Monday, March 7, 2011


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,
The Polymath


  1. Stacey, Having recently performed a skilled Purge and Merge myself I appreciate hearing another point of view on the matter. The best thing we did was create a "dressing room" for me. We sleep in the established master bedroom that houses his dresser/desk/clothes closet as those items fit best in that room and I got to keep my antique, handed-down-for-generations, bedroom set in a less cramped space, and I don't wake him with my hair dryer in the earlier hours I keep. It's also a great "just give me a few minutes" room and a "I just can't sleep through your snoring tonight" room. Having what feels like my own space in what is primarily his house with a random, yet equal, smattering of our collective stuff saves us a lot of needless frustration. I think the most important part of the cohabitation merge is be respectful and open-minded. And before you make an snap judgment about that ugly and outdated chotchky, remind yourself that is probably came from a well meaning grandma!

  2. Such a great post! I'm so happy for you two it's ridiculous. I think the kitchen library is a fantastic idea and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

    Love all of the advice for combining households. I will definitely refer back to it should the need arise for me!

  3. you have my apartment bugged? J and I are moving into a new place together in about three weeks, and are embarking on a Merge/Purge as I type this. Thanks for the perspective (and the tips!). LOVE the Kitchen Library idea; going to file that away in the "someday" folder in my head! Good luck to you & CS!

  4. Great jealous of your Kitchen Library...keeping that in mind for when I have less little people inhabiting my house!

  5. I love the kitchen Library idea! I can only hope to have one of my very own someday!

    When the hubs and I merged belongings, I had problems with him wanting to hold onto useless things, or duplicates. He was famous for saying "let's just keep this one in case the other one breaks"
    We once had a fight over the fact that he had 8 itchy scratchy blankets, like the hospital sort with the satin ribbon border at the top. EIGHT! He got so angry when I suggested we toss them. He refused to throw them out "in case of guests" despite the fact that we had plenty of nice guest bedding. I gave in and packed them up. A year after we moved in together, I was cleaning out a closet, found the container full of all 8 blankets where it had been untouched since the move. I politely brought it to him and he agreed that since they had gone unused for over a year, they should be tossed.To me, sometimes it isn't worth a fight. It was easier to just store the blankets until he could honestly see clearly they were not needed.

    My biggest advice when co-habitating is to always ask yourself "is this really worth fighting over" because in reality, many things aren't!

  6. After 25 years of marriage the one thing I want is not a two sink bathroom but a two sink/range/utensil kitchen. My husband cooks, I bake. He touches my stuff and changes the racks on the oven and uses my cookie sheets to cook chicken on! My advice would be to start off by designating cookware as cookware and bakeware as bakeware and if you are the last person to use something or empty something then it is your responsibility to put it back where you found it or add it to the shopping list. Believe me it will avoid a lot of hurt feelings later on.

  7. Can't wait to see how it turns out! And I must know what the deliciously psychedelic poster is of in the corner of the Kitchen Library...

  8. That poster is an original movie poster from the 1969 re-release of Fantasia. Which I would be delighted to sell you if you would like it :)

  9. Stacey,
    To have an entire kitchen library! Totally green with jealousy I am. I only hope to get to that spot one day. To have a place to put all your catering cookware and serving pieces. To actually have a spot to line one entire wall with non-stop cookbooks. Oh, I could simply stand and drool... You merging with C.S. seems so delightful - hopefully only good times will be ahead for you both!! I can only imagine what Christmas/Hannukah will be like for you both this coming year ♥. I love the hardwood floor in the new library. Good luck on the continuing merge/purge that is going on - - Maybe Jen L. and you can share the same painter -- love the stripe wall she took a picture of and was generous enough to share as well.

  10. I'm getting married this year and we will be combining two 3 bedroom, fully furnished houses into one. I have no clue how to accomplish that but I look forward to hearing how your merge goes!

  11. When my now husband asked me to move in with him, my mom offered me very sound advice. She told me not to move all my clothes in at once (I am VERY bad). She feared that if he saw me schlepping everything over I would scare him away. I took her advice and moved my clothes in gradually. Fast or slow, he soon realized I had a jean obsession. We then did what you recommended - removed the office that neither one of us used and extended our walk in closet....

  12. Are you willing to sell the wine on the floor? I want that! (Kidding!) Good luck with all of your organization.

  13. Stacy, This might seem stupid, but how do you pronounce your last name?

  14. My boyfriend and I are preparing to move in together. He is what some would call a "late bloomer" and at 26 is moving out of the rents for the first time. (I call it his parents made him the ultimate man cave and I probably would not move either). 6 years ago when we first started dating he was gracious enough to lend his muscles and his truck to pick up a used couch for an old friend of mine. As I'm standing outside with the truck not only does my friend come out directing a couch into the back of the truck, so does my boyfriend! A used, green, micro-something, couch. He bought it knowing I had an entire living room set, and that I HATE green. This couch has lived in MY storage locker for 6 years. Now that we are getting ready to live together he can't wait to buy a place big enough for him to have a room for that couch... I'm trying to find a way to have it "accidentally" fall out of the back of the moving truck! Long and the short of it, I still love him and I can't wait until we decide on that perfect house that we will build memories together in... even if that means the green couch comes with :)

  15. When husband moved in with me, back before his promotion to Husband and he was just Fiance, I made the deal that we would part ways with our stuff pretty equally. I hated his couch, loathed them. But I was fine with getting rid of my love seat for his couch, this lamp for that, my dishes for his. This was going to be our place, not his & hers. It worked wonderfully. Thankfully, Disgusting Couch weighed a on and so a friend in his building was "gifted" with our albatross. Glad you've found a way to make your (pl) place home!