Forget your list of righteous resolutions for the new year—the best self-improvement commitment you can make is to take the plunge and finally move in with your girlfriend or boyfriend. If you do this right, you’ll achieve a transcendental state of domesticated bliss, where every day is warm and cosy, with the putrefying whiff of roommates replaced by some fancy scented candles you didn’t know you actually quite like. Get it wrong, and you’ll know how it feels to be that dude who comes home to realize all his meager possessions have been thrown in garbage bags and tossed on the sidewalk.
Here’s how you navigate the tricky relationship waters and dock at the marina of cohabiting happiness.
Location, location, location
First up, you’ll need to agree on exactly where to live. Unless you’re in a situation where one of you is kicking out a roommate to make way for the merry couple, this involves an apartment hunt. Your first instinct will be to find a spot in your current neighborhood, but if you’ve been there for any amount of time, you’ll likely realize that rents have spiraled while the housing stock has gotten cruddier. Don’t fall into the trap of trying so hard to remain close to your neighborhood friends, your favorite coffee spot, and your trusty barstool that you end up taking a subpar place that’s also too expensive. This will quickly cause resentment and manifest itself in arguments (and oh, you’re gonna argue, but more on that in a minute).
Instead, do what’s right for both of you as a couple. That means being honest and up front about what you collectively can afford, what type of building you want to live in—I cannot abide large apartment buildings due to the neighbors-with-connecting-walls-to-fuckery ratio, for instance—and what your commute or travel tolerance is. Once you’ve locked these things down, you’ll be surprised how quickly the new ideal neighborhood emerges.
Also, exploring a new area is always fun, and you’ll soon find a fresh nearby barstool to call your own.
“Why do you have so much stuff?”
Now it’s time to cram two apartments’ worth of material possessions into one spot. Using an apartment move to de-clutter and chuck stuff away is the right and moral thing to do, but this rarely plays out well.
People form curious emotional attachments to possessions: You might not understand just why your lady needs multiple pairs of seemingly identical tall black boots, whereas she’ll never be able to fathom why you felt the need to collect footnote releases from the Roc-a-Fella spin-off label Roc-a-Blok. You’re likely both right (and wrong), but don’t get into a situation where one person feels the other is unfairly pressuring them to ditch most of their stuff.
To that end, smart storage is your mediator. Forget relationship counseling—every couple should be forced to visit the Container Store. Sure, it’s not the most exciting way to spend your free time, but it’s an apartment- and possibly relationship-saver. Remember that clichéd abundance of shoes? Buy storage to pack away her summer and spring collection while it’s winter. In return, ditch your Sporty Thievz records. Do this with key rooms in your soon-to-be new abode and you’ll eliminate all sorts of stress and hassle.
Design of a decade
You might have a super-strong relationship, but it’s likely that your design tastes don’t always line up. This can be tricky when you’re first moving in together, especially when it comes to artwork, decor, and furniture. Avoid a situation where you both compromise on every aesthetic to the point where you’re both only half happy: You don’t want to get six months into things and come to the realization that neither of you really like that screen-printed abstract image of some city skyline you plonked above the couch just because you thought the other person really dug it. Moving in together shouldn’t be about cramming two previous apartments into one building. After all, most mash-ups suck (and are rarely in key).
A better approach is to start making forward strides together. Color is a simple way to get on the same page. Pop into a furniture or home-design store together and walk around until something catches your collaborative eye. Once you’ve agreed that your living room is going to be based around bright yellows—and your kitchen will be all about red accents—it’s easy to begin pulling a home together. Keeping color as the basis can also be a diplomatic way to tell your partner that the horrid bookcase she spotted will, unfortunately, clash with the coffee table. Too bad.
Picking out some fresh artwork for the apartment is another great bonding activity. Browsing Etsy can feel like rummaging through the world’s largest dollar-store bargain bin, but local craft markets can be great for stumbling across upcoming artists. The 20 x 200 website is also a useful (and affordable) starting point, not least because it lets you filter art by color. Sure, you’ll both have a few sentimental pieces that you’ll want to display somewhere (although that tattered poster of mercurial French soccer genius Eric Cantona doesn’t count), but discovering new art together cements the idea that it’s your own happy-ish little bubble you’re creating.
