Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Can I Tell My Boyfriend’s Parents That I Don’t Want Their Crap?”

I’m on vacation through May 13th and will be re-posting some of my more popular columns in the meantime. This one was originally published on The Frisky on January 18, 2011.

I’ve been in a relationship for a year and a half and everything is going great between us. We even plan to move in together this summer. The plan is to move into the apartment that my boyfriend’s parents currently live in — it legally belongs to him but his parents pay for all the expenses. His parents will move out and into their new home, and have already said that they are leaving us their old furniture, because they would like to furnish their house with completely new stuff and this way, we wouldn’t have to buy anything. That I can totally understand and I’m thankful for some of the pieces they are leaving behind. However, there is a lot I would throw out, not only because much of it is old and unusable (knives, cracked dishes, etc.), but their “style” is really old school.

Now, I told them that my family and I are going to buy a new wardrobe and some other new things I want to replace, and apparently my boyfriend’s mom is not pleased by this. She told him that he should definitely keep the old furniture because otherwise, if we break up he would be left with nothing. He and I have talked about handling things during a breakup scenario and have agreed we’d like to buy new furniture and redecorate. But his mom thinks their apartment is nice and there is no reason to change things. Now I am afraid his parents will be offended if they see how much we want to refurnish and buy (with our money). How do I handle the situation without being ungrateful? — Martha Stewart Intruder


First, you need to get clear about who will actually be buying new furniture when you move in with your boyfriend. In one sentence, you say you and your family will be buying a “new wardrobe and some other things you want to replace” and then later your say you and your boyfriend will be refurnishing the apartment “with your money.” Well, which was is it? I wonder if it’s actually your boyfriend who’s worried about being left with no furniture in the event of a breakup and he’s just telling you it’s his mom who’s concerned? Or, maybe he wasn’t worried until his mom brought it up, but now that she has, he sees she’s got a point. It’s definitely worth discussing with your boyfriend and making absolutely sure that he’s not only on board with refurnishing and redecorating the apartment, but you’re in agreement with who will be paying for all these new things (and how they’d be divided if you do break up).

Once you’re sure you and your boyfriend are on the same page, let your boyfriend give his parents a list of items you’ve agreed to keep and a list you’d like for his parents to get rid of before you move in. For your part, you can send them a thank you note a month or so before you move in sincerely thanking them for the items you and your boyfriend have decided to keep. Express your gratitude for the money they’re saving you and the use you know you’ll get from the hand-me-downs. Reiterate that you’re looking forward to creating a home with your boyfriend and expressing your unique design style, but you’re grateful to have a head start with some basic pieces that fit your needs so well. If that’s not enough for your boyfriend’s parents, it really needs to be his job to convince them he’s a big boy and it’s time they minded their own business.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

21 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Britannia May 3, 2011, 3:19 pm

    I’m basing my response off this sentence – “I told them that my family and I are going to buy a new wardrobe and some other new things I want to replace.”

    Make sure that your boyfriend or his parents SELL the furniture or keep it elsewhere, not just give or throw it away – if you *do* end up breaking up, and he had been forced to get rid of his furniture, he may want reimbursement to replace all the furniture you forced out of the apartment since you’re taking with you all of the things you bought.

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    Cherry May 3, 2011, 3:25 pm

    If you are crafty and can see the diamond in the rough, it may be possible for you to revamp some of the items that seem old school but can be updated with paint/new fixtures. That is provided that they don’t mind you reworking the pieces. This can be a fun job for the both of you to do so that it turns out to fit in with both of your styles at the end. I have done this with items that my grandmother has unloaded on me, feeling bad to just get rid of it I just repaint or recover it and make it my own. Good luck!!

