Ask Team Practical: Making Yourself at Home


by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

Ask Team Practical: Making Yourself at Home | A Practical Wedding

I know you deal a lot with wedding planning questions, but I’m having a hard time on “the other side.” I lived with my now husband for a year and half before we got married. After our beautiful (and practical) wedding, I started to feel like a stranger in our home. See, this is the house he has had for six years and lived with another girlfriend in. I hadn’t tried to do too much decorating when I first moved in because I didn’t want to “steamroll” my fresh (read three months old) relationship. But nowadays I find myself flying off the handle when he moves my papers, laptop, etc. to the room that has been dubbed my office. He is not a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m not a slob, so I’m uncertain as to why he feels the need to move everything. But I think my reaction is a wee over the top. How can I finally make his (mine, our) home feel like home and a place I feel comfortable in, because right now I don’t feel like that at all?

-Will I Fit Ever?

Dear WIFE,

First, let’s dig out what’s really going on here. Starting with the ex-girlfriend, because I have a feeling this other chick isn’t the problem. She may have lived in the house before, but you’ve been living there for a year and a half! It’s long been your place and not hers.

So if it’s not about the old girlfriend, and I’m willing to bet that it’s not just about cleaning either (mostly because you said so yourself), then I think what we’re talking about here is feeling like you can’t be yourself in your own home. That’s a completely different story, and probably justifies some wild emotions.

The obvious answer is that your partner probably doesn’t even realize he’s irking you. I’m guessing he didn’t just suddenly pick up this habit after the wedding. (Though, from your letter, maybe he did? If that’s the case, you might be dealing with something else entirely.) But for argument’s sake, let’s say he’s been doing this as long as you’ve lived together without an issue. Why would he stop now? So, you know, clue him in. Let him know that it makes you feel like you’re only allowed that one little room, that you don’t feel you have the freedom to spread out and be mistress of the manor, rather than Daisy in the servant’s quarters. (Downton? Yes/no?) Like most of my own marriage fights, break, “This is why I flipped out over nothing,” down to, “Here’s why it’s not ‘nothing’ to me.”

After that, there’ll probably need to be some compromising. While never touching your stuff and letting you throw things wherever you like sounds lovely, it just might drive him crazy. Or maybe I mean me. It would drive me crazy. For some, “home” is that place where you can just drop your stuff and crash. For others  (like, ahem, me), “home” has a place for everything and everything in its place. So, my husband feels “at home” when he can kick off his shoes as he steps in the door; I feel at home when I’m not tripping on some dang Aasics. Compromise for us means that there’s a mat beside the door where shoes are tossed. They have a place! For your spouse, it might feel like moving your things into their designated room is a means of putting them in their place. But the important thing is that you’re talking about these expectations together.

But that raises another question. Do you have any stuff mingled in with his, or is absolutely everything relegated to that back office of yours? If it’s the latter, fix that quick! Put your DVDs in with his, your books on the same bookcase, and generally mix it all up. This isn’t a dorm room, after all. You guys don’t need separate spaces for everything. Because guess what, now they’re not “mine” and “his”—just about ALL of it is “ours.” When your stuff is mixed into the general population, instead of shoved in a corner, that might be a step in the right direction.

Lastly, the final puzzle piece of your integration of the things might end up in some redecorating (it doesn’t even have to be big. Sometimes just the symbolic act of choosing new things for your home together can go a long way towards making it feel like it to both of you). So go pick out some “us” furniture together. Hang some art. Whatever it takes to make it feel like home to both of you.

So, we’re sticking with the classics today. Voicing expectations, communication, and sharing your feelings is what I’d suggest here. Only, lucky for you, it also involves some possible cute new lamps.

*****

Team Practical, how have you worked to make your house a home for both of you? Did you find that the past played into how you felt about your new home? How did you transition from “yours” to “ours”?

Photo by APW sponsor Emily Takes Photos.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • Edelweiss

    Nothing feels more like home to me as when I paint a wall. Cheap, huge, literally leaving “my mark”. And a large block of color really impacts the feeling of a room.

    And everything Liz said about communication – especially “This is why it’s not “nothing” to me.”

    It’s icky to feel like you don’t have a place (and even ickier if it starts creating ex-girlfriend jealousy). I wish you the best of luck as you two work through it.

    • KB

      YES! First thing I have to do in any place is paint it – preferably a loud, eyeball-screaming color. Makes it feel like mine.

    • Amanda L.

      I was in the same boat as our letter-writer. Except it was my DHs ex-wife whom he had bought the house with. I have struggled from time to time with some of the things that are left over from her time here. Sometimes a candle-holder can make me feel like crap. But little by little I have tried to make my mark while still allowing him the things he likes, even if they are leftovers from his previous relationship.

      I think APW gave you some great advice, OP. Delve down into what the REAL problem is, especially if this is something that is new, and not something that’s been an issue throughout your relationship.

      Also, like the poster above, I painted. My DH LOVES tan, so most of our house is that color, but I painted a bathroom a beautiful gold and it makes me happy every time I see it!

      • http://www.koruwedding.com Koru Kate {Koru Wedding}

        I painted too! When I moved in with my then-boyfriend/now husband, he’d been living there for 5 years. We painted every room, including painting the living room the same color as my apartment living room had been. The paint made a huge impact, gave us a big project together & made me feel right at home.

