- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 27, 2005

When Carolyn Onufrak decided to move from her split-level home in Annandale to a retirement community in Springfield, it was not a solo effort.

Mrs. Onufrak, 84, had the help of her daughter, Helen, as well as well as a team of professionals. Among them: senior move managers, an interior designer and movers.

“We realized we could not do this alone,” says Helen Onufrak, 47, who lives in Arlington. “Who wants to have an almost-85-year-old woman doing heavy lifting? We had so much stuff to go through. There were boxes in the old house from when we moved in in 1972 that were under the stairs and never unpacked.”

Moving from a longtime home to a usually smaller condo or retirement facility can be an emotional as well as organizational challenge, says Joy Loverde, author of “The Complete Eldercare Planner.”

It often has been years — even decades — since some seniors have moved, says Ms. Loverde. It can be an emotional process if this is the home where they spent most of their marriage and raised a family. Even grown children who have long since moved out sometimes have a hard time saying goodbye, she says.

“I tell families not to rush the process,” she says. “If you begin early, then you can look at the items with your parents. Under calm conditions, you will have time to reminisce. If you make the time, it can even be an emotionally rewarding experience. You can look at this ending as a new beginning.”

Even with lots of time, however, there will be lists to make, closets to clean out, boxes to pack and lots of wondering whether an 8-foot sofa will fit into a 10-foot living room.

Enter the growing field of senior move management. Senior move managers walk families through the process. They help families decide what to keep and what to give away, which movers to call, and which charities to contact to take furniture. On moving day, they’ll unpack the kitchen, hang shower curtains and instantly make the new place feel like home.

Mary Ann Brewer and Nancy Loyd are co-owners of Busy Buddies Inc., a Northern Virginia-based senior move management company. They also are the founders of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a professional group whose membership has quadrupled since its founding in 2001.

“It might be your first time moving in a long time,” Ms. Brewer says. “But it is not our first time. You don’t know where to begin. We do. We have the resources. We know estate sale people, cleaners, haulers, packers.”

Getting organized

The biggest hurdle was making the decision to move, Carolyn Onufrak says. After her husband, Frank, died in 1988, it was up to her to maintain the four-bedroom, three-bath Annandale house.

A few years ago, Mrs. Onufrak and her daughter began discussing downsizing. They asked around and read up on local senior communities. They toured several and got on the waiting lists at two. Administrators told them it might be a year before a unit became available.

“That gave us a year to start going through things,” says Helen Onufrak. “I think, mentally, Mom hadn’t really made the decision to move.”

One of the first things Helen Onufrak did was rent an 8-by-10-foot storage unit to start clearing out clutter. She also arranged for a home inspection so they would know if the house had any major problems that needed fixing before putting it on the market.

In May, seven months after getting on the waiting list, the Onufraks got the call that a two-bedroom unit was available at Greenspring Village in Springfield. Carolyn Onufrak had 90 days to sell her house, pay the buy-in fees for the new place, sort through a lifetime and move.

“Mom wanted to go through everything,” Helen Onufrak says. “We were pulling out Pepco bills from 1976 and saying, ‘Oh look, our bill was only $3.46.’ I said, ‘We have 90 days. We can’t do this.’”

Into the storage unit went boxes organized under Helen Onufrak’s system: “A” boxes are the ones that should be sorted through soon after the move. They contain everything from financial records to sentimental items such as Helen’s childhood books and Brownie uniform. “B” boxes are ones that should be sorted within a year. “C” boxes are full of items the Onufraks know they might never sort.

Mother and daughter, armed with a floor plan of the new home, then decided what would stay and what would be given away. Admittedly, it was hard to give up some things.

Mr. Onufrak had an extensive collection of big-band and Frank Sinatra records. Helen Onufrak took 200 records to a used-record store, hoping a collector might want them. The piano went to a friend whose daughters were eager to take lessons. Helen took heirloom china and crystal to her home.

