When we were getting ready to move, I asked my husband if we should have a yard sale. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Our marriage isn’t strong enough for a yard sale.” We looked at each other, laughed, and put everything in the donate pile.
It’s spring, and every weekend yard sale signs appear on corners, owners hoping for windfalls from parting with household bric-a-brac. Since everyone has stuff they don’t need, yard sales seem like a good way to make some money in your spare time. Before you begin planning your next yard sale, calculate your hourly rate, as this blogger did. You may want to reconsider.
“I made a whopping $600 in five hours! That is $120 per hour! But how much did I really earn per hour? To get ready for the yard sale, I spent 15 minutes a day for one month, or 7 hours. This means I spent a total of 12 hours to make $600, so I actually earned $50 per hour. I spent 4 hours the night before the sale bringing things up from the basement, sorting everything by category and pricing things, which increased my time investment to 16 hours, so my earnings dropped to $37. I spent 2 hours setting up in the morning, which increased my hours to 18 and decreased my hourly rate to $33. I spent 1 hour getting poster board and stakes, 2 hours making up signs, 1 hour driving around the neighborhood to post them and another hour after the sale to take the signs down — a total of 4 more hours, or 22 hours in total. My earning is now $27 per hour. Of course, I didn’t actually do all of this by myself; my spouse helped. That doubles the hours, so my hourly earning is now $13.50. Although I decreased prices sharply near the end, there was still lots that didn’t sell, so we put everything left in boxes and dropped the off at a nearby thrift store. While there, however, I saw some neat things that were selling for a real bargain, so I bought them, and ending up bringing more stuff I don’t need into my home.”
The solution? Ditch the yard sale idea. Take everything to the thrift store. Be sure to take your driver’s license…but leave your wallet at home. Long live your marriage!
One of the most difficult aspects of packing is handling items that are already damaged or that have been previously repaired. These items are especially vulnerable to repeat damage. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, these items break. Some clients are especially fragile, too. Like items that have been previously repaired, the stress of moving pushes them to the breaking point.
Some time ago, we worked with a couple moving to an active adult community. They asked for help getting their home ready for listing. At our initial meeting, the wife cried. I assumed it was from embarrassment at the home’s condition (which was exceptionally cluttered) or from anxiety that we would force her to throw things away. As we later learned, the real reason was more complex.
The couple had two grown sons, both of whom lived far away. A third son had died of a drug overdose many years ago and had been found in his bedroom by the father. After his son’s death, the father developed an alcohol problem, with which he had been struggling ever since. As we sorted, we came upon many items that had belonged to the deceased son. It was very difficult for both parents. The husband’s drinking increased during the sorting process, and we observed mounting tension between husband and wife. One day, we arrived at nine in the morning to find the husband already drunk and being taken to rehab. It was not the first time, his wife informed us. She doubted it would be the last.
Kobe Bryant’s mother is trying to auction off old high school stuff he left in her house, and Bryant is trying to stop her. Bryant contends that the things belong to him; his mom says he left them there and said he didn’t want them. She wants to use the $450,000 advance from the auction house to buy a new home. Is this argument really about money? Surely Bryant has enough money to purchase multiple homes for his mother. Whichever side of the controversy you stand on, it points out a common problem. Depending on your age, chances are you are either warehousing stuff that belongs to your grown children, or you’ve left stuff in your parents’ home.
What kinds of things get left? Based on the thousands of people we’ve helped downsize and move, it varies, but there are common themes. Sports paraphernalia are a big category, especially trophies and equipment. So are school things: old papers, projects and textbooks. Old clothing, hobbies, musical instruments and childhood toys are kept too. Wedding dresses are especially common, even when the marriage has ended. As one client put it, “My daughter has been divorced twice. She got rid of both the husbands and I am left with both wedding dresses.”
Truth be told, our household was no different. One son left camping equipment, Pinewood Derby cars and other residue of his years in scouting. My daughter left every spelling test she had ever taken, and my youngest left t-shirts and sports trophies, including Continue reading
Sometimes it starts with a phone call at 2 AM. “Your mom had a stroke.” Sometimes there is simply a gradual worsening of chronic conditions, and over time the home that worked so well for so many years is too burdensome. In either case, your life is turned upside down. There are hundreds of decisions to be made: where will your parents move, what will go with them, what will happen to everything else? Your parents are overwhelmed, and so are you.
If you’re a typical Boomer, you take pride in multitasking, getting things done, crossing things off your list. The problem is, your parents may have a different agenda. Faced with the multitude of losses that accompany old age, they may cling fiercely to independence and the need to be in control. They may also be focused on reviewing their life and creating legacy. These different agendas can create conflict and impede progress. Listed below are our top 10 tips for Helping Mom and Dad Move. The tips are designed to maximize your parents’ sense of control and respect their need to reminisce, because honoring your parents includes honoring their agenda, as well.
Tip #1: Let your parents’ emotional and physical comfort guide the process.
Your parents’ priorities and perspective may differ from yours. Seemingly insignificant items may be loaded with personal meaning and memories, and objects of great material value may be less important. They may prefer old, worn objects to newer ones in better condition. Honor their decisions.
Your parents may have a sequence in which they need to proceed that differs from your own. If books are very special to your parents, for example, they may need to determine what will happen to the volumes not going with them before they are willing to focus on other issues. Attempting to force your parents to proceed in a sequence that doesn’t address their priorities usually results in arguments and inattention
Tip #2: Try to replicate the old environment.
Your parents will be experiencing a lot of change. It will be comforting to have some things stay the same. Take photos of each shelf in the china closet, the arrangement of pictures on the wall, and of items on bureaus and end tables. The photos will help you recreate the feel of the former home with speed and accuracy and will make the new residence look and feel more like home.
Tip #3: Focus on sorting, not packing.
Preparing for a senior move is a major organizational challenge. There may be decades of belongings to sort through in attics, basements, spare rooms and closets. In addition to what is going to your parents’ new home, there may be things going to family members throughout the country, as well as the church bazaar, Purple Heart, an auction house, and the township dump. It is here, more than anywhere else, that your help is needed. Helping your parents sort and organize their belongings is the single most important thing you can do to reduce stress, save money, and ensure a smooth move.
Tip #4: Accept their gifts.
Your parents may want to give you items they cannot use, including things you don’t want. Take them anyway. Store them in your basement if you must, but accept them graciously. Your parents will be parting with a great deal. Knowing that cherished objects, and even ordinary things, are with family members makes it easier to part with things and reduces the feeling of loss. If your parents are warehousing things that belong to you or your siblings, take them now.
Tip #5: Be tactful.
Poor health, caregiving duties and failing eyesight can result in housekeeping practices that are less stringent than they once were. Tactfully clean things as you sort, but avoid making your parents feel embarrassed. If you find clothing that is torn or stained, suggest a donation site that recycles textiles or take worn towels to the S.P.C.A. Knowing that things will be used, regardless of their condition, makes parting with them easier.
Tip #6: Let your parents say good-bye.
Keep sorting sessions brief— 2-3 hours at the most. This may be difficult when you come to town for a weekend to blitz through things, but constant decision-making is exhausting and marathon sorting sessions usually result in diminishing returns. The sorting process brings up memories, so stories and reminiscing are natural. Accept that some days you will accomplish less than you had hoped for and let your parents enjoy their recollections. Storytelling is more than simply saying “goodbye.” Studies show that reminiscing calms people and reduces stress. You may find that after telling a story, your parents are able to focus more on decision-making. In short, storytelling is a productivity tool, not a hindrance. Listen respectfully, ask questions. Remember that in the long run, it is your parents’ stories, not their belongings, that you will cherish.
Tip #7: Be realistic about how much time you can devote to the process.
If your parents live in the family home, allow 60-80 hours for the downsizing process, 20 hours for items not going with them, and 50-80 hours for helping them pack, move, unpack and get settled. If your time is limited, spend your time with them doing “fun” things and providing emotional support, and hire professional help for the rest. Senior Move Managers specialize in this type of support.
Tip #8: Concentrate on the big picture.
Senior moves are stressful for the entire family. In addition to their own homes, families and jobs, adult children are often assuming caregiving responsibilities. Conflicts sometimes develop between siblings over the disposition of items, and more frequently, over the sharing of caregiving duties. As you work with your parents and siblings, keep three objectives equally in mind: caring for your parents, taking care of yourself, and keeping the family in tact.
Tip #9: Hire a Senior Move Manager.
Downsizing and moving are challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. A Senior Move Manger like Moving Solutions can provide expert planning, proven resources, and hands-on help to take the work and worry out of moving. You control how much you spend, and most provide a free, no-obligation home visit. Moving Solutions provides services throughout Southeastern PA, the Lehigh Valley, Delaware, and central New Jersey. For help elsewhere in the US and Canada, go to the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Hiring a Senior Move Manager isn’t an expense, it’s an investment in your health, your relationships and your peace of mind.
Tip #10: Looking Back
“Things” were important to my grandmother. Perhaps it was living through the depression. Perhaps it was burying both her children. Perhaps she was holding on to what she could in the face of so much loss. When she moved, at age 88, she offered me many things. I said “no” to everything. I had good reasons. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t have room.
Today, I regret those decisions. It’s not that I’ve grown to like the things she offered. It’s that I was thinking of myself, and I should have been thinking about her.
Several years ago, my husband and I moved from our three-story, six-bedroom home to a one-story Mission bungalow. It’s charming. It’s in a location we love. It’s half the upkeep and half the cost of our former home. I saw our new house as perfect. My husband saw it only as “less.” Then I stumbled upon architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big House, and it has made all the difference. Our new home isn’t less; in fact, it’s more. It’s a “not so big” house.
The idea behind The Not So Big House is that homes should emphasize how we actually live in them, and not focus on square footage. In a Not So Big House, every space in the home is used every day, so a Not So Big house does not have formal rooms that are rarely used. What we really crave, says Susanka, is intimacy, not open space. She uses the example of a window seat or an alcove with a window and reading chair. We are naturally drawn to these cozy spaces, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their size and intimacy. “Bigger is not necessarily better,” says Susanska. “Home has almost nothing to do with square footage.”
Susanka’s second book, Creating the Not So Big House, describes things you can do to make your home feel larger, especially the impact of light and lighting. Many are surprisingly low cost.
Focusing on homes that reflect how we actually live in them lead Susanka to a third book, Not So Big Living, which encourages people to start living their passions, to start looking at “What have I always wanted to do,” and then do it. Susanka encourages people to declutter, both their houses and their lives, so they can slow down and “show up” more.
The Not So Big movement is reflected in many aspects of today’s society: the move toward smaller cars and small portions, the increased focus on simplifying, recycling and reducing waste; in short — sustainability.
Not so big thinking not only fits my new home; it also fits what I do professionally. As a Senior Move Manager, I help older adults declutter and move into not so big spaces. For most people, appreciating not so big living takes time, but it’s a perspective worth having. I often think of a client who was moving from a villa in a retirement community to a two-bedroom apartment in the main building. The villa had a large linen closet in the master bath, and the new apartment did not. “Right now, that missing linen closet seems like a big problem,” my client said, “but I have many friends who live in the same size apartment I am moving to, and none of them complains about not having a linen closet.”
Individuals considering senior living options often focus on what they are giving up: the space, the garden, the extra rooms. Yet individuals who have already moved into senior communities seldom complain about missing these features from their prior home. They’re busy being in the present.
As a Senior Move Manager, I see all sorts of client treasures, so it has made me think about my own l treasures as well. If you went to my home, you probably would not notice my treasures, even though they are in plain view. That’s because they look ordinary. They don’t have a lot of material value. They’re my treasures because they have special meaning to me.
My first treasure is a common blue and white mug — a souvenir from a trip to the Bahamas with my friend Karen when we were both single. For years, the mug had no special meaning; I kept it on my desk to hold pens. Eight years later, at 36, Karen was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She died at 38. During this same time period, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, except 21 years later, I am alive and well. It seems so arbitrary; it is hard to make sense of it. So over time, that ordinary blue has taken on new importance. It reminds me of Karen, yes, but even more, it reminds me how lucky I am. I went on to raise a family, to start a business, to help found an industry. That’s one thing about personal treasures. They may not start out as a treasure; they can evolve.
Another one of my personal treasures is a large, framed needlepoint that hangs above my desk. My mother did the needlepoint as a girl in Hungary. She told me how they gathered together to embroider, and one person would read aloud while the others sewed. She ran out of red in the final corner and substituted pink. I love this imperfection. When I graduated from college, my mother had the needlepoint framed and presented it to me as a graduation gift, and that’s when it became a personal treasure. My mother came to America when she was 12, and was put back a grade so she could learn English. When she was 17, she caught TB and spent a year in a sanitarium. By the time she was released, she was two years older than her classmates and never returned to high school. Growing up, I knew my mother never went to college, but I was in my twenties when I realized she had never finished high school. Her brother, my uncle, went to college and became a physician.
Like many baby boomers, I grew up knowing I was expected to go to college. But for my mother, it was more than an expectation, it was a need. I knew how much it bothered my mother that she did not have an education, and how much pleasure she took from my academic successes. From the time I was in junior high, I asked her to read every novel I loved so we could discuss it together. Over the years, we shared dozens of books we laughed and cried over. If in part she lived thru me, I didn’t mind; I enjoyed her support and was happy to give her pleasure. So when my mother unwrapped the needlepoint, I knew it was the perfect gift. It was our graduation gift, hers and mine together.
As I think about my personal treasures, I realize that I have neglected something important. They are personal treasures, it’s true, but I have kept their meaning personal and private too; I haven’t shared their story. That’s why I am sharing it with you now, and why I will share it with my children. Perhaps that is the real value of personal treasures — the story behind them that only you can share. Because when all is said and done, passing on who you are is the most important legacy you have.