      • MDBethann

        Amanda L, I can totally empathize. My DH and I bought a new-to-both-of-us house together but there were some of his things that had been picked out by his ex-wife. Most of the stuff – the Kitchen Aid mixer, the pots & pans, etc. didn’t bother me at all. But I had a really horrible reaction to the china (she picked out the pattern but his family gave them most of it so he kept it). It’s a lovely Lenox pattern, but I just have this visceral reaction whenever I see it and I refuse to use it. I picked out a totally different pattern for us and our wedding. In some ways, I felt a little wasteful and extravagant because we had perfectly acceptable china, but there was no way I could ever use HER china, even though she had never used it. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to sell never-been-used Lenox. Maybe on Craig’s List here at the holidays?

    • Theo

      My fiance recently moved into the house I had purchased shortly before we met. Given that the house was relatively new to me at the time, he was there to help me paint it when our relationship was also relatively new. He was also very sweet about helping out around the house and would even mow my lawn now and again. We had some talks pretty early on about all the remodeling I want to do, and how maybe one day, we’d do it together. Even so, it was a hard adjustment for me when he moved in. I’d been living alone (just not in that house) for quite some time, so it took me some time to get used to confirming my plans regarding the house with another person. One or two missteps and I finally got the hang of it.

      Regarding sharing space, I made sure I cleaned out plenty of bedroom space for all his clothes. I pretty much ceded the office to him since he is a techy type of guy, though my desk and bookshelf are still in there, I feel like more of a guest in that room now. He doesn’t seem to care much about the art on the walls, but now I want to ask him :-)

      I tried to actively help him with the unpacking- sometimes he would not know where to put something, like an artifact from his childhood and I had the opportunity to say, “Oh I keep my similar item over here, I can put yours there too!” But now with an influx of wedding gifts, we have more stuff that is truly ours.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    Definitely talk to your husband about not feeling like the house is your home too. How do you both want and need to use shared space, and what things do you both need to have to feel comfortable there? When I first moved in with my husband we lived in an apartment that he’d had for eight years and also lived with an ex in. There was so little space that even though he tried to make room for me and make it mine it was really hard for me to feel like I had ownership.

    Part of the solution for us was moving to a bigger unit in the same building and starting from scratch in a place that was “ours”. Owning a house that option may not be there, but there are definitely lots of things you can do. Decorating, new furniture and art can definitely help it feel like your own. But maybe there are also smaller changes that you two can make – reorganizing the kitchen cupboards or the bathroom layout can help. Moving the furniture in the living room to a new configuration.

  • Brytani

    I think there really is a sensitivity that comes with being newly married and living together, even if you’ve lived together before and even if you’ve moved into a new place together. The marriage marker has a way of making a lot of things new and emotional and freaky. For me, before we were married, my husband stayed with me on weekends and when we got married, we moved to a new city and into a new house together. That’s big enough but I also started to feel, inexplicably, like the way he treated the house was the way he treated me. Before, our apartment was a little haphazard and arbitrary and I didn’t think much about it. When we got married, my housekeeping started to feel like one of the ways that I expressed my love for him. “I love you so much that I cleaned your pee off the rim of the toilet.”

    I don’t think that’s an uncommon feeling. Especially for ladies. I think “nesting” is a very real thing, even if we’re not expecting kiddos, and I think men have a hard time getting it. Once I actually said to him, “Hey, when you leave dirty clothes on the floor, it feels like you’re throwing away a gift,” he got it. Now, it sounds more like WIFE is being denied her nesting rituals but it should be the same kind of communication involved. “This is what I feel, why I feel it, and this is what I need you to do to stop hurting my feelings.” Which, I find I have to do a lot in my relationship and it’s a great thing because my husband never lets me down when I put it this way.

    • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

      Ah! I have totally experienced this too, and it’s very surreal. We also moved to a new (much bigger) place in a new city. I’m still looking for a job, so I spend a ridiculous amount of time cooking and cleaning. It makes me feel AWFUL when he doesn’t recognize the work and then just dumps all over the cleaning with his rubble. He’s probably so confused as to why I lose it over piles of junk when I used to just step around it. I think nesting is about waaaaay more than just preparing for kids, and making a home for the two of you after marriage has been very different than when we were “just” living together.
      Also: “I love you so much I wiped your pee off the toilet seat” SNORT! So true.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      Yes: “I love you so much that I cleaned your pee off the rim of the toilet.”

  • Kara

    Totally agree with Liz’s advice. Also, have you talked to him about your feelings of feeling not quite at home there–and what ideas he has to make it into your home as a married couple? That’s where I’d start.

    For me, my husband had lived in “our” house for 14 years before I showed up. When I first moved some of my stuff down, he asked that I bring a few pieces of art. So…my favorite art was there before I was. And we picked up a couple of pieces of art on our honeymoon that we added to the walls, so it feels a little more like ours. It’s taken me a few months, but I’ve also started reorganizing the kitchen so it makes sense to me. It took me a while to feel comfortable doing stuff like that, but I finally realized that he really really REALLY wanted it to feel like “ours,” and my not wanting to rock the boat was really about my own insecurity.

    • Jenni

      Oh my gosh, the kitchen. I moved around a few things in the kitchen last week (getting things off the counters and into cupboards, moving food stuff into the pantry). When my SO got home I watched his face as he mentally struggled with the small changes and then shrugged and said “well it is your home now too.”