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    • avatar

      Quakergirl May 3, 2011, 10:09 pm

      Quakerboy and I revamped some old stuff his uncle gave us, too. And many of the pieces he gave us that we originally thought were insane ended up being some of our favorite things even without a touchup– this awesome old mahogany rocking chair from the 60s and a nightstand with a heart-shaped cutout come to mind. The rocking chair was definitely a little out of place in a college apartment (our first home), but it grew on us– I started to like reading in it, and now it’s really nice by the big windows in our apartment. Quakerboy likes to sit in it and watch the thunderstorms because it reminds him of being home in Missouri. I’m excited to hang on to it and put in a nursery some day.

      If you keep an open mind, you may find more treasures than trash amongst the hand-me-downs.

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    Sarah May 3, 2011, 3:36 pm

    My dad and step mom keep insisting that my boyfriend and I take this hideous couch they want to get rid of so I tried to tell my stepmom that it was too big (code:too ugly) for our place. Now she want the measurements of our apartment now to prove that it will fit! I hope she likes the way it looks at the Salvation Army I take it to.

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      Britannia May 3, 2011, 4:15 pm

      My grandma is the same way – I just moved into a house of my own, and she used the opportunity to pawn off practically everything old and half worn-out onto me so that she could buy all new things for herself. It annoyed the $h!t out of me… to the point where we had an argument where I actually raised my voice to her after I found out that she had taken the liberty to fill up my storage closet in the garage with crap that she didn’t want to keep in HER garage anymore.

      I have given away SO much stuff to Goodwill… at least 10 trips’ worth… and I *still* have boxes/horrible furniture to consider and get rid of or re-vamp. It’s incredibly frustrating! If she doesn’t want it, and I have plainly said that I don’t want it, why do I have to take care of it for her anyways? This seems to be a “thing” that a lot of families do – pawn off their old, unwanted furniture to their newly independent offspring even if they don’t want it.

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      spaceboy761 May 3, 2011, 4:18 pm

      My wife and I put an offer in on a house on Sunday. By yesterday, my mom had already compiled a list of furniture in her house that I was receiving whether I liked it or not. As in she has probably already hired a 2nd moving company I know nothing about.

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      • caitie_didnt

        caitie_didn't May 3, 2011, 4:25 pm

        can we address the fact that pintsize is your avatar??? you’re my new fave! I’m a diehard QC fan.

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        spaceboy761 May 3, 2011, 4:34 pm

        It stems from the hilarious notion of Pintsize actually contributing to a relationships advice message board since he is probably the most deranged character I have ever read, and I absolutely love him for it. What I say is 100% me and not some fanfic of what I think Pintsize would say since I could never do Jeph’s writing justice, but holy crap that would be awesome.

        LW: Dear Wendy… I’ve only been married for 6 months and I already feel my husband pulling away from me.

        Pintsize: What does that have to do with the bukkake I’m storing on your hard drive right now?

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      • caitie_didnt

        caitie_didn't May 3, 2011, 9:13 pm

        haha yes! I don’t always love the Pintsize story arcs but I do love his rampant inappropriateness and derangement!

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      AKchic May 3, 2011, 6:04 pm

      The hand-me-down dilema! I HATE it. I am the hand-me-down dumpster for my family. I have four boys, so apparently, I NEED every old tv from every relative in the city, every old piece of furniture (except bookshelves and dressers, which are all I REALLY need), etc. At one point, in one month, I got 12 old tvs (from 19 inch to 55 inch), 16 dvd players and 4 VCRs. My uncle jokingly said “sorry we didn’t have a beta for you”. I looked at him and said “I still have two in the storage unit!” (one from my childhood and one from my grandpa 6 years earlier) The same week we ended up with two recliners and a twin-sized bed (with three old, ratty mattresses). None of which I needed.

      Why do I get it all? Because my family thinks I need it. They think that my kids destroy everything so I need to replace it all weekly. Or, that I can’t afford a tv or something. I was a teen parent (16 with my first). I am 27, full time admin job, make more money than half of the family does. The only one to ever APPLY for college. The only girl to have a GED from my generation. Not on welfare. I do work in the substance abuse rehab field. I work with a LOT of community outreach programs. So, when I get all of this crap, I in turn contact different agencies. I have helped furnish many families just getting out of shelters. Put tvs and dvd players in senior citizens’ rooms. Books, puzzles and clothes at shelters, emergency abuse shelters, residential programs, etc.

