De-cluttering, China + Us

Another great article (op-ed piece) on downsizing + de-cluttering from
The New York Times, reprinted here for all to enjoy (due to NYT subscription requirements). NASMM Note: We are hosting Joshua Becker, blogger at Becoming Minimalist, at the NASMM 2015 Conference next week in Orlando!



The Clutter Cure’s Illusory Joy

Jim Datz
FEBRUARY 15, 2015

Pamela Druckerman

PARIS — I recently discovered the secret to livening up even the dullest conversation: Introduce the topic of clutter. Everyone I meet seems to be waging a passionate, private battle against their own stuff, and they perk up as soon as you mention it.

“I don’t buy anything — no clothes, no shoes,” a woman who works in the French fashion industry told me. A New Yorker on a de-cluttering bender explained: “There’s too much in my head, there’s too much stuff in my house, too.” Another friend said that when his girlfriend got angry, she called him the clutter of her life.

Clutter isn’t a new problem, of course. But suddenly, it’s not just irritating — it’s evil. If you’re not living up to your potential, clutter is probably the culprit. Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the top-ranked book on The New York Times list of self-help books, promises that, once your house is orderly, you can “pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.”

This isn’t just an American problem. Ms. Kondo’s book was a best seller in her native Japan, too, as well as in Taiwan, South Korea and Germany. (Nearly 30 translations are planned.) Karen Kingston, a British clutter expert who consults around the world, says her online courses, including an advanced class called Zero Procrastination, draw students from at least 18 countries.

Not all of the world’s clutter is created equal. Ms. Kingston says that British clutter tends to include pieces of unwanted inherited furniture. (“Accept the love that was given with the gift but let the physical item go,” she advises.) Americans have fewer heirlooms, but can become sentimentally attached to new purchases, she says.

Germans are among the biggest subscribers to her de-cluttering courses. Though when a colleague emails her “clutter photos” from potential clients there, she’s often at a loss to find the mess. (In Germany, “It’s not so much that they have a lot of clutter, it’s more the fact that they want to be optimally organized,” Ms. Kingston explains.)

A French survey found that, among West Europeans, Italians had the greatest number of “unused objects” in their homes. Perhaps that’s because extended families are living together, merging their clutter.

In America, de-cluttering can be a born-again experience. It was transformative for Ryan Nicodemus, co-creator of The Minimalists blog, who describes how he was an overworked, divorced, depressive who drank and used drugs — until he got rid of 80 percent of his belongings. “A month later, my entire perspective had changed. And then I thought to myself, maybe some people might find value in my story,” he said.

Clutter is having its moment in part because we’ve accumulated a critical mass of it. The cascade began 25 years ago, when China started to export huge amounts of cheap clothes, toys and electronics. Cut-rate retailers and big-box stores encouraged us to stockpile it all.

And we did. A study of middle-class families in Los Angeles found that just one in four families could fit a car in its garage. (It also found that mothers’ stress levels rose as they described their household mess.) Americans who struggled to afford health insurance and college could nevertheless buy lots of stuff, sometimes on credit.

But as stuff got cheaper, it lost status. Robberies declined in rich countries, in part because it wasn’t worth risking prison for a $150 TV. Reality shows about hoarders made having lots of things even less appealing.

Now, in some well-off circles, people boast about how little they own, or curate small collections of carefully selected items. The richest Americans increasingly consume expensive experiences — like a trip to Bhutan — rather than material goods.

The middle classes are tiring of their possessions, too. There are online communities for people who have vowed to remove 40 bags of stuff from their homes over 40 days, or to pare back to just 100 possessions. In her book “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy,” the artist Sarah Lazarovic describes the year she spent painting pictures of things instead of buying them.

It’s hard to resist the de-cluttering fever. I, too, spend my weekends filling bags with cookbooks, toys and vintage dresses, and then hauling them away. For the first time in years, I can lay my hands on any one of my sweaters.

But the more stuff I shed, the more I realize that we de-clutterers feel besieged by more than just our possessions. We’re also overwhelmed by the intangible detritus of 21st-century life: unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; the heightened demands of parenting; and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever. I can sit in an empty room, and still get nothing done.