      I’m takin’ baby steps!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Good for you, but as the householder who invited in my fiance, I can say baby steps drove me crazy. Partly this is because his move-in was never discussed, unplanned. [His prior living situation turned violent.] But during the weeks his things were trickling in, I felt under siege. I asked him to just take a weekend and get all moved-in so I could adjust to the new situation altogether, not gradually.

        Just wanted to offer a different personality, different perspective.

        • Kara

          Our gradual move in was very much planned/phased since there was an 8 hour drive involved. And I agree that the halves and bits (and uncertainty) can be exhausting. I think (for me) it was more a matter of eventually figuring out that it was ok to make adjustments that made it feel more like my place too.

  • Granola

    When my now-husband first moved in with me, it was into a two room studio that I had just found in anticipation of his arrival (before that I was living with family). He had these three panoramic city photos, and while they weren’t my favorite, they mattered to him, so I wanted to put them somewhere. They worked better in the bedroom because they matched the color scheme in there. However, my guy really felt that I was relegating his stuff to the “back room” and all my stuff got to be on display.

    This caused a lot of headaches because, as I told him, there were only TWO rooms. There wasn’t anywhere to relegate, it was living room or bedroom. This fight was repeated many times, but eventually we sorted it out. As Liz notes, it wasn’t about the pictures as much as it was him feeling like he’d sold all his stuff to move here and he wanted it to be his apartment to, and then we had to figure out how to do that. Best of luck in your discussions – I too get touchy when my computer is moved.

  • pizzel

    Oh man coming from some one who is a slob who married a neat freak (as in he faces everything in the fridge so you can see the label, also he once hid my nice sunglasses for 2 weeks by putting them in the case) I totally feel you on the “WHY DO YOU NEED TO TOUCH MY STUFF”

    I told him that it makes me crazy and why but and now he does it less. Now when he does it I “yell’ (it’s loud but not angry) and he teases me and I know where my stuff is and it’s not a big deal.

    • Kara

      I’m a “visible organizer” too. My husband is not. Stuff gets put away. Drives me nuts, but my style drives him nuts, so we try to meet in the middle!

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        “Visible organizer”…I like this term! (And I think I probably fall into this category.)

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    TRUMPETS AND CONFETTI FOR LIZ!

    Like most of my own marriage fights, break, “This is why I flipped out over nothing,” down to, “Here’s why it’s not ‘nothing’ to me.”

    That is probably the best, most practical, most problem-solving piece of wisdom my husband and I learned during our 14 month long engagement. Once we got to a place where we weren’t so damn dismissive of “nothing” life got SO MUCH BETTER.

    • Amanda

      Also: “This might not make sense to you, but it hurts my feelings when you do/say X/Y/Z.” You don’t need to validate your feelings, you just need to explain what they are.

      This sentence has held more power in my relationship than most others regarding conflict resolution. I’m an emotional person — always have been, always will be. Some things hurt my feelings that would never hurt his (or any other normal human being!!). So I tell him, he acknowledges it, and I see him making an effort to not hurt them in the same way in the future. And I swoon all over again.

  • http://nerdycare.blogspot.com SelkieKel

    I feel like this is one of those Things that are super-prevalent, but never discussed (until now, yay APW!). The boy and I weathered similar circumstances a few months after he moved in. He moved into a house that my ex-husband and I had purchased and, though my ex and I parted ways very soon after said purchase, it was very much an adjustment for the boy to feel at home in a property that was selected in part by his predecessor.

    The things that helped us navigate that “my house but not my home” sensation were as follows:

    - The boy was VERY open about his feelings but was also extremely careful about how he presented them. It was a lot of, “This feels weird and uncomfy that this was your marital home. I understand that’s not anyone’s fault. I’d love to find a way to make this OUR home.”

    - We then worked together to devise ways to make the physical structure truly feel like ours, which involved some excellent discussions on just what “home” meant to each of us. This also gave us a wonderful excuse to procure some fun, funky art and window treatments.

    - We also used this as an opportunity to examine what “personal space” meant to each of us. It was important to us that we each had a spot in the house we could claim as our mini sanctuary where we could decorate as we pleased.

    A few talks, some wall hangings, and a year or so later the house feels very much like a mutual creation. The passage of time can definitely work in your favor here, but candid conversations that delve into your feelings without being accusatory are key. It sounds like you’re both adjusting and trying to reconcile unspoken expectations. It also sounds like some good talks and maybe a new filing cabinet could go a long way in setting things right.

  • Jaime

    I definitely understand what you mean about “the other woman” lurking around. People assume because so much time has passed, and you’re now married, that it doesn’t still bother you – but it still did for me, too. My fiance and I took a 2-month hiatus, during which he decided to buy a new bed. (We’d spent the previous 4 years cramming into a twin… how? I don’t know.) When we reconciled, and I knew he’d seen someone else during that time, it didn’t take long for me to put two-and-two together. It felt HORRIBLE. I tried to think of ways to convince him to get rid of it – it’s too soft, one side slumps, it doesn’t fit anywhere – but I know the real reason I hate it. It reminds me of what he did, and it sucks.

