Never, Ever Forget


OK, New York Times, we officially love you!

Wendel and Carolyn Thompson are assisted by Jewel Flick, center, of Let’s Move, a downsizing and moving specialist. Credit: J.M. Eddins Jr. for The New York Times

The amount of goods a couple can accumulate over 44 years living in the same house can be overwhelming. And that is what Wendel and Carolyn Thompson, of Columbia, Md., have been grappling with since January as they prepare to leave their split level and move to a retirement community this month.

Figuring out how to squeeze the contents of a house into a two-bedroom retirement unit nearby in Catonsville, Md., has taken most of their time in recent months. And they’ve had some help. “Declutter ladies,” or downsizing specialists, spend hours with them every week to sort through and pare down their belongings to a more manageable size

“We’ll get through this. That’s what I tell myself several times every day,” said Mrs. Thompson, 77, a former teacher and Maryland school nutrition program employee, who raised three children in the four-bedroom house. An avid collector of educational materials, games, gifts and other miscellaneous items like teddy bears, she devotes time every day to decide what goes in the boxes for giving away, the boxes for the new apartment and the boxes for each of her children — and their children.

Jewel Flick, left, of Let’s Move, is helping the Thompsons prepare to move. Wendel Thompson, right, checks the value of donated items on a computer. Credit: J.M. Eddins Jr. for The New York Times

“One of my recommendations for handling this,” she added wryly, “is don’t wait.”

But, of course, many people do wait — and wait, said Kimberly McMahon, co-owner of Let’s Move, a downsizing and moving specialist in Fulton, Md., whose company is helping Mrs. Thompson and her husband, 78, a former government statistician, to clear out every nook and cranny.

“Downsizing is the hardest because it is emotionally difficult for people to release their history,” said Ms. McMahon. “It’s the worst anxiety associated with any move.”

Her advice is “that nothing should be off limits. Either use it, love it — or leave it.”

Getting rid of furniture and general clutter can be a daunting task. For those with antiques, silver, jewelry and other valuables, Laurene Sherlock, a Bethesda, Md., antiques appraiser, will advise people of outlets like vintage shops, where owners can consign their precious pieces for sale.

But the value of valuables can be cyclical, warned Ms. Sherlock, who noted that 1950s and mid-modern furniture “is hot, and so is Bakelite jewelry, but something else that people love may just not be popular. A lot of younger people just don’t want to be burdened with the tchotchkes.”

While homeowners can amass impressive amounts, the task of clearing out apartments where people have lived for a long time is not any easier, said Ron Shuma, who runs A+ Organizing in New York City.

“I advise going through each drawer and each closet every six months because it’s so much easier,” he said. “But people typically don’t, and that’s where I come in to help people realize what are treasures, and then we get rid of the rest.”

When Hanan Watson, 71, decided to downsize after 35 years in a large two-bedroom Murray Hill apartment, she found that “it is very difficult to sell or even give away many things. Charities can be extremely particular about what they are willing to take.” She donated some of her art to a nearby community art center, gave some items to relatives and friends and got a lot of assistance from Mr. Shuma in getting rid of larger furniture.

“There are a lot of challenges, for example the glut of ‘brown furniture” — even good-quality mahogany — which fetches pennies on the dollar,” Mr. Shuma said. “The best thing is for a family member to take it.”

But with careers and young children, fewer 40- or 50-something offspring want to acquire bulkier items or take on the task of sorting and disposing of unwanted goods in their parents’ homes. In the last decade, baby boomers, more used to paying for services than their Depression-era parents, have been increasingly willing to spend money for outsiders to help them pare down their accumulation.

The price of such services can vary widely, from $60 an hour in major metropolitan areas except New York City, where the cost can run as high as $200 hourly. In other areas, downsizing help can run $40 an hour. Sorting, packing and moving typically runs from $4,000 and $10,000, depending on the locale, according to specialists.

Despite the cost, the demand for downsizing is strong, according to the National Association of Senior Move Managers. In 2014, the association reported that 50 percent of those contracting for services with its members were older adults, and 30 percent of the initial contacts leading to contracts were from the senior’s family.

