Author: Libby Wood


The home presented itself as a cheerful, well-kept place.  But as I walked through it with the three men who had just inherited it, the sadness underlying the cheer emerged.  The woman who had been Mom and Grandma had just passed away a week earlier.  Mundane, everyday items triggered emotional reactions.  The coat that she had worn so frequently brought tears to her son’s eyes.

But we were there to discuss clearing the house in preparation for selling it.  The men were in the process of deciding which items they each wanted as mementos.  They were not having any problem deciding who would take which items, they just had more items than the remaining family could absorb into their own homes.

“Are any of these things worth selling?” they asked.  Our answer to that varies based not only on what we see as the value of the items, but our perception of the ability of the person to accept that answer.  If we believe that the person will reject our opinion because it conflicts with a preconceived idea of the value, then we will suggest that we involve an expert.  We are often quite confident about what the expert will say but, in those situations, we want that first rejection to come from another source.

In this case, the three men understood that Mom’s precious dishes no longer held the value that they once had, so I could give them a straightforward opinion.  “They could be sold, but the amount you will get for them will most likely be less than the cost of selling them.”  They agreed that what was important was that someone appreciate the dishes, so donating them to charity would be appropriate.

These men were very fortunate.  Not only did they have this lovely woman in their lives for a very long time, but she also left behind a legacy of valuable things.  True, the dishes had little monetary value.  However, the well-maintained house was tremendously valuable, and her coin collection was impressive.

The estate will incur costs.  Removing items from the house requires sorting, packing, and hauling.  The items will go to consignment stores, charity donation centers, recycling facilities, hazardous and electronic waste processing sites, and, as a last resort, landfill.  Then, once that’s complete, the house will need a bit of maintenance and then it can be staged for sale.

We take great pleasure in taking the burden off the shoulders of people like these men who are dealing with loss and grief.  We manage the house clearing project for them so that they are free to deal with all the other issues that come along with losing such a key family figure.  We can do the sorting, we work with consignors and charities, and we bring in haulers.  We keep drama to a minimum, too.

Families in Transition

We’re often asked whether we encounter a lot of family problems when we’re dealing with seniors in transition. We’ve moved a lot of clients, so naturally we have dealt with quite a few families. The pattern that we’ve observed is that in most cases the personality of the family is consistent with the personality of the client.

Familes in Transition

A few years ago, we had a client who had some odd quirks. For example, she had several different aliases and used different ones for different purposes. She had stacked two dressers in front of her bedroom door and went in and out through a bathroom. The details aren’t important, but her decisions made her project more challenging at every turn. Then, her son and daughter came to town to help their mom. They were together less than 10 minutes before they began a very nasty fight with each other. Their presence further complicated an already challenging project.

But that case is the exception. By far, most of our clients’ families really want the best for each other. They are willing to make compromises and try very hard to understand each other’s perspectives. We recently worked with a client whose nearest living relative was a cousin, and that cousin spent weeks helping our client deal with a long series of complicated issues, including a move to a new home. This is not unusual, and it is very gratifying to witness.

A difficult situation that we run into relatively frequently is when an adult child has been caring for an aging parent at home and has reached a breaking point. A similar situation is when the parent lives alone and is convinced that all is well, although the adult child knows that the situation is unhealthy, dangerous, or both. These situations often occur with the parent has some form of dementia.

Another difficult situation is created by hoarding behavior. The adult children of seniors with this disorder very often distance themselves from their parents. This happens, not because they don’t love the parent, but because they just find the behavior so very difficult. In those cases, downsizing sometimes contributes to healing the relationship.
For the most part, even though these are challenging situations, the family ties are strong. We’ve seen people make all sorts of sacrifices to provide their elderly family members with the best outcome that they can provide. Our job is to support those efforts and to make them as uncomplicated as possible.

One aspect of what we do is to make the transition from one home to the other as smooth as possible. We had a client recently whose apartment walls were covered with art. Her daughter told us that she was particular about that art, so we took pictures and measured the exact placement of the art, distances between them, and so on, all down to the nearest quarter of an inch. We replicated that exact placement in her new home so that the new environment would be as familiar as possible to her.

Our clients are almost always completely delighted with what we’ve done and how comfortable we’ve made the new space for them. We are always very grateful when the client has a terrific family providing support. Those families make the entire experience just that much sweeter.

The Timeliness of Trash

We’re often hired to clear out homes after long-time residents have left. Sometimes we’ve never even met the people who lived there, but it can still tug at our heartstrings. We often can see the love and care that these folks have put into some of the collections that we are disassembling.

But other collections reflect a lack of care. After a painting project, keeping the leftover paint for up to five years for touch-ups makes sense. Beyond that, the wall will have faded, so any touch-ups will be glaringly obvious. The best use for that leftover paint is to donate it to the local paint recycling program before it turns into a rock in the bottom of the can. Once that has happened it is of no use to anyone and must be handled as hazardous waste destined for disposal.

The same is true with food. Many people stockpile food thinking that they can use it in case of a natural disaster, which may be true. But they often fail to consider that even canned and boxed food has an expiration date. Keeping a viable stockpile of food items requires managing it: cycling out the older items before bringing in the new ones. The older ones can be donated to a food bank that will use them right away if they are not yet expired. Expired food is not useful to anyone.

Clothing has an expiration date, too. Almost no one over a certain age can imagine going back and wearing clothes from those awkward high school years. Yet, we recently had an elderly client who bragged that she still had every item of clothing she had ever had since high school. Although they still fit, she no longer wore them. She just had them taking up room in her apartment and they were high-quality clothes that someone else could have worn.

Giving up clothing as soon as it becomes something that is not worn regularly has several advantages. If the item is to be consigned, it is much more likely to sell. If the item is to be donated, it will be easier for the charity to use or sell. Most importantly, the item will be much less likely to acquire mold, moths, or other issues. Mold is a significant problem in some particularly damp parts of the Bay Area.

We’ve often heard clients tell us that they have an article of clothing because they are waiting for it to come back in style again. But were the 1980’s flared pants really the same as those bell-bottoms from the 1960’s, or did they just take inspiration from them? Then, there’s the adage: “If you’re old enough to remember when they were popular the last time, then you are too old to wear them now.” Give them to a current teenager.

Another example of the timeliness of trash is what we found at a client’s house a few years ago. She had a 10-gallon glass jar filled with gasoline. She and her husband had filled it in 1960, sealed it, and put it in a very inaccessible shelf in the garage in preparation for a cataclysmic event of some sort. It was no longer useful as automobile fuel and had not been for quite some time. However, it was still hazardous and very awkward to handle.

Often, though, the items are much more mundane. We recently cleared a house that was filled with all sorts of paper. One large closet was filled with greeting cards signed by the client’s husband. He had given her big elaborate cards for every possible occasion, and she had saved them, put them in Ziploc bags, labelled them with the year in which she had received them, and tossed them in the closet. Over a 60-year period, that’s a lot of Ziploc bags and a lot of paper to be recycled.

We are very lucky to live in a time in which we have door-to-door recycling, hazmat collection events, simple charity drop-off procedures, and other easy ways of dealing with our excess. The challenge for us is to use these resources for their intended purposes to keep our homes free of the issues created by keeping our things around too long.

Senior Move Management

One of the challenges we face in our line of business is that so few people have heard of our profession. Once we explain it to them, their eyes light up and they exclaim about what a great idea it is. Then, they reminisce about situations in their own families in which a senior move manager would have saved a whole lot of grief.

So, what is a senior move manager? Just to be clear, it’s not a move manager who has reached a certain age, although we must be honest and say that many of us HAVE reached that age.

Senior move managers are also not really move managers who only work for seniors. A large percentage of our clients ARE seniors, but not all of them. We help anyone who needs our services, and we do it without asking for their driver’s licenses to determine if they are old enough to be our clients!

We are project managers who specialize in life transitions. Most often that transition is between physical locations, but it can involve other types of transitions, too. Sometimes it’s about dealing with what’s left after a transition.

We provide a wide variety of services. In our typical cases, we plan moves from one living space to another. We assess a space and make layout recommendations. We contact movers and ask for estimates. We work with consignors, auction houses, and art galleries to help sell the items that will not make the transition. We pack and unpack boxes. We donate to charities. We make beds, we hang art, and we stack dishes. We have a very long list of services that we offer, and our clients choose from that smorgasbord.

Our process always starts with a consultation. We never charge for consultations because they are so valuable to us. Consultations give us a peek into what the project will REALLY involve so that we can come up with a proposal that fits the needs of the specific client. Our proposals outline the project plan, giving a timeline and a cost range.
Sometimes after we have presented a proposal to a client, something happens, and the clients ask for a revision. They might decide that they’d rather donate the art to a museum rather than shipping it to Aunt Tilly in Tulsa. Things change. We do our best to work with clients to figure out the outline of the plan before we all sign the service agreement. Then, if the change happens after the service agreement is in place, we document that in a change order.

Our mission statement is: We make your tough transitions trouble-free. That’s our goal. We want to take the pain and suffering out of the process and make it as smooth and easy as possible. Eliminating wrinkles is our specialty!