    I have a hard time letting go, in general. I’m a grudge-holder. It’s not my proudest trait, and I’ve been trying to work on it, but it’s a truth I’ve had to first accept about myself before I can attempt to change it. My fiance is the absolute best partner to have in this situation – while my feelings about the bed lasted entirely too long, he was still respectful of the difficulty I was having, very understanding and supportive, and most of all VERY reassuring, doting and loving.

    Looooong story short – I agree with the other ladies. Making things your own really DOES help, even if you’re pissed and uncomfortable at first. (I refused to sleep in the bed for 6 months!) But now we’re engaged, and he’s working in another state for the duration of our engagement so I get the bed to myself. I covered it with a mattress pad, made a new headboard, and changed the linens. I kind of love this bed now? It’s weird to hear myself say that because I’ve hated it for so long, but it’s really nice to claim something and not have to deal with all those crappy feelings you were having before.

    • JESS

      Ha! I TOTALLY get you on the bed thing. I had a similar situation – my husband is still friends with a jerky ex-boyfriend of mine. While we were still dating long-distance, I found out that he’d let the jerky ex-boyfriend and his new (!) girlfriend stay at his place and sleep (!!) in the bed we would be sharing in a couple of months when I moved in. I was irate. He did not get it AT ALL (“It’s just a bed. He’s got to sleep somewhere…”). For me it was totally symbolic (he was letting this douchebag guy muss up our pristine little intimate love nest), and once he understood that, he felt really bad. Luckily for me, the bed really was old and crappy, so we went to IKEA and now we have a beautiful bed free of stains (both literal and symbolic)!

      Good for you for making it your own!

  • Ana

    My fiance and I had the same thing about moving papers – though I was the one who was moving them. She’s a PhD student who sometimes works from home, so every once and I while when I came home from my 9-to-5 I’d find books and articles on our living room couch and move them to her “study”. She was getting upset because I was messing up the order of papers/losing her place and didn’t understand why I couldn’t just let them be: after all, I am not what you’d call a neat freak. Once we stopped shouting and talked it out it turned out that “nothing” was actually “I wish we spent more quality time together without your schoolwork hanging over our heads/on our couch” (for me) and “Please be curious about my schoolwork” (for her). BINGO! I find it’s much easier to leave her stuff alone AND ask about what she’s reading when I know that she’s coming home for dinner.

  • http://www.benotsimplygood.com Jennifer Cary Diers

    I think the advice thus far has been awesome. You need to address the larger issue–that you don’t feel at home–and work around the smaller issues. I really recommend blending your stuff together; it helped us a lot! Coming at this from the perspective of a neat freak, I have to throw in these two cents:

    Maybe you’re messier than you think you are. I’m not saying you are (I don’t know you) and I’m not saying it matters (it kind of doesn’t). My husband would NEVER consider himself messy or disorganized, but he just doesn’t pay attention to where he puts things. His clothes always end up in the wrong hamper, his dishes in the wrong cupboards, his work bag in every conceivable locale. It doesn’t make me mad; I just follow along behind him cleaning up the mess. I realize that it matters to me and not to him. Maybe your husband is doing the same thing and you don’t even realize it.

    As far as the returning-stuff-to-your-office thing goes, my husband and I can relate completely. He has an office just like you do, and we pay a premium on rent so that he can have work space all to himself. I feel like he has a responsibility to use that space in the way it’s intended. He didn’t get that at all in the beginning. But my feeling was: if I’m giving up that square footage to your work, then you need to honor that agreement by keeping your work life inside it. Once I explained that, things got much better.

    Random side-note: My partner is a biological man, so nobody thinks this is weird. It’s considered NORMAL to clean up after your husband. We think it’s normal for him to ask where the can opener goes every time he unloads the dishwasher. We fought about this in the beginning (“Are you expecting me to do this because I’m the WIFE???”) but I soon realized that he’s just absentminded and messy. I’m wondering if this conversation would even be happening if it were a woman moving a man’s work stuff back to his office each night. Just something to consider.

    • Jashshea

      Your 2nd paragraph is so spot on for me as well – I’ve lived in small places my entire adult life and had to be judicious with use of space – I’ve always had 1 spatula and 1 stirring spoon. That makes it easy-breezy to keep the utensil drawer organized, let me tell you.

      Not only did we merge Stuff when I moved in, but he loves to cook and has many of every utensil and we have three different drawers for them. There isn’t a designated space for anything – just from dishwasher into where ever there’s space. It’s CHAOS to me – I never know where the wine opener or slotted spoon is.

      Glad to know there are other organized folks out there with absent minded partners!

  • Jashshea

    Yes. Yes. Yes to talking about the issue. We’ve had the discussion here before about Stuff and Things and Moving In and all the challenges, but we always bring it back to talking about the issue and why it’s bothering you.

    It may be that he thinks he’s helping you by moving your stuff. It may be that you’re making him batshit by leaving it on that table by the door where some ne’er-do-well walking by could see it and grab it.

    I moved in w/my intended early this year – down from a 2/2 to a 1/1 loft and while I’m not particularly neat, I’m orderly. I’m the kind of person that will put my shoes/bag in the same location everyday. He’s the kind of person who puts things down in arbitrary places when he gets home and then gets surprised when he can’t locate his watch/wallet/keys.

    We’re saving semi-diligently for a house (you know, besides the wedding and the honeymoon) and can hopefully get to a point where we can assign places to the things.