An additional 20 percent of business comes from sources like senior housing communities, which have increasingly been establishing programs to help seniors pare back and streamline their belongings before becoming community residents. In 2007, Erickson Living, a major retirement community provider, started a program in Novi, Mich., to advise older adults who had signed up to move to the Fox Run retirement community.

The program, called Erickson Realty and Moving Service, is offered at the 18 Erickson retirement communities around the country, and helps older people with real estate agents, repair people, organizers and movers to smooth their path out of their longtime homes and into smaller spaces.

Last year, the program helped 230 of the 340 people who moved to Erickson properties in Virginia and Maryland, said Sharon Baksa, its regional sales director. The program provides up to $2,000 in relocation expenses — sometimes more.

“We play the role of the surrogate family member,” said Ms. Baksa, who helped start the program in Michigan. “We handle between 1,800 and 1,900 moves a year over all.”

Choosing the retirement community in Catonsville helped the Thompsons in Maryland focus on sorting and jettisoning belongings.

“When we set an August date then we knew we had a goal, and we had to meet it,” Mrs. Thompson said.

The downsizing credit was an incentive for the Thompsons, who started in February with a once-a-week visit, for three to four hours, to help sort belongings and get unwanted items out the door. By April, they had increased the declutterer’s schedule to twice a week to meet their target of an August move, and preparing their house for sale by the fall.

They did not have high-end valuables that would warrant an estate sale, but, instead, had one yard sale and then gave away many of their items to family, friends and charities like Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity. Most retirement communities and organizing professionals maintain a list of organizations and what they will accept.

Churches or temples also help. Marc J. Rosenblum, a retired lawyer and economist, has been clearing out his late wife’s belongings and various household goods from his McLean, Va., contemporary home with advice from his synagogue, Temple Rodef Shalom.

“They provided suggestions for where to allocate items, for destinations like a homeless shelter in Bailey’s Crossroads, Va., and a nearby thrift store,” said Mr. Rosenblum, 78. He first consulted a downsizing specialist, which, he said, “saved a lot of time, and helped me pick up some good ideas, including a furniture auctioneer.”

He handled the downsizing task largely on his own, but others like the Thompsons say they welcome the help and the prompting for what many see as an onerous, time-consuming job.

Even with the help, “it’s one step at a time,” said Mr. Thompson. “And I don’t see the end yet.”

For people thinking about beginning the task, here are some ideas from Kimberly McMahon, of Let’s Move, a Fulton, Md., downsizing and moving specialist.

■ Write some organizing time on your calendar.

■ Set a timer to get started.

■ Start small, even if it’s matching up a cup with a saucer.

■ Get a friend to help.

■ Fill a trash bag once a week.

■ Call and book a donation pickup for the next day.

NASMM in Wall Street Journal 08.10.14

Oh happy day! The Wall Street Journal is featuring NASMM again! Check out the full text version right here – due to the WSJ paywall. More great (& much-deserved) press for our Senior Move Managers®!

When Elderly Parents Lose Their Independence,
Planning Can Make the Transition EasieR

Aug. 10, 2014 12:14 a.m. ET
Photo credit: Mark Brewer

Moving is almost always stressful. But there are few transitions in life more difficult than when an older adult needs to give up his or her home and independence.

Whether it’s a move into a care facility, or giving up a house and friends of many years in a warm-weather state and moving back north to be near the children, such changes can be emotionally fraught and logistically challenging for both the older individual and family members.

There are many ways to ease the transition, most critically giving older adults an opportunity to make their own choices. And for everyone involved, getting an early start on decisions—rather than waiting for a crisis to hit—goes a long way to making the path smoother.

Starting early enables all involved to weigh and discuss housing options for that moment when living independently is no longer possible.

For many, initiating these kinds of discussions takes effort. That reluctance cuts both ways, notes Larry Minnix, president of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit aging-services providers. “Scratch the skin of a 60-year-old man and you’ll get a seven-year-old child, and scratch the skin of a 60-year-old daughter, and you’ll get daddy’s little girl every time,” he says.

Some older parents, of course, simply refuse to sit down and talk about options for living arrangements and care. “They could say, ‘It’s none of your business,’ ” Mr. Minnix says. “And you could leave it with, ‘I can appreciate that, but understand that if ever there is an emergency, we’re going to have to make the decisions, and we won’t have your input.’ “

But that notion—of “seeking input”—could be misconstrued, especially when older family members are struggling with the emotions surrounding independence and mortality.

