The “Stuff” Negotiation

piles of cardboard boxes
Jason Biggs and Julie Birbilis
Jason Biggs and Julie Birbilis

Couples moving in together have the opposite problem they had a few decades ago. Today, it’s not about finding wooden crates to use as coffee tables. Instead, there’s a top-tier negotiation of what stays and what goes—from furniture to flatware.

Blame what researchers call the marriage delay. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, the average age of marriage for women was 20; for men, 23. Today, both sexes are delaying nuptials an average of six years and have typically set up house by themselves.

Raleigh residents Jason Biggs, 41, and Julie Birbilis, 29, didn’t argue much when they moved in together in January. Engaged to be married in August, they even went through a home renovation right after the move.  What’s their secret?

Full disclosure: Biggs rents a storage unit that holds six pallets of his stuff. So that helps.

He admits he’s sentimental toward his childhood keepsakes, including sports trophies, albums by the Bee Gees, and a collection of He-Man-looking wrestling figures he playfully sets up on the mantle.

In real life, those wrestlers live in a box in the basement. But they make appearances at parties, and Birbilis accepts the toy guests even if she doesn’t understand Biggs’ attachment.

“It’s probably a man thing—my dad and his friends reminisce about the good old days; my mom and her friends never do that,” she says. “I like new and fresh; I don’t care that I was MVP of my soccer team.”

Color vs. Vision

The house is new and fresh, walls painted grey (except for the bathroom in the basement that’s bright red; Biggs chose it for his alma mater NC State) and neutral furniture with pops of color by way of pillows, vases and rugs. The subtle approach wasn’t Biggs’ first instinct.

“I liked bright colors, but she said you can only use one kind of décor for the whole time you have that color,” says Biggs. “She went with a lot of neutral colors so we could change the décor. She has the color; I have the vision.”

Biggs designed the kitchen during their renovation, which features a huge island and a pass-through that opens to the dining room.

“This kitchen was totally demolished and redone,” says Birbilis. “When we walked in, it was so disgusting, and he said, ‘No this is fantastic.’”

All in Good Fun

The secrets to negotiation may be a bit of friendly banter. While Birbilis pokes fun of the wrestling figures, Biggs points out Birbilis has never even used a record player. They met competing in triathlons; Biggs owns FS Series in Raleigh, a company that hosts marathons, triathlons and other sporting events.

Training together as friends before they began dating nurtured respect and humility.

“I try to be respectful of his things, and I try to pick my battles,” says Birbilis. “If we’re going to be living a life together, you can’t be nagging all the time. I know that he could nag me every single day. We choose to focus our energy on things that are more important to us than putting laundry away or the figurines in the basement.”

“Or closing the cabinet doors,” laughs Biggs.

Taking the plunge

Moving in together?

Consider these tips from licensed psychologist Susan Orenstein at Orenstein Solutions.

Make decisions as a team. Learning to collaborate will be the key to the future of your relationship.  Of course, you can designate roles of who does what during the move, but make sure you both think the delegation feels fair.

Make the bedroom a special place.  Find ways to keep the bedroom full of sensual pleasures, with candles, fuzzy blankets, favorite artwork and photos of just the two of you.  Nothing kills romance more than piles of dirty laundry, papers and bills strewn across the room.

Agree to agree. Author Anne Lamott said: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”  I’d like to modify that quote.  I believe that it’s only “Unexpressed expectations that are resentments waiting to happen.”  I encourage my clients to let their partners know what they like and don’t like and what they expect—and manage conflict before it builds.

Christa Gala

Christa Gala

Christa Gala worked for 16 years as a newspaper columnist and freelance writer across digital and print platforms before joining Raleigh Magazine. Gala is in her fifth semester teaching Writing and Reporting at UNC-Chapel Hill’s renowned School of Media and Journalism.
Christa Gala

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