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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8-12 Very taxing to not be able to find people to shelp downsize and throw, haul to charities, not organize and keep. I cannot find anyone of this sort. They help clean out the garage but I am helping and have an arthritic condition. I advertized, throw all. I am moving south and want nothing no more. At a senior age and single, it is way too costly to even store anymore. Li8fe away is far better.

As Founding President of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), I am proud that NASMM has taken a leadership position in raising the bar in Senior Move Management. NASMM membership requirements, coupled with a wide range of educational opportunities for members, are designed to professionalize the industry and safeguard the interests of seniors and their families. While there is no industry-sponsored certification program at present, there are a number of high-quality training programs offered by both NASMM and private entities that provide in-depth training as well as communicate the values of the profession. To find NASMM members throughout the United States, or to learn about education and training opportunities in Senior Move Management, go to www.nasmm.org.

The importance of hiring "certified' providers cannot be stressed enough. These situations have unique requirements and high liability. 7 years ago Certified Transition Specialists (CRTS)teamed with MoveSeniors.com to raise standards and protect consumers. CRTS remains the only real certification program in senior move industry and today MoveSeniors.com works with dozens of national organizations to qualify providers.

If the senior citizen leaves all the stuff for their adult kids to deal with, there is a very good chance the kids will just rent a dumpster. At least this way, if the senior goes through their possessions, they can have a say in what happens to them.

Great story!

The only quibble I have is that in most cases, Senior Move Managers are not downsizing and moving Boomers. Much more likely to be the PARENTS of THE Boomers.

Janine Willis
SeniorMoves, Inc.

Would love to start a business to help "us' downsize for the next part of life. Any idea of where to begin?

Great story--the need is great, too! Thought you'd want to know that "professional organizers" also have been helping seniors downsize and move for a number of years--"senior move managers" is a new name for a similar service. And it may take lots of us, by whatever name, to help all these "boomers" and our elders transition to a new chapter in their lives--and a new, smaller home! Of course, po's help people of all ages get organized--and downsize--and try to help people realize that "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"--a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Great story about a growing need. It is just the beginning of emergining opportunties for businesses - with the aging boomers and so many of us having to navigate our parents' senior living decisions. One other "consultant" that I would hire is someone who could guide us through the health, housing, and legal issues that arise with elderly parents. There are consultants to mentor us through our kids' college transition -- why not the other end of the spectrum? Those of us 'sandwiched' between could really use the expertise of others who know the systems inside out. I'd pay for that!

My mother was a pack rat and I vowed years ago that I wouldn't do the same thing to my children. I clean my basement and garage regularly, have no collections (although I have plenty of stuff), give away books when I'm done reading them, cull my bookcases every so often, go through my files and get rid of unnecessary stuff, and I keep my records up to date. I have a will, durable power of attorney, a letter of instruction, health care proxy, and a cemetery plot. We should not be a burden to our children.

I just sold my 2400 sq. ft. home in Grand Rapids Michigan and moved to an 800 sq. ft rental home in a small town in Washington State (pop. under 900)to live close to my 2 yr old granddaughter. I was certain my daughter would want be pleased I saved not only all her school papers from kindergarden through college but my scrapbooks and memories from my childhood. Surely, now that she was a mother she would want to know more about her mother. Not so...it was all just junk to her. However, the Fisher Price 1970 era garage, school house and real wood people are a hit with the two year old! I guess you have to pick and choose which memories are worth saving...


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