Learning by accident

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Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash

Q: When is the best time for an accident? 

A: Never.

We’re not talking about a happy accident where you are in the right place at the right time. Those aren’t really accidents, those are serendipity. We’re talking about the unwelcome and unexpected things that happen and cause inconveniences large and small.

I have some recent first hand experience in the area of accidents. A week ago at the end of a long hot day of work in a series of long hot days of work, I put something somewhere stupid despite the voice in my head telling me I was making a very bad choice. That voice has had lots of “I told you so” opportunities because it was right. Within 30 minutes, I had caught a foot on the thing in the stupid place and splatted in a way so spectacular that Wile E. Coyote would be envious. The end result was a proximal humerus fracture, or, breaks in my upper arm bone at the shoulder.

I’ve had some time to reflect on “accidents” while I dutifully sit (because I can’t lie) low and keep well iced. Although we have worked with many clients who had unfortunate accidents that they’ve managed to get through, the adage about walking a mile in another man’s shoes is definitely applicable.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

Smart phones are handy.

Although I was not alone at the time of my splat, if I had been, I would have been able to summon help with my phone. And if I had needed assistance, all the contact information for family would have been right there for the EMTs as well as a list of medications for the ER docs. Technology is no longer a luxury we can avoid, it’s helpful tool that can be learned and will have benefits in the long run.

In some cases, emergency pendants are a much smarter choice. You can’t be expected to have your phone with you at all times, so a tiny pendant around your neck can literally be a lifesaver. One of our clients accidentally set his off the other day while moving some things and in the time it took him to call the company and let them know it was a false alarm, they had already messaged his family. This is a best case example of better safe than sorry.

Have a idea whom you can ask for help.

I am lucky.  My long-suffering spouse can work mostly from home. It would have been tough sledding if I had to make due by myself the first week. If you should need assistance, know who can you ask, be that family, friend or hired aide. People often raise their hand when a friend or acquaintance is in need. Don’t deny them the chance to help if you need it. There are psychological benefits to being a helper, let friends and family rally for you if they offer.

Figure out how to get places.

I won’t be behind the wheel of the car for a few weeks, but I will be able to start moving about. How will I get places? With help from family and friends for sure, but also using a ride service like Lyft or Uber.

Keep adaptive tools like grabbers handy.

I’ve been making do with a most excellent pair of restaurant quality kitchen tongs, highly effective at both retrieving things on the floor and moving jigsaw pieces to where I can reach them. There are some more effective tools out there. Always good to have one on hand.

No time like now to fix the accidents waiting to happen.

We have a couple of step ladders, one of which does not lock open and is a bit shaky. That will be going to the metal recycle pile when I am able to take it there. We’ll remove things we are storing on the cellar steps and will add a railing that extends all the way down on the open sides. And that’s just the things that spring immediately to mind. I am sure once I start looking, I will find more. Look around your own surroundings, I bet there are things that you’ve been meaning to see to for a while. No time like now.

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From a business perspective, I’m lucky that our NextStage team is exactly that, a team. They’ve taken over my role in all our client projects, so we can still do our best work. We have closed the shop until we can get caught up there; moves come first. 

Life experiences help shape your world view. Some of those experiences have made us better move managers. Most of our team has helped a parent or relative downsize or has handled an estate. We have a personal understanding of some of the logistical and emotional challenges our clients are facing. 

For me, this particular life experience reinforces listening to that inner voice, stopping to take a break when I’m tired and more over, not allowing convenience to override safety at home and at work. And although we alway consider livability, design, function and safety when working on a floor plan with a client, you can bet that safety will be on that list twice. 

Grab bars for one and all!

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Sometime after we humans decided that shower grab bars were a good thing, we also decided that they were only needed by older people. This would make perfect sense if only people over the age of 65 had the ability to slip on a wet soapy bathtub. But as anyone who has ever shaved their legs in the shower or who has jumped into the tub  without making sure the suction cup tub mat was stuck to the porcelain can tell you, it is entirely possible to have a Wile E. Coyote arm waving moment of slippage at any age. So why we don’t we put grab bars in all our bathtubs and shower stalls?

