For Greg Horen, a residential architect in Chicago, moving into a two-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend this summer was a natural next step in their relationship. And it went fairly smoothly — for the most part, at least.
“We had a little hiccup with move-in and move-out dates, so I ended up moving in with her and her dog in her studio for a while,” he says.
Short-term close quarters aside, the transition to cohabiting has worked well for the couple, who are among the 7.3 million unmarried-partner households in the U.S. as of 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Combined with the more than 61 million married households as reported in 2018 by the Census Bureau, more than half of households throughout the country involve cohabiting partners.
Whether you’re moving in with your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance or spouse, the process of combining two worlds into a single household requires patience, planning and an open mind.
Here are seven ways to make moving in together a success.
Talk location and cost together. There’s the option to stay in your current home, move into your significant other’s place or find new digs together. Logistics often play a big factor in where you end up, including proximity to both partners’ work locations, distance from hangouts or other frequented spots and whether one partner already owns property.
Moving to a completely new home may be the best option for both partners to start with a clean slate, says Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist with Refresh Mental Health in the Chicago area. “It is important that you both feel you have ownership of the place and identity for you as a couple,” she says.
You also have the option to purchase property together, which can be a sound investment to build equity together, although some mortgage lenders may be wary of issuing a mortgage to an unmarried couple. Horen says he and his girlfriend both preferred renting as they live together for the first time: “We’re not married, so we didn’t want to buy anything.”
Establish formal residency. Regardless of where you move, it’s important that both partners establish formal residency. While breaking up is never the plan, it’s important to be able to document your residency so no one is left paying more rent than he or she can cover.
If you’re renting, make sure both people are on the lease. This is also important to avoid getting into hot water with the landlord. If one person owns the condo or house, the two of you should draw up a quick month-to-month lease so you don’t have to make up an end date, with rent established as the amount you agree to pay toward the mortgage or utilities.
Discuss what you have and what you need. When you’re combining two households, you’ll realize you have two sets of dishes and silverware, more mugs than anyone can ever use and an assortment of furniture that neither of you really loves. Before packing to move, Marter advises couples sit down to review “what they both have, what the new space is going to be like and how they’d like it decorated.”
Especially if the house or apartment you’re moving into has more space than your previous respective places, there’s a good chance you’ll need to buy furniture. The additional costs may be something you can split easily, or you may need to factor them into your monthly budget.
Store or give away duplicates. What to do with all those extras that don’t have a place in your first home as a couple? Take a hard look at them and decide whether to store them or give them away, says Amory Wooden, vice president of brand for on-demand storage company MakeSpace.
Especially in major cities, storage space in an apartment is tough to come by, and you don’t want to be cramped with extra furniture and boxes of memorabilia or other items that may be of use to you eventually. Getting a storage unit for any belongings you’re not willing to part with can help reduce clutter and tension in your first home with your significant other.
Expect that amount you store to be more than you have before, too. “People often think they need to store less than they do,” Wooden says. She adds that seasonal apparel, hobby items and holiday decorations can also go into storage.
But when it comes to the stuff you just don’t need or want anymore, give it away or toss or recycle it if it’s broken, Wooden says. Many moving companies and storage facilities partner with organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army and Purple Heart to make it easy for you to pass on items to others in need.
Compromise on decor. You haven’t minded your significant other’s decorating aesthetic up until this point, but you also never considered it your home. Couples often find themselves at odds when it comes to making design choices in their newly shared home.
For example, when there are two couches: “Often, the old leather sofa from the frat years isn’t going to stay, but they’re not ready to let go of it,” Wooden says.
Marter stresses that open, direct communication is important to ensure both partners feel ownership over the space and avoid resentment down the line. It’s unlikely the common areas will look exactly how you envisioned on your own, but with compromise you can both be happy with the overall design.
Divvy up cleaning and maintenance. Once you’re moved in, cleaning and maintaining your home can quickly become a point of contention. To keep things tidy without any messy disagreements, have a conversation about chores you prefer over others. For example, you may not mind cleaning the bathroom, while your boyfriend is happiest taking care of laundry or dishes.
Marter recommends starting out by dividing cleaning in half. “Division of labor may shift a little bit,” she says. “It’s just important to have clear dialogues and conversation about what that’s going to look like.” If one person works from home while the other works 60-hour weeks, it’s natural to rebalance tasks so both people pull weight and also have the ability to relax at home as well.
In Horen’s apartment, he and his girlfriend have fallen into a natural cleaning pattern where each person focuses on areas they find most important to clean. He’ll sweep floors and clean the kitchen more often, while her focus will be on the bathrooms.
Know it’s OK to get professional help. Moving can always be stressful, but moving in with your significant other for the first time adds a whole new set of stresses. If you and your girlfriend or boyfriend feel you’d benefit from an unbiased third party to help make living together a success, go for it.
You don’t necessarily have to talk to a counselor right away, either. Marter recommends sitting down with a financial advisor as well. “The two main reasons people come into couple’s counseling are issues about finances and issues about communication,” she says.
Communication is imperative for success in any relationship. Communication about finances is key to keeping both parties in the loop, especially when you’re cohabiting and directly affected by your partner’s financial situation.
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