Anyone who has been around the romantic block once or twice is bound to bring their share of leftover baggage into a new union.
And not just the emotional kind, as Winnipeg professional organizer Lorraine Mitchell can attest.
Unlike first-time newlyweds, she says, second-time-around couples often come with a household's worth of furniture, bedding, dishes and bric-a-brac.
So when they decide to merge two homes into one, the challenge becomes how to do so without creating a cluttered scenario worthy of an episode of Hoarders, or having the relationship milestone marred by stress. Never mind the territorial instincts that might get triggered if the lovebirds are moving into a pre-existing nest.
"There's a lot of communication that's required prior to the move-in date. Then it's plan, plan, plan," says Mitchell, whose business is called Clutter Denied.
Otherwise, suddenly having to downsize to a single closet after you've let your wardrobe and/or shoe collection expand into other rooms and other closets might come as a bit of a shock for some people.
Mitchell, who didn't get married until well into her 30s, says when she and her husband first moved in together, she went from 12 linear feet of closet space to about six feet.
"I had to purge some of the items I was no longer wearing and store the out-of-season clothes," she recalls. "Then I double-hung on my half of the closet by putting a rod above eye level and another one at waist level.
Although Marianne Curtis and her partner, both 44, have been living together in Ile-des-Chenes for the past three months, he's still paying rent on his apartment in Winnipeg because they haven't figured out how to fit his possessions, including several pieces of antique furniture, into her mobile home.
"He's got so much stuff, I don't know where we're going to put it all," says Curtis, who herself recently downsized from a house.
"It's hard when you're at this age. You can no longer get your mom and dad to store your stuff in their basement."
Cohabiting second-timers like Curtis are far from a disappearing breed. According to the Vanier Institute of the Family, five years after separating, 36 per cent of women and 51 per cent of men are living with new partners. After 20 years, 69 per cent of women and 82 per cent of men are in new unions.
Even if they move into a new and bigger residence, they're not going to need two espresso makers or two fondue pots. Then there's the matter of the homely-but-comfy plaid couch battling for space with the slick leather sectional. But first things first.
"First you have to establish some goals. If you can envision what the house is going to look like, how it's going to run and what activities are going to happen there, the decision-making on whether to keep, sell, donate or chuck something becomes easier," says Mitchell, who charges $75 an hour for her services. She estimates the average couple will require between eight and 10 sessions to merge and organize their new household.
The whole process becomes a lot more complicated, of course, when children are involved, and Mitchell says they should be part of the planning process from the start.
Obviously not all blended families are going to be able to move into a home big enough for each member to have their own bedroom, she says, but everyone must have his or her own space.
"We all need a spot to call our own, where we can go and have our stuff. It could be just a nook, or a corner where someone loves to read or where they can play their (Nintendo) DS. And when they're in it, it becomes a respected space."
Being open, imaginative and flexible is key to making the move to a shared space as smooth and successful as possible, Mitchell says. For example, just because a room is designated "living room" on the blueprints doesn't mean it can't be turned into a home office or a study area if need be.
Bedrooms, bathrooms and closets, which typically have limited space, are where you really need to think outside the organizational box. "You want to look vertical," says Mitchell. "Can you add extra storage? Look up, look down, see what you can use. Maybe you can hang a shoe sorter on the back of a door to store makeup or jewelry or socks, or add a couple of extra hooks and that's where you hang your bathrobes."
As for dealing with duplicate items, it's a no-brainer to just keep whichever one is in better shape. It's the possessions where one partner might have sentimental or emotional attachments that present more of a challenge. This is where negotiation comes in, says Mitchell. But sometimes, she adds, people just hang onto things because they don't know what to do with them.
"When I'm working with a client and they have their mother's wedding dress, I would never in a million years tell them to get rid of it, even if it doesn't fit them," she says. "There's a strong emotional attachment.
"But if you've got six frying pans, keep the best one and get rid of the rest. If you need a second frying pan, they're easy and inexpensive to replace."
Organizational tips for combining households:
Start with a plan: Room by room, decide how you want to use each space. Then, person-by-person, list furniture and essential personal items and where these items will fit. Put undecided items on a separate list for further discussion.
Clear the clutter: The fact that movers charge by the pound is one good reason to purge. Take advantage of this opportunity to create a new and improved lifestyle, which includes being surrounded only by useful, beautiful or meaningful possessions.
Get cooking in the kitchen: Sort through duplicate items and determine which dishes, cutlery, pots, pans, utensils, and appliances are in the best shape, and which ones can be earmarked for a friend, family member or favourite charity. While you're at it, add the garlic baker that has never seen the light of day and the fondue pot that hasn't been used since the '70s to the giveaway pile.
One bathroom, two people: Unless you have the luxury of his and hers bathrooms, this will be an exercise in compromise. You don't necessarily have to divide every shelf and drawer 50/50; rather, look to see whose items and which type of items fit best in each available area. Make the most of the space with trays and dividers for the drawers, containers or turntables for the shelves, and slide-out drawers for that awkward space under the sink. Add free-standing or wall-mounted cabinets if you have the room.
Clothes call: Start with the assumption there will never be enough closet space. Will you each have your own closet and keep it how you like? Will you share the main closet for your everyday wardrobe with out-of-season and special-occasion clothing stored elsewhere? Figure out your clothing-storage philosophy and then maximize the space with double-hung rods, hooks, shoe racks, and your imagination. Use the closet only for items being worn currently.
-- Professional Organizers in Canada