An Assist for Living
This article is part of our monthly Helper Newsletter – a collection of tips, training and resources for the moving labor helper you can hire through the HireAHelper.com marketplace. We’re publishing it here because everybody’s moves should be easier (even if you’re not a HireAHelper helper).
Our job is simple. We go in. We pack it. We load it all up. We make the customer happy and we go on home.
Sure, we run into problems all the time. Practical problems. Logistical problems. How-Do-We-Get-It-Done? problems. And yes, we occasionally run into people problems too. But still, we get the job done and we go. End of job, end of day, end of story.
For our customers, this is only one small part of their move. With us doing the lifting it might actually be the easiest part. It’s the before and after that brings them stress. And the most stressful moves are often those that involve Grandma and Grandpa. We need some serious senior moving resources…
On move day we can do all the right things to help make the transition a little smoother. In this month’s main feature we look beyond the pack and load of move day, at ways we can assist both Grandma and Grandpa as well as any other family members who might be trying to help out – and are not sure where to turn.
Okay, his real name is Jim, not Abby, but Jim Miller follows in famous Abby’s shoes with an advice column that runs in over 400 publications all across the country. In his column Savvy Senior, Miller offers advice on topics geared specifically toward seniors. Recently he gave some thoughts on helping seniors relocate.
The question came from a woman in the process of selling her elderly mother’s house and moving her into a smaller place closer to her and her children. After 50 years in the same house we assume – as does our Savvy Senior – that the woman’s mother has a house full of not just furniture and “stuff” but memories in material form. The simple and tough question is: What do I do?
Savvy Senior suggests two things.
First, he tells Overwhelmed Daughter to ‘look into hiring a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) or a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP). These are realtors that have received special training, making them better equipped to help seniors and their family members through the financial and often complex emotional issues that can come with selling a long time family home and relocating.’
The issues these professionals can assist with, as he explains them, focus on the financial and the logistical matters of moving one’s elderly parents – reverse mortgages, senior housing options and using financial assets in the real estate transaction process.
Second, Savvy Senior suggests ‘hiring a “senior move manager”… organizers who assist older people with the challenges of relocating, and can minimize the stress of this major transition by doing most of the work.’
Here too we get the impression that these professionals will do it all – helping to declutter and downsize, donate and sell, set up and supervise and manage the move – but we all know that there’s more to it.
It’s Not Just Stuff
And it’s not just a matter of getting around to doing something about it.
In 2010 researchers at the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas conducted a study on elderly people and their ideas about their belongings, or what they prefer to call their ‘material convoy’ which sounds pretty cool and really, why not use whatever you can to make your research sound cool? University researchers looked at survey data from 22,000 participants aged 50 and older and found that about 30% of people over age 70 had done nothing to give away belongings over the past 12 months. And 80% of the same group said they had sold nothing in the past twelve months. “Yet more than half of the respondents in all age categories believed they had too many belongings,” notes this Reuters report, which goes on to say the majority of people surveyed claim to have more things than they need.
“For these folks the problem isn’t denial, but rather, the extraordinary difficulty associated with giving up items that are so closely linked to their identities, their past and their memories,” says Sarah Stevenson in this Senior Living Blog post. “The elderly…may find it overwhelming to think about letting go of the items they’ve gathered over a lifetime… It can feel like (they are) giving up cherished memories, especially if they are faced with leaving a long-term home on top of it all.”
In a separate piece, eldercare consultant Carol Bursack suggests that “many of our parents were great ‘savers.’ They grew up in the Depression and… lived close to the edge of starvation during the Dirty Thirties.” There may be some validity to this but seems rather general for such a widespread habit. But whatever the dynamic, the habit appears to be widespread and, like many habits, hard to break.
This is where the professionals come in.
Senior Moving Services
The ‘Senior Move Manager’ the Savvy Senior mentioned earlier is exactly the person to call on when it is time for Grandma and Grandpa to move – into a smaller place, a location closer to the rest of the family or into some kind of community or assisted living situation. Anyone who has lived in one place even for a little while, and has then had to move, knows how easy it is to accumulate stuff – and how hard it can be to get rid of everything we don’t need. But value, we realize, is not merely a matter of need. It’s a matter of beauty. Of identity. Of worth far beyond the monetary.
A senior move manager can lend an unemotional hand in tackling this very emotional process.
