When Cupid strikes again, it’s double the stuff

November 19, 2023

Every time we go into an older person’s home to help them sort through belongings during an overdue decluttering exercise or in anticipation of a move to a smaller home, there’s an unexpected twist to the story.

One twist we’re seeing more often is older singles finding love a second time around. Although this brings great joy, their initial celebration is quickly tempered by the realization that two full homes – representing two full, long lives – must be inventoried, culled and combined into a third, brand-new, mutual life.

In fact, a woman approached me recently at a local senior center, and dramatically – à la Zsa Zsa Gabor – displayed her new wedding ring. She then proceeded to contemplate the work ahead of them in squeezing two lives into one home.

When older people remarry or find new life partners, there are many emotional side effects, particularly if one or both has been widowed. Adult children are often uneasy – if not horrified – that Mom or Dad could ever love someone else. There are financial issues, including estate planning and insurance/investment beneficiaries ... whose-kids-get-what? kind of questions.

And then there’s the decision of where to live. Will one spouse/partner move into the other’s existing home? Will they sell their respective homes and buy a fresh place where memories aren’t lurking in every corner, closet and cupboard?

It’s a spider’s web of decisions. Let’s admit it. It’s a joyful mess! And yet, it’s not wholly different from anyone’s downsizing or relocating. It’s just bigger.

Here are a few tips for combining two homes into one shared love nest:

First, regardless of whether the new couple will reside in one of the homes currently owned, or in an altogether different house, they must know and understand the layout of the shared home. What existing furniture will work in which rooms, or will new furniture make more sense, both practically and emotionally? The furniture that doesn’t work or fit should get donated or sold as soon as possible. In cases like these, storage units are a waste of money.

Second, take a survey of all adult children and grandchildren on who may want certain items that you and/or your new partner are willing to part with. Get them to commit to removing the items from your separate homes as soon as possible.

Third, there will be two of most countertop appliances, power tools and gardening implements. Our advice is to choose the tools that are newer, have fewer miles on them and are likely to last longer. The others can be donated or sold.

Fourth, unless the chosen house has ample closet space, assume you will be sharing coat and clothing closets with your new spouse/partner. Donate those pieces of clothing you haven’t worn in a year, and are unlikely to wear in the coming year. Be diligent. It may take two or three passes on different days to achieve a good balance.

And lastly, the hard part. This involves culling and combining the artifacts of your lives – mementos, art, photographs, holiday decorations and other items that carry emotional significance. I’m not a couples counselor, but – having married for the first time well into adulthood – I know it’s important to recognize that your partner’s attachment to certain items is as strong and legitimate as your attachment to your stuff. But some items of less emotional significance can, and should, be gifted to a family member or friend, or be donated.

These tips are the very same recommendations we give to any senior who is downsizing to a smaller home or a senior living community. The difference is that in these situations there are two people – with distinct earlier lives and double the stuff – combining to make a new home together. That’s more complicated and requires more negotiations, so make sure to pack your patience.

And, congratulations!

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter