"I'll get to that this year," your parents vow when asked about cleaning out the garage or weeding out old clothes from the closet. These I'll go to thats pile up over the years, and then you are suddenly faced with the fallout of what happens when moving your parents to a retirement or assisted living community: closets to clean out, arguments over what will fit in their new home and a house to place on the market.
What makes this move different from earlier moves
If your parents moved during their lifetime—from an apartment, to a home, to another home—it’s likely each transition was to a home with equal or more space than the previous one. But when moving to a retirement community or an assisted living community, everyone should prepare themselves for the inevitable downsizing. There is no room for a dining room table that seats 10 people, or for every figurine collected over the years.
When selecting a floor plan at a community, take into account not only a layout that is within your parents’ budget, but also allows your parents to bring some furniture to make the space feel like home.
The ideal situation would include selling the house after moving into a community. It would also involve families already knowing which son will receive the china collection or that the armoire will go to the youngest daughter.
The reason to delay selling the house is that it allows furniture to be swapped out—or for more to be brought in—once your parents are settled in their new home. Eric Rovner, co-founder of HB Move Management (formerly Benevia), says one of the heartbreaks he has witnessed is families putting everything not moved into storage, and then forgetting about it.
Organization is key to moving
Once the move date is set, the packing countdown begins. If the move is not immediate, have your parents label items in the house with colored dots to indicate what will be taken to their new home, what can be donated and what will be given to another family member. This will facilitate easier packing because there is no guesswork of what is being moved.
As for the packing process, Rovner recommends “packing for the purpose of successful unpacking,” by keeping shared objects together, such as bathroom or kitchen items, because this facilitates the unpacking process. He says having everything in its place on the first night, down to the toothbrush in its holder and plates in the cupboard, can make your parents feel more settled and have a positive outlook about the move. It also makes the apartment safer because there are no boxes to navigate around.
A little help from friends
But what if dividing up your parents’ possessions will spark the inevitable family argument, the house has to be sold as soon as possible or your parents are moving to a community to another state—and you work full time? In these situations, you can turn to a friend, one in the form of a senior move professional.
If you haven’t heard of senior move management services, you’re not alone. “The senior industry is still in its infancy,” Rovner says, in spite of what he describes as remarkable services that reduce stress for families and parents alike.
Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), describes the moving process as being “part of the continuum of care” when caring for an older adult because most often than not, something has precipitated the need for a move. And leaving a beloved house after 45 years can be challenging even under the ideal circumstances. “If the move isn’t handled well…that stress can really send the older adult into a downward spiral,” she says.
Though you may be reluctant to engage the services of a Senior Move Manager, perhaps because of the costs or that families should handle the work alone, Rovner says these concerns should not prevent you from exploring the option. There can be a significant advantage to bringing in an outsider when approaching the downsizing process, Rovner says—not only can the Senior Move Manager handle the logistics but the manager can help make the process of downsizing easier for your parents.
Above all else, a Senior Move Manager is skilled at the art of listening, Pickett says, and that often it is not the furniture itself that has importance, but the memories associated with the furniture. By honoring the older adult’s memories, it makes it easier to part with the object.
If you decide to use the services of a Senior Move Manager Pickett recommends interviewing multiple people to find the person who is the best fit. During the interview she suggests asking questions such as: how long have they been a Senior Move Manager; what is their formal training; do they have insurance; and what type of services are provided? Some Senior Move Managers only offer unpacking services, while others assist with the packing, making the moving arrangements and even help prepare the house for sale.
One of the benefits of selecting a Senior Move Manager who is a NASMM member is that they have participated in formal training, have insurance and follow a set of ethical standards, which are particularly important since they are working with “a very vulnerable population,” Pickett says. To vet a Senior Move Manager, you not only should contact their references but also verify their listing in the NASMM directory. Pickett suggests that if you can’t find a Senior Move Manager listed in the directory, then contact NASMM to confirm whether they are a member.
Before engaging a Senior Move Manager’s services, Pickett says you should receive a fee schedule, and upon engaging their services, you should receive a written contract which outlines the work and the costs. She says that the national average is $40-$60 an hour and it can take on average 17-30 hours to downsize a home. In the case of HB Move Management, the company offers an a la carte approach, which allows families to choose what services they need, whether it is selling a house or just moving boxes across town. Rovner calls his company’s work “a partnership with the family members,” with the clients really driving the process. Pickett echoes this sentiment, saying that even though the adult children may be paying for the services, it’s the older adult who is the client and “maintaining the health and wellness of the client” is the priority.
Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts.