A MOVING EXPERIENCE
Using a senior move manager to help your loved one downsize
Edith Stark of Pikesville, Maryland, insisted she needed no help downsizing from a spacious condominium into an apartment half the size in a retirement community. But with moving day just a week away, the closets, cupboards and drawers were still jammed with belongings waiting to be sorted. “I don’t throw things away and I wanted to take everything,” says Edith, who politely declines to give her age but is more than a couple of years past standard retirement age. “Either it was pretty or I wasn’t ready for somebody else to enjoy it.”
Friends and family were concerned that the physical and emotional toll of moving a lifetime of possessions would be too much for the retired elementary school principal. “We were afraid Edith would end up in the hospital or get sued (by the people buying her condo) for breach of contract if she wasn't moved out in time,” says Ruth Goldstein, the wife of Edith’s nephew.
When persuasion didn’t work, Ruth called Charna Kinneberg of Senior Transitions, Inc., of Abingdon, Maryland, a senior-move management company that helps older adults downsize their households. Senior-move managers sort, pack, unpack and resettle clients usually into or within levels of retirement communities. Relocation is particularly difficult for older adults who may have lived in a beloved home for decades and must decide the fate of every item. Some may have mental or physical health problems or no family members to help them.
For about $30 to $75 per employee per hour, these relocation specialists offer a wide range of services to choose from, including sorting and shipping items to family members; organizing the elimination of unwanted items through donations, tag sales, auctions and consignment; and cleaning up the old house. Some companies even “stage” the house for resale, briefly redecorating it with new borrowed furnishings.
As a first step, move coordinators draw up a floor plan of the new abode and measure all the furniture to determine what will fit in the new home. On moving day, employees supervise movers but do not physically move boxes and furniture. Other services can include handling change-of-address notifications, stopping and starting utilities, servicing the car, arranging pet care, picking up prescriptions and soothing jangled nerves with a warm hug.
Items aren’t just unpacked and left on the counter at the new location; everything is put away with the senior’s needs in mind. Dresser and kitchen drawers are organized, no heavy items are placed on high shelves and cleaning supplies are placed well away from any food. To recreate the look of the former home, some companies take photos of dresser tops and curio cabinets, replacing knickknacks in the same location. When the client walks in the door, the pictures are hung, electronics are connected, beds are made and boxes are long gone.
Six days before her move, Edith reluctantly agreed to meet with Charna and one of her six employees. “I didn't want them,” Edith says. “I sat there with my arms folded. But I was so tired and stressed that I worried I was going to get sick.” Charna went through the apartment room by room and convinced Edith the job was too big for one person. Sorting began immediately, as teams of three or four employees weeded through piles of clothing, kitchen items and linens. “They didn't just come in and throw things in boxes,” says Edith. “I was in on all the decisions.” When she grew weary and unable to decide the fate of contents in one closet, the team moved on to the kitchen or bath, then returned to the closet another day. “Eventually, we got down to a manageable pile,” says Edith. “They got me through it.”
Move-management employees often act like amateur psychologists as they persuade clients to part with their treasures, says Charna. Her team might diplomatically suggest that four sets of china or a well-stocked tool box is unnecessary in a retirement community where meals are served and household maintenance is someone else’s problem. “We preach Erma Bombeck’s philosophy: ‘It’s time to use the good stuff.’ You’re worth it. So, eat your sandwich off of great-grandmother’s Spode, use the good towels and wear the nice nightie. Get rid of the cracked plates and the rags.”
Creative suggestions for disposing of household goods make it easier for a reluctant or frugal senior to part with cherished possessions. For example, animal rescue and shelters need old linens and towels for bedding; a home for battered women might want kitchenware, pillows and blankets to furnish new households; and homeless shelters need warm winter coats and gloves. Larger items like mattresses or dressers can be posted on Freecycle (www.freecycle.org), a website that matches people in need with donated items. “That keeps costs down and avoids putting things in the landfill,” says Charna.
Hoarders and clutterbugs pay a premium for sorters to debate the wisdom of packing the rubber duck collection or a lifetime supply of plastic butter tubs. “I've moved clients who had clothing, papers and trash stacked floor to ceiling,” explains Charna. “I tell them at the outset that the move will be disorienting, take a lot of time and cost them a horrendous amount of money.” Every job is different, but she estimates costs range from about $800 for unpacking an uncluttered one-bedroom apartment to $3,000 or more for a full downsizing and resettling of a cluttered two-bedroom home into a one-bedroom apartment.
With the help of Senior Transitions, Edith settled into her new apartment at the Atrium at Owings Mills in just a few days. “This was a rush job and I brought too much with me,” says Edith. “I’ve still got papers to shred, but the pictures are hung and I’m looking forward to playing bridge and mah-jongg. The place is beginning to look like home.”