Yes, Chickens, I am very aware of my absence, and I do apologize most sincerely. To say that I have been busy is beyond understatement. Between regular work and work on the new book and planning a wedding and trying to figure out how Charming Suitor and I are going to shoehorn all of our various belongings into one location in an attractive and organized manner....I am somewhat overwhelmed. Uberwhelmed. Whelmed beyond all reason. (But I do hate to abandon you for such long stretches, so I promise to try and be more diligent, even if it is just to post a quick recipe.)
Lucky for me, all of the things taking up my time are very good problems to have, and it has made me think about how some of what we are going through might serve as inspiration for all of you.
I am very fortunate to inhabit a fairly large apartment. It is in a Victorian building, and having been built in 1906, has a back kitchen area that includes a butler's pantry, a small closet-sized food pantry, and a small room that would have been a maid's bedroom. When I originally moved in, this room was set up as an office, but for the last 10 years it has served primarily as a dumping ground. A huge junk drawer, if you will.
Periodically I would go in and sort and organize and clear the decks, but then life would get away from me, and it was always so convenient to just throw things in there and shut the door.
Which is how you end up with this.
I recently watched the show Hoarders for the first time, and it made me feel so much better about that room. Especially since 1) it is just that back room that looks like that, and not the whole house, and B) I know for a fact that there is not a single petrified cat carcass in there.
However, it still makes me crazy.
One of the smartest things Charming Suitor and I did when making decisions about housing, was to really look at our lifestyle. And since we both love to cook and entertain, and since we spend a great deal of time either preparing meals together for ourselves or hosting friends and family, and would like to do even more of that, we made what is to some a surprising decision about that back room.
We are going to make it a kitchen library, to house most of our combined kitchen equipment, all the cookbooks and small appliances and serving pieces. All of the bakeware, and pots and pans....everything that is not food. We realized that while most people might set this room up as a home office, den, or extra guest room, our life doesn't need any of that. We both work on laptops, and don't need a whole designated room to work in. We prefer to hang out together, and the living room works very well for that. We will be putting CS's television in the room we are calling his "dressing room", so that if I am having a desperate need to watch a procedural during March Madness, he has access to a second watching area, but a full-time den would be wasted on us. And that same room already has a comfy day-bed, so on the rare occasion someone is visiting, there is still a designated guest room.
In the same way that I have often recommended to friends who never entertain that they turn their formal dining rooms into office spaces or playrooms or art studios, I highly recommend to all of my Chickens that you not feel hampered by your spaces. Just because the real estate agent called it a sunroom, doesn't mean you can't serve food in it. It might be listed in the classifieds as a three bedroom, but maybe for you it is a one bedroom with a den and a clog dancing room. That guest room might need to be a walk-in closet if you hate having company. Once CS and I embraced the idea of the Kitchen Library, it suddenly became one of the most interesting spaces in the house. We are waiting to get it painted before we tackle the project, which I will keep you posted on as we go along. But we did begin.
I gave two enormous shelving units to my trainer for his new house, and we ordered chrome Metro Shelving to go around the room. Once the room is cleared out and painted, hopefully in a couple of weeks, we will have a Metro Shelving building party with those of our friends who are skilled in these things, and then we will have space in which all of our combined gear can cohabitate happily. Because if you are going to be a Two Kitchenaid Mixer Household, your house better be able to effectively hold two Kitchenaid Mixers!
Some things we have learned in the process we affectionately refer to as the "Purge and Merge", that might be of use to you:
For starters, if you (like me) are merging with someone, and they are making the supreme sacrifice of moving into your space, it is going to be essential that you make room for them, literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally. It is stressful for everyone, but let's be honest, most stressful for the person who is moving in, so if you won the coin toss of whose place to make home, then you have to be willing and eager to make it a happy and comfortable process for your partner. For us, this meant adhereing to the following...
1) The person moving in has to know that anything that is important to them will have a place in the home you are making together. I don't care if it is a couch or a teacup, work around it. You get to stay in your space, but you have to work to make sure that the contents reflect both of you.
2) Remember that the "story" you have told in how you have decorated your space is no longer the most current story, and therefore you don't have to worry about keeping it intact. Just because you searched for five years to find the perfect thing for that little niche doesn't mean that your partner won't have something equally perfect to go there. I don't mean you need to be willing to chuck out your grandmother's antique dining table. But you do need to recognize that not every item in your place is a sacred cow. Tell a new story, choose your battles wisely, and never underestimate the bonding power of giving up and letting go.
3) Family heirlooms ALWAYS trump non-sentimental items, and if by chance you both have heritage items that are fighting for the same space (two china hutches for example) then choose honestly the one that looks best in the space and either store the other, or see if there is another family member who might like to have it in their home for a while. In my family, we either "borrow" or "share". If you "borrow" something, the other party can ask for it back at any time for any reason, and it needs to be returned graciously and quickly. If you "share" something, it belongs to you until you do not want or need it anymore, in which case the original owner gets right of first refusal on taking it back or regifting it to the person of their choice.
4) Be generous. You'd be surprised how gratifying it is to see your personal items find new homes with friends and family. So much nicer than trying to sell stuff on Craigslist or having a yard sale, not to mention easier. Make decisions about what items need to go, and then take a few pics and e-mail your people. Anything that they don't want, donate. Here in Chicago, places like the Howard Brown Health Center's Brown Elephant store will come pick up donated items, and give you a form for your tax deductible donation.
5) Don't lose the plot. The whole point of this move you are making is towards a happy life with someone. Having fights about who has better taste in lamps is just a waste of time. Be willing to focus big picture. This is the place where you will be making memories for years to come, don't start off with sniping and bickering. Listen to each other. And be open to flexibility. Lots and lots of flexibility.
6) Try to have fun! For all of the parts of this process that are a pain in the butt, there are many things that can be enormously enjoyable if you let them.
As much as the whole Kitchen Library project is daunting, and I am tempted to focus on how much there is to do, I try to keep thinking about how much it will change the way Charming Suitor and I cook and entertain together for the better.
I think about the counter space it will create in the kitchen, and the breathing room it will create in the food pantry. I think about having everything organized and accessible, and how much it will make everything from setting the table for a dinner party to getting Tuesday dinner together easier and better. So every part of it which is potentially annoying becomes a postive step towards what will be those new happy memories and moments.
Am I looking forward to going through all those bags and boxes and making sense of them? Not really. And I am fairly sure that Charming Suitor is not terribly excited about the logistics of packing up his entire kitchen and schlepping it over here. But we both agree that once the icky parts are done, it will make us both happy, and we can see what the end result will be.....a lifetime of laughing in the kitchen, and putting out beautiful food for each other and our friends and family.
What about you? Any great tips or tricks to share about merging households? Or funny anecdotes or stories about your own experiences? Do share with the class....
Yours in Good Taste,