It is interesting to note that it is not only difficult for Grandma and Grandpa to rid themselves of a lifetime of treasures. “We adult children are often attached to some of our parent’s belongings since many of these objects represent our childhoods,” explains Bursack. “We don’t actually want the objects – we’d just like to know they are at Mom and Dad’s house. Sometimes it’s hard to grow up.”
Having a senior move manager – someone trained in the art of assisting seniors move – “helps elders through the emotional part of moving, (while) we avoid getting in our own way and in our parents’ way. We avoid some of the agony of our own letting go, since we aren’t witnessing the object-by-object decision making, and we avoid watching our parents go through this often painful process.”
Yet for all the logistics and practicalities the move manager handles, it seems equally important that they do so with a skilled, gentle hand. “A good transitional mover will need the right personality. He or she will stand back and let the elder reminisce as objects are packed. Senior movers will sympathize, but not dissolve into tears as a family member might do. They will be gentle, but firm as well. They will kindly help the elder through the transition.”
We movers can be good with people too. We practice our people skills every day. But it can also be hard to “stand back and let the customer reminisce”. We like to move. That’s what we do. That’s what we are hired to do. We can sit back and wait as the family decides on each piece, but should we perhaps instead encourage our elderly customers – not to mention the children trying to help them move – to look into hiring a move manager?
These Guys & Girls Are Good
The National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) is an organization with a network of certified senior move managers who can provide a full range of services to seniors and their family members during their time of transition.
That’s right. Certified. These guys are serious about who they allow into their circle, requiring coursework, recommendations from senior clients and a demonstrated connection to the elderly community. Furthermore, they hold their members and themselves to high ethical standards. From their website:
— Prior to obtaining full General Membership, all NASMM members must take and pass our Cornerstone Course in Senior Move Management Ethics and Accountability. Additionally, all NASMM members must sign and abide by the NASMM Code of Ethics and submit to oversight and guidance from the NASMM Ethics Compliance Commission. NASMM members are guided and supported by the NASMM Ethics and Compliance Commission; and NASMM offers a formal review process for any complaints lodged against NASMM members.
NASMM members come from a range of backgrounds, but have a commonality in their commitment to working with the elderly community. NASMM as an organization also works with Move For Hunger.
We bring all this up simply because we want the best for our customers. Each of us, if we haven’t already, will eventually come across that elderly customer, or an elderly couple, or adult children who are seeking help in moving their elderly parents. Armed with the knowledge that there are good people out there ready to help, we can provide more than a simple pack and load. We can lighten our customers’ emotional burden, helping them get to that better place they are looking for.
Senior Moving Resources
The NASMM is a great place to start in passing along the information our elderly customers might need. But there are others as well.
The US Department of Health & Human Services oversees the Administration on Aging (http://www.aoa.gov/) “promotes the well-being of older individuals by providing services and programs designed to help them live independently in their homes and communities.” This service is an outgrowth of the Older Americans Act of 1965 and includes the services of the National Aging Network which provides funds for an array of programs for seniors, from health care to nutrition to legal services.
The Ombudsman Program is a federally-mandated state resource for those going into long-term care facilities, providing information on facilities and services and acting as advocates for residents of LTC facilities. Suggest to your customers that they get acquainted early with an ombudsman in their area.
One very unofficial but potentially helpful source of insight is this survey conducted by a realtor from Wisconsin who specializes in serving the needs of the elderly community. The results of the survey are, naturally, responses from real seniors who may be feeling just like Grandma and Grandpa. This is a great read for those adult children looking for some insight into why their aging parents don’t want to move out of their big, almost-empty home or why they seem unwilling to start the paring-down process.
While we’re on the subject of surveys we’ll mention a poll conducted by National Public Radio which explains – sort of – which terms older people in America prefer to hear. ‘Seniors’ seems generally acceptable while ‘senior citizens’ does not have much support. ‘Elder’ got a lot of positive reactions while ‘golden years’ (and, surprisingly, ‘geezer’) did not. Of course, these are general terms. When dealing with our customers we simply need ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ and Mr./Mrs./Ms.
Knowledge is Power
We need not become experts ourselves on the delicacies of helping seniors with the emotional aspects of their transition. We may not be expected to do anything more than pack and load and go home. But if we can pass along these senior moving resources and the information that our customers are looking for we just may end up lightening a lot more than their physical load.