Over five years ago, I wrote a short guide to moving in with your significant other. While I stand by most of the advice in that previous post, I figured it was time for an update and a bit of an overhaul since I have way more experience in terms of living with roommates and a significant other in various housing situations since then. Additionally, this redux has been done for and at the request of some of my very best friends who are both in the throes of romantic bliss with their own lovers and making this very transition. Congrats to them from the cat lady I’ve become.
Rather than creating a numerical list or questions as I did last time, I figure I’ve earned the vague right to create a list of Dos and Don’ts when it comes to moving in and living with your significant other.
DO know how much space you’ll have. Over the years, my accommodations have varied: a small upstairs bedroom with a bathroom shared between at least four people; a master bedroom with a private bath and plenty of space; and back to a small bedroom and shared bathroom space. In each of these scenarios, I had to make concessions for what there was and wasn’t room for—like a nightstand, which, in the end, became a built-in shelf on the wall. Measuring rooms beforehand is often helpful and there’s a lot of great room designer software online to help visualize the space. Obviously, the ideal is that you and your romantic-roommate (rom-mate) will not always be sharing space with anywhere from two to six people. All the better if you have more for just the two of you.
DON’T leave all the moving preparations to one person. It can be hard to navigate moving when last minute life happens—understandable. However, moving in is a step that you should be taking together and that means all the nitty gritty parts too. Sharing the unpleasant or less-than-fun parts of the moving process is part of the experience; working together to combine your two households into one is what makes it feel real. When so much of that work falls on one person it can often set an unpleasant tone for things to come and maybe a little resentment too. Make sure to share the duties of moving—financially, physically, emotionally, etc.
DO figure out whose furniture goes, stays, or if you need to go shopping. I love the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Marie and Jess argue over the wagon wheel coffee table, because it’s so emblematic of many of the conversations you will have in the process of combining your stuff. Your rom-mate isn’t going to like all of your things and vice versa, and there’s a good chance you’ll have multiples. Once you’ve figured out space, you can determine how much room there is for whose stuff. In my previous arrangement, most of the furniture belonged to my ex—although we eventually picked out some together—so a lot of my things were left at my mom’s (put in storage, essentially). What you really want is a space that equally reflects both of you, and furniture can do that. There is a way to mix practicality and personality, and not compromise too much on what makes both of you great as individuals.
DON’T compromise on décor (too much). Some rom-mates don’t care about décor at all, and others care a great deal. The key here is to find a balance—through collaboration—where both people are happy. If one person is constantly making concessions to the other then someone is always going to be less than happy in the space. If you have a poster you absolutely love—hang it. If you need bright pops of color or patterns and your rom-mate only likes solids and shades of black or white then negotiate, don’t give-up and live in a colorless world. If you collect something, see if there’s a way to display it in your shared space, especially if your rom-mate supports that hobby. And if you’re both 100% on the same page about having a farmhouse-themed kitchen or converting the dining room into a library then everyone wins.
DO figure out the best way to share closet space. You know on those HGTV shows where one of the partners (usually the woman) jokes about how much closet space she’s going to take up and essentially pushes the other person into a corner? Think and talk about that beforehand. How much closet space do you have? How much do you actually require? I grew up with one large closet and then upgraded to two—and then moved in with my ex and went down to half a closet and a dresser for all my stuff. Since being on my own I haven’t gone much beyond that same space (storage needs) although I do have a bigger dresser. However, at one point, my ex did use up about ¾ of the closet space, used a container under the bed for offseason clothes, and a dresser as well (it was a small ass closet). Don’t always assume the woman will take up all the space. Negotiate and/or demand your right to take up space.
DON’T get rid of all of your stuff. Look, you are you—be authentic to that and unashamed of whatever you bring with you. Ideally if you’ve been dating your future rom-mate prior to this they should already know about your collection of Twilight memorabilia, your beloved stuffed animal from childhood, your ribbons from your glory days…If you want to Marie Kondo and get rid of those things honestly that’s fine, but you should never ever do it because you feel pressured to by a romantic entanglement or because you feel you’ll be judged by a partner. A good rom-mate will find a place for Edward Cullen in your new home. Also don’t get rid of stuff because you think you’ll replace it later; you won’t.
DO remember to be a couple. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed to happen, but, at some point, you may find yourself at “your restaurant” for the third time in a month, eating the same thing you always order, sitting across from your rom-mate, and you’ll realize this was supposed to be a date but you’re wearing your good pair of sweats. Just because you’re moving in together and will basically see each other every day (especially in 2020) doesn’t mean you can forget to be romantic. Go on actual dates where you treat it like a night out. Buy little treats like flowers (especially if gift-giving is their love language). Give them compliments. Don’t forget to treat your rom-mate as a romantic partner more than just a roommate.