It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of “mindfulness.” But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was. Less may be more, but it’s still not enough.

Winnie the Pooh + Senior Move Management

We’re thrilled to host Becoming Minimalist blogger, Joshua Becker, at the NASMM 2015 Conference in Orlando in just two weeks. Thinking of his Master Class to open the conference when I saw this image on a friend’s Facebook post today…sort of sums up Senior Move Management to a T.











One Friday Morning 01.30.15

We Take Photos

Growing Older: A Poet’s Perspective

Food for thought this morning from Jane Gross of The New York Times. NASMM Senior Move Managers® are on the front lines of their clients’ losses. Sigh. 

Growing Older, Not Happier

Donald Hall’s Frank Collection of Essays About the Tarnish of the Golden Years

JAN. 19, 2015 By JANE GROSS

20SCIB-blog427In 2001, Donald Hall, just 70 and yet to be named the nation’s poet laureate or to receive the National Medal of Arts, published a poem titled “Affirmation” in The New Yorker. It began: “To grow old is to lose everything.”

At the time, Mr. Hall hadn’t lost everything — that was still to come.

The evidence rests in the latest of his 33 books, divided between poetry and prose, this one called “Essays After Eighty” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). It is a slim volume, alternately lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny, in which Mr. Hall, now 86, describes the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of the very old, so unimaginable to his younger self.

In these 14 essays, Mr. Hall plumbs the indignities, condescensions and terrors of advanced age, along with musings on beards (he has had three), women (two wives, many dalliances), smoking (cigars, Chesterfields, Kents, marijuana), poetry readings, rejection letters, old houses and the creatures who take up residence there, bad food (Wonder bread, Spam), and the view from his window.

But mostly, these essays are about a “ceremony of losses”: giving up his driver’s license, eating Stouffer’s frozen dinners (“widowers’ food”), noting his many brushes with mortality. And the terrible twist that his beloved second wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, should die of leukemia at 47 two decades ago, but in the book she remains, very much alive and still in the present tense.

The mounting subtractions in Mr. Hall’s life include the inability to write poetry. “Prose endures,” he writes. “Poetry abandoned me. The sound of poems is sensual, even sexual. That requires a blast of hormones.” When testosterone departed, we learn, so did poetry.

Instead, Mr. Hall has turned compulsive list making into a sort of poetry. Over uncounted years, contentedly looking out the window of his New Hampshire home, he unspools what he sees season by season. Peonies like “feathery soccer balls.” Squirrels like “tree rats with the agility of point guards.”

This is no Hallmark card, though, and readers looking for golden sunsets and promises that age brings wisdom will be disappointed. For the treacle that usually infuses treatises on aging, he has substituted a seductive frankness and bracing precision. Mr. Hall falls, and with specificity: tripping over an ottoman and cracking a rib and blackening an eye. Taking a tumble in the driveway and ending up in the emergency room, where 147 specks of gravel are picked from his face with tweezers.

Mr. Hall outs himself as a sharp-tongued curmudgeon, annoyed by a computer with a mouse “that isn’t a mouse” and an “iThing,” never further identified. He growls at age-segregated communities, “old-folks storage bins” and “for-profit-making expiration dormitories,” and rattles off two dozen of them.

He assaults “fatuous” euphemisms for dying, 13 in all, unwilling to rest in peace, meet his maker, cross over or give up the ghost. He wants the bad news straight up, no concealing “how we gasp and choke, turning blue.”

“I’ve never been around when somebody, in the middle of a sentence or a sandwich, had the luck to pitch over dead,” he writes.

Until his own time comes, the indignities of age continue to pile up. “Did we have a nice din-din?” a museum guard asks as Mr. Hall and a companion exit the cafeteria.

On the other hand, some guards allow him to scrutinize masterpieces from the forbidden side of the velvet rope. And his days pass in comforting sameness, at the family farm where he and Ms. Kenyon fled academia in 1975, trading tenure and medical insurance for the “double solitude” of writing.

He turns on the coffee. He glues in his teeth. He takes four pills and Metamucil. He wipes the residue of the last from his prodigious beard.

