Senior Lifestyles

Downsizing to the next phase

Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier
Carol Wahl, project manager at Managing Moves & More in Mountain View, helps client Pearl Ward sort her belongings in preparation for a move. The company encourages seniors like Ward to tackle the easy stuff first and learn to let things go.

Young or old, no one relishes the daunting task of sorting and purging to prepare for a move. Well, unless she owns a company that specializes in the process.

Cindy Hofen founded the Mountain View-based Managing Moves & More in 2009, after helping her mother-in-law downsize and move. A few years after that experience, Hofen discovered a course on the subject and went for training.

Now a certified relocation and transition specialist, Hofen not only runs her own business and manages a staff of 20, she is a popular speaker on the topic of downsizing. She has given talks at a variety of retirement homes and community groups around the Bay Area.

Business began with a referral from realtor friend Sheri Hughes of Alain Pinel, and word about Hofen’s skills spread.

At least 80 percent of Hofen’s clients are seniors, but the company’s services are now appealing to a younger crowd as well.

“We’re starting to see a younger set of people coming to us,” she said. “We’ve moved several young families. We go in and pack, move and set up in one day.”

Memories and change

With seniors, much of the work involves sorting through decades’ worth of accumulation, and the associated memories.

Hofen has worked with more than 1,000 clients over the past eight years and knows what to expect.

“I say, ‘I’ve never been to your home, but I know what it looks like – nothing shocks me,’” said Hofen, who assures them that no one is judging them.

Many of her senior clients feel overwhelmed by the task before them and may experience a loss of control.

“My advice to seniors is start sooner than later,” Hofen said. “Because what happens is they feel overwhelmed (by the downsizing process) and don’t like change.”

Hofen recommends that they “do it now while they have the time and energy, and for many, while they have a spouse.” She explained that people can feel resentful at having to do everything alone.

“You need to have a vision for what you want your life to look like,” she noted. “You wouldn’t jump in your car and start driving to Des Moines without a map. Neither should you when you’re downsizing. Have a plan for what you want in the next phase of your life.”

Hofen stresses that “it’s not over – it’s the next phase.” She encourages seniors to prepare for that next phase, and envision what they want from it.

“I say, ‘Close your eyes and imagine,’” she said. “When you go home, does your home feel peaceful or chaotic? Have you stopped entertaining because you have too much stuff?’”

The process

The sorting part of the downsizing process varies greatly from person to person, Hofen observed.

“Some folks have not too much stuff. Some people have a lot of stuff,” she said. “Some people are very decisive and can sort quickly, and with some people – probably truer of our older adults – it’s a matter of processing all the memories around the items. That probably takes the most time.”

Once the sorting is completed, the actual execution of packing and unpacking goes pretty quickly.

As Hofen once did for her mother-in-law, she now does for many clients.

“We set up her new home, set up her pictures in the same spots,” Hofen said of helping her mother-in-law. “We re-created her home in about a quarter of the space – she came in and started crying because it felt like home. She knew where everything was.”

Managing Moves & More’s fees vary greatly and require a visit to the home for a complimentary estimate. Fees are based on four parameters: size of the house, how much stuff is involved, how quickly it can be sorted and the number of services involved.

“(In my talks) I say, ‘You’ve lived here for a while. I’m sure some of you have made a little money on your home. You can hire an expert to do this,’” Hofen said. “When you sell your house, the cost of help is probably going to be 0.00025 percent of the selling price.”

One service offered is what Managing Moves & More calls “home staging lite.”

“Stagers like to empty the house and put their own furniture in,” Hofen said. “We sometimes have people who still live in the house while it’s being sold. We keep their bed, their sofa … but then bring in beautiful accoutrements to jazz it up. They can stay in place, and it’s cheaper for them.”

Remember, it’s just stuff

When sorting through their belongings, Hofen said, “people get caught up with, ‘I want this to go to a certain person or certain place or organization.’ They start making piles of things to go different places … because they have memories around certain things. When you separate the memory from the object, it’s just stuff. Let go of trying to control where everything goes. … At the end of the day, you don’t need to worry about it.”

Take the things you love

In the case of an immediate move, Hofen suggests that people first focus on what they want to take.

“Take the things you love best and that will fit in your new home,” she advised. “Then you can go back and decide what to do with everything else. Go through your house, take the things you love with a cautionary note. If everything is special, then nothing is special.”

The bottom line

Hofen recommends that people set realistic expectations about what their things are worth. She tells her clients that “things are worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.”

“When you bought all your stuff – your dining room table, the living room sofa that no one ever sat in – did you buy it as an investment or for enjoyment?” she asks her clients.

Paraphrasing author Marie Kondo in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Hofen suggests thanking your things for serving you well, and then giving them up.

“Say, ‘You have been a great part of my life, you’ve brought joy to me, and now I hope you can bring joy to another family,’” Hofen said. “Be thankful and don’t worry about the money aspect of things.”

For more information on Managing Moves & More, call 450-0928 or visit Steps toward downsizing

• Stop buying things.

• Know that it’s OK to let things go.

• Give yourself time – start early.

• Set up a schedule.

“It doesn’t need to be any more than 10 to 15 minutes a day,” Hofen said. “Do one drawer at a time.”

Hofen uses the example of a junk drawer – take everything out, wipe it out and put back in the things you’ve used recently.

“I tell them they can’t put any more than 20 rubber bands back in,” she said, adding that everything else should go in the trash or recycling.

When they look in the drawer next, Hofen said, they’ll be motivated to keep going.

“If you do a little at a time, you’ll be shocked at how much you can get done,” she said.

• Do the easy stuff first. Don’t start with photographs or filing cabinets – save those for the end. Stick to the plan.

“Put it on your calendar. It’s like exercising – it will make the rest of the day go well,” Hofen said.

What to do with what you can’t take

• Identify what you want friends and family to have. But keep in mind that “kids don’t want anything,” Hofen observed.

“When I say that in my presentations, every senior in the room shakes their head,” she said. “Kids have their own style. Again, memories are associated with things and they want their kids to have that. But those are the parents’ memories. The kids make their own memories with their (own) families.”

• Auctions.

“We talk to an auction house, send pictures, ask if they’re interested,” Hofen said, adding that, contrary to what most people think, in terms of resale, “most people don’t have a lot of valuable items in their home. If it came off the Nina, the Pinta or the Santa Maria, it may have value.”

• Consignment.

“Is there anything of value we might be able to sell or consign? The breadth of that is staggering – from Monet paintings to broken patio furniture in the back,” Hofen said. “What do you know and what does your family know about that painting, etc.?”

Hofen noted that the consignment market is “really tightening up,” with many seniors currently downsizing.

“Consigners are very selective,” she added.

• Donations.

“Anything big and brown, you’ll have to donate,” Hofen said, but even that is getting tougher. “You can call the Salvation Army to come out and do a pickup – if you have a $10,000 table and it has a scratch in it, the driver may decide not to take it.”

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