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posted: 4/20/2014 5:30 AM

Move managers help seniors downsize into new homes

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  • Martha Little of Des Plaines ask a question to senior move manager Sharon Moffat with Gero Solutions, far right corner, while the company packs items in her apartment in Des Plaines for a move to a retirement community.

       Martha Little of Des Plaines ask a question to senior move manager Sharon Moffat with Gero Solutions, far right corner, while the company packs items in her apartment in Des Plaines for a move to a retirement community.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Gloria Bersani, director of Gero Solutions looks over the items of Martha Little (in white) along with Kevin Coleman of Moore Moving, as she moves into The Moorings in Arlington Heights.

       Gloria Bersani, director of Gero Solutions looks over the items of Martha Little (in white) along with Kevin Coleman of Moore Moving, as she moves into The Moorings in Arlington Heights.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Gloria Bersani, director of Gero Solutions, talks with Martha Little as movers from Moore Moving get her settled into her new apartment at The Moorings in Arlington Heights.

       Gloria Bersani, director of Gero Solutions, talks with Martha Little as movers from Moore Moving get her settled into her new apartment at The Moorings in Arlington Heights.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Martha Little watches as movers from Moore Movers position her couch into her new apartment at The Moorings in Arlington Heights.

       Martha Little watches as movers from Moore Movers position her couch into her new apartment at The Moorings in Arlington Heights.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comMartha Little of Des Plaines relaxes while senior move managers with Gero Solutions packs items in her apartment in Des Plaines for a move to a retirement community.

      George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comMartha Little of Des Plaines relaxes while senior move managers with Gero Solutions packs items in her apartment in Des Plaines for a move to a retirement community.

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

Do you want to relocate to a retirement community but are deterred from making the move because you are bogged down by a lifetime of household possessions?

"Generally, people who are moving into a retirement community have been in their house for a very long time and the thought of sorting through not only a houseful of stuff, but a garage and basement full of stuff, too, becomes overwhelming," said Mary Kay Bochenek, director of marketing at The Moorings in Arlington Heights. "Things become a barrier for an awful lot of people.

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"It is like losing weight or exercising. They say they will work on it later and it becomes their excuse for not moving forward. It takes energy to move and make decisions and it is easier to do nothing," she said.

When you let "things" deter you, you may end up moving into a different lifestyle than you would have chosen if you had gone ahead and moved earlier. Sometimes health problems will change your dreams and necessitate a move, Bochenek cautions.

"In some cases, our new residents have had to deal with clearing out their parents' things, as well as their children's things, in addition to their own. They have had houses full of three generations of 'stuff' and many young people would rather go out and buy modern stuff from IKEA than take hand-me-downs. So that leaves our potential residents trying to figure what to do with everything," she said.

That is why The Moorings provides the services of Gero Solutions of Arlington Heights to help residents declutter their homes, sort, donate, pack, move and unpack again.

"It is a major release to people to know that they don't have to do their own sorting, packing and unpacking. That involves lots of physical labor, especially if you don't have a support system nearby, and many of them don't have the energy to do it. This service alleviates a lot of stress," Bochenek said.

Gero Solutions is a division of Lutheran Life Communities and it has been in business since 1999 to serve anyone who is looking to downsize and move, said director Mary Jo Zeller. She is also one of 16 founding members of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a group which now boasts 850 members.

"We handle the details of a move for people who often haven't moved for 25 to 50 years," Zeller said. "This is a major life transition for these people and oftentimes they are simultaneously dealing with health problems or the recent death of a partner, so we work to reduce their stress."

In addition, many people don't have children in the area who are available to help with the planning, prep work and then the adjustment phase on the other end. So Gero Solutions steps into the void and helps them to "move a lifetime."

Gero Solutions personnel help the senior see how they will be living in their future home and from that standpoint helps them decide what to bring and what to leave behind.

"We bring a sensitivity to how they are feeling. But we also bring an objective view that children and grandchildren often can't bring. We don't have any emotional attachments to the things in the home," Zeller said.

"Clutter didn't start as clutter. As we grow and change, our possessions are steppingstones to who we are today. Possessions unchecked can pull you down instead of lift you up," she counsels. She recommends only keeping things that you really use or that bring you joy and she helps with space planning for the new villa or apartment.

"Eighty percent of the things in the average home are ordinary household goods. Twenty percent are treasures. We suggest that people focus on the treasures and let us help them decide which household goods they will actually use in their new home," Zeller said.

Zeller tells them not to pay to move stuff, only to have to throw it out when they get to their new home. Duplication and accumulation of "stuff" is what Zeller calls "just-in-case syndrome," and she works with clients to overcome that common ailment.

"Clients pay us to give them permission to let go of things, in essence," she explained. "So we break it down into manageable pieces. We tell them to start with the easiest task and move progressively toward the more difficult decisions. Once they have gotten into the mood to get rid of things, it makes it easier to tackle the difficult decisions. We also tell them to go through everything twice. Go through the entire house and then go back to the beginning and start through again. It will amaze you what you can get rid of on that second time through."