He puts a brace on his buckling knee, then alternates looking out the window, attending to his voluminous correspondence with distant friends, writing essays and napping.

In the summertime, there are Red Sox games on television virtually every night.

Then he takes out his teeth, goes to bed, and the next day begins.

Photo Credit: Patricia Wall/The New York Times

Senior Move Management in the NW!

Due to paywall issues for non-subscribers of regional press, the blog post below is a reprint of last weekend’s article highlighting NASMM + Senior Move Management®. It features our terrific Senior Move Managers® in Oregon!

TheOregonian logo

Senior move managers growing more popular with Baby Boomers and their parents

Brent Hunsberger | itsonlymoneyblog@gmail.comBy Brent Hunsberger 
on November 01, 2014 at 6:10 AM

Cheryl LeBlanc and her sister flew cross-country last summer on a daunting five-day mission: Move their 79-year-old uncle and 83-year-old aunt into an assisted-living facility in Hillsboro.

Oh, and get the couple’s two homes, car, RV and coin collection ready to sell.

Halfway through, they realized they weren’t gonna make it. “We were trying to do it all ourselves, which was a joke,” LeBlanc recalls. “It was too much to do.”

Their Realtor came through with a solution: A senior move manager.

“It was really a Godsend for us,” LeBlanc says.

In three weeks’ time, Theresa Giddings and her company, Soft Landings for Seniors, helped the couple, Terri and Jim Cameron, settle into their new apartment. She cleared out both homes, held an estate sale and drove unsold items to charities (and the dump).

She also shipped their Toyota Corolla and Jim’s stamp collection to relatives on the East Coast. And she got the coin collection appraised and sold for $9,000.

“I didn’t have to do anything,” Terri Cameron said. “Theresa did everything. She’s a hustler, I tell ya.”

More Baby Boomers and their parents are turning to services such as Giddings’. As America’s population ages and their Baby Boomer kids struggle to balance work and their older parents’ needs, the field of senior move managers is exploding.

Eight years ago, the National Association of Senior Move Managers had 60 members, executive director Mary Kay Buysse said. Today, it has more than 1,000 worldwide.  Ten of its 15 Oregon members have joined in the last five years.

“It’s a quickly growing field,” said Jerry Leffel, who started the Caring Transitions senior move management company in Portland in 2012. “Most people don’t know what services are out there because they only look for it once or twice in their life.”

It’s also not well regulated in Oregon and other states, leaving elderly people potentially vulnerable to unscrupulous actors.

The Oregon Department of Transportation regulates moving companies, but not move managers, spokesman Tom Fuller said.

Oregon’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman has received one complaint about a resident charged $700 by a move manager to have his belongings moved 2 floors from an independent living apartment to an assisted living apartment in the same building while he was recuperating in a nursing home, deputy ombudsman Ann Fade said.

The office held the facility responsible because it arranged for the move, Fade said.

But the ombudsman’s office would not get involved with a move from a home to another independent living arrangement, she said.

Buysse’s trade association tries to address consumer protections by requiring members to carry liability insurance, abide by a code of ethics and have complaints reviewed by a committee of peers.

Regardless, move managers have tapped into a need. Seniors age 65 and older make up 12 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050 they’ll make up 19 percent, U.S. Census projections show. The entire United States will look grayer than Florida does today.

Our mobile society might play a role, too. According to a 2010 survey, about one-third of adults 70 and older say they either have no children or live more than 10 miles from their kids, said David Ekerdt, a sociology professor and director of the gerontology center at the University of Kansas.

“It really arose from seeing a need that wasn’t filled,” Buysse said of the industry’s growth.

That’s essentially why Giddings launched her firm this year. Four years ago, she joined relatives in helping her grandmother in Mississippi downsize. Giddings said she gathered all items that could fit in one room, packed and labeled them and took what didn’t fit to charity.

“I loved it,” Giddings said. “They were all looking at me like I was crazy.”

As a career accountant and certified financial planner, Giddings decided few people could fit all the pieces of a move together like she could.

