Handling “The Great Furniture Debate” When Combining Households

A couple moving a couch into their living room.

Many couples, married or not, get together late enough in their lives that they each have a full household of furniture. When you both have couches, dining sets, and beds, it’s easy to assume that when you combine your households, you’ll just get rid of…the other person’s stuff? You can see how this supposedly positive time of moving in together can quickly become a shouting match over whose bookshelf fits the living room better. Here are some ways to head off “The Great Furniture Debate” before it ever happens—and when you get right down to it, how to respect each other as you advocate for your own favorite end tables.

Evaluate the New Space Versus the Old Spaces

When combining households, you and your partner should look at the raw square footage differences between your old places and your new place: if you are buying a house, you may be in the enviable position of gaining square footage. Others, having left roommates or spacious studios, may find themselves substantially downsizing in space, maybe in favor of a nice neighborhood or less space to clean. Either way, knowing the square footage of the old living spaces and the new living space can give you a good feeling for how much you are looking to “downsize” in the furniture department. If your new home is only a couple hundred square feet less than the combined two past places, you may not need to eliminate more than one or two pieces of furniture. If you are saving on rent, however, and your new place will be the equivalent of one of your past apartments, you are each looking at eliminating about 50% of your furniture collection.

Make Lists of What You Have and Rank the Items

A young man and woman laying on the floor next to cardboard boxes and making a list.

In the abstract, it’s easy to dig your heels in and demand that all of your own furniture stays; after all, you picked it out, and it’s usually of far more value to you than it could fetch if sold. However, if you start the conversation by making lists of all your furniture, you’ll learn quickly that you have sentimental attachments to some, and not all, of your furniture. There might even be pieces that you are excited to get rid of!

A good idea before fighting is to take these lists and re-order them from items you most want to keep to items that mean the least to you. Often these lists, when laid side-by-side, almost sort themselves out: your couch is at the top of your list, but he really loves his high-quality mattress and bed. Yes, sometimes there will be an item of contention or two, but this way you only discuss the items that really matter, rather than bickering through the entire list.

Trade Compromises Based on the Space Itself

Once you’ve narrowed down the items that matter to you both, you can revisit the actual space you are moving into: is it old and distinguished? Bright and modern? Are the doorways narrow or the staircase twisty? All of these factors offer a practical reason to side with one or the other person. Moving a large couch up multiple flights of stairs is a real pain, and some simply won’t fit into certain spaces. If he is passionate about his set of comfy armchairs that are easier to maneuver, this is a great time to show him you can see reason.

Another good point is that some of us go into a relationship with matching furniture, while others do not. Don’t just automatically choose the furniture that is the fanciest or the most matching, but consider whether an item that on its own is nice would actually look extremely out of place in your new home.

Consider Storage or Sharing for Sentimental Items

A young couple unpacking moving boxes.

If you have to part with an item that means a lot to you, consider the ways you can keep it for the future. A storage unit is an option if you know that your time in a smaller space is temporary and a pit stop on the way to a larger space. If not, however, figure out if you have a friend or family member who might enjoy the item; gifting items that matter to you will feel better than just selling them on an internet yard sale site. You also get to see them, sit on them, etc. whenever you visit your friends.

When the dust settles and the movers drive away with the truck, you’ll see that your home is much better because you made some strategic choices. Very few couples can actually fit both people’s entire furniture collections into their new shared living space, and to avoid this cramped circumstance, you are much better off working together to get rid of a few items. This is just one way to start practicing for the compromises and shared decision making that await you once you are living together!

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