Opening drawers, opening memories

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“The hard part about going through all the boxes and drawers is that if I open the wrong one, I find that hours pass as I go through the contents.” Wise words from one of our clients who is sorting through decades of the ephemera of life in preparation for a move to an apartment after the unexpected passing of his wife a year ago.

In the course of living, we squirrel things away. We buy boxes of holiday cards on sale and stash them for the next year. We stockpile canning jars above and beyond our jar needs. We keep periodicals with articles we might want to refer to or get creatively inspired by. When you are thinning out in preparation for a move, those boxes are fast to sort. Keep, donate, recycle–not a lot of heavy thinking in boxes of the generic stuff of everyday life.

The boxes that take time are the ones that have memory-enriched not-generic stuff. It’s not boxes of stuff you can pre-identify as memory centric, like photographs. It’s boxes and drawers hiding things that catch you unaware because you had forgotten those things were there. Things that have accumulated over the years that have associations to people, places and adventures take extra time to work your way through and sometimes require a tissue or two too. Maps and brochures from trips, clothing left from teen years in an adult child’s bureau, handwritten notes from people long since passed away, yearbooks and programs from school plays…those are the things that take time.

As move managers, we frequently spend time with our clients going through those memory-enriched boxes and drawers. One member of our team spent a July afternoon hunched in an attic with a client going through a box of accumulated personal papers–among them the draft of an introduction from a luncheon where she introduced Eleanor Roosevelt. A hot humid attic is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for our team member, it was an afternoon of stories told by our client about her life that she will never forget.

The things you find rarely have historical or financial significance to anyone outside those who were involved. But they can be nice bits of anecdotal family history for future generations. Using your phone to snap a photo is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way to do that if the actual document isn’t worth keeping. (This means you need to organize your photos digitally, but that’s another blog post for another time.)

You may have goals for the number of boxes you want to sort through in a week, but don’t judge yourself harshly if you don’t meet that goal. If you find a particularly tough drawer or box of things, give yourself permission to skip it and come back to it later. Of course, our favorite solution to keep you moving forward is to work with a move manager. Sorting through decades of ephemera alone can be lonely, but doing it with someone else is usually a much more pleasant experience. Some of our clients tell us we make it fun…and we’ll second that because we truly enjoy that part of the job.

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Lest you think that move managers have an easier time with drawers and boxes full of forgotten memories, I can testify that we can be as challenged by it as the next person.  I had to move a dresser, and took the opportunity to sort it out. 80% of the contents (hats, gloves, rain gear) was sorted quickly, but 20% made time stand still. Among the memories: a enlargement of my husband and son at an elementary school math night; our much missed canine’s bandana, winter collar and Halloween bow tie; a photo of a beloved friend who died of AIDS 24 years ago; half a bag of water balloons from when the kids were not yet grown up; and possibly the most emotional thing…the original pink drawer lining paper as folded by my mother at some point in the 1960s. Unexpected but welcome memories that took extra time and more tissues that I should probably admit to to handle. If only I knew a move manager…

 

3 estate dispersal case studies

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Dispersing an estate is hard. Executors and families have to navigate through an enormous amount of decisions that involve communication and coordination between family members and legal representatives all while living with the emotions of loss. It can be overwhelming.

About a third of our clients are dispersing estates, including those working through living estates for family members who are no longer able to remain at home or make decisions. One thing we know for sure: at the end of the day the executors need to be able to look back at the dispersal process and feel that they did their best work to carry out the intent and directions of the person they are representing. And we do our best to help them with that.

One of the most important things we do when working with families handling estates is to provide support and coaching. We provide the hands on packing and logistical knowledge, and can act as their representative if they live out of the area. But acting as a sounding board, presenting options, communicating with all involved parties and providing solutions is one of the most important tasks we are able to take on.

There are a lot of tasks involved in dispersing an estate. We live our lives every day. We may have our legal affairs in order, but our houses—maybe not so much.This is because we are human. We have the stuff we live with every day. And we have the stuff that hides in nooks and crannies, the product of deferred decision making. We had no reason to make decisions about it, so we didn’t. In other words, estates aren’t just about the assets and heirlooms, they’re also about the stuff of everyday living that has to be managed with to prepare a house for it’s new owner.