The grab bar debate is reminiscent of the seat belt debate. Remember when we didn’t wear seat belts because we didn’t want to wrinkle our clothing? According to The Hotly Contested History of Seat Belts, until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established in 1966, not only did most cars not have seat belts, they also didn’t have shatterproof windshields, headrests to prevent whiplash and energy absorbing steering wheels. Now 85% of us wear seatbelts and we can have cars with airbags, backup cameras and lane drift warning devices. Somewhere along the way we decided that not getting launched through the windshield was a better idea than worrying about whether our gabardine got rumpled. So why don’t we feel that way about shower grab bars?

It’s not like bathroom injuries are rare. The CDC gathered info from hospitals on patients that were treated for non-fatal bathroom injuries and crunched the data to find out how often, where and how people were accidentally injuring themselves.

Here’s what they found in their 2011 report:

“In 2008, an estimated 234,094 nonfatal bathroom injuries among persons aged ≥15 years were treated in U.S. EDs, for an injury rate of 96.4 per 100,000 population. The rate for women was 121.2 per 100,000 and was 72% higher than the rate for men (70.4 per 100,000). Although approximately the same number of cases occurred in each 10-year age group, injury rates increased with age. Falls were the most common primary cause of injury (81.1%), and the most frequent diagnosis was contusions or abrasions (29.3%). The head or neck was the most common primary part of the body injured (31.2%). Most patients (84.9%) were treated and released from the ED; 13.7% were treated in the ED and subsequently hospitalized.”

And their recommendation?

“Persons in all age categories sustained bathroom injuries, especially when bathing or showering or when getting out of the tub or shower. Raising awareness about potentially hazardous activities and making a number of simple environmental changes, such as installing grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to toilets, could benefit all household residents by decreasing the risk for injury.”

Installing a grab bar isn’t all that complicated, it’s a “simple environmental change.” But convincing yourself to add one even though you aren’t an older person can take a little bit of inner dialogue. But seriously; which is more embarrassing—having a grab bar in your shower or explaining the big contusion on your face to everyone because you didn’t have one?

If you decide to add a grab bar, make the full commitment and install one screwed into wall. There are bars that work with heavy duty suction cups, but we all know suction cups are finicky and unreliable. Go ahead and do the job right. For you DIYers, The Family Handyman has info to get you started.

Oh, and while you’re installing that grab bar, go ahead and install a handrail on both sides of your cellar stairs…but that’s a topic for another time.

(You can read the whole CDC report here, charts and all.)

 

 

 

What do you do with Old Pusses?

decorating with vintage photos

During a sorting session with a client, we were reviewing their art and marking what was going with them and what was going away. She had a few of large oil paintings of fore bearers, dating back to the early 1800s. Our client looked at them with a smile and a tiny sigh, and said, “I guess we’ll keep the Old Pusses.”

And I’m glad they did. They were lovely paintings and they had space for them in their future home. But not everyone has the room. And not everyone has the desire to display paintings and photographs of previous generations. All of which raises the question: what do you do with Old Pusses?

The first thing you do is eliminate guilt from the decision making. Whom and what you display in your house is up to you. You are under zero obligation to hang a large wedding photograph of your great grandparents. The room you have in your heart for love of family history is infinite. The wall space you have for hanging art in your home is not. You should to surround yourself art that makes you happy. And it might not be that wedding photo.

decorating with vintage portraits

The second thing you do is document the people is in the portrait. Take a photo of it, add notes for future generations. You may not want the photo or painting, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to preserve that part of your family story.

The third thing you do is check with other family members to see if anyone else wants old portraits or photos. I received a box of old family photos from my last remaining auntie years after my mother had passed away, and there were photos in there I had never seen. I am so happy to have those.

If you decide to let those portraits go, the last thing you do is decide how you want to dispose of them. Paintings and photographs that may have been done by a noted artist may have resale value. More common photographs and paintings have decorative value and might be desirable to artists and designers. Those may have resale or donation value. Common photographs that are not of great age or great interest or are only one of multiple copies can often be disposed of.

