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When it’s Time to Downsize

   Sorting through the possessions of a lifetime can be a difficult process. It’s even more likely to be fraught with psychological landmines when the adult child has to do it for a parent. There are organizations that can help.
   When her mother died, at first Adrienne Semmes of Hyde Park couldn’t even bring herself to sorting through her belongings, let alone decide what to do with them. And so she waited for a few years before calling Gail Hampton of Caring Transitions of Chicago.
  “She had lived in her home for over 50 years,” says Semmes, an only child. “The whole idea of pricing things and organizing a sale was just too emotional. And though she had beautiful china and a wonderful Chickering piano, I didn’t need anything; I have a home of my own.”
    And so Hampton stepped in and held an estate sale, providing one of the many services that businesses like hers do, helping ease the transition from one stage to the next for both adult children and seniors whose lives are taking another direction.
   “What she didn’t sell at that sale,” says Semmes, “she will sell next time she holds an estate sale.”
   Life’s transformations are often bittersweet and when homes need to be liquidated or when the time comes for seniors to move from the family home, there are companies that specialize in these transitions. Leaving behind a well-lived and well-loved home is difficult.
  As weighty as that decision is, it’s not the end but the beginning of what can be, if not managed well, a difficult process. Homes have to be sold, treasures disposed of, a new place decorated so that it creates a warm and inviting ambience. And for some families such as those far away from loved ones or busy with their own hectic lives, it is often overwhelming.
  “We help anyone who is going through life changes,” says Hampton, CEO of Caring Transitions of Chicago, a growing franchise throughout the U.S. “We do estate sales, space planning for those moving to a smaller space, interviewing attorneys, realtors, staging a house to be sold, cleanout and de-cluttering whatever needs to be done.”
   According to Hampton one of the first things when contacted by a family is to determine who the decision maker is and who the client is. “Sometimes the client is incapacitated so it is the adult child who is making the decisions,” she says. “Once that is established, I ask a couple of things—what is the trigger event? What is the time frame?  Sometimes a client has been in a situation for a long time and they still need time to make a change. I also ask what they are looking for.  Is your goal to clean a house that has sat empty? What do you want to accomplish? These questions help establish what their needs are. Often clients and their families don’t know exactly what they want until you get them talking. My goal is not to rush them but to let them take their time to figure out what they want and need and what their time frame is for getting it done.”
  Once the decision to downsize has been made, Doris Ayers and her sister Ann Ayers, owners of ReDesigners, a personal move manager company in Chicago use their expertise as an interior decorator and art consultant respectively to begin what they term the ReDesigners Process.
   “Once our project is in hand, the first step is to survey and separate out those items of exceptional value or interest,” says Doris Ayres.  “At this point, we call in an appraiser who determines our reserve prices. From this step we contact our key dealers and collectors who are asked to do open bidding for each item. Once this is completed, we then consult our house sale specialist, who determines the nature of the house sale—whether it's a private sale by appointment or open to the general public with much advertising. Any item that was not sold to dealers in the first go-round is included in this sale.”
  According to the Ayres, the house sale is the final venue for profits. “After this, we donate leftovers to the owner’s charity of choice or have it hauled away,” she says. “Of course, in the initial survey, if the client has special requests, we are able to ship items to family members and friends. In some cases, auctions are one of our options.”
  The Ayres are both members of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), an association supporting the senior move industry; Caring Transitions belongs to the Chicagoland Senior Consortium, a group of specialists such as attorneys, realtors and movers, who provide eldercare planning and services.
 Mary Jane Keller, owner of Move Me Move Managers in Prospect Heights, sees the psychological aspects of managing moves. “Letting go is a process,” she says. “Even sorting through belongings to decide what to keep is emotional. It’s something we all will have to deal with and my advice is the earlier you deal with it, the better the transition.”
 In business for 20 years, Keller says she’s learned that seniors often wait too long to begin their move.” By waiting too long, it becomes more overwhelming. They resist that early transition time where they could have a nice place to live, meals, social activities and instead wait until it’s time to go into a nursing home.” But the emotionality
doesn’t just impact seniors. “It’s a real issue for the adult children too,” says Keller. “They become the parent of the parent and that’s a difficult role to step in. Losing control for the senior is also very difficult. Often it’s the daughter who bears the brunt of it.”
  Hampton says that many of her calls are from the adult children.” They’re the sandwich generation,” she says. “They have busy careers, their own children to raise and sometimes they live far away.”
   Indeed, according to the U.S. population aged 65 and over will increase to nearly 80 percent as Baby Boomers retired over the next 20 years. It’s estimated that by 2030, one fifth of the country’s population will be elderly and those 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
   Once the decision to move is made, often from a larger place to one much smaller, there are tough decisions to be made. “It becomes an issue of downsizing,” says Keller. “What do you do with all the things they’ve saved, sometimes for generations? And often, even when they’ve gotten rid of so much, when they move in, they still have too much. It’s a very difficult transition.”
  Making the new place work is very important. “One great thing Doris does is create a floor plan where she shows where the person’s furniture will go,” says Ann Ayres. “Doris is also very good at finding furniture that is scaled to new living quarters.”
   The Ayres will also help stage the owner’s previous home to help sell it.” When I’m helping people make the move I tell them to move the things they cherish and love,” says Hampton. “I try to make the new home ‘homey’ and create a space that they love, that makes it their own.”

For more information:

Caring Transitions: 312-545-6717

Chicagoland Senior Consortium: www.chicagolandseniorconsortium.com/

Move Me Move Managers: 847-951-0011

National Association of Senior Move Managers: www.nasmm.org

ReDesigners: 312-266-2999 or www.

Finding a Senior Move Manager

For those looking for someone to help them with the logistics of a move, the National Association of Senior Move Managers recommends asking the following questions:

How long have you been providing senior move management services?

What are your professional credentials?

Have you participated in any formal training programs?

Are you fully insured for liability and workers’ compensation?

How do you charge? (Fees should be provided in writing to the consumer or responsible party prior to providing services).

Will you provide a written contract?

Can you provide references?

Are you a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM)?

Published: June 13, 2011
Issue: Summer 2011


When it's Time to Downsize
This is a good service to have when you are ready to deal with dispensing your loved ones' belongings to others.
Adrienne Semmes, Jun-14-2011