Most senior move managers such as Giddings get paid directly by their clients rather than a care facility or some other entity. The cost ranges widely based on the amount of belongings and other logistical factors. Nationwide, a $2,500 move is about average, Buysse said. Giddings said her minimum is $3,000.

Those fees don’t include the cost of hiring movers, a Realtor or (if necessary) an estate sale firm, though some senior move managers handle estate sales, too. Move managers hire and coordinate those services much as a general contractor would a home building. And unlike movers, senior move managers will unpack boxes afterward and arrange belongings in the new home.

The Camerons moved to Hillsboro more than a decade ago to be close to their only son. Their lives changed drastically when he died unexpectedly last year at age 43.

LeBlanc, their niece, became convinced they needed to move when she learned the Camerons had fallen repeatedly. They’d also inherited their son’s home.

“It was getting to be too much,” Jim conceded recently, “even though I had a riding lawn mower. … We were just getting too old to cut the mustard anymore.”

LeBlanc and her sister managed to organize belongings, sell the couple’s RV and actually get the Camerons from their three-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom studio in Avamere at Hillsboro.

Giddings did the rest. She even put her planning hat on and culled through paperwork to clear up a titling issue on their late son’s home. But selling Jim’s coin collection for $9,000 delighted everyone.

“I didn’t think it was going to get that much,” Jim said.


If You Build It…

NASMM Growth Infographic

Inheriting Issues?

Interesting recent New York Times article about an aspect of later life downsizing that gets little attention. Our Senior Move Managers® know well the complexities of working with older adult clients seeking to find suitable homes for their collections.

The Weighty Responsibility of Inheriting a Collection

Jaye Smith’s mother, Carol Carlisle, collected hundreds of photos over her career as a photographer and managing editor of Popular Photography.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014


AFTER her mother died, Jaye Smith surveyed the boxes around the big, rambling house where she had lived on Staten Island for 50 years and thought, “We’ll worry about them later.”

Ms. Smith’s mother, Carol Carlisle, a photographer and a former managing editor of Popular Photography magazine, had collected hundreds of photos over her nearly 35-year career. While Ms. Smith, an executive coach, appreciated her mother’s eclectic collection, she didn’t know much about its quality. Then a friend asked if she could have one of her mother’s old photos.

“I had this one that was an old man with some bird cages,” she said. “I had an eye disease at the time. I handed it to her and she turned it over and said, ‘It has Cartier-Bresson’s stamp on the back.’ ”

Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the great photojournalists of the 20th century, and the old man in that photo was Henri Matisse, the painter. Ms. Smith was shocked and had it authenticated. It was real and Christie’s later sold it privately for more than $14,000.

Images by W. Eugene Smith were among the photographs that Jaye Smith found in her mother’s home. While she sold some, she is holding on to the rest.

That was when she took a closer look at her mother’s boxes. There were four more Cartier-Bresson photos, 64 photos by W. Eugene Smith and a shot of Lower Manhattan at night in 1932 by Berenice Abbott, a pioneering female photographer. That one sold for more than $50,000.

There were also 1,200 to 1,400 other photos she didn’t know what to do with.

“I realized I didn’t have the time or the skill to go through this,” she said. Fortunately she had a friend who knew a professional archivist.

Ms. Smith’s inheritance is unique in the value of the works she didn’t know about in her mother’s attic. But her initial feeling of being overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do with a family member’s collection, whether valuable or sentimental, is not.

“With everyone there is stuff,” said Sallie Bernard, an entrepreneur in Colorado, who faced such a task when her son Jamie, an aspiring artist, committed suicide at age 22. “But in Jamie’s case there was creative output. I didn’t know what to make of the artwork or the writings he left behind.”

After talking to friends who had inherited similar collections and been equally overwhelmed, she decided to do something about it. Through the James Kirk Bernard Foundation, which she and her husband established in their son’s memory, she funded the creation of POBA, a nonprofit group that will display portfolios online but will also help people organize, archive and value a collection they inherit. The organization’s name is derived from a Tibetan phrase meaning the transformation of consciousness at death to begin a new life.

“I wanted to preserve his creativity,” she said. “I realized there were many other people who had a similar need that I had.”

One of the services of POBA, which was introduced over the summer, is a guide for handling a collection, whether the value is financial, emotional or a mix of the two.

Nothing can be done until the collection is fully and carefully cataloged. “Most collections that are left to heirs are not well organized,” said Jennifer Cohen, managing partner of Songmasters, which developed and designed POBA. “Each art work should be listed: what medium, what dimensions, the year it was created.”

It is a tedious process and one that is easy to put off. That is what the family of Clark Tippet, a principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater and an award-winning choreographer, did with his choreography, portfolio and performance videos after he died of AIDS at age 37 in 1992.

“They were in my dad’s house in Parsons, Kan., upstairs, close to the attic, just boxes and boxes,” said Janie Tippet, one of Mr. Tippet’s sisters.

While another sister had handled the royalties for performing his ballets, no one had done anything with the sketches, notes, drawings and photos that went into creating those dances. There were also three boxes full of videotaped recordings of his dances.

With plans to retire in the fall, Ms. Tippet began organizing the material this year. “It was sometimes emotionally hard,” she said. “But I wanted to do it because he was a very important person in my life and I loved him very much.”

She doesn’t expect to get much, if any, money from the archive but hopes it can be donated to a ballet group that will preserve it for future dancers.

The second step is to make sure the archive is preserved properly. Mrs. Bernard hired Rick Schmidlin, a film producer who has worked on the archives of The Doors and the filmmaker Erich von Stroheim, to organize her son’s paintings and drawings. It cost her about $3,000 for eight days of his time and travel expenses, but the work is now stored in the proper folders and at the right temperature.

Ms. Smith said her archivist charged her $25 an hour.

Ms. Cohen said there were ways to preserve an archive for less money, including doing a lot of the cataloging and photography yourself. “The budget is not what’s going to drive things, but understanding the breadth of the estate,” she said.

Of course, a big question with any estate is its value. Is there one, and if so how can heirs best manage the sale of works? This area is challenging.

“When you have an estate that is valuable, either generated by a family member or inherited, there is a proclivity to group the materials and sell them quickly,” Ms. Cohen said. “You want to close the estate. There are many cases where the value of the artists’ estates are eroded because too many pieces are being sold at once.”

Berta Walker, who owns an art gallery in Provincetown, Mass., and has worked with many estates, said heirs needed to be patient and find the right representative. “The first thing I’d advise anyone is to find out what the area of expertise is,” Ms. Walker said. “If you’re trying to sell a California artist, probably coming to Provincetown is not going to be useful.”

Ms. Smith said that if she had one regret with her mother’s photos it was selling some of them as quickly as she did. “I got caught up in the enthusiasm of Christie’s and the sale,” she said. “My family needed the money at the time. Maybe I would have waited a little bit longer. I might have ended up keeping them.”

Yet at least Ms. Smith sold them through a reputable auction house. Mr. Schmidlin said that in his work in Hollywood he often came across children and grandchildren of celebrities who got fleeced out of their inheritance.

Unscrupulous dealers say “look what the ruby red slippers did,” he said, referring to the shoes Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz.”The last time a pair was offered at auction the presale estimate was $2 million to $3 million, though they ended up selling privately for an undisclosed sum. Then, Mr. Schmidlin said, the dealers come back from the auction and say ” ‘It didn’t do what the ruby red slippers did, but here’s a check for $150.’ They’ve lost a very valuable piece of family history.”

His advice is no different from advice given to avoid investment schemes that are too good to be true: Go slowly in finding the expert and be honest with yourself.

“A lot of time they have something that they think is worth something, but it isn’t worth that much,” he said. “So you have to think, Is it worth losing it or should you preserve it for generations?”

Ms. Smith said that three years after her mother’s death she was taking her time going through the rest of her mother’s photos. “There is a sentimental legacy for me,” she said. And that includes holding onto the W. Eugene Smith photos that she could probably sell.

“They’re quite beautiful and all postcard-size,” she said. “It would be fun to find a way to display them.”

{Correction: September 19, 2014 An earlier version of this column misstated, because of erroneous information given the reporter, the fee for Mr. Schmidlin’s services. It was about $3,000, including travel expenses, not $8,000.}

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