We provide a range of services for estate clients, commonly assisting with:

Initial clearing out things like food, recyclables, disposables and unneeded medications for disposal and donation.

Assisting in locating and organizing personal and financial documents, providing secure shredding for high volumes of materials.

Facilitating and coordinating identification, packing and transporting items being taken by family both locally, nationally and internationally. 

Sorting remaining items to be sold or donated.

Arranging for the sale of items through consignment and auction.

Packing and delivering items to be donated, or arrange for pickup or items.

Coordinate with real estate agent to stage and prepare home for sale.

Provide inventories to family and legal representatives.

It’s not easy to imagine how someone who doesn’t know your family can be a part of dispersing an estate. About a third of our clients are doing just that. To help explain how we work to thoughtfully and respectfully work with estate clients, here are sketches of three recent jobs.

Case Study 1: The Family is Local estate

Client had lived in their three bedroom colonial home for sixty years, all siblings were local.

Worked in tandem with family for initial clear out of food and disposables.

(Family sorted and removed things being kept.)

Staged home for sale in consultation with real estate agent.

Sorted items not needed for staging to be consigned and donated.

Arranged for pickup or delivered those items to consignment shops, auction galleries and non-profits.

Returned after home was under sale agreement to remove remaining furniture and décor.

Case Study 2: The Long Distance Family Estate

Client had lived in their two bedroom ranch house for 30+ years, no family members were local.

Worked with family on sorting, marking and packing items to be shipped to them during the short period they were on site together.

Provided options and estimates for getting their heirlooms shipped, including an overseas container.

Packed and shipped smaller items via traditional services like USPS, UPS and FedEx.

Arranged secure transport and sale of firearms.

Cleared out all food and disposables.

Emptied house of all goods to be sold and donated prior to listing per realtor’s request.

Provided secure shredding of confidential documents.

Provided clients with donation and consignment inventories.

Case Study 3: The Finish it Up Estate

Client had lived in house for split level for 60+ years and moved out of state to be with family members. Family, all out of state, had removed all personal items and heirlooms.

Coordinated with real estate agent and family to determine that property should be emptied for sale, staging was not needed.

Sorted and removed or arranged for pickup of all items to be consigned and donated.

Consulted with family and shipped two boxes of overlooked personal items and items they regretted leaving behind after they left.

Disposed of refuse in large onsite dumpster, including removing all window treatments and area rugs, basement and garage refuse.

Coordinated services of removal company to empty two sheds on the property.

Arranged for the proper disposal of hazardous household waste.

Arranged for disposal of outdated and poor condition appliances.

Cleaned emptied house prior to listing by real estate agent.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

We’ve had the honor of working with families on estates as small as studio apartments and as large as triple deckers with full attics and basement. No matter what size the household, the most important part of working with a family on an estate is the discovery process. What looks like a ratty old suitcase might be full of letters written by a husband to a wife during WWII. A wedding ring might be hidden in a nondescript box under a dresser. A painting in the pile of “disposable” art might be actually be an original work by a well known modern artist and might sell for $32,000 at auction. A file cabinet full of confidential medical reports might need to be shredded. All of those examples are extremely real, and we have plenty more just like them. (Okay, maybe only a couple of the $32,000 ones.)

We consider it a privilege to assist with an estate—to be there with people through moments that bring tears and others that bring laughter. We appreciate the opportunity and are committed to do our best to make sure that when the family or executor looks back, they can feel that they did their best to honor and respect their relatives memory.

3 downsizing case studies

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One of the best things about being a move manager is that no clients are the same. No two days are the same. There is no standard client, standard family or standard move. Such an abundance of variability sounds terrifying to some. But not to us. It’s part of what makes this such a great job.

We tailor our move management services to meet each client’s needs. We are part of our their “transition team,” working with them, their family, the realtor, the mover and the new community. Stress and worry about a transition have their roots in the things you don’t know. We work with our clients and the rest of their team to clear up those unknowns and make sure there’s a plan so that everything that happens is a step ahead, not backwards or sideways.

We do that with a blend of experience, a Rolodex full of other tested and trusted service partners, some sweat, and above all a good sense of humor. We have one other thing: we know that the move will end well, because we have eight years of good endings to look back on.

It’s hard to imagine how someone you don’t know can come in and help you make such a big life transition. That’s why the majority of our new clients come to us on the recommendation of others we have worked with–people who have worked with us can explain what we do and how we do it. But if you’re new to the idea of working with a move manager, here are descriptions of three moves that might share some similarity with your own planned transition.

Case Study 1: The Full Move

Client couple had been in their home 45 years and were moving from a 3 bedroom cape home to a one bedroom apartment in a community.

Constructed a move plan and timeline with the clients. 

Worked with clients and their realtor to stage home by packing items being taken with them and by sorting, packing and removing no longer needed items to be sold or donated.

After agreement for sale of home, worked with client to identify items being taken to the new apartment, being taken by family members, being left for the new owner—and by process of elimination the things that are no longer needed.

Packed items being moved.

Sorted and delivered items to be sold at consignment and/or auction.

Sorted and delivered items to be donated.

Arranged for the safe disposal of hazardous materials.

Arranged for disposal of refuse.

Coordinated with movers on move day to prioritize order of items being brought up to the apartment and to insure that furniture was positioned according to space plan (which was done with impeccable accuracy by the client)

Unpacked essential items as they were brought to apartment: kitchenware, linens, clothing, lamps, bathroom goods and anything else that could be placed quickly to eliminate the majority of boxes.

Stowed less urgent items like books and art for unpacking the next day.

Nested in: hung shower curtain, placed extension cords behind furniture, made bed and other things to make the first night comfortable.

Returned next day to complete unpacking, make adjustments to furniture placement and hang art.

Case Study 2: The Medium Move

Client had been in four bedroom multilevel house for 51 years and was moving to a two bedroom apartment condo.

Constructed a move plan and timeline with client.

Decorator drafted a floor plan with client.

Real estate agent handled staging.

Sorted and delivered or arranged for pickup of items to be sold at consignment and/or auction.

Sorted and delivered items to be donated.

Arranged for disposal of refuse.

Packed all small items, movers packed art and lamps to be moved.

Coordinated with movers on move day to prioritize order of items being brought up to the condo and to insure that furniture was positioned according to space plan.

Unpacked essentials.

Stowed non-essentials strategically.

Nested in.

Returned next day to finish unpacking and make adjustments.

Returned after sale of home to remove all items belonging to the client left for staging.

Case Study 3: The Essentials Only Move

Client had been in her two bedroom condo for 30 years and was moving to a one bedroom apartment in a community.

Constructed a move plan and timeline with client.

Drafted a floor plan for new apartment.

Real estate agent handled staging.

Client handled dispersal of no longer needed items.

Packed items being moved.

Coordinated with movers on move day to prioritize order of items being brought up to the apartment and to insure that furniture was positioned according to space plan.

Unpacked essentials.

Stowed non-essentials strategically.

Nested in: hung shower curtain, placed extension cords behind furniture, made bed and other things to make the first night comfortable.

Client and family finished unpacking.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

While none of these moves exactly describes your upcoming transition, you probably spotted some tasks in all of these moves that would help make your move faster and less stressful. As we said before, no two moves or clients are the same. But that’s not exactly true. There’s one thing that’s the same about all the moves we’ve ever worked on. Because our clients had a great move team that we were happy to be a part of, they all had moves that ended well.

Sprint or Marathon: your move pace is up to you

time-731110_1280When you’re getting ready to make a transition, you might wonder how long before your move should you start working with a move manager? That depends: are you a sprinter or a marathoner?

You’ve already done the hard work leading up to your move. Think about it as having done the training runners do leading up to an event. You did the thinking and considering and reviewing to that brought you to the place to where you are ready to make a transition. And you’ve decided where you are going to go, an equally tough thing to do. So now the training phase is over and you are at the starting line, ready for the actual event to get underway.

The Marathoner’s Move

If you’re a marathoner, you will start working a move manager three to six months ahead of the date you are planning to list your house for sale because you prefer a measured, consistent pace over a longer period of time to sort, plan your new space and stage your house for sale. With our marathon-type move clients, we schedule of work sessions once or twice a week, always moving forward. And yes, there is homework assigned for between sessions.

Marathon runners will tell you they have to dig a little deeper, find a little more oompf in the final miles of the race. Similar to that, even if you’ve done most of the prep work, the final stretch before your move takes some extra effort. The measured pace gets kicked up a notch when we start packing what’s going with you and clearing out things that are not going but were needed for home staging. But for the most part, you did the training, you put in the time sorting and planning and you’ll get through the move and the unpacking that follows in your new place just fine.

Speaking of unpacking, marathon-type clients often prefer to unpack in stages. The essentials get unpacked the first day. The furniture gets arranged, beds get made, the coffee pot is ready for operation, the clothing is taken out of the wardrobes so those big boxes get out of there and whatever else can be unpacked and placed easily is done. Non-essentials like books and art are stowed and unpacked over the next week so you can settle in at a measured pace at your new home too.

The Sprinter’s Move

If you’re a sprinter, you may start working with a move manager closer to when you plan to list your house for sale or even after you’ve sold your house and you’re ready to move. You are ready to go and eager to get things done fast. We might work with you daily, or every other day right through the move and unpacking to help you hit all your goals.

Sprinters know there isn’t a lot of extra time to make changes. Logistics that count on outside organizations, like non-profits and movers, might take a little extra work to get in place so they are ready to take the baton from you in the moving relay race. Sometimes Plan A, getting donations picked up, for example, turns into Plan B, delivering donations, instead. But fixing challenges like that why you work with a move manager in the first place! If there’s one thing we move managers have, it’s a deep bag of tricks for getting things done.

When it comes to unpacking day, sprinters like to get it done fast. To get there, we bring a SWAT team of unpackers to get boxes emptied and out, to get as much as possible put away and to stow things that will be put away later where they won’t be in the way.

♦ ♦ ♦

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There’s no right or wrong pace for your move. It’s your move and you should do it at the pace that suits you best. As move managers, we use our skills to make sure you can work at your most comfortable speed and have a great transition. We’re your team, there to make sure that you cross that finish line when you expect to in a way that works for you. And we are definitely going to cheer you along every step of the way.

 

 

Rethinking room use in new spaces

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Over the past century plus, the traditional American home floor plan with its dedicated rooms for specific purposes has reigned supreme. But in the past decade or so, it’s faced stiff competition in the home design popularity contest from open concept floor plans. Both have their virtues.

Traditional layouts started with the classic foursquare floor plan, four rooms laid out in a square on one floor, possibly with another room or two on a second floor. In older homes, there were doors on some of the rooms, giving homeowners the opportunity to use heat more efficiently by not heating non-essential rooms. In time, the footprint for traditional homes expanded, but the concept remained the same. Separate rooms for separate functions.

A downside to traditional layouts is that some rooms wind up underutilized. The dining room in particular might not see much use (or it might be co-opted for another purpose like spare craft room or laundry folding room).

On the other side of the space delineation equation, open floor plans have wide open spaces usually called great rooms—part kitchen, part dining room, part family room. Great rooms are gathering spots. They’re rooms that are always in use; rooms that become the center of the home.

Moving to a more compact living space can be daunting if you’ve lived all your life with a traditional floor plan. You’re used to watching TV in the family room and eating in the kitchen or dining room and using your computer in the study. It might feel like you are losing a lot of space by giving up your individual rooms.

But stop for a minute think about it: how many of the rooms in your house do you actively live in and use?  Half the rooms? All of the rooms? The extra space is nice to have when you need it, but how often do you actually need it?

If the answer is you have a few rooms you use a lot and a lot of rooms you rarely use, it might not be as hard as you think to adapt to a smaller space in your new apartment. You might be able to reconfigure and do as much in a smaller footprint. Try rethinking your floor plan. Instead of thinking of your new space from the perspective of  your traditional home, try thinking of your new space as an open concept great room. You’ve always had a dedicated space for entertaining, TV watching and using your computer—but couldn’t all those things also happen in the main living area?