The way you interact with your home changes when you move in with someone; that’s especially true of the kitchen and dining area. Forget the clichéd Roommate Hell scenario of a slop-encrusted stove paired with a mold-cultivating fridge—now that you’re living with your significant other, you’ll be spending a lot more time cooking and hanging out there, especially after work or during weekend mornings when you decide to make a fancy brunch at home, because going out for brunch sucks. Focussing on the kitchen as the heart of the home is a grown-ass thing to do; likewise, prioritize a good dining table over a fancy couch. Remember, you didn’t move in with someone just so you can slump on the sofa playing Fallout 4.
Bills, bills, bills
Let’s return to the age-old issue of money. However you wish to divide up the rent and other bills, it’s imperative that you get it set in stone and agreed on from the start. If she says she can only afford so much in rent, don’t push for a more expensive place. (And think very hard about offering to pony up more than half of the rent or cover all of the bills, as these things will definitely seep out at some point in an argument.)
When it comes to utility bills and living expenses, some people like to split everything 50/50, right down to the last cent. That’s cool. The lady and I have more of a laid-back system, where she picks up the Con Ed bill, and I take care of the Wifi and supermarket shopping sprees. Without tallying up, we figure they come out roughly even (and I genuinely consider going to the supermarket as a hobby, so no complaints here). What’s important is that you both know what you’re responsible for and can get to a point where bills are paid without it becoming an issue.
Division of labor
Running a household and keeping things clean takes genuine time and effort, but as you presumably want a nice home, it’s a good investment, right? Well, yes, but you do need to have some sort of understanding about who’s doing what. If one of you works from home for all or part of the time, then you’re golden—that person can step up and realize that the hour or so saved on not commuting can easily be reapplied to chores. Going out to run afternoon errands and also stopping off at the bar is a very good system, too.
Ideally, you’ll want to settle into a system where the house starts to run itself naturally, so after dinner you start the washing up while she clear the table and takes the trash down without either of you so much as uttering a word. Domestic synergy is a beautiful thing.
The importance of routine
Yep, you’ll need to establish some sort of a routine, too. This works on a few levels. First up, you’ll need to fathom a tactic to ensure the morning dash to the bathroom goes smoothly without you yelling at her for using the hairdryer while you need to fulfill your morning constitutional. You’ll get there. Setting your alarm for 10 minutes earlier can work wonders.
Secondly, now that you’re braving this new world of domesticity, it’s good to have a few regular nights or activities to help define your home life together. We usually have Pizza Mondays, wherein we make pizza at home somewhat under the auspices of it being a Pizza Showdown. This largely involves me spending hours researching what I think are terrific palate-whetting, seasonally appropriate toppings and tricks, while the lady simply puts way too many red onions and Goya-brand canned octopi on her pizza. She always wins.
We also bought a wine journal. Not because we particularly know anything about wine, but because it’s a fun little part of the dinner routine, even if it’s largely filled with entries about ropey wines with cats on the label. These sorts of things build up the patina of a life shared.
The importance of avoiding routines
Ah, but you’ll also need to be wary of falling into a lull. It’s definitely great to have a degree of regularity here, but pull out a few surprises from time to time. That local restaurant you always go to on a Tuesday? Switch it up for something fancier. Also, going for a walk together after work can be a great but overlooked thing. It’s surprising how a change of scenery can pep up the conversation, as opposed to the usual How was your day, honey? thing they do in sitcoms. You really don’t want to cultivate a sitcom situation.
Get ready to argue
It’s gonna happen. You’ll argue during the move about stressful things related to the actual physical moving process. You’ll argue about where things should go in the apartment. You’ll argue about insignificant day-to-day things that you were previously unaware your partner does, such as not pushing the water-filter tank all the way back into the fridge after using it, thereby not letting the door shut properly and allowing the cat to get trapped inside the fridge (again).
This is all natural. After all, you’re now going to be around your significant other more than ever. Just make sure you’re arguing about the right things. If there’s a bigger issue that’s been nagging at you, don’t use a pair of dirty socks strewn on the floor as an excuse to incite an argument.
Most importantly, always keep things in perspective. Everyone has bad days, and if someone’s had a hellish afternoon at work or a soul-sapping commute home, maybe that conversation about who forgot to pick up new recycling bags can wait for another day. And never argue after you’ve been enjoying some responsible libations, or else you’ll both lose. Remember, you’re a team now.
Phillip Mlynar lives in Queens, NYC. When not writing about rappers for Red Bull, NYLON, and the Village Voice, he muses on the feline form for Catster. His Twitterclaims he’s the world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats.
Lead illustration by Tara Jacoby.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.