in with me in EIGHT weeks (squeeee!) from across the country, and I've been worried about how to make this work out easiest for both of us.

  14. My husband and i moved into an empty house together back when we were still dating. That wasn't easy either. Our living styles, decorating, functionality, praticallity were so very different and deciding what stayed and what went was a battle (even though the right decision was obvious to me, ha!)

  15. D and I moved in together for the first time in a new city. It was a huge challenge: I drove the U-Haul down to DC with my dad and one friend joined us for a 95-degree frenzied evening of moving in. D drove down about a month later, to a new city, a new apartment where I had been living for a month, and no job. It was strange for both of us.

    I was so worried that I had arranged the furniture badly or that I wasn't respecting the furniture that he had. He was nervous about everything. It turned out ok, obviously. 3 years and 2 apartments later, we know what we like and we've exchanged a lot of our individual pieces for furniture that we've found together.

    But that first step was terrifying.

  16. We actually moved in to our first place and it was new to both us us, but we still faced a similar problem. See, I'm a Decorator. I like to Decorate. A LOT. I have my own taste, and ideas, and lots of enthusiasm about following through on those ideas. And for something like 6 years she let me have my way with barely a complaint. But there were a few small sighs. A sad look or two when I told her I didn't want to put 200 tiny neon plastic ninjas in the livingroom. When I complained of all her ugly pulp fantasy novels with the horrible covers taking up the whole livingroom. When she agreed to let me put up my painting from the art crawl instead of her comic-book-convention sketch collection. She never even got all martyr about it, either.

    Then, when we were looking for a new, bigger apartment last summer, I was dead set on a big livingroom. It had to have a great big livingroom and room for a dining table! I was adament. But, the only one we could find that had everything else we wanted also had a little den. Just a small one. She suggested that this could be my art studio, and we signed the lease. Then I realised that I wanted to be in the livingroom, next to the big windowns and the TV when I was drawing. So I suggested to her that we make the den her "study". She could cover all the walls with book shelves, put up all the nerdy art she wanted, and keep that big greem leather chair with ottomon she loves to read in. She could have as many pastic ninja and anime plushies in there as her heart desired.

    Oh man, you guys, what a difference. As a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert, I hadn't ever realised how much my poor fairly introverted wife ADORED having her own space to go off and be alone it- to have to herself. Now, some of those anime plushies are mine, as are some of the books, and many of the crafts in the closet get used by me to. But at the end of the day, the den is her space. I call it her nerd cave. She is just generaly more relaxed, happy, productive, and at-home than I've ever seen her. Her taste can be seen all over the house, but that den is all hers. I have made it one of my goals to always be able to afford to give her a space like that.

    4 agree
    • This is one of the sweetest things I have read in a looong time. I always find it so fascinating to hear about the little things that people do to make the people they love just a little more comfortable.

      1 agrees
  17. I think it's hard enough adjusting to living together, period, without having to deal with moving into someone else's "space". We got our first place together six months before we got married (in a new city) and despite five and a half years together, it was truly an adjustment. Not necessarily a bad or nasty one, but not being the one to make all the decisions about your space is weird. It got better quickly and now the dog and I are quite lonely when he's away. Props to you for working hard to accept your partner into your space and being proactive about keeping the peace.

  18. Thanks so much for this. My boyfriend and I are planning to move in together next year, when he'll move into the flat I've been living in for two years. I thought this would be the easiest thing ever (after all, he already spends lots of time there, we've been together for years and years, what's the problem?), and there was a bit of a row when he brought up some reservations. BUT… I'm really glad he did, because now we have nearly a year to think about all the things that we both need in order to be comfortable and happy (e.g. I go to bed early, and he works at home late into the night, so it makes sense for him to have the spare room as a study). If you can have a year-long thinking period about how it will work, I kind of recommend it. Then you don't have to decide things all at once – things can come up over time. Like – "Hey, you'll have had your bedding for quite a while once I move in. How about we get some new stuff for the occasion?" or "Just so you know, we're going to have to think about where we can put some extra bookshelves next year…". It's all extremely low-pressure if you can bring up potential sources of conflict as they arise, discuss them, and not have to solve the problems straight away.

    This thread has been a great help, I've got a lot of new ideas to go back to him with, thanks everyone!

  19. I was "couch" surfing and ended up staying in my now-partner's bedroom a bit longer than I'd intended. He's lived here for about 8 years now. After a couple weeks when we had to move my stuff out of my temporary home an hour away and I had nowhere else to go, we realized I wasn't going anywhere else anyway. I got a shelf and half a wooden chest to call my own, and the rest of my belongings went into storage.

    Over the last year (and some change) since, and as our relationship has developed, so has my partnership in the household. We got a new bed together on Freecycle. We got new mattresses together from freecycle–the bed was no longer his but ours, and we've now even purchased a bed together that meets our needs. A couch set being left by a roommate was mutually co-opted. Of the furniture in our bedroom, we each have a desk, a shelving unit and an "entertainment center" (neither of which is used for entertainment items, mostly clothes and other storage) that belongs to ourselves and not "us." We each have a comfy chair in the rest of the house, and laughably they say a lot about who we are.

    We each own about half the belongings in the kitchen, but as I am the chef in the household, he's bequeathed control of the kitchen to me (and we will be ditching the mismatched dishes for a set as soon as money allows, if only so that I can stop the OCD-induced panic attacks when someone stacks the bowls or saucer/luncheon plates in the wrong order). As long as I let him have his record player and other audio set-up "somewhere," he's happy. We recently re-arranged our bedroom to give me a home office, and he now has a "man-cave."

    It really boils down to the fact that he makes an effort to include me in the household, to make this as much my home as his, and I have made an effort not to be a complete control freak even though his clutter-bug tendencies drive me crazy. We've gotten rid of a LOT of his stuff, but the stuff I've gotten rid of just never made it across the country before being donated.

  20. I just got married a couple of weeks ago. I've lived in my house for 13 years. My husband compromised by moving into my house because it's farther away from where he works, and he has 3 vehicles, which I barely have room for. I had no problem purging some of my stuff, moving out my sloppy roommate and her flavor-of-the-month lifestyle and my 25-year-old daughter out of the house to make room for him. I have 4 bedrooms, so he has his own office/"stuff" room, I have my own similar room, there's the master bedroom, and the spare bedroom. We each have our own bathroom. This all helps tremendously! Our furniture all went really well together. The problem is that I've been here as the "matriarch" for so long that I'm not used to someone else's clutter and crap. I can't stand how he places his mail all over the place, how he has an office but does his bills in the living room, he has shoes by every door, and he uses the furnace as a shelf for his 2 cats' supplies (and I haven't had any pets in a decade). Today, he said the furnace was making a noise (because of all of his junk decorating it for some weird reason). The laundry room is huge, and we talked about making part of it into a gym, but he has clothes all over the place, cat supplies, and other junk in it. It has taken some really strong willpower not to move his stuff, and I'm doing better. He's a handy man but refuses to do anything around the house other than take out the trash because "it's not his house." We agreed that my kids would inherit my houses, and his kids would inherit his houses, so putting his name on the house isn't going to happen. What to do..

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