People are often uncomfortable at the idea of a painting of their grandmother hanging someone else’s house or a restaurant.  But how often do you look at a portrait of someone you don’t know and find yourself charmed by their smile or be intrigued by their clothing? Giving up art of your predecessors so they can be appreciated by others is not a bad thing. What you do with your Old Pusses is up to you; do what you can feel good about at the end of the day.

Wondering how people decorate with vintage portraits or looking for inspiration on new way to showcase your family photos? Here’s some places to start:

Vintage Unscripted has a blog post of ideas for decorating with relatives, real or imagined.

decorating with vintage photos

Design Sponge gathered together 14 rooms where vintage portraits shine.

decorating with vintage photos

And Chairish captured interior designer Michelle Gage’s hints for decorating with vintage portraits.

What’s stuff worth?

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That’s a good question. And one that almost everyone making a downsizing transition asks. Like most things in life, there isn’t a black and white answer. But, really, what is your stuff worth, and how do you find out?

Lots of things have worth or value. That value is almost entirely unrelated to the purchase price. Value is something determined in real time. The value of stuff can change dramatically from year to year, decade to decade. The thing itself hasn’t changed, but it’s value has. How inconvenient! But ahhhh, how true.

There are three kinds of value: financial, sentimental or psychological. And while you have limited control over financial value, you have lots of power to determine the sentimental or psychological value of things. Let’s look at why:

Financial Value

The financial value of an item is what someone is willing to pay for it. Here’s the formula:

Formula for determining financial value of items

It’s a little like alchemy. Things that there are fewer of, that are in good condition and that are in demand are worth more financially than things there are abundant quantities of that aren’t as desired.

Things that are scarce are things that might have been sent to the thrift store or the landfill (oh the horror!) years ago because they weren’t viewed as “valuable.” (Translation: they didn’t cost very much.) Some examples: supermarket china in good condition is often more valuable than fine china, vintage cookbooks and children’s books that are out of print are often more prized than new books, old blue jeans are usually more valuable on a resale market than new ones. Since there are fewer of those items around and there is demand for them, the price is higher if you are selling them.

Things that were costly when you bought them, like dining room tables, hutches and upholstered furniture, are often donations because the market is currently saturated with them. The well-worn basement workbench with a good vintage patina is probably worth more at resale than the dining room table. (Of course, the workbench wouldn’t go back to the cellar, it would more likely become a piece of furniture in a rustic cottage home.) Furniture tastes have changed. 1980s style furniture, for example, is not in high demand. Exceptions are signed design pieces and trend design pieces. It’s hard to stay up on what’s popular—many clients are surprised to find out that Lucite and acrylic pieces from the 1970s and 1960s Italian gesso Florentine pieces are both is having a renaissance and are in demand.

Sentimental Value

There are no pricing guides for sentimental value, you can’t slap a ruler on it to measure its size and you can’t calculate the ROI for keeping it or letting it go. All you can know is it means a great deal to you. How much does it mean, here’s our formula:

Formula for determining sentimental value of items2

To break it down, the sentimental value lies in the memories an object holds, the history of where it came from and how happy it makes you when you see it. If when you sit at your writing desk, you can see your mom sitting there and she could see her mom sitting there, that piece is dripping in lovely sentimental value. The same is often true for kitchenware and china, clocks, photos and scrapbooks, and art.

Things that mark milestones like diplomas and anniversary plates might have virtually no sentimental value. The event was important, the ephemera associated with it is not. But a kindergarten report card? Hard to replace, highly sentimental.

The next generation may not have high sentimental value for things that you adore. But just like you did when you were younger, they have formed their own sentimental attachments to things that were part of their life.