  • Claire

    Ooh, this is something I’ve struggled with! When our baby family unexpectedly expanded (with two nieces), we quickly moved from my downtown condo to my husband’s remote suburban home. Which he had designed and built with an ex-girlfriend who had lived there for seven years before I came around. I was admittedly unhappy about being so far from work and the city, but what really irked me was that I felt like it was “his house” rather than “our home”. This was only made worse by the fact that he had designed the layout of the home around “his vision” so wasn’t too keen on me coming in and changing things up. All my stuff went into storage and he felt it “didn’t fit with the house”. He was very resistant to any suggestions about bringing in my furniture or rearranging the existing furniture. We had several arguments that weren’t really about using his couch or mine, but more about the fact that I felt like an intruder in what was supposed to be our new home. And, I’m not proud of it, but a part of me felt insecure about living in the home that had been designed by this other woman who had been there first and loved him longer. (cringe)

    I wish I could share that we came to a mature compromise that allowed us to live together happily in that home. The reality is that we came to the realization that we needed to find a new home together that fit both of our needs. It may not be the most practical solution, especially in the current housing market, but we decided together that it is worth it for the health of our relationship.

    • Copper

      I think it’s pretty mature to decide that your relationship is worth more than the house. :)

  • laura

    So go pick out some “us” furniture together. Hang some art. Whatever it takes to make it feel like home to both of you.

    YES! We had the same situation – I moved into my husband’s (small) home during our engagement, and struggled to feel like it was OUR place and not HIS. It didn’t matter that he bought the home while we were together, that I had helped to build the paver patio, paint every room inside and out, or pick out some of the furniture, it still felt like HIS place when I ultimately moved in.

    After a freak out over ‘nothing,’ we realized what was really going on. That weekend we bought a new area rug, wall hanging, and ottoman to replace the coffee table. A little pop of color made it a better fit for me. He still loved it, and like magic, it felt like ours. Silly, but meaningful.

    The space isn’t perfect. We have no backup where so that both of us can do our own thing without feeling like we are booting the other person to the bedroom. So we’ll be looking for a second main space in our next home now that we know. But, it’s work-able when we acknowledge the issue, and at least it’s OURS now. So at least some of the ‘crazy over nothing’ has subsided.:)

    • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

      This is EXACTLY what I’m going through right now. Moved in with my husband during our engagement and now we’re redecorating at my suggestion. I really do feel like some paint, rearranging, and a few new pieces will make me feel like it’s ours instead of just his.

  • mimi

    My guy moved in with me a little over a year ago, into a house that I’ve owned for 6 years. Right around the time he moved in, we repainted the living room, bedroom, basement, and office. He bought new couches for the living room and a new tv. At first, I was kind of offended at him wanting to change everything, but eventually I realized that he just wanted to make it our home, instead of my home.

    So, like the commenters above said, do something to make the place both of yours. Paint, hang new curtains, get new furniture, get or make some art, whatever your budget allows!

    Also, my guy likes keeping things more organized than I do, so it’s definitely normal for him to move my stuff (or just ask me to move it). I have kind of the opposite problem from you – I used to have an office to put papers and other stuff in, but he’s basically taken it over since his job allows him to work from home (I didn’t use the office for much but storage anyway). I’ve struggled with where to keep those types of things.

  • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

    When I moved in with my boyfriend/now husband, he ended up changing out all the furniture in an effort to transition from bachelor pad/music studio to a home for both of us. Even that change made me feel uncomfortable as I didn’t want it to be perceived by others as I moved in and now I’m making him get rid of all of his stuff. (Which is SO not the case, I loved having his music gear all over the place!) Feeling like our apartment is OUR apartment took awhile and there are days where I still feel a bit funny about claiming ownership of the space. The more that I live here and the more of my things are around, the more comfortable I feel. Taking time to “nest” together with items that you both pick out and decorate helps a lot.

  • Rosie

    I think this is a very common issue when moving into your partner’s place, even if you’re not married.

    I moved into my now-fiance’s place earlier this year. We are both in our 30s and owned our own 2br homes. His was bigger, so I rented mine out and moved there.

    It’s not that I didn’t like his place and decor, but I just didn’t feel like it was stuff I would have picked. My Dad gave me some great advice: “You both have to feel like your home expresses yourselves. Not just one of you.”

    Here’s what we did:
    1. We had a garage sale, and both got rid of tons of stuff. We made $750 and spent it on things that would be “ours” instead of “his” and “mine.”
    2. I asked for and explained why I felt it was important to feel like our guest room was “my space.” I am 100% in charge of decorating and storage on there, and I can use it for a hobby room.
    3. We took all the art off the wall, and all the art from my house, and laid it out in the living room. Then we took turns picking pieces of art and placing them around the house.
    4. We also considered moving around furniture in the living room, changing out the window treatments, and painting. Ultimately, this is not a long-term house for us, so we didn’t do those things. But I recommend you consider them to make it feel like “your space.”

    Good luck. You’re not alone. Your house needs to express who you are.

