Moving is stressful no matter how old you are, and it gets even harder with years of memories and possessions collected in one home. In fact, more than half of seniors say that avoiding the hassle of moving is a reason why they want to age at home, according to a survey by the National Council on Aging.
Senior move managers relieve this burden, specializing in helping the elderly downsize and transition to assisted living communities or other housing. We spoke with Jennifer Pickett and May Kay Buysse, the executive team at the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), about what senior move managers offer.
NASMM requires their members to have general liability insurance, take classes in ethics and safety, and provide a signed contract to protect the manager, the family, and their senior loved one. They also have a code of ethics and standard of practice for all members.
Many move managers have found move management as a post-retirement career. Some have backgrounds in nursing, social work, and psychology while others worked in marketing, project management, or even information technology. Often, the combination of their professional background, life experience, and desire to connect with seniors prepares them for this unique role.
When a senior lives in one home for their entire adult life, they fill it with reminders of the people and places they love.
“The art of senior move management is helping older adults part with their possessions without parting with their memories.”Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director, NASMM
It can be hard for younger generations to understand the emotional difficulties of downsizing. Members of Gen X moved have moved 40% more often than their parents’ generation, and millennials are increasingly choosing experiences over objects. This disconnect can leave adult children frustrated at their aging parent’s reluctance to let things go.
Senior move managers encounter this situation often, and they can empathize with elderly adults struggling to downsize. They’re able to provide creative solutions family members may not have thought to consider.
Buysse describes a move manager working with a woman in her 80s, a passionate traveler who had visited countries across the globe. Throughout their travels, she and her husband acquired 85 unique teapots. “She was absolutely despondent over the fact that this move to a 500-square-foot apartment could mean, for the first time in 50 years, that those teapots would not be with her,” says Buysse.
The move manager suggested the woman select her three favorite teapots to display in the dinette cabinet in her new assisted living apartment. She took photos of the other 82 teapots, had a poster professionally printed and framed, and presented it to the woman as a gift. This thoughtful, professional gesture is one example of how senior move managers can find creative solutions to help loved ones cope with the difficulties of downsizing.
It’s important to involve seniors in the moving process, so that they don’t see the transition as something happening “to” them. This may mean organizing clothing and books or sorting through a box of Christmas ornaments — it all depends on the senior’s physical and cognitive condition. If the aging relative is able to make some decisions, they will be more likely to accept the move, says Pickett.
Often, a change in health or the loss of a spouse prompts a move to a senior living community. “There’s so much loss associated with aging,” says Pickett. “Unfortunately, most of the time when seniors decide to move, something has happened, and they’re not necessarily in the position where they’re in total control.” An impartial third party can bring order to the moving process, reducing stress for both the senior and their adult children. “That way the family can focus on the physical and emotional needs of their loved one.”
One of the biggest hesitations seniors have about transitioning to assisted living is a desire to age at home, surrounded by familiar memories and possessions. Sometimes communities will recommend reaching out to a move manager if families are making the difficult decision to move a loved one to senior living.
“One of the best skills a move manager brings to the table is their ability to listen.”Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director, NASMM
“There’s the physical side of moving, but there’s also the emotional side of leaving what they’ve known and starting a new normal,” says Pickett. During a consultation with a senior and their family, a senior move manager can listen to concerns and offer solutions based on their experience with others in similar situations. They can help reduce the fear of downsizing and make a seemingly overwhelming process less daunting.
Once the decision to move to assisted living has been made, move managers help set an older adult up for a successful transition. “It’s so important to make a senior move seamless and stress-free,” says Pickett. “If a move goes poorly, the stress that’s associated can really send an adult into a downward spiral.”
The stress of moving, coupled with conflicting personalities, can lead to arguments among adult children and their aging loved one. Often, one sibling will try to move the process along. “They may say something like, ‘Mom, you don’t really need this.’ But it isn’t their decision — it’s her decision,” says Pickett. A senior move manager can de-escalate the situation and put the argument into perspective.
Move managers can calmly provide an objective perspective and guide families through the process of deciding which things to keep, sell, and donate. “There are a lot of memories and emotions wrapped up for the adult children as well,” Pickett notes. “Senior move managers are valuable because they help take that emotion out.”
The national average cost of a senior move manager is between $40 and $80 an hour, depending on the location and type of move. Often, managers will also offer package options based on client needs. All NASMM partners are required to provide comprehensive estimates to each prospective client.
Some families will hire a move manager months in advance to begin decluttering or downsizing the senior’s home room by room to space out their investment. Others will go all-in for a weekend.
Especially for geographically distant families, move managers can save considerable time and resources. Instead of adult children making multiple flights for organizing, moving, open houses, and estate sales, the mover can manage many of these tasks.
Technology is also a tool move managers use to support families while conserving resources, says Pickett. “If you’re in a long-distance situation, a lot of the downsizing and selling can be done virtually. Move managers have that technology at their fingertips, from inventory to virtual organizing tools.”
A move manager has a streamlined process for the aging adult’s possessions. They may start by taking photos of the entire house and sharing them with family members to determine what should be kept. Once that’s decided, the planner will work to find the best homes for the senior’s remaining items. “There are a lot of options, and the dumpster is the last resort,” says Buysse.
Most managers have real estate agents, cleaning services, appraisers, and staging experts in their network to take care of every detail for the family. They also know senior movers or moving services to carry boxes and provide trucks.
Sometimes, senior move managers will pack and ship hundreds of items. Other times, they’ll set up transportation and accompany loved ones across the country. No matter how involved your family’s move manager is, the process of downsizing and moving often creates a personal relationship. “I’ve talked to so many move managers who continue to reach out to clients to make sure if they’re OK or need anything,” says Pickett. It’s not unusual for move managers to be in touch with clients long after they’ve settled in.
If you think a senior move manager could help your family, search for accredited options near you at NASMM’s online locator.
Claire Samuels is a content writer at A Place for Mom. She worked with senior living communities throughout the Midwest before pivoting to writing. She’s passionate about sharing ways of living well at any age.