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How to Plan for a Manageable Move

First step: Deciding what to take and what to leave

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Relocating aging parents or other loved ones from their longtime, memory-filled home to a smaller place in a new community is a challenge — for them and for those who help them. Ideally, the person moving will allow a year to find the new and leave the old. A more likely scenario is that something happens to precipitate the move — the death of a spouse or onset of serious health issues — and family and friends will scramble to divest decades of belongings. Wherever the move — a retirement community, assisted living or in with a child — you’ll want to make the transition as seamless as possible. The more stressful the move, the harder it will be for your loved one to adapt to the change.

Senior Move Managers (SMMs)

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Hiring a Senior Move Manager can be a lifesaver if you live far away or are in a fraught relationship with your family member. Even when everyone in the family lives nearby and adores one another, an SMM can help keep it that way.

A good SMM is an adviser, problem solver, wise friend, neutral third party and professional downsizer who helps families shuck the stuff while holding onto the memories. SMMs arrive without the baggage that can come with family history. They understand that when an aging parent leaves the family home, it is a loss for the whole family.

Their fee ranges from $40 to $80 an hour — and may be higher in some areas. Services are a la carte, but some SMMs will offer packages for two or three services. Interview a few before choosing one: You’ll be spending a lot of time and some emotional moments with this person. Start by asking friends and care facilities for referrals. The National Association of Senior Move Managers may be able to recommend someone in your area.

Services can include:

  • Planning the move
  • Organizing, sorting and downsizing
  • Providing customized floor plans of the new home
  • Arranging to sell remaining items through auction, estate sale, consignment — or donating and providing an itemized receipt or tax valuation
  • Interviewing, scheduling and overseeing movers
  • Arranging shipments and storage
  • Supervising professional packing
  • Unpacking items and setting up the new home
  • Arranging for a cleaning service, painters and repairmen to get the house ready for sale
  • Assisting in finding a real estate broker
  • Accompanying the client on the drive or flight to the new residence 

Be Prepared

Rome wasn’t unbuilt in a day. Expect the process to take time, and — if possible — put in a few hours at a time. Divesting a home can be a sentimental journey that can veer from teary to overwrought, giddy to relieved. Sorting and dividing brings up the good, not so good, forgotten, emotional and unexpected. It makes everyone involved grapple with the familial shift. It’s not just going through stuff; it’s going through the memories attached.

Look for the funny parts. Overlook your siblings’ foibles. Allow everyone space to deal with the loss.

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Making a Move Manageable

Step by Step

Step 1. Ask your loved one to name the six possessions that are dearest — not most needed or most valuable. Jewelry and anything smaller doesn’t count. Perhaps it’s the blanket your mom wrapped around her newborn babies, or the bureau handhewn by your dad’s grandfather. The chosen items are keepers.

Step 2. You’ll need six sticky-note pads in different colors, a marker and at least six boxes per room and per closet. Label them Move, Sell, Toss, Donate, Up for Grabs and Pass Along.

Step 3. Start with the least-used rooms — that’s where most of us stash the stuff we like the least.

  • Before going in, try to agree to get rid of anything that is broken, cracked or worn out, unless it is an heirloom.

Step 4. Put unwanted items in the Donate or Toss basket.

  • Let your loved one choose what stays and what goes, knowing this may have to change.
  • Put small and medium items — lamps, art, candlesticks — in the boxes. For large items, assign a different sticky-note color to each category and label appropriately.
  • Books going to a library or used-book store get their own to-go boxes.
  • Clothing going to a consignment shop should stay on hangers. Make a 3-inch slit in the bottom of a large garbage bag and pull the hanger hooks through to make a garment bag.
  • Measure anything marked Move to make sure it will fit in the new space.
  • If it’s a Pass Along, write the name of the recipient.
  • If you’re undecided, put a question mark on a tag. Decide within a week.

Step 5. If your loved one has spent years building a collection, find ways to remember the pieces without taking them with you. Snapping a picture of three generations wearing Nana’s Nebraska Cornhuskers sweatshirts makes a funny new memory. A framed photo will allow her to see herself with her family and her sweatshirt collection.

Step 6.

  • Anyone can take anything from the Up for Grabs box.
  • Everything unclaimed goes to Donate or Toss.
  • Toss the same day.
  • Have donations picked up regularly.
  • Pass Along items should be moved as soon as is convenient for your loved one.

Tips for Minimizing Stress

  • Parting with beloved items can be easier when they’re given to a beloved family member.
  • Note to recipient : Even if you don’t want the china, take the china. For your loved one, thinking that you will use and love the china is a comfort at a time when comfort is needed. Say thank you. Put it aside for six months. If no one in the family wants it, quietly consign or donate.
  • Phrases like “You don’t need that! It’s junk!” are not helpful. When the to-go pile swells, offer a gentle “This-one-or-that-one?” choice.
  • Sketch a to-scale map of the floor plan in your loved one’s new home. Cut to-scale rectangles, squares and circles to represent furniture. Your loved one can see what will and won’t fit without being told.
  • Focus on the upside. “What are you going to do with the money you make from selling the patio furniture?”
  • If your loved one is going to a community for the aging and he or she has a sturdy outdoor bench or birdbath, ask if it could be used on the grounds.
  • Take hourly breaks.
  • When your loved one has finished deciding what to jettison, urge a short rest. Use the time to bag donations.

What's the next step? Check out Downsizing? Ready, Set, Sell and Relocating Your Loved One with Minimal Stress.

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