Psychological Value

Things with high psychological value are not wrapped in memories, nor are they unusually valuable. They are things that make your life better. They may not be as bright and shiny as when you first got them, but they have form and function to get you through the day. Here’s how to analyze that:

Formula for determining psychl value of items-2

 

These are things that are useful, in that they are used regularly. They are familiar—you know how they work and how best to use them. And they provide a level of comfort in their predictability. Things that fit into the category of high psychological value are your favorite coffee cup, your chair and side table, your favorite pots and pans and perhaps your small electronics like your clock or a radio.

When you’re making a move, there are those that might encourage you to replace those things with things that are newer, because they are probably showing their age. But if these are things that make every day better for you, you can almost always find a way to make them a part of your new nest.

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So what are things worth? At the end of the day, you bought things to use them. If they have some resale value now, that is a bonus. You bought them, you used them, you are getting something back. And those things will probably not be the things you are expecting them to be. But the things that have the most worth to you are those with sentimental and psychological value. Those are the things that are too valuable to put a price on.

 

 

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When good books grow moldy

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Specialized cleaners work to remediate mold at the Boston Public Library. (Photo from the BPL website)

The Boston Public Library (BPL) reopened its rare book collection today following ten weeks of painstaking remediation after mold spores were discovered on a medieval text and other documents in September. According to Smithsonian magazine, it’s thought that construction at the library caused the carefully controlled humidity in the department to be not so carefully controlled allowing the mold to grow. The Boston Globe reports that it took a specialized crew of 20 working daily for 10 weeks to clean the 500,000 books and 1 million manuscripts in the collection.

Most of us don’t have a rare book collection that numbers in the millions, but we do have a box of favorite books from our past stored away for a future day. If those books are stored in places where the only climate control is what the weather is that day (places like the garage, the basement or the attic) chances are pretty good that like that medieval text, they may have some mold spores. Or, more likely, fully grown and thriving mold colonies. One of the most disheartening feelings in the world is opening that special box of books and getting a nose full of musty, moldy, sad book smell.

Mold and mildew love nothing better than darkness, dampness and a tasty food source like a book. Once the fungus sets up shop and begins spreading its nasty spores, it doesn’t discriminate between outdated textbooks and beloved children’s books. Mold is an equal opportunity invader.

Unless the books are rare, valuable or irreplaceable, it’s best to dispose of moldy books. Not donate, dispose. It’s painful to do, but really it’s the only choice. It’s not worth the risk that by donating you may send the book somewhere it can spread mold to someone else’s collection or even worse, send it to the home of someone sensitive to mold like a person with asthma.

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Moldy book spine, photo from inspecttopedia.com

Moldy and musty books can be cleaned, but it’s a time intensive process. Books that have great sentimental or financial value are likely best cleaned by a trained conservation professional. Books that are not quite so pedigreed, but are worth the sweat equity to try and save can be worked on at home. There is a lot of information about how to do this from true book lovers and experts available on the internet–a simple search will give you lots of methods to try.  We are certainly not experts, but we’ve found that sunshine, fresh air and a gentle wiping can go a long way towards freshening a sentimental favorite.

If your book has rusty reddish spots, you might have foxing instead of mold. Foxing happens when the minerals in the paper change over time. Foxing isn’t pretty, but it also isn’t terrible and invasive. Mold can generally be distinguished from foxing because it comes in a dingy rainbow of colors: blues, blacks, grays, greens, yellows.

Disheartening though it may be to find that your beloved copy of Little Women, Nancy Drew Secret of the Old Oak or To Kill a Mockingbird has been feasted upon by fungus, the good news is that for many titles, another copy can be found through a reputable online seller.

Clothing moth confidential: the holey truth about keeping moths at bay

Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.
Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.

Right around Halloween, we start packing away our light summer wear and unpacking our winter woolies. Occasionally that simple task turns into something out of a horror movie if your sweaters and tartans have been invaded by clothing moths.

Clothing moths are determined little insects with an appetite for more than just wool. We’ve seen their telltale holes and webbing on almost any fiber that comes from an animal. And they don’t just fancy clothing—they’re equally happy in carpets, furniture, blankets and yarn.

Like most stealth invaders, moths do their best work in the dark, meaning they’re likely to be found in attics, basements and closets. And it’s not the moths themselves that do the damage, it’s the larvae. You’re unlikely to find them on a coat you wear regularly or in the dining room oriental carpet. But a coat that’s been stored in a closet for a few years, or a rug that’s rolled and stored under the bed…that’s another story.

Moth balls have been used for generations to repel clothing moths. An open box of moth balls in a closet won’t actually do any good. Moth balls work by slowly degrading into a toxic pesticide gas. If you’re not trapping that gas in small tightly sealed area, it’s probably not strong enough to actually kill moths. And do you really want to sleep in blankets or wear jackets that are steeped in toxic gas anyway?

Cedar blocks certainly smell nicer than moth balls, but they’re also not terribly useful for repelling moths. The aromatic oils evaporate quickly, and even when fresh, there’s no real scientific evidence that they scare off moths.

One way to find out if you have moths is to hang moth traps in areas where they are likely to hang out. Traps are pheromone attractors with sticky pads of glue that capture moths that are intoxicated by the smell and venture in. If you get moths in your traps, you know it’s time to do a thorough assessment and cleaning.

The best way to find out if you have an infestation is to carefully examine natural fiber textiles when you’re taking them out of storage. Take them outside into good light and look carefully for the holes and webbing patches. If you find damage, seal the textile in a plastic bag and keep it outside until you can have it cleaned. You can also vacuum rugs to remove any larvae or eggs—but remove and dispose of the bag before bringing it back into the house.

Thoroughly clean or dispose of whatever the mothy items were stored in. If it’s a wooden chest, take it outside into the sunshine, vacuum and wash it. If it’s a basket or cloth bag, dispose of it. It’s not worth the risk of re-infesting your Nordic sweaters.

Freezing temperatures kill moth larvae. If you have a cold garage and can leave mothy items there for a few days, it’s always a good idea to do so before having the garment or carpet cleaned.

The best way to prevent moths from getting a hold on your closet is to properly clean and store textiles in tightly sealed containers. Routinely vacuum rugs, tapestry and upholstery. Feel free to be overly cautious, better safe than holey. It is much, much easier to prevent moths from getting into things than to get rid of them.

If you’re an antique or vintage lover, don’t bring moths into your house with a beautiful antique rug or vintage swing coat. The cost of cleaning prior to bringing anything that’s been in someone else’s house into your house will be well worth it. And don’t store things in a fantastic antique trunk until it’s had a few days of sunlight and a thorough vacuuming or three.

By the same token, if you are sorting through your no longer needed clothing and you discover moths, either dispose of the clothes or have them cleaned before you donate or sell them. You don’t want to inadvertently spread moths to a house that doesn’t have them.

Clothing moths are not the worst thing that can happen to you, and if you find them in your things, rest assured, you are not alone. Dealing with them thoroughly takes time, but it’s well worth the effort—particularly if you are transitioning to a new home. Moths definitely do not have a place on the list of things to bring with you!

You can find more details on moths, moth balls and moth prevention here:

The National Pesticide Information Center

The Utah State University Extension Service

The Insect Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University

Is it Treasure? Is it Trash?

“We’ve already started throwing stuff away.”

Six words guaranteed to make a senior move manager wince because chances are pretty good that some treasures went into that trash. The world of antiques and vintage goods is quirky. Even experts have a hard time keeping up with what’s hot and what’s not.

Items commonly perceived as having high resale value, perhaps because they had the highest original purchase price, aren’t always the items that command the highest resale prices. Humble Pyrex, for example, can be more valuable than fine china. A bureau from the right era can be worth more than an entire dining room set. One vintage cookbook can be worth more than a dozen current best sellers.

While senior move managers are not appraisers, we have a general knowledge of the stuff of everyday life, and know what has good sale potential. We’ll work with clients to take their no longer needed items and find the best venues to achieve the best return. And we also know when it’s time to call in an appraiser for items of high value.