      It is what I recommend to everyone else. If you don’t want it – donate it. You may not like it, but I guarantee you, someone else will find a need for it.

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    • avatar

      Emsz May 4, 2011, 10:04 am

      Personally, I don’t see how people just show up at your house with their stuff and leave it there… I mean, we have enough hand-me-downs in this house, believe you me, but all of the people that gave them to us, ASKED if we would have any use for them first (before they showed up with them)

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  • avatar

    Emma May 3, 2011, 4:13 pm

    If his parents are really worried about their son in the event of a break-up and won’t budge on the issue, they should offer to put their furniture in storage. The LW writes that her boyfriend’s parents are leaving all of their things “because they would like to furnish their house with completely new stuff”. Wonder if she can’t use this angle herself with them? Also, yes they are saving her money, but they are also being lazy about moving out and dealing with everything that comes with process.

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      Britannia May 3, 2011, 4:45 pm

      I have found that parents think that their right to laziness trumps that of the offspring’s, since the parents can paint their laziness as generosity… how dare the offspring want to buy themselves new things and make the parents deal with their old crap themselves. (I’m a little bitter about this issue, having had to deal with it just this past month myself and losing the battle).

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    TECH May 3, 2011, 4:49 pm

    I think we’re all missing the point here. I’m reading the letter correctly, the boyfriend legally resides in the apartment, but the parents have been paying ALL the expenses ( I would imagine that to mean rent and utilities.) If the parents are going to continue to pay all the expenses, the letter writer has no right to be miffed that they’re leaving furniture behind. If I was paying all that dough for an apartment, I’d feel a right to leave some things there too.

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      SpaceySteph May 3, 2011, 5:12 pm

      Agree with your points, but I was reading this more as “they pay because they live there but now they’re leaving.” Was just my interpretation though. Based on that interpretation, the LW and her bf can do as they please. Based on yours, the parents have the right to leave their stuff and expect that they wont get rid of it.

      Also my comment below (I must have been typing when you posted) said the parents should butt out of talking about their relationship, but I think I would retract that a bit as well if the parents are financing the cohabitating. But I would hope the LW and her boyfriend are planning to pay for their own lovenest.

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      Thyme May 3, 2011, 5:22 pm

      Yes, that part is a little ambiguous; it’s hard to tell whether or not the LW and her bf are taking over all the bills from his parents when they move it. Looks like Wendy and most others assumed that the parents are only paying the expenses while they are still living there, but it is possible that that is not the case.

      Did the LW’s boyfriend rent/buy the apartment for himself and his parents were staying in it (and paying the bills) temporarily while transitioning to a new home, or did his parents front the money for it for him and they just put his name on the lease?

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      AKchic May 3, 2011, 6:09 pm

      I think that the boyfriend OWNS the home, but the parents are paying rent to live there until they got their new place. Since they are LEAVING, they will no longer be paying rent. Because of that, as a “landlord/tenant” issue, any furniture left behind has to be stored for 30 days (at least, that’s the law in AK) and the former tenant needs to be contacted to come get the crap. If they don’t, the landlord can either store it for a certain amount of time, or toss it out at his discretion.

      Personally, I think the parents are being lazy and covering it with “generousity”. Saying “here, have our old stuff” so they can buy new and not have to move anything to the new place. They’re outrage at whatever is done with the “gift” is unwarranted. Technically, it is abandoned property. Two, as a “gift”, it is no longer their’s in which they have any say on what happens to it.

