An elderly Spotsylvania County widow realized that moving to a new home would be totally different this time around.
Patty Jenkins had packed everything herself when she and her husband retired and left western Pennsylvania in 1996 to move to Lee’s Hill South so they’d be closer to family. Their new home was spacious enough for all their belongings, but after her husband died, Jenkins decided to downsize and knew she’d need help.
“I’m 20 years older,” she said, “and that makes a big difference.”
It’s helping her sort through a lifetime of belongings, including some pieces of furniture made by her father; pack up and move the things she decided not to give her children, donate or sell; and work out a floor plan for the place she’s renting in English Oaks Senior Apartments in Stafford County. The company will also handle the move and put everything just where she wants it.
“Thank goodness for Smooth Transitions,” Jenkins said.
Senior moving companies are a relatively new type of business that’s growing as more and more people discover it. The specialty didn’t even get its own organization, the National Association of Senior Move Mangers, until 2002, when 16 companies met in Arlington to form what would become NASMM. Its membership now includes more than 900 senior move management companies throughout the United States, Canada and abroad. The association offers training and certification, and members can help reach out to other members when helping clients make long-distance moves.
“We’ve gone from being a toddler to being a teenager,” said Jennifer Pickett, NASMM’s assistant executive director.
“Certainly the awareness of the services is greater,” she said. “The first boomers are turning 70. This is the first generation that has outsourced services. To outsource is not outside their wheelhouse. They may have had a wedding coordinator for their children’s wedding.”
It can also be hard for seniors’ children or other relatives to help out. They may live in another state, or, if they’re nearby, are already busy with their families and careers.
Jenkins’ daughter Pam Smith, who lives in Stafford County, was helping Bill Moulds of Smooth Transitions pack up paintings and other fragile belongings on a recent afternoon. She plans to lend a hand later this month based on what gets done before the move. Jenkins’ other three children will also pitch in as much as possible.
“I do what I can,” said Smith, who is the literacy coach at North Stafford High School. “It’s been a godsend to have them here to help her do the packing.”
Smooth Transitions owner Kim Moulds understands the feeling. Like many in her profession, she got her first taste of what the business is like by helping her grandparents downsize from their Marye’s Heights apartment after the complex was purchased by the University of Mary Washington. She also helped her grandmother move twice more after her grandfather died.
When Moulds decided to launch her company in 2012, she said that she figured the most important service it offered would be the actual move. Now she said she realizes that it’s helping seniors deal with the emotional attachment they have to the things they’re parting with.
“It’s just as important to some people as the things they want to keep,” she said. “They have a lifetime of memories, especially the women, not that the men don’t.”
Moulds helps ease their pain by suggesting they put together a memory book or collage of the things they’re passing on to others, selling or discarding.
Senior move managers typically offer a free consultation so they can meet their potential clients in person and size up the job. Kim Sawyer, who owns A Better Move with her husband, Bob Sawyer, said that their clients are usually between the ages of 65 and 85 and have lived in their homes anywhere from at least 25 to as long as 40 years.
“A lot of them are alone with kids in another state,” Sawyer said. “That’s another reason they call. Almost always they’re downsizing to move into assisted living or to be near their kids.”
To accomplish that, she’ll start by going through one room at a time and asking what clients want to keep, give to their children, donate or sell. She’ll also listen to their stories, share some of her own, and talk about the things that they have to look forward to when they’re in their new surroundings to keep things on a positive note.
Sawyer also helps clients develop a floor plan for their new space, get everything moved there and set it up—or her husband will adapt a home so that a client can age in place.
“As people age, we all know that their needs change and the home isn’t workable for their needs,” she said. “We come in and look at what’s going on in their situation. Sometimes it’s as simple as installing grab bars in different locations in the home. They may need a ramp at the front door or, on a bigger scale, they may have an upstairs master bedroom and need to have it downstairs.”
Bob Sawyer, who has a Class A contractor’s license, can remodel, reconfigure or build an addition, Kim Sawyer said.
Helping elderly clients decide what they aren’t going to take to their new home and how to dispose of it can be tough, especially for those who lived through the Great Depression and its aftermath, said Pam Pell, who owns Caring Transitions. Their children usually have everything they need and little space for anything else, and their grandchildren typically aren’t interested in china patterns and old furniture.
“Millennials want to go to IKEA,” she said. “Having a degree in psychology helps me make [clients] understand that their treasures are their treasures. They can’t be upset when it doesn’t mean as much to someone else.”
Pell, who is a Caring Transition franchisee, can sell things that clients don’t want to keep or donate through the company’s network of estate sales and online auctions. Once the sale or auction closes, she lets people shop for what didn’t sell when they pick up their purchases. Anything left is then donated to charity.
“I make it very clear to clients that I am not an antiques dealer, I am a liquidator,” she said. “If they thing something is worth more money, they should try to sell it themselves.”
Pell said that the experience of working with seniors has taught her to be more objective about her own belongings. She now has a policy of getting rid of an article of clothing when she buys a new one, and has taken a serious look at the Bradford Exchange, Franklin Mint and other collectibles she has acquired over the years.
“All of that stuff will find its way into online auctions or estate sales before I can’t deal with it,” she said.