DON’T treat your rom-mate like a doormat; DON’T be a doormat. Not every couple will be this way—obviously—but in certain arrangements it can be easy to get, well, comfortable. And that can lead to letting certain things slide that would certainly not fly when you were just dating. Moving in together carries a certain kind of societal weight (unfortunately) that, for certain personality types, often leads to a volatile environment where one party is more likely to bend over backwards for the other. Look, life happens, and it is important for rom-mates to support each other, but when one person compromises and supports more than the other it isn’t healthy in the long term. So! Appreciate each other, give and take in turn, and don’t feel the need to constantly say “yes”, even when it’s your rom-mate.
DO have some alone time. While it’s important to be a couple and act like it, it’s equally important to not become too much of an amorphous blob of coupledom and retain some measure of individuality. Spend time with your friends, and not the mutual ones. Take part in hobbies that you don’t share with your partner. Have an evening of self-care and treat yourself to all of your favorite things to refresh your emotional wellbeing. If your space doesn’t allow for ‘separateness’ then go for walks, drives, or trips outside. You can also communicate a need for a night to yourself; ideally, your rom-mate will respect it and maybe they’ll need the time to themselves too. Trust me when I say spending too much time with your rom-mate can be a unique kind of exhausting. And doesn’t the saying go “time apart makes the heart grow fonder” or something like that?
DON’T forget to talk dollars and cents. Look, no one really likes to talk about money. It’s this weird taboo in our society. But if you’re going to be sharing bills with someone you should figure out how finances are going to work in the household. This means knowing how your rom-mate handles money. Are you a saver? Are they a spender? Is now really the time to get a joint savings account? (Don’t). Figuring out how much each of your take home is per month and then how much of that is going to go toward things like rent/mortgage, utilities, bills, groceries, and other shared expenses will tell you more than you think about your rom-mate. In the past, I’ve been the sole income more than once and, while that was a “necessary” situation each time, it definitely showed me a lot about how my ex and I valued finances differently. So talk about money, please.
DO figure out how you’re dividing chores. This isn’t the 1950s anymore. So, unless the rom-mate totally consents to it, one person shouldn’t be doing the majority of the housework. I’ve lived in a house with a ton of roommates and I did a lot of the housework (with some occasional help). When that work was then divided between my ex and I there was a clear division of labor where I did about 80% of it and the other 20% was his. We had to have a dialogue about why I didn’t want to do his laundry anymore. This is to say—you should divide the labor in a way that works for you. If there are certain chores you don’t mind and your partner doesn’t like then maybe do those, and vice versa. Because if one person is doing the cooking, cleaning, laundry, yardwork, etc. then, eventually, those compromises are going to build into resentment. For the hetero-couples, just because so many dudes were raised watching the women in their lives doing a majority of the housework doesn’t mean this should be status quo or expected of your rom-mate. Your girlfriend is not is not your mother; it’s not her job to feed or clean up after you when you should know how to do that yourself (adequately too). Basically, split the chores, rom-mates. The work will get done and everyone will be happier for it.
DON’T stress out (too much). The actual moving will be stressful because you’ll lose the packing tape who knows how many times and need to make too many trips back and forth from place to place. The living together will have its stressful moments because you’re two people who have your own ways of doing things, and that’s okay. There will be arguments over stupid things like what volume the TV needs to be at or shower temperatures or the noises the rom-mate makes at 3am when you’re trying to sleep. It’s okay. What you don’t need to stress over is whether or not you’re making the right decision. You’ve chosen this human being for your own and this is just the next step in the experiment—it will either work or not, and that’s okay too. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this year it’s that it can be nice to have someone around when the world goes to shit, but that that person needs to be the right one. So moving in and living with your rom-mate will be a test through however long that will be. There will be highs and celebrations and lows and lamentations. You can go to bed angry. You can go to bed happy. Just as long as, at the end of the day, you still want this person with you.
While I may be but a single, almost 27 year old cat lady who has somehow moved in reverse through the cycle of life, I’m happy and proud of my friends for moving forward in theirs. Eventually, I hope I can visit these homes they’re establishing with their rom-mates and spend time with them—like a beloved third wheel or that wine aunt who only visits on holidays. In any case, they’ve helped me through my life experiences so hopefully my life experiences will help them—and maybe others, maybe you.