Unless you are a true minimalist, by the time you reach 50 you have a large collection of possessions. Many are strictly sentimental in nature, or tools for completing tasks (think computers, kitchen tools, cleaning implements). Others are large items: furniture, appliances, cars. So when two people over 50, create a new household together, this results in even more possessions and not enough space. More importantly, by this time in our lives, we have firmly established our likes and personalities. We love each other. Is that not enough to overcome years of doing it “our way”?
This is exactly the situation my fiancé and I faced.
Five years ago, I divorced my husband of 15 years. I was frustrated, heartbroken, and had reached the end of the line. I moved back to my hometown in a different state. I took only the things important to me, or duplicates which I knew my ex-husband didn’t need. It was my own version of downsizing, emotionally and physically. It still ended up being a lot of stuff to move, including all of the furniture my father made for me over the years.
My fiancé George has been a bachelor all his life. He owns his house and his house is full of stuff. Now, for all you women out there, I think this paints a clear picture. Some of his furniture matches, some are hand-me-downs from the family, and some of it is beautiful, but not appropriate for two people. Nonetheless, he has had most of it for 20 years and loves it.
We have similar yet different tastes in furniture. Both of us really like clean lines. He likes blond, Norwegian lines. I like oak, mission or craftsman lines. Similar and yet so different. I love color. He likes white walls. I love art; he worries that things on the wall will look too busy. How are we going to blend our furniture, let alone make it a style we like?
I have done a lot of reading online about combining households. I put together a plan. I knew we wouldn’t have too much furniture. But I was worried about everything else: clothes, dishes, knick-knacks, books, hobby supplies, and art. Here is what I planned to do when we decided to move in together:
- Decide what furniture items were a definite keep. This would be decided either by necessity (it was the only one we had) or by sentiment (one of us couldn’t bear to let it go).
- For me: I would sort through all my non-furniture possessions and see what I didn’t need. Anything I hadn’t used for 6 months could go. If I hadn’t touched it since moving home, it definitely had to go. For George: same thing, but he also had to re-arrange. He had spread out into all corners of the house. He had things stashed everywhere. Not surprising, considering it was his house, but he definitely had room to consolidate
- Compare kitchen utensils, dishes, etc. Decide which ones to keep and which ones to donate.
- Donate all the non-furniture possessions that are extra or not needed. I found a great list of different charities and what donated items they take.
- Move everything over to his place and get it organized.
- Slowly bring out the art and pictures. Hang one or two pieces and let him get used to my art being on the walls. Let him look at all of it and quietly hide anything he absolutely hated. I reasoned that as time went by, we could replace existing furniture that did not work well for two people or that just didn´t look good together.
Honestly, the reality was not too far off, except in my calculations of how much time we would have. It was true that we didn’t really have too much extra furniture. We replaced his guest room futon mattress with my queen mattress. We kept his headboard and donated mine. My dresser also went into the guest bedroom.
The biggest difference between “the plan” and reality was when and where the sorting happened. I started a new job right before I moved into his place. That did not leave me any time for picking and choosing. That all happened at his house when I was putting away clothes and shoes. They either went into the closet or the donate pile. That also happened much later than planned. It took me around two weeks to unpack all my boxes.
George´s office is located in one of the spare bedrooms on the main floor. That left the loft open for me to take over. He did find the time to empty that room before I moved in. Most of my boxes went directly in there. It took me almost a month to get my office organized.
The rest of my boxes went straight to the kitchen. Out of necessity, I emptied these boxes first. Admittedly, a couple of months later there are dishes still in boxes. He did not have a lot of shelf organization. I am still working on finding the right sizes and configurations to fit his outdated cabinets.
Finally, a couple of months later, we have completed our donate pile. Real life: I do not have time to drop things off at different charities and run the other stuff to the dump. I dropped off all the clothes with a local charity and had a service pick up everything else.
Another dose of reality is that nothing has been hung on the walls. My art is still in the closet in the loft. Admittedly, much of this is due to lack of time on my part (I haven’t even hung any pictures in the loft), but partly it is a reluctance on his part. George has enthusiastically welcomed me into his long-time abode. The process was much smoother than I anticipated. He willingly made room for me in his closets and bathroom. He let me rearrange the garage for a second refrigerator. I just can’t justify pushing the issue of art on the walls.
Combining our stuff at 50 has been much easier than it was in my first marriage. I have actually grown up. Possessions don’t have a hold on me as they did back then. Yes, I am not willing to let go of the furniture that my father, now deceased, made for me, but I am willing to let my art sit in a closet. Yes, I want to make his house feel like our house, but it doesn’t have to happen right away. Even though I am older now, I feel like there is plenty of time to let the relationship grow. I am willing to let it happen organically. I know that eventually, the energy of the house will be our shared energy, not just his. I am secure enough in myself and trust him enough to let us both grow into being us instead of just two people cohabitating.
That is one of the joys of this second chance at love, combined stuff and all.