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March 12, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Jennifer and Corey Alkire met as college students and were married last June.

Both are fifth-grade teachers - Jennifer at Western Heights Middle School in Hagerstown, Corey at Clear Spring Elementary.

Corey Alkire had moved three times in the two years before they married.

"I accumulated a lot of junk," he says.

The couple lived with Jennifer's parents before they moved into their first home in August.

"He brought more stuff," Jennifer Alkire says. "We took it to Goodwill. I convinced him."

Experts say such compromise is important.

Regina Leeds, a Los Angeles-based professional organizer, assists people to create a "calm, peace-filled, joyous environment." She set out the principles of doing that in "The Zen of Organizing," published in 2002. Her second book, published last year, is titled "Sharing a Place Without Losing Your Space: A Couple's Guide to Blending Homes, Lives, and Clutter."

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A key to peace in the shared home is not to take things for granted, Leeds says. Whether it's the first tiny apartment for newlyweds or a "yours-mine-and-ours" blended family situation, the advice is the same.

The Alkires are happy with their division of labor. Jennifer likes doing laundry. She says Corey has no clue about it. He likes taking care of the outside, riding his tractor, cutting the grass.

They say they talk about everything, and there are places in their hilltop Hancock home where compromise has taken place.

For example, Corey's father planned to give them a big-screen television. Jennifer envisioned an entertainment center with shelves for candles and knickknacks. A streamlined high-tech-looking set was chosen, so Corey will build some shelves nearby to accommodate Jennifer's wishes.

The Alkires share their home with Chesney, Corey's wedding gift to his bride. He would have preferred a bulldog, but knew Jennifer loved golden retrievers. He settled for a realistic-looking resin bulldog. Although Jennifer would prefer that it stay in the spare bedroom that has become her husband's space, the bulldog is in the living room.

His, hers and theirs


People make assumptions about "stuff," Leeds says. A wife assumes that her couch will be the centerpiece of the living room because "it's so much nicer."

Uh oh. Her husband may not think so.

Leeds recommends that partners inventory their individual belongings and decide together what goes, what stays and what goes where.

Negotiation is an important skill.

Teresa and David McDonald were married Sept. 6, 2003, and lived with his parents until their cozy Hagers-town home was available the weekend before Christmas.

The couple met through their church five years ago when Teresa was 14 and David 17. Early on, David McDonald told Teresa's mother that he had long-term plans for her daughter and himself. It took Teresa a little longer to realize that she did indeed love David, but once she did, the couple started planning a life together. They agreed - even before they bought their home - that it made financial sense to buy things together. They stored furniture in David's room at his parents' home - floor to ceiling, David laughs.

The young couple discusses everything, but David McDonald leaves most of the decorating to his bride.

"I'm really girlie," Teresa McDonald confesses, and says that her husband is easy-going. Members of her large teddy bear collection are in evidence throughout the home. Bears include a pair dressed as bride and bridegroom, and a Valentine's Day bear couple on the entertainment center in the living room. They were a gift from her husband.

Bears have sneaked into a room that is definitely David McDonald's space. A large leather recliner is the centerpiece. There's a television with videogames, but a shelf of CDs and audiotapes also holds a pair of teddy bears.

Rearranging the house


Leeds says if one partner is naturally organized and the other is an incurable pack rat, agreements must be worked out. The couple can decide together that common rooms will be kept tidy. They can try to create a space for the pack rat - a clutter-safe room to which the door can be closed.

When Frederick, Md., designer and feng shui consultant Robin Buck talks to clients about what they want in their homes, she asks them, "What do you love in your life?"

Making a home involves a lot more than where you put the furniture. When consulting with couples, she talks to them about the kind of environment they want to create as a couple.

The bedroom is a very important place in a home and relationship, and the bed is the primary focus. It should be comfortable, inviting, with colors pleasing to both partners. Generally, the head of the bed should not be placed under a window. Feng shui - as well as common sense - principles apply, Buck says. People are more comfortable with a solid wall behind them, and there could be drafts from a window over the bed.

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