It might be that making that kind of shift also means thinking of your furniture differently as well. Many people feel the need to bring a large couch with them because they’ve always had one. But in a new great room space where the dining table and chairs are there to provide additional seating when needed, a love seat or a pair of nice comfortable armchairs are more functional and versatile choices.

Sometimes it takes new furniture to make the new space work. You may not need end tables if you can find decorative two drawer file cabinets to store all your documents (if you have that many documents!). A big TV stand might be replaced by something with more function if you mount your TV on the wall. A little creative thinking can go a long way towards making your smaller new nest even more functional than your current space.

It’s easy to expand into larger spaces, but challenging to shift into smaller spaces. Rethinking your rooms might make you realize that you don’t actually need as much space as you imagine you do. You may realize that for your new apartment, less really can be more.

For more open floor plan inspiration, check out these floor plan ideas for smaller spaces from MyDomaine and this Design*Sponge article,

 

 

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.

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

23 ways going to college and moving to a community are alike

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On the surface, going away to college and making a move to an independent or assisted living community appear to be polar opposites. You go to college late in your teens. You move to a community as an older adult. What could they possibly have in common?

More than you would imagine. Right from the start, there are a lot of commonalities. We made a list of 23 things you might think about and/or do that are the same for both big life transitions. Our list starts right at the beginning of the journey…

1 You spend a lot of time making the the decision to leave the place you have been living for a long time to go somewhere different. And while you feel positive about moving ahead, you are probably also apprehensive.

2 You sift through a lot of options and make a list of places you actually want to look at.

3 You think about where you want to be geographically. Do you want to stay close to where you are or go somewhere two hours away or a plane flight away?

4 You think about whether you want a campus that’s large or one that’s smaller.

5 You schedule many appointments for campus tours.

6 You bring along someone whose opinion you respect to help you notice things beyond what you will see on the tour because…

7 The campus rep will show you all the best things about their institution.

8 After you’ve visited a number of campuses, you evaluate offerings and options to see which ones might meet your needs. This is like comparing apples and oranges and tomatoes and pickles.

9 You take a careful look at your finances.

10 You take a careful look at the institution’s finances.

11 You fill out lots of forms and put together an application packet.

12 You take a test to see if you a candidate for admission. Different kinds of tests, but tests nonetheless.

13 You are accepted and you greet that news with both excitement and trepidation.

14 You tell your friends about your plan; some are excited for you, some will say things that make you doubt your decision.

15 You worry about moving to a living space smaller than where you live now, but you probably aren’t thinking about all the common areas you will gain.

16 You begin thinking about what to bring with you, and you realize you have a lot of stuff you don’t need anymore.

17 You visit the community again. Campus residents will all reassure you that joining their team is great decision.

18 You spend some nights awake staring at the ceiling. You worry that everyone there knows each other and you don’t know them. What if you can’t find a group of people you like? What if the food is horrible? What if you get there and you don’t like it? What if you have chosen badly and the whole thing is going to go off the rails?

19 You prepare for move day. (If you are moving to a community and are working with a move manager, you will be very well prepared. If you are moving to college, oh heck, roll with it.)

20 You meet lots of new people; you remember some of their names but they all remember yours. Once the newness wears off, you will filter through the many people you’ve met to find the few that will become true friends.

21 You start to find new routines. You build new habits.

22 You figure out if this campus is truly the right fit for you. If it’s not, you make a change. If it is, you settle in, stop worrying and enjoy being where you are.

And this last one, which is perhaps the most important:

23 No one tells you this, but in making this transition, you did a brave thing. Anytime you take a leap from what you know to what you don’t, you are showing a quiet kind of courage. This is true even if you were worried or afraid at times (and everyone is). Mark Twain said this: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”

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Are you surprised how much going to college and moving to a community overlap emotionally, intellectually and practically? Although it might feel overwhelming, once you start moving forward, the pieces fall into place. Look for someone who has already made the leap. They were once standing where you are now, and they can tell you for sure– “Don’t worry, you’re going to be just fine.”