Knowing that cherished items will be enjoyed makes giving them away easier, says Audrey Rosselot. Mrs. Rosselot, 79, recently moved from a condo in Bethesda to Goodwin House, a retirement community in Alexandria.

Her late husband, Robert, was a foreign service officer, and the family lived in Austria, Trinidad, Germany, Jamaica, India and Pakistan during his career. They collected rugs, art, carvings and sculpture during their travels.

“I didn’t have to throw things out,” Mrs. Rosselot says. “I have a son and three daughters, so I had the pleasure of giving them things I could dispense with. One daughter wanted my husband’s woodworking tools. Another took a painted armoire we bought in Austria. My son took the piano.

“The hardest task was going through papers and letters,” says Mrs. Rosselot, who used the services of Busy Buddies during her move. “That was very emotional. You feel like you are throwing away part of your past. I took them with me.”

Carolyn Onufrak says that growing up in the Depression, she was left with the lifelong view that you just don’t throw things away. That’s where other opinions, whether from a family member or a senior move manager, can be helpful.

After Helen Onufrak and senior move manger Esther Berg helped Mrs. Onufrak go through what was staying and what was going, Helen Onufrak devised a “dot” system: Green meant it was going to Greenspring, red meant it was going to charity, friends or to the trash bin. Blue meant it was headed for the storage locker or Helen’s house.

Expert help

Many seniors start the moving process saying, “Oh, my children will help me,” says Ms. Brewer of Busy Buddies.

“Many children are in their 40s or 50s and have jobs and their own children and don’t have time for this big a task,” she says.

The price of move management varies. After a free initial consultation, most services charge about $75 an hour. This is in addition to the cost of movers. Some senior communities offer a few hours of a move manager’s service as part of the purchase price.

One of the toughest tasks is envisioning what there will be room for in the new place. Senior move managers often have experience moving into retirement communities. They know, for instance, whether that armoire will fit into a particular building’s elevator. Ms. Brewer and Ms. Loyd take digital pictures and work with a floor plan of the new place.

Genevieve Auguste, president of the Art of Moving, says a move manager should act as an advocate for the person who is moving. A good move manager should find out what items are most important.

“If someone plays the piano, then by all means draw it in the floor plan,” she says. “It might mean taking one or two fewer chairs. Nothing is impossible.”

When it becomes obvious some things must go to charity, Ms. Auguste says, she tries to find a charity the person who is moving will feel good about helping. Knowing their items will help a Jewish charity, a Catholic relief organization or a shelter for battered women, for instance, makes parting with them easier, she says.

Helen and Carolyn Onufrak say using the services of Busy Buddies, as well as Ms. Berg at All the Right Moves, added $1,200 to the move.

By the end of the late July day when Carolyn Onufrak moved, spoons were in the new kitchen’s drawer, beds were made, clocks were set and boxes and trash were gone. Mrs. Onufrak was organized and ready to start her new life.

“I couldn’t have done it without professional help,” she says.

More info:

Books —

• “Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home,” by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004. This book has practical suggestions for sorting through a lifetime of items when moving to a smaller home.

• “The Complete Eldercare Planner, Second Edition: Where to Start, Questions to Ask, and How to Find Help,” by Joy Loverde, Three Rivers Press, 2000. This book covers all sorts of issues for adult children with aging parents, including locating housing and assisted-living facilities.

• “Moving Mom and Dad: Why, Where, How and When to Help Your Parents Relocate,” by Sarah Morse and Donna Quinn Roberts, Celestial Arts, 1998. This book is a realistic tool for helping seniors make the decision to move and for putting a plan in action.

Association —

• National Association of Senior Move Managers is a nonprofit organization of people who help seniors make the moving transition. The organization’s Web site has tips for finding a senior move manager, as well as a local directory; www.nasmm.com.

Online —

Busy Buddies Inc., a local senior move management company, has tips and information on its Web site, www.busybuddiesinc.com.

• