It’s a niche filled with tough discussions and big life changes, but members of the National Association of Senior Move Managers help ensure that their customers can downsize with dignity. And the group is seeing fast membership growth.
“That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get … more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” — George Carlin, “A Place for My Stuff,” 1981
It’s generally a fact of life that as you get older, you collect more stuff, and you need more places to put it. But what happens when you reach an age at which having all that stuff gets in the way of your day-to-day needs?
That’s where the “senior move manager” comes in. A specialized mover for older adults looking to relocate to a retirement community or care facility or move in with family members, this professional helps clients and their families decide what to keep, what to get rid of, and how to manage a significant change in their lives.
It’s a relatively new industry, whose goals are different from those of traditional movers, but it has a collective voice in the form of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM).
“A mover that comes in, they do one thing: They estimate, they pack, they load, they unpack,” NASMM Associate Executive Director Jennifer Pickett told the Dallas Morning News‘ Pamela Yip back in June. “A senior move manager helps them downsize, helps them go through the process of parting with their possessions without parting with their memories.”
The association currently has 850 members, in the U.S., Canada, and overseas, Pickett told Yip, adding that its membership has more than doubled in the past five years.
Saying Goodbye to Stuff
Downsizing comes with different challenges than upsizing, because we grow attached to our belongings over the years, and this makes it tough to part with them.
“Downsizing is the hardest because it is emotionally difficult for people to release their history,” Kimberly McMahon, of the downsizing firm Let’s Move, told The New York Times. “It’s the worst anxiety associated with any move.”
McMahon and other professionals in the business help their clients work through these emotions as well as assist families in ditching the kind of bulky stuff—think old couches, artwork, worn-out suits, mahogany desks—that’s hard to find new owners for.
A Tough Conversation
It’s not an easy task, and firms like Let’s Move get paid an hourly rate of anywhere from $40 in smaller cities to $60 in large metropolitan areas—though in New York City the cost can soar to $200 per hour. But even getting the downsizing conversation started can be a challenge all its own.
Larry Minnix, who leads the senior-services association LeadingAge, recommends getting an early start on such discussions with loved ones. Even then, you may run into parents who refuse to take seriously the risks of not decluttering or considering different housing options.
“They could say, ‘It’s none of your business,'” Minnix explained to The Wall Street Journal. “And you could leave it with, ‘I can appreciate that, but understand that if ever there is an emergency, we’re going to have to make the decisions, and we won’t have your input.'”
While that’s a common situation, most who look for downsizing help tend to do it proactively. According to 2014 NASMM statistics reported by the Times, half of all adults who request such services are asking for themselves, 30 percent of the time the first contact is made by family members, and another 20 percent of referrals come from outside organizations such as senior housing communities.