Mr. Minnix suggests saying: “We want to do the best job in carrying out your wishes.”

It’s a small—but important—distinction. Adult children who ask for input are saying, in effect, that they will make the decisions, Mr. Minnix notes. “But saying, ‘We want to carry out your wishes,’ puts [the older family members] in charge.”

The adult children, too, need to plan, says Bobbie Guidry, director of housing and community-based services for the Benedictine Health System. “Families should sit down and talk about who is playing what part: Who is going to help with the move, who is going to help with the finances, and who can visit when.”

In families considering assisted-living facilities or other kinds of senior care, adult children will often do the legwork and present parents with a number of options to consider.

That should be only the first step, says John Hartmayer, a senior vice president at Atria Senior Living. Older adults should visit the community and meet the staff and other residents.

When it comes time for the actual move, again, allow the older adults to be involved with decisions, including what furniture and keepsakes they’ll take with them to the degree that space allows.

For all the challenges involved in downsizing, families don’t have to do it themselves. In recent years, there’s been a boom in companies that specialize in helping older adults with the process. The National Association of Senior Move Managers has a website ( where you can find members.

To further ease the transition, family members should get the new residence unpacked and set up before the older adult spends the night, aiming to make it feel as homey as possible. In the immediate weeks after the move, families should spend as much time as possible at the new home, Ms. Guidry says. “They need to get adjusted…and [not] feel abandoned,” she adds.

At the same time, adult children shouldn’t hesitate to set boundaries. “You have to work and you have your own family,” says Ms. Guidry. “You can’t be there every day even though you might like to.”

It’s a different matter for older adults who are moving in with a family member. In that case, families need to be realistic about the changes that will bring to their finances and lifestyle, says Gail Hunt, president of the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Says Ms. Guidry: “As challenging as all this gets, you can still get many wonderful moments together.”

NASMM in The New York Times (again!)

NASMM member (& current NASMM Board member) Susan Devaney of The Mavins Group in Westfield, NJ, is featured in this August 1st article from none other than The New York Times.
Due to the NYT paywall, we’re placing it here on our blog so all can read it. Congrats to Susan and all the folks at The Mavins Group!

{Note: We’ve actually found The New York Times to be one of the best sources for all things related to aging & older adults. The NYT has explored the health, psychological, social, and cultural aspects of  our rapidly growing aging society long before most others. The  journalistic “real estate” they devote to age-related issues is quite extraordinary.} 


Real Estate Agents for Older Adults Are Part Broker, Part Therapist

VERA LIGHTSTONE, a sculptor, jeweler and ceramist, never planned to move out of her loft in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, especially not in her 81st year. Why would she? She had 1,800 square feet of living and work space, high ceilings and a clear view of the Hudson River. In New York, that was a real estate trifecta.

“I thought I would die there,” said Ms. Lightstone, now 84, who bought the place 30 years ago for $60,000. But after she fell a few times, her three daughters thought it was time for her to relocate to a more supervised environment. Slowly, she accepted that things had to change.

So she called a friend who was a real estate agent, Ina Torton, not so much to sell the property and find a new one, but to help her cope with the psychological toll of leaving the place she had called home for three decades.

“It’s not like somebody 45 years old selling an apartment; it has a huge emotional attachment,” said Ms. Torton, who is in her 70s and works at Town Real Estate in Manhattan. “They’re giving up their security blanket, their home.”

Moving out of a house is overwhelming in general, but it is perhaps even more unnerving later in life, when one is not only shedding the physical objects that are accumulated over the years but also unwinding a lifetime of memories, even recreating a sense of self.

“It was a major change of identity,” said Ms. Lightstone, who acknowledged that she was depressed after selling her loft.

02retiring-pic1-master675With that in mind, many realtors are now specializing in helping older adults whose needs are somewhat different from their younger counterparts. Part therapist, part housekeeper, part business adviser and part diplomat, these brokers help clients with everything from reverse mortgages and estate sales to packing, shipping and selling their belongings.

