Time is chugging along, leases are up in the air, and, hey, maybe it’s time to move in with that delightful human you’ve been dating. Awesome! It’s fun to level up in a relationship, whatever that means for you, and you’ll get more time to hang out together and maybe even get to use that snazzy blender you always wanted to co-own.
But, like a lot of relationship moments, this one requires some conversations—and in the hustle and bustle of apartment hunting and boxing up your stuff, it’s easy to skip a few of these talks or to not even know how to have them.
Luckily, you don’t have to figure this out alone. Take some tools and tips from the experts, who are ready to guide you through every step of the moving-in-together process.
Step 1: Know why you’re moving in together
This sounds so obvious! But sometimes, especially in the midst of multiple changes, it’s easy to forget to pause and identify why you’re taking this next step together.
“Decide why you’re moving in together, just so that both people are clear and no one person has any hidden assumptions or hidden hopes, which can lead to disappointment,” says David Khalili, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a specialty in relationships. “If it’s just to save money, that’s fine—as long as that’s communicated. Or is it to see where the relationship goes and maybe eventually get married one day? Just make sure no one is going in with any expectations that they’re holding onto that haven’t been discussed.”
Step 2: Do a test run
It’s time to tune-in to what your partner might be like as a roommate. “Observe this person in their current setting so you can make observations and mental notes,” offers Dana Olsborg, a professional organizer who often helps couples combine their households. “Pay attention: Do they keep the kitchen spotless, or do they let it pile up, and once every couple days they clean it? Is that in alignment with your habits and standards?”
A test run can help you work out a few of the kinks of early cohabitation and get into a rhythm before the always-way-more-stressful-than-you-remember-it process of moving into a new place.
“I suggest people either try out spending a few nights a week with each other or a few weeks in a row as a test run,” says Khalili. “Find out what your morning and evening routines are like, and what pet peeves you each have.”
Step 3: Talk about money and household routines…
Yes, talking about money and household routines can be uncomfortable. And, yes, it is 100% necessary if you’re about to combine both your money and your routine with another human’s.
Khalili recommends carving out a chunk of distraction-free time to talk about money and housework. No phones, no TV—just the two of you talking through the division of money and labor. Start with a few of these questions:
- Are we splitting expenses 50/50? If not, what is the division? Should we base it on income?
- Do we want a joint bank account?
- Do we split each bill or separate the bills? For example, one person takes care of electricity while the other person takes care of internet.
- How will household duties be taken care of? Do we need a chore wheel or something on the refrigerator that says who does what?
Creating communication and understanding around money and housework is an easy way to prevent future frustration.
“If one person prefers order and cleanliness, there’s space for trouble in the relationship if they move in [with their partner] because they might feel really pulled to go ahead and clean that kitchen or put all the things away. Eventually, they feel like they’re putting in more [than the other],” advises Olsborg. “We don’t want to be identical with our partner because then nobody wants to do the cleaning and everyone wants to do the cooking. But we also need to think about our standards, find out if they match, and learn how to have conversations about them.”
Step 4:…Without having a huge fight
Listen, you’re going to have some arguments. Sorry. If you’ve ever lived with anyone other than yourself, you know that some disagreements are just part of the deal.
“The first year is hard, and it’s okay that it’s hard,” says Khalili. “You two are sharing a space and you’re trying to learn how to navigate each other. You’re going to have arguments; you’re going to have great moments. Just because you fight doesn’t mean it’s doomed.”
Khalili recommends a few tools that can help you make your arguments calmer, kinder, and more effective:
- Avoid absolute terms: Words like “always” and “never” are an easy way to escalate a fight.
- Have a soft start: “Rather than saying ‘You never do dishes!’ it’s ‘Hey, I just want to let you know…’ It’s very soft, like, ‘I notice that you don’t do dishes sometimes and it bothers me’ rather than just jumping down the other person’s throat.”
- Use an argument “safe word”: “Have an argument ‘safe word’ that you agree upon ahead of time. What’s happening in the moment is that you’re both in fight-or-flight mode. Your heart rate is up, you’re breathing intensely, so it’s okay to give yourself a moment to calm down. Take a timeout, but make sure you go back to each other.”
- Learn more: “I recommend that all my clients read Nonviolent Communication. It’s a really quick read and it’s got really direct advice on how to have these types of conversations.”
Step 5: Combine and pack your stuff
Packing can feel downright dizzying, and the added element of combining two households makes it even more intense. By asking yourself a few questions and surveying your respective hauls, you can create a game plan to make this process way smoother. Olsborg offers a few tips and tricks to help you get started:
- Take stock: “Grab everything and spread it out on an old tablecloth,” suggests Olsborg. “Get rid of duplicates, and prioritize the more quality items.” If you both have blenders but one can pulverize bricks while the other can’t slice through a banana, get rid of your banana blender and cheers to your decision with a refreshing brick smoothie.
- Identify essentials: “Ask yourself: what can you not live without during the next two weeks? Those are your essentials.” By figuring this out early, you’ll have a better sense of what shouldn’t get lost in a box and what needs high-trafficked space in your new place. “If you use something really regularly—once a day or even a couple times a week—it deserves better real estate and better accessibility than something you use every six months,” says Olsborg.
- Pay attention to irreplaceable items: “I think it’s important to think, even if it’s not the most romantic thought, that this may not work out and am I going to be pissed off if I had to get rid of items I was attached to? Protect yourself so that you’re not feeling stripped away from some things that are pretty important to you.”
Step 6: Be prepared for move-in day
Take care of yourself: “It’s really important to be in a good space when we have this initial move-in: we want to be fed, we want to have slept, so we can make good decisions about what items we need and where they’re going to live,” says Olsborg.
Take care of each other: “Be kind. Be grateful that you’re able to have this apartment; be grateful that you’re helping each other. Try to look for the things that are working for the two of you,” says Khalili. “But also be compassionate. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to have slip-ups. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just take note of that and know that it will be okay.”
Step 7: Don’t put too much pressure on the first month
Yes, we all have that fantasy that 48 hours after moving into a new home, it’s organized and decorated and unpacked. This is about as likely as the Tooth Fairy paying off your student loans.
“Try to have realistic expectations of yourself and your partner,” says Khalili. “Don’t expect everything to be moved-in and unboxed in the first day or two, or even the first week. Don’t expect yourself to cook meals every night right when you move in.”
Remember Step 5 when Olsborg had you pick out your essential items? The genius behind that move is then you know what you need, so you’re taken care of on the important stuff and can take your time unpacking the rest of your boxes.
“Say: ‘We’re going to have our toothbrushes, we’re going to have our bed set-up, we’re going to have our clothes ready to go—but let’s do this in a way where we fully address one space and then move onto the other so we can really put some thought into where things live and what we can get rid of’,” explains Olsborg.
Take your time creating a home together. This is a major step! Don’t miss it just because you’re stressed out by the sight of a few boxes or a cluttered room.
Step 8: Embrace gratitude
“Always look for what you can be grateful for,” Khalili emphasizes. “It can be really easy under stress to go to the critical mind, either towards yourself or towards your partner. But different studies show that the more you look for the positive in your relationship, the better your relationship is. It doesn’t mean that you have to negate what’s negative. Just start with ‘These are the good things that are going on for me’ and go from there.”
Hey! This is cool. Seriously. Big life changes are weird and scary and hard even when they’re good, and it’s okay to be freaked out. But if you tune into the good stuff, it will make this all a lot easier and way more joyful. Communicate with your partner, stay hydrated, and be kind. You got this.