Gero Solutions tells clients to put all of their energy into what they plan to surround themselves with in their new home. Don't waste a lot of worry on what they are not taking. Just decide whether to throw away, donate, distribute to family or sell each item and then move on.

"We help set up estate sales, arrange shipping of items around the country, schedule charitable pickups, packing, unpacking, you name it.

"It is very rewarding to be involved in people's lives like this. We give them the moral support and attention they need to adjust to their new life and get on with living. I particularly enjoy helping them to adjust to their new home -- learning how set the thermostats, etc.," Zeller said.

"If moving is a major stressor in people's lives, why take a year to do it? Condense the process as much as possible, I tell them," she added.

Gero Solutions, www.gerosolutions.org, (847) 705-2123, handles such moves for a number of area communities including Luther Village in Arlington Heights, Sedgebrook in Lincolnshire, Friendship Village in Schaumburg and Plum Creek Supportive Living in Rolling Meadows.

Gayle Kittridge took advantage of the service at The Moorings, having Gero Solutions measure her furniture to help her decide what to take, pack her things and unpack at the other end.

"They advised me to lay out whatever I thought I wanted to take with me and then cut it in half. That was excellent advice. They couldn't have been nicer," Kittridge said.

"For the first time in my life, I have no clutter and it is very pleasant," the former Mount Prospect resident admitted.

"After Gero Solutions helped me decide what I was going to take, I had a company that was referred by my Realtor help me clean everything out that was left. They got dump trucks to clean out 30 years of accumulation from my attics and garage and I donated other things to Goodwill and also had a four-day estate sale. Then they staged the house to be sold and it went right away," Kittridge said.

Angie and Wayne Krause had a similar experience when they moved into The Moorings.

"Gero Solutions was very helpful. They walked through our Park Ridge house with us and made suggestions about which pieces of furniture would fit in our new home. They took a lot of the worry out of moving. We knew what we would be able to take and then they came and packed everything up for us and on the other end, they unpacked everything for us and put it all away. They even hung up the towels in our bathroom and made up our beds," Angie Krause said.

The Garlands in Barrington offers a similar service to their prospective residents. They have an arrangement with Paxem Inc. of Cary, a moving service that prepares the home for sale through decluttering and staging it, planning what to move to The Garlands and packing it, arranging for the move by licensed professionals, doing the final cleaning of the old house and then unpacking belongings and setting everything up in the new Garlands villa or apartment.

These are the highlights, but they can also do much more. It is up to the homeowner to decide how much or how little they want Paxem to do for them and The Garlands helps to pay for it.

"We are very proud of this program. When we tell people about it, we usually see a huge sigh of relief because moving causes lots of stress and pressure on people," said Dawn Kempf, vice president of sales and marketing. "We try to make things as painless as possible, so the service is customized to the needs of each resident."

Sometimes it is difficult to know who is more relieved by the service, she added, the senior who is moving or his or her children and grandchildren who would probably have been doing much of the work.

"We act as a 'general moving contractor' and assess what each individual needs and supply that," Kempf said. "And since Paxem uses movers who are familiar with our buildings, the moves go much faster and that saves money."

The Garlands also provides box lunches for the movers and the family on moving day, to make things that much easier.

Bud and Marguerite Brinker moved to The Garlands from Huntley at the end of 2013 and were very pleased with the moving services provided by Paxem.

"They completely packed up our Huntley home and then unpacked everything in our new home and arranged it pretty well, based on the layout I gave them," Bud Brinker said.

"We got rid of some things to charities and to our family members, but we didn't really have them help us with that part of things. But when they packed us, they were very good-spirited and accommodating. And they sure knew what they were doing. After the move, there weren't even any boxes left behind for us to get rid of. They even unpacked hundreds of books and placed them on the large bookcase I had built," he said.

Jennifer Prell, president of Paxem, has been helping seniors move for about 10 years.

"Organizing and packing is fun for me, so back in 2003 I decided to start doing something that I am passionate about and have been helping seniors move ever since," Prell said. "We treat each client as an individual and work to give them a smooth transition to their new home.

"We want them to move into their new home with a clean mind -- not one that is in disarray. So we try to make the move as easy for them as possible by being very organized and neutral. With us, there is none of the emotional dynamic that you would get if your family were helping you to move," she said.

Paxem offers free referrals for anything that a homeowner might need from estate sale specialists, to movers, to a Realtor, to someone who will rip down that old wallpaper and give the walls a fresh coat of paint before it goes on the market.

Prell and her team specialize in helping people cull through years of belongings, advising them to concentrate on the personal items that really mean something to them, like photos. Then they try to duplicate the old home as closely as possible when they draw layouts of how the new home will look.

"Sometimes we find that it is less traumatic to move the person into their new home first and then go back and declutter and clean out what is left behind in the old home. But that isn't always possible," she said.

Prell is also a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

Anyone can arrange such a service with Paxem Inc. by calling (847) 829-4437 or logging onto www.paxem.com. However, most people need to pay for the service themselves (unless they are moving to a community that provides moving assistance as a perk).

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