“We’re like a surrogate child,” said Susan Devaney, one of about 15,000 brokers in North America who are considered Seniors Real Estate Specialists, a designation that can be obtained online or in person.

It has become a necessary role, especially in an era when family members don’t always live near one another and are unable to assist with moving — or when their involvement adds too much emotional freight to an already tense situation. In this instance, the agent or “senior move manager” takes on many of the responsibilities traditionally handled by family members or offspring. Average fees are $40 to $60 an hour, but can be significantly higher in urban areas.“It’s hiring junk removal, finding innovative solutions to helping them figure out what’s valuable and what’s not, helping them part with possessions without parting with the memory,” said Jennifer Pickett, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Senior Move Managers. There are now about 850 senior move managers in the United States, up from 400 in 2009. “When an older adult says they’re not ready to move, it’s often that they’re overwhelmed by the process: ‘How do I start? What do I do with 40 or 50 years of treasures?’ We help them.”

Louise Phillips Forbes, a licensed associate real estate broker with Halstead Property in New York, has helped many older adults sell their homes and find new ones. “There’s a tolerance that you must have when you’re dealing with someone who’s got their life in four walls,” she said. “So, you hold their hand and you treat them as if they’re your own mother and father.”

She has also helped children prepare their family home for sale, including hiring painters, carpet cleaners and art appraisers or arranging for the Salvation Army or Housing Works to pick up furniture and clothes once a parent has passed away. She remembers how overwhelming it was when she and her sister cleared out her mother’s home after she died. “Family members sometimes can’t get out of their own way,” she said.

Steve Austin, 67, spent the last three years caring for his father, Ervin, in his Los Altos, Calif., home. After his father’s death in February at age 96, Mr. Austin called Joanne Fraser, a seniors real estate specialist with Coldwell Banker in Los Altos, to help him handle his next move.

“She directed me to the steps that needed to be taken and what I needed to anticipate,” he said. “She would pack up stuff if it was necessary; she arranged for church people to pick things up. She introduced me to the title people. She made sure all the t’s and i’s were dotted and crossed.” She also sold the property and found the apartment where he is currently living.

But like Ms. Lightstone, not everyone wants to leave his or her home. According to a report from AARP published in April, about 70 percent of those between the ages of 50 to 64 say they want to “age in place.”

“The vast majority of older adults want to stay in their homes and communities as long as they can,” said Rodney Harrell, director of Livable Communities for the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Nobody wants to be forced to go into a nursing home. They’ve built up their social connections. They like their friends, their favorite grocery store or park; they’re comfortable in those spaces.”

Ms. Devaney, the chief executive and founder of the Mavins Group, a moving management company, not only helps older adults determine their housing options, but also helps them retrofit their homes if they decide not to leave, including changing doorknobs to levers, widening spaces to accommodate a wheelchair, adding safety rails in the showers and more. Her company has also arranged laundry services, shopping, beauty care and transportation for outings. She has even called plumbers late at night for a flooded basement.

Ms. Torton credits her background leading stress management workshops and seminars on career change with providing her with the sensitivity to work with older adults. “It also helps that I’m around the same age,” she said. “I get what they’re going through.”

Ms. Torton assisted Ms. Lightstone in staging her loft for prospective buyers; itemizing and selling her belongings; managing her family’s expectations (including conversations with her children in different states); and selling and distributing her art work.

“I arranged for someone to wrap it all so that it could be shipped without breakage,” she said.

She also helped her find space to house her sculptures — one of which now stands in a public park on West 39th Street, not far from her former apartment.

“She was majorly supportive,” said Ms. Lightstone. “My problem was not so much furniture but the change in life. She was there for if I needed her. That’s a very comforting thing to have.”

Ms. Lightstone ultimately moved to The Williams, a residence on the Upper West Side, where she lives in a one-bedroom apartment. She pays $3,300 a month, which includes housekeeping costs, two meals and common areas for socializing. While she still misses her old home, her new residence has its own benefits, not least of which is companionship.

“If I drop dead in the street,” she said, “someone’s going to come look for me.”

