Catching Up

Sorry – it’s been a while, and we’ve got some catching up to do. Here goes:

Two weeks or so ago, my NASMM colleague, Jennifer Pickett, and I traveled to Austin, TX to attend the 2010 Annual Conference of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD).  These are the folks many of us watch each week on the A&E cable show, Hoarders. Beyond enlightening TV viewers about the darker side of our stuff-oriented culture, NSGCD members are those professional organizers dedicated to taking on the most challenging jobs in the organizing profession – the homes of the chronically or profoundly disorganized.

Many NASMM members find themselves in similar situations when assisting an older adult downsize and/or relocate. You can only imagine the breadth and depth of furniture, lamps, clothing, accessories, and other personal possessions and home furnishings in a home of 40 or 50 years! NASMM strongly encourages NASMM-member senior move managers to work closely with an NSGCD member in their local areas if they are not comfortable dealing with such substantial downsizing jobs. If our members are interested in expanding their services to include the severely disorganized senior client, we let them know about the specific education NSGCD offers. In fact, at a delicious dinner on Friday evening, NSGCD and NASMM jointly signed an affiliation agreement that provides for sharing appropriate resources, education and other opportunities as both organizations continue to move forward.

We had a wonderful time, learning, networking and enjoying the wonderful city of Austin. Austin, by the way, is the “Live Music Capital of the World” and home to Whole Foods headquarters – with a store that’s 88,000 square feet! It offers great restaurants (lots of alfresco dining everywhere), interesting shops, friendly people, and such a walk-able city. Who knows? We liked it so much we are considering it as a possible location for a future NASMM conference. Austin is widely known as a place that works hard to preserve its small business/entrepreneurial culture. That mission works for us – an association of over 500 small businesses!

Senior downsizing and relocation received some significant national attention when it was featured in “The New Old Age Blog” of The New York Times under the post, When Possessions Lead to Paralysis. This particular blog post drew comments from a whopping 112 readers over the course of the next week or so. The post featured Dr. David Ekerdt from the University of Kansas and the Household Moves Project, his research about downsizing possessions in later life. (In the interest of full disclosure, we are fans of Dr. Ekerdt’s research. He spoke about his work on later life downsizing and relocation at the 2010 NASMM Conference this past February in Las Vegas. We  will continue to work with him as his research study moves forward.)

Clearly, senior downsizing is a topic that hits an exposed nerve with both older adults and their adult children and grandchildren. The comments were heartfelt and lengthy, revealing much about the difficult struggle of cleaning out the family home of 30, 40 or 50 years. Just a few of the comments:

  • While downsizing and moving for a 40-year old is nothing more than an event that is likely to be repeated through life, for a senior striving to maintain control over an aging process that cannot be controlled, it is much more significant.
  • Being a widow, physical therapist and interior re-designer has provided me with a clinical but aesthetic insight into downsizing the senior. Ask yourself, would you like someone telling you what to keep and how to do it? Providing counsel, as Dr Ekerdt explains, is paramount. Gentle prodding and listening help the one in transition to move forward in empowering ways.
  • We just helped move my mother-in-law move out of her home of 45 years and readied the house for sale. It was an exhausting, multi-month project. So much of what was in there hadn’t been used, touched, or unearthed in decades.
  • And what about us “not-so-old” who become trapped in the multi-generational homes full of stuff after the elderly generation passes on?
  • Excellent article. I’m so glad to see it recognizes that there is a situation for the elderly that falls short of hoarding, but is, as you so aptly called it, Possession Paralysis. I will be curious if the research proves this to be an early stage of dementia. It would support my personal observations. When an elder succumbs to PP, having their children serve as their assistants to redistribute their belongings is an exercise in elevated blood pressure.
  • My father died at 102 and left behind an old house fully stocked with Stuff. Mother was gone too, so it was only us 7 siblings, all on Social Security, left to do the work, and naturally we found ways of making it a miserable experience: squabbling, accusations, screaming matches, and the like (mostly very atypical for us; we had all managed to get along for a long time).
  • My parents collected so much stuff over their years that it took me ten years to complete the ending of their lives once they had passed.
  • I have been through this process with my frail, nearly 90-year old parents . . . It was a horrible experience for me, for my family (my small children couldn’t understand why mommy was gone so much) and for my parents who grieved deeply over the loss of their beloved home and possessions.
  • What could we have done differently? I don’t know. My parents simply could not accept the fact that an extended period of frailty was ahead of them, and forcing them to proceed with dealing with their possessions would have destroyed our relationship.

Over 100 more comments were posted along these same lines. Clearly, senior move management has come of age (no pun intended – really). It’s painful to read some of these entries because we can almost feel the anguish of the comment poster, even if the parents’ move occurred long ago. NASMM’s guiding goal is to let families know that help is here – expert, compassionate and affordable – to help with the senior downsizing and moving process so families can do what they do best – love, hug, and support.

More thoughts on all of this later – when I tell you about the estate sale my sister and I attended this past Saturday, following a delightful breakfast (homemade blueberry pancakes!) at our favorite local diner.

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