Helping seniors downsize their belongings

A worker packs a box of clothing.

Tess Vigeland: For aging boomers who decide it's time to move into a senior living community, the moving business is booming. And it's specialized enough that it has a name. Last year, 50,000 families hired a "certified senior mover."

Susan Shepherd reports from Boston.


Susan Shepherd: It would appear from the cars jockeying for space in this quiet Cambridge neighborhood, that Carl Krumpe is having a party.

Sound of doorbell

But the people dropping in aren't here to socialize. They've come to give him a price for his sizeable book collection.

Karen Zweig: Helen is the book dealer. Is your colleague with you?

Helen: He's coming, I think he's just finding a place to park.

Zweig: OK.

Krumpe, a Greek and Latin scholar, is getting ready to sell this place. He'll move into a much smaller space in a senior living community.

Zweig: There are a lot of books in here.

Carl Krumpe: I can't tell you how many.

Helen: We will, we'll tell you how many.

To help him organize the move, Krumpe's hired Karen Zweig, a.k.a the Move Maven. She's what you call a "senior mover." For a price, usually in the thousands of dollars, she helps make decisions. She helps clear the clutter.

Karen Zweig: I call it possession paralysis. Because people, even though they may want to move and know they should move, they become paralyzed looking at everything in their house and they cannot imagine how they can possibly manage to get rid of it all.

Krumpe's kids don't want five thousand books. And, it turns out, most children don't want a lot of their parents' things.

Krumpe: I have six children and they're off and on about their eagerness about taking any thing off there.

And that's where Senior Movers step in.

Zweig: It's often the case that there's not a family member around, so it's sort like I'm rent-a-daughter.

Part of her job is to bring in help when the kids aren't around. But Zweig says once the decision is made...

Zweig: Surprisingly, many people are ready to let go and I guess they realize that it's just stuff.

Sound of doorbell ringing

Enter Debrah Davidson, the eBay reseller.

Zweig: Oh, hi Debrah.

Krumpe shows Davidson around the house so she can find things she'd like to try to sell, like this 1970s Fisher Price Little People merry-go-round. If it gets snapped up, she takes 30 percent and the rest goes to Krumpe.

Debrah Davidson: There's one little broken part over here, but I think it's still very saleable.

Krumpe: It's filthy dirty.

Davidson: It doesn't matter. I'll clean it up; that's my job.

But even a professional mover can get things wrong. Which brings us to the story of the moose skull that got tossed. Lynne Falwell owns "It's Your Move," a senior moving company near Boston, and she had this uh-oh moment with one of her clients.

Lynne Falwell: I get a call right before the move from the gentleman and he says we've got a problem. He spoke to his son in England and he says that the only thing his son wants from the house is, you guessed it, the moose head with the antlers.

Getting rid of things-- wanted and unwanted-- is only part of a senior movers' job. Falwell says it's also about overcoming emotional ties.

Falwell: One of early client said to us, "What you really are psychologists with boxes," and in fact, that's what it feels like we often are.

Grandma's precious knick knacks might not be as cherished by you, but Zweig says youngsters should make a token gesture to show they care.

Zweig: I often whisper in the ears of the younger generation to ask for some small item out of grandma's belongings, and let grandma know that you really want something to remember her by.

The move is a process that takes the family from the day they make the decision to the moment they settle into their new home.

Zweig: When I'm moving someone, I try to take pictures of their former home and re-create it. If they have a lot of knick knacks on their dresser top, I'll unpack and put things back exactly the way they were, so that when they walk in it looks and feels like home.

Selma Gordon: Karen is about the nicest thing that's happened to me in the last 100 years.

Selma Gordon is a tiny, talkative 87-year-old. She had no children to help her move from the apartment she lived in for almost her entire life.

Gordon: Moving became a wrenching experience.

So when it came time to relocate into an assisted living facility nearby, Gordon turned to the Move Maven, who mapped out every detail down to doll-sized cardboard cutouts.

Gordon: She measures every piece of furniture where you're living, then she'll cut out a piece of furniture like this.

So when her client moves in, everything's in place.

Gordon: Without Karen, I couldn't have done it. There would be no way. With Karen, when I walked in here at the end of the day, I could say I was home.

In Boston, I'm Susan Shepherd for Marketplace Money.

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