One Friday Morning 08.01.14

Senior Move Management 101




Hi everyone,
Thought you might enjoy this post from the blog, Note to Self (published July 21, 2014). The blog’s author is Sarah D. Tolzmann. Since we are in the business of dealing with people’s things in later life, we thought you might find this piece as “charming” as we did ~

swirls-smallCharmed, I’m Sure

Blogging is, like, hard these days. Obviously I don’t do it that often anymore, but you know by now that when I do—I mean it. Case in point…

The one-year anniversary of my beautiful grandmother’s death came and went last week. I still can’t figure out what to do with that—the one year, or any anniversary of the loss of a loved one. It’s hard. There’s guilt for not paying enough respect (what is “enough?”) There’s also regret for dwelling on the past. There really is no right way, no matter what people say. Of course, I find it easier to dwell on the positive. I found many photos on my phone from her last months spent sick in bed, but immediately decided against re-hashing those private and painful moments. (They’re not mine to share anyway.) Despite being surrounded by loved ones, those visuals do not exemplify the person she was.

So, I’ve just been thinking about our first year without a grandmother. Since her passing, as an extended family, we celebrated the birth of my cousin’s adorable daughter and two weddings. We also celebrated “her boys” (the University of Virginia baseball team) going to the College World Series for the second time (it was a big deal to us). I think I speak for everyone when I say these reunions are much more pleasant than the all-black events of last summer. But as the matriarch and defacto party planner for every family get-together, she is ingrained in our family experience. I can’t see them without thinking of her.

Never mind that my mom stands and laughs like her, and my Aunt Molly has her voice. I just associate the boisterous laughter of our giant family members with something she created. So we hug and crack jokes and make dinner and keep going. And she’s there in the kitchen with us. And she’s on the porch, in the driver’s seat, and at the ballgame. I smiled to revisit her name on the Hall of Fame door at the baseball stadium this season when heading in for a playoff game. Her memory is literally everywhere, whether in formal honor or passing thought. Special people have this effect.

Charmed Im SureNow, about the above image. It goes without saying that emotionally, I keep many pieces of her with me. Physically, I have this: her charm bracelet. I thought it would be a nice little memorial, especially for the family members who may not have seen it. Somewhere in the hubbub of cleaning out her closet and giving away her things last Spring (her orders, mind you), I found a faded Liberty of London zip pouch in the back of a dresser drawer. It smelled heavily of Estée Lauder perfume (as does everything of hers). I pulled the stiff zipper open and this charm bracelet cascaded into my hand with a few decisive clinks. When I took it to her, she clutched it to her chest, and exclaimed: “Oh, I’ve had this since I was a teenager!” Without missing a beat, she thumbed each charm and took me through their origins one-by-one. Grandad’s high school service medal. Her college class ring. His Beta pin. His honors society lavaliere. It is truly a fantastic keepsake.

Since she gifted it to me, it’s been sitting in the same pouch on shelf in my bedroom. I thought about framing it, or getting some kind of glass box for display. But it’s kind of nice to see and remember it all over again every so often. Today, I took it out and went back through our conversation in my head. With a little light Googling and a magnifying glass, I could decipher the details once more. From what I can remember, there are 3 charms that are truly hers. The rest are tokens of my grandfather’s accomplishments and physical proof that she was part of his journey the entire way. As if we ever doubted that for a second…

Though not a photograph, this actually exemplifies her quite perfectly. It represents her unspoken mantra of treasuring each moment wholeheartedly. (All us Instagrammers can relate.) In retrospect, I see this in my memories of her. She threw so much effort into personal events and celebrations, which on the surface may have seemed frivolous. But as a result, we wear the experiences like charms—little happy capsules of memory. There could be one for each giant Christmas dinner, each summer by the sea, every grandchild’s graduation, college acceptance, honors society and degree. Lord help her, she would have run out of room on the chain. But this is where it all started—with her and grandad and their step-by-step journey together. I think that’s pretty special.

One year later, I love that I can learn from her legacy even though she’s no longer around to tell me in person. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Hers were quite charming. (Wink.)

swirls-smallNote from Mary Kay: Thanks to my sister, Ellen, for sharing this piece… 

Happy Mother’s Day 2014

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
                                    ~ Abraham Lincoln

photoAnd don’t forget ~ today, appropriately enough, is the start of National Senior Move Managers Week!



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