Downsizing seniors: Planning, organization skills needed

Think about some numbers.

Give or take a few, 10,000 Americans reach 65 every day. That doesn't mean 10,000 of us retire, or decide to pack up and move to a smaller place. And not all 10,000 of us are in the Chicago area. Many of us are right here, however, and, sooner or later, at least some of us will think about downsizing - moving, as Jennifer Pickett says, from a 2,500-sq. ft. colonial in Glen Ellyn to 500-sq. ft. in assisted living.

Pickett is associate executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, Hinsdale, and she's talking serious downsizing - not necessarily the first step for many seniors but downsizing nonetheless.

NASMM lists 22 member companies in the Chicago area, though some are provisional and not yet on the association's website. Nonetheless, moving seniors from the big place where they've lived forever to, for example, a senior-sized condo smacks of entrepreneurial opportunity.

Moving Mom and Dad ourselves apparently isn't a fun way to spend the weekend: There's a lot of pre-move planning and then plain hard work that goes into moving a senior household into smaller and more manageable space.

"The biggest issue isn't the older adult, it's the family," Pickett says. "There's more than just sorting through possessions. (Our members) are moving a lifetime. Parents who have been in their home for 30 years? You can't downsize them in a weekend."

Pat Keplinger knows. In 2009, she moved her mother into a Chicago-area retirement community. From that experience ultimately came Keplinger's Downsizing by Design LLC, a Carol Stream company that is heading toward its fifth anniversary. The senior move specialist has served more than 200 clients - and families.

There's plenty to do. Downsizing by Design's initial conversation covers such move-related services as helping seniors declutter, organizing what will go to the new place and disposing of what doesn't go (typically donated, sold or given to the kids); creating a floor plan for the new place; packing (Keplinger's team brings the boxes, tape, paper and other supplies, then packs); coordinating with movers; unpacking; organizing the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms in the new home - and making the beds.)

The list seems pretty typical.

What's difficult, according to Keplinger, is getting seniors started. "Seniors physically need help going through everything," Keplinger says, "but they need emotional help, too. 'We don't know where to start. What do we do with everything?'"

The issue becomes especially interesting when Mom and Dad want to give things to the kids. That's when Keplinger, or an on-site team leader, often must step in and say something like, "You know, your kids already have their own stuff."

Keplinger's earlier experience as both an RN and a project manager helps. So does empathy. "We can teach employees how to pack," Keplinger explains, "but they have to be able to care about people themselves."

© 2017 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at

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