It’s not uncommon for elders to become clients after they’ve started trying to downsize on their own and been overwhelmed by the process. As glad as we are to step in then, we can provide the best support and value if we’re there before those first trash bags get filled.  Many clients find that the income generated by selling unwanted items covers all or part of the cost of our services.

Beyond assisting clients with selling items of value, senior move managers can also arrange for items that don’t have resale value but are still serviceable to be donated to appropriate charities. And every home has items that can’t be donated or sold, items that do need to be disposed of.  Senior move managers can insure that those items are disposed of responsibly.

Make it do, use it up…

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Is it my imagination, or did it take a lot longer to wear something out twenty years ago than it does now?

A post on the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) struck a chord with me. It’s been a long time since you could buy anything without the expection that it would need to be replaced sooner rather than later. Technology gets superceded by bigger, faster, newer in the blink of an eye. Clothing is doesn’t last because it’s constructed to meet an artificially low price point.  Within a couple of years, furniture sags from normal use.

One of the nicest aspects of being a senior move manager is that we are often able to assist clients by sending no longer needed items of quality on to new owners, who will be able to use and appreciate them for years.   Whether through a resale shop or a donation, it’s always a pleasure to know that quality has lasting value.

http://nasmm.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/the-end-of-the-line-for-thread-bare/

Selling at consignment shops

A well run consignment shop is a thing of beauty. For buyers, it provides the thrill of the hunt and the exhilaration of getting a deal. For sellers, the thrill is making money on things you no longer needed. Do a little research before you consign your goods and you can make those consignment checks bigger.

Like any other retailer, each consignment shop has its own style. Make a list of shops in your area by talking to friends and searching on the internet. A retailer’s website should list consignment policies and give you some idea how they market goods above and beyond their bricks and mortar location. Although a well-designed website does not always guarantee a well-run store, it does show that the owner is a professional who pays attention to detail and appearances.

A store visit is next. While you’re browsing and reminding yourself you’re there to sell, not buy, think about these questions:

  • What’s your first reaction? Is the store appealing from first glimpse?
  • Is the merchandise well displayed?
  • Will the items you’re selling fit in well with the other merchandise?
  • Is the staff friendly and helpful if you ask questions about merchandise? Are they knowledgeable? Or are they overly attentive to the point of annoying or disengaged and unwelcoming?
  • Does the pricing seem fair to both buyer and seller?
  • Are there other customers browsing?
  • If it’s a store that does markdowns after 30 and 60 days, have many items have been there long enough to reach discount dates?

Once you’ve narrowed the list of contenders, it’s time to talk to store management and get explanations of all their policies:

  • How many items can be consigned at one appointment?
  • Do they provide pick-up service and is there a fee?
  • How long is the consignment period?
  • Are there automatic markdowns?
  • Can you reclaim unsold merchandise at the end of the consignment period? Don’t assume this is the case. Some stores require items to be donated and some stipulate that unsold good become property of the store.
  • What is the consignment commission?
  • Are there any other fees?
  • How often are consignment sale checks mailed out?
  • Who sets the prices and how are they set?
  • Do they market merchandise online by posting images on their own website or listing items on Craigslist?
  • Who are their primary customers and what are the best selling categories of items?

If you like what you’ve seen and heard, make a consignment appointment. You may decide to divide your stuff between two or three consignment shops so you can capitalize on each shop’s specialty. Keep a list of what you’ve left at each shop, and make sure the list provided by the store includes matches yours.

At the appointment, be open-minded. But don’t be afraid to decide not to leave things if the price the owner suggests is too low for your liking. Be realistic, your goal is to turn things you aren’t using into cash, but if you’re really disappointed with the pricing for an item or two and the owner isn’t flexible, take them home and think about it. And don’t be surprised if you come away from an appointment with things the shop owner declines. A good shop owner knows her clientele and will only accept those things he or she knows she can sell.

Mark the date your consignment period ends on your calendar. Visit the store shortly before to see how much remains and make an appointment to either pack up unsold merchandise yourself or to have larger pieces picked up by professionals, unless you prefer to donate them. Non-profits will often offer pick up service with enough advance notice.