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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smith

Multi-generational living - making one household out of two

How many plates does one family need?

When I combined households with my parents, we also combined our kitchen equipment, crockery and cutlery. This added up to about 40 dinner plates, 32 side plates, 22 breakfast bowls, 11 desert bowls, 6 soup bowls and 6 pasta bowls. And don’t get me started on the mugs and cups. At most we have about 10 or 11 people at dinner at the one time, but clearly, we could cater for up to 40.

One of the challenges of multi-generational living is consolidating the furniture, equipment and furnishings of two households when you move into one space. How can we make this easier on ourselves, particularly if the space we move into doesn’t have ample room for all our stuff?

Planning for what you need

Before, during or after the move, take some time to work out what you ideally will need to have available to you in your new space. How many people will regularly be there? Will you often have guests? Will people use items at different times of the day? And probably the most important question - who does the washing up?

One family's needs might reflect vastly different schedules, so you’ll need to cater for all of these differences.

Working out what can stay and what should go

Once you know what you need you can decide your storage requirements based on these numbers. But how do you decide what should stay and what should go?

Firstly, go through everything and separate out anything that is broken, cracked or damaged in some way. Unless it’s a family heirloom that you’re going to keep on display, consider recycling it.

Then speak with the people in your family to determine who uses those items the most. Together, decide what you need multiples of, and which of these you like using the most. You keep the items you like using and try to agree to donate the ones you don’t like or use.

Communication, cooperation, consistency

The success of this plan hinges on communicating with everyone in the new household who has a stake in what is decided and cooperating with each other to make an agreement about the next steps.

You also need to take this approach consistently – there’s not much point in sneaking that cushion you liked that no-one else did, back into the living room while insisting on tossing out grandad’s dusty old footrest.

The key is to make the process and outcome comfortable for everyone.

Yours, mine, ours:

In the beginning, you’ll still be mentally separating out what’s theirs and what’s yours. But at some point, what was yours and theirs becomes ours. Everything in the common areas of the house eventually should become common property. This makes it everyone’s responsibility to maintain this space and look after what is in it.

House rules

When you’re planning what to keep, you should also set some rules or guidelines, for keeping everything in order. Everyone has a role to play – from the youngest to the oldest.

When we buy something new - who gets to choose?

As part of the house rules, you should be clear about who gets to make choices about new items that are bought for shared use. Some options for decision-making include:

Whoever uses it most.

The person or people in the household who use the item the most should ideally choose what is bought. If there’s likely to be disagreement over colour, brand or style, then appoint a judge or agree at the beginning what the limitations are.

Depends on where it will live and who will take care of it.

If an item is not going to live in the common areas of the house, then it’s up to the person or people who live with it to choose and to take care of it.

Doubling up when necessary.

You might decide to buy more than one of the new items, side-stepping the problem of choice. This might work for small or lightweight items, such as cushions, but probably not for lounge suites.

So, you still need to make an agreement and plan. A good time to do this is when you’re designing the interior to suit everyone’s needs.

Consolidation requires planning ahead, communication, cooperation and consistency. Having a set of house rules that everyone agrees to follow. And being flexible about how things look and are run.

Email us if you have any questions about planning multi-generational living.


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