    • Dawn

      Ooh, I’m glad to see someone else has laid all their art on the floor and redistributed them. My boyfriend moved into my house over a year ago and making it feel more like ‘our’ house has been a challenge since he came with pretty much his clothes and computer equipment and a chair. We’ve improved the situation a bit by redoing the office (where he spends most of his time) and the bathroom (which was necessary for functional reasons but gave us an opportunity to really create a room that reflected both of our tastes, which luckily are pretty similar). But just the other day I was standing in the hall and thought out loud ‘hey, does it bother you that we have several prints of naked pregnant ladies on the walls?” My friend is an artist and I’ve somehow ended up with quite a few of her prints from when she was also taking a life drawing class that must have had quite a few pregnant models so I just happened to have those up all over the house. It had somehow never occured to me how ‘taste specific’ naked pregnant lady prints might be. Ha, especially considering our entire life sometimes seems like it revolves around trying to make sure I don’t get pregnant since neither one of us wants kids. Apparently he’d been a little bothered by them for awhile (they’re in a really prominent place that you have to walk past often) but until I asked the question it hadn’t really hit him just how much they bothered him.

      They’re still up just because we’re apparently both really lazy but I think when I get home (on a business trip right now), I’m going to pull all the art off the walls and out of closets and stick it all on the floor and see what we both like and then things that one of us likes but the other isn’t as happy with can go in the guest room. And then maybe we can find a few new things that we both would like. I’m thinking all of our guests are going to spend a lot of time looking at naked pregnant women now. And we may end up with Hubble telescope pictures or something on the wall for my boyfriend.

    • Rachael

      When I moved in with my boyfriend (now unofficial fiance) it took me 8 months to brave the “it still feels like your place more than our home” conversation. But I’m really glad I did. I found out that that feeling was his biggest concern about my living with him and that it really bothered him that I didn’t feel completely at home. This led to a few things:

      1. Taking down a few of his pictures I couldn’t stand. Namely the dogs playing poker above our desks, and the creepy judge staring at us from above the toilet (creepy was an understatement).
      2. Getting to hang some awesome pictures I had including a couple of my own paintings I was convinced we didn’t have space for.
      3. Painting a hideous orange wall no one (including the owners of the apartment) had ever liked a much more mellow and agreeable indigo color.
      4. Rearranging furniture and storage into not only a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement, but in a way that makes our tiny studio a way more live-able and functional space.
      5. Claiming closet space. Yes our clothes are mixed up because we have one tiny closet, but after admitting the problem he realized what a closet hog he was being and thought it might make me feel more at home to be able to hang up more of my clothes (not to mention save me the stress of having to iron everything every time I want to wear it).

      This conversation is a hard one to have, and with any conversation that comes from one person’s discomfort and not a mutual meh-ness, the key is communicating the idea of “this is why it isn’t nothing to me.” Which is hard to do sometimes. Especially after many months, or years, of not realizing/communicating that there is something wrong.

  • http://www.hollygardner.com Holly

    Great advice. This was a struggle for my husband and I after he moved into my townhouse that I’d lived in for several years. I’d decorated everything well before him and had photos of my family on the wall. At first I traded out of “my pictures” with his, but he eventually admitted to it still not feeling like “his” house. I realize now that I made a TERRIBLE mistake by not offering up more closet space – actually, his clothes were in a pop-up closet in our room while I had the large closet. We finally just purchased a home together and things are more even. It’s taken work and compromise though. Good luck!

  • KC

    Augh, the combining households-and-habits.

    There are a few things, though:
    1. The thing where you don’t know how many of the decorating decisions were made by ex-girlfriend, and so it doesn’t feel like yours – there’s a chance that may not go away if you don’t either know the history of decorating decisions (so as to realize “oh, most of this is actually just husband’s decorating”) *or* work together to adjust things enough so that it feels definitely like “ours”. The this-apartment-was-created-by-ex-girlfriend feeling would normally diminish with time, but that’s a bit less likely since you’ve lived there for a while.

    2. There’s also this feeling sometimes, when you get married, that you will be dealing with X (whatever issue X is) For The Rest Of Your Life Unless You Set A Precedent Now. Socks on the floor, papers, overspending on weird paperclips, whatever. If this did swap when you got married, congratulations, you’ve probably just leveled up to “and I need to fix this so that I don’t go bonkers over the next 50 years”. So… time to work it out?

    3. My husband and I discovered that, to each of us, “my” stuff is not clutter, but “your” stuff is. (and discovered each other’s hot buttons; for instance, I feel like things are less cluttery if they are in squared-off stacks instead of heaped piles, so he started stacking papers more neatly) Sometimes explanations help with this. Sometimes the only solution is separate spaces/shelves/plastic tubs.

    4. There’s a weird dance of build-together and maintain-autonomy. We had to wait a while after we were married to trim down some of our duplicate “stuff” because we needed to know that our space and wishes would be respected in the relationship. Apparently, for us, not throwing away either set of ancient wooden spoons (or whatever) was acting as a proxy for autonomy and identity and value. Keeping all the kitchen stuff was not ideal in a strictly-practical sense, no, but it was worth the cupboard space to make both of us feel safe and comfortable.

    Talking about this stuff together is a very good thing, partly because a lot of it is being a proxy for other Internal Stuff; it’s great when you both figure out “this bothers me because…”, since it clears out a *lot* of landmines in other areas of life.