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    Evil Charity May 3, 2011, 4:57 pm

    My husband and I have a small home, so we have learned to be rather firm about this type of situation when it arises. The bottom line is that it’s not really doing us a favor to force us to accept a used piece of furniture that we don’t want. The favor is to the folks who get to unload said furniture without having to deal with actually getting rid of it (tossing it out, donating it, etc.) When push comes to shove, I have zero problem with donating said gifts (used or even new stuff I don’t want) to charity and being rid of it.

    In the case of the LW, I think it’s important to remember that by not having to move a bunch of their crap, the parents’ move is going to be less burdensome than it would be otherwise. Also, if they are eager to set up their new home with new furniture, why wouldn’t they expect that the LW and bf might feel the same?

    Anyway, the argument to keep all the old furniture so that the bf won’t be left with nothing in the event of a breakup is silly, IMO. So, they keep all the furniture and down the road split then the LW gets to keep nothing? Should they furnish their home twice over so they each have an entire household of goods should they split? Silly.

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    SpaceySteph May 3, 2011, 5:04 pm

    I’m really most concerned with how his parents are meddling in their relationship and he isn’t standing up to them.
    You two are in a relationship and about to begin cohabitating, its nice of them to offer you their old stuff, but your boyfriend should be the one who informs them that you (as a couple) plan on redecorating and will not be keeping all the pieces. Give them the option to keep the stuff if they might want it, but I also think he should be stopping these “what if you break up” conversations with his mom.
    Its good to discuss as a couple what the division of furniture will be, and its his right to keep the pieces in storage in case he wants them later (for any reason, not just a breakup). And its not a bad idea as an individual to think through “what if this doesn’t work out, will I regret this?” But his mom needs to mind her own business, and her son should be the one to graciously tell her that.
    The fact that he doesn’t appear to be standing up to his mom (from the letter alone, maybe he did and she didn’t mention?) is to me a bit of a red flag. Their interest in the matter ends with whether they want to keep the furniture you don’t want or let you get rid of it in the way you and your boyfriend see fit and does not extend to commentary on your relationship. My parents had alot of tension in their marriage caused by my overbearing, judgmental grandparents (my dad’s parents). Only about 5 years ago, when he saw how miserable they were making his children by doing the same thing to us, did he start standing up to them. Hopefully your boyfriend will start standing up to his overbearing parents a little earlier.

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      Quakergirl May 3, 2011, 9:14 pm

      Could not agree more. When I first moved in with my boyfriend, my parents were still very protective/coddling of me (even though they *love* my boyfriend…possibly more than they love me) because they still saw me–and maybe us, because my parents have known him since he was 15– as kids that they needed to look after and advise. Once I started setting ground rules and acting like their adult child, not just their child, they backed off gracefully. Not only did it improve my relationship with them, but it really gave my boyfriend and I the space we needed to start building our own life together.

      Similarly, the LW will find that less parental control will make everyone’s lives better. Be gracious, but your boyfriend needs to be firm with them. It isn’t their place to make decisions about how you two live your lives, whether it’s what couch you watch TV on or how to make contingency plans in the event of a breakup or whether to have kids. This feeling that they’re entitled to enforce their opinion on every aspect of your relationship will only get worse if you don’t nip it in the bud right now.

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    TheFabulousmzm May 3, 2011, 9:51 pm

    My mom never tried unloading her old furniture on me and my sister (we moved out together) but she did try making decorating decisions for us. Like, she’d offer to buy us furniture, then make ‘suggestions’ on what we should get. It was annoying because we wanted to decorate completely on our own. But if she bought stuff we’d have to take her opinion into consideration. So basically we refused any help unless we absolutely needed it. When we did accept it, yeah, we had to take her wishes into consideration. But occasionally she’d buy something for us and we wouldn’t know until she and my stepfather showed up with it. Oh well, can’t win every battle.

    But don’t get me wrong, we were EXTREMELY grateful for her offers of help buying furniture. It’s just a conflicting feeling when you first move out and want free reign to decorate your new place just as you like. I think the LW just needs to be firm about not wanting gifts of hand me down furnishings, and certainly not a whole house full.

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