    I would note, though, that each person needs to be allowed to have things that bother them without them knowing why it bothers them (if there are opposing gut-level viewpoints, practical solutions may take more mediation or creative thinking, but a lot of these weird things can be solved because one person frankly doesn’t care very much). If they feel defensive about needing to have their brand of dishsoap, then that should be respected even if they can’t articulate why at the moment. And they may either come to realize *why* they care so much about the dishsoap (and share that eventually), or the background issues may settle such that one day, they stop caring about the dishsoap, or you may be stuck with the same kind of dishsoap forever (or, possibly, always having two bottles of dishsoap), which is probably not the end of the world. Add communication wherever possible, include “why” whenever you can (in a non-accusatory way), recognize that the other person is also having issues and perspectives that are also valid, and things will probably shake down well. :-)

    • http://arealliveladyperson.blogspot.com/ Krissy

      Since we’ve been living together, (as bf/gf, as engaged couple) it has been about figuring our space out. FH tends to resist the idea of “our” stuff a bit more, so I’ve really tired to give him things that are mine and make them his to begin the blending of ours (dresser, organizers, night stands, as well as mixing bookshelves and dvds). We definitely have our safe spaces in the house, and he has free decorative reign over the office (I have even hung some super boy-ish things for him to promote his space-having, like swords and sci-fi art!). It’s getting better and better with time, but he still has a tendency to mention when he feels like something is his, but it’s far less frequent.

      When we moved in together initially, we lived in my one bedroom apartment (which was totally crammed even though half his stuff was in storage), and then we moved into a house together, but I still had most of the stuff. He brought dishes, which in the beginning, I didn’t think would be very important to him (I had a ton already and at the time, I cooked more), but it ended up being really important to him (he told me about some really sweet memories of his mom heating butter for rolls in these little porcelain dishes he had), so they stayed. I think although one safe space is important, it’s incorporating all the little things that belong to both people around the house that really makes it, and buying things together.

      I’ve definitely come into the “setting a precedent” issue with my fiance, too. We have made some awesome progress on dishes, which is mostly a settled issue. Cleaning is difficult, though. We’ve initiated a 20-minute clean up every day to every other day (depending on the schedule) which is working pretty well for us. It basically allows us to take time to work together on tidying up or doing chores. This way, I don’t feel like I’m the one organizing and cleaning all the time while he chills and does the three chores I ask him to do. We can also ask right then and there about who put something where, and find better places for things together, if we need to. I’m pretty determined to keep everything as egalitarian as humanly possible. I can start to feel the resentment creeping up when I know I’m doing more, and that’s not something I want to feel ever! Whenever there’s a divide, I try and keep in mind that we’re a team, and need to always work together and communicate, even if I feel more like raging than communicating.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Wow. Great stuff, especially 2, 4, and the last paragraph.

      On #2, we’ve had lots of talks about how “this is not forever,” “this” being a small 1-bedroom apartment with a twin bed for me and him on a foam mattress on the floor of the living room. Eventually, we will move in the queen bed that’s in storage and eventually, we will be able to afford 2 bedrooms. To be honest, it makes wearing ear plugs most nights (because the thin walls don’t keep out the noise of his sleep apnea) only a little bit easier.

  • Jenni

    The last recommendation is huge for me. As I move in with my guy, I’ve been bugging (and bugging and bugging …) him to go shopping with me and pick out “us” furniture. We need some big things (a new bed with a comfort level we can both agree on, a dining room table set for when our families come to visit), but even small things make me happy (like a new blender). Because as the house is filled with “our” things rather than “his” or “mine”, it will feel more like “our” home. The house still feels like “his” house that I am just staying in, and making decor decisions together will go a long way toward making me “feel at home”.

  • Cass

    Thanks for your insight and wisdom into what can be really difficult issues Liz! I moved in with my fiance in May…into his parent’s place and his childhood bedroom after being away in Norway on my own for a year studying abroad (I’m finishing college and he’s just finished). Not to mention, I had no job despite looking for months and we had never lived together before.

    We fought a fair bit, and it took me awhile to figure out that when I was fighting over the fact that his stuff was put away and mine was still in a suitcase that I felt like a stranger taking advantage of his parent’s hospitality and this wasn’t home. I cried for the first two months and wanted to go home, only to realize that the place I used to call home was gone.

    Its really nice to know that I’m not the only one going through the same thing. Things are better now, we moved into the basement and have been slowly combining spaces and stuff. And I love living with his family, things worked out much better than I expected and I’m glad that we stuck out what was a stressful and tiring summer.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      “I cried for the first two months and wanted to go home, only to realize that the place I used to call home was gone.”

      This is hard…figuring out where “home” is after a big move is hard! Especially when you feel between homes. And yay for Norway. I lived there for a while too; I hope you liked your time there.

      • Cass

        I think in the end I figured out that the concept of many homes works for me. That home is wherever love and laughter and my partner are. Its a work in progress anyway! Norway was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed living and studying there (I lived in the northern part). Except for the sticker shock of the price of everything! Hope you enjoyed your time there as well :)

        • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

          Hi Cass! I really, really wanted to visit the very northern part and never made it up there. I was in the southwestern part. Returning to visit Norway with my husband will be our (one day, very very belated) honeymoon trip, and I really want to get up north this time.

          And I, like you, have also decided I have several homes. There are too many people I love in too many places. I wrote about it a while back (on my blog and otherwise) because I have thought a ton about the idea of home and done research on it too…

  • natalie

    Oh man, this is a hard one. It is still so, so hard for me.

    We didn’t live together before we got married in June of this year. I didn’t want to for personal reasons–I knew Tom had lived with other girlfriends, and I wanted to live apart before we got married to make sure he was taking marriage and commitment as seriously as I was. (Long story…) anyways, he moved in to our apartment by himself one month before we tied the knot, which meant he invaded closets with his camping gear and endless amounts of old cards, photos, etc. When we got married and I moved in, there was a small war between us about who would occupy which closet and which bathroom belonged to whom. It was nothing less than a nightmare for both of us.

    The last straw for me was discovering artifacts from past relationships: photos, cards, letters, journal entries…it made me feel incredibly insecure…like I didn’t belong in my own home. I brought it up to my therapist, who said that people who have trouble letting go of artifacts from the past typically endured some kind of traumatic event early in life (my husband lost his father at age 8, so this makes sense.)

    My point is that I really needed to seek to understand WHY I was feeling insecure about our space, and I needed to rationally discuss this with my husband in a mature way. Come to find out, he started to feel threatened when I moved in and started making everything ‘girly’ and ‘crafty’ with new pillows and art work and cooking stuff. In the four months we’ve lived together, we have found ways to adjust to our new shared space.

    In regards to the ‘other girl’ discussion, something that has helped me get over my insecurities is to simply remember that my husband choce ME and none of those other women to share his life with. It helps me remember that letting go of the past and not feeling jealous and threatened is an adjustment made in marriage, and it can be difficult at first. Being gentle and respectful of ourselves and each other in our new space is something I strive for every day, and it DOES take work, emotional control, and concious effort on my part!

    • Rosie

      Did you live in a different city? Why didn’t you guys plan out ahead of time who would get which closets, etc.?

      • Natalie

        Rosie, we did live in different cities, but I wanted to wait to get married to live with someone anyway. I know it’s not that common but it was the right decision for us, even though it has taken a lot of work to get used to our new living situation. We didn’t really plan the closets thing because, well, I was not actually aware of how much CRAP he had in storage before we got married. We have worked it out, but it took a lot of time, listening, and patience for both of us.

  • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

    When I moved in with my now-fiance to his place, I wanted to make some changes and a lot of people tried to tell me, “Don’t try to change his space when you move in with him! Don’t freak him out!” Well, you know, I WAS ACTUALLY FREAKED OUT TOO. I felt like a bit of an outsider both in the apartment and in the state (I moved to Houston to be with him) and I had very few things of my own since all I moved was what I could fit in my Blazer.

    The first thing we did was moved his bedroom furniture into the other bedroom in the apartment. He didn’t see a real need to but he went along with it, but just that small change went a LONG way toward making it seem like my place, as did reorganizing where things were kept in the kitchen. Since he didn’t have a ton of stuff either, picking out things together and decorating, even with little things, helped a ton. We also had to buy living room furniture together, and in doing that (and arranging it differently), the apartment quickly became very “us,” and while it was a bit jarring to not live in a place that was so “me” anymore, I think it helped us transition. Now we have a house and every room is “us” and I get all gushy looking at the smallest things — the paint colors, the rug — because it represents us and our future together.

    Anyway, I think talking to your fiance is spot on, as is recognizing that these little things are NOT nothing. But I think really small changes can do a lot to clear out the mental/emotional cobwebs in your space.

  • Sophie

    My fiance moved into the house I shared with my ex-husband a few years after my divorce. I spent a lot of time after the divorce re-claiming the space so I felt a little trepidation about sharing it again.

    Before he moved in, we talked about how to make this truly his home as well. An unused room became his practice room (he’s a musician). His cookware took the place of most of mine. His old bedroom set is now in the guest bedroom. The photos of his daughters decorate the walls. I cleared out half of my closet for his clothes. We also talked about my fears of sharing this space again.

    What also makes a house a home is to have the people you love come there. Throw some dinner parties, invite people over for Thanksgiving, or have some friends over for a lazy Sunday brunch. Memories, as much as things, make a house truly a home.

  • RJ

    Hi Maddie and Meg,
    Looks like comments have closed on the Bing page – or they’re not open to me in New Zealand. I wanted to give you feedback.

    I’m 100% supportive of you being for profit, and your posts on being in business, entrepreneurship and business decisions are my favourites on the site. I’m delighted that big companies like Bing want to advertise with you. (BTW – off topic muse – why is it that “companies” feels nicer than “corporates” – what is the difference between a “company” and a “corporate”? I suspect, in law, nothing. Maybe company is the UK and corporate is US? A post on language and attitudes to business there maybe for another forum – not sure which forum though)

    Anyway, I was interested in your article and I tried to take the Bing it On Challenge – but even when I use Bing to google Bing it On the result shows there is a page for Bing it on, but if I click it automatically redirects to the home page – the info about the Bing it On challenge isn’t available to me.

    Similarly, your link to Bing redirects to the home page – so maybe this doesn’t work outside the USA?

    I liked the parts in the post about habits – I realised that I use the verb “to google” as a synonym for “to do an internet search”. That’s a good focus. However, my feedback is that the tone of this post felt a little “forced cheerfulness” so the tone was slightly off for me. But I went to do the challenge because I want to support you and APW, and the bing home page definitely looked pretty.

    Thanks again for running this site – I appreciate it.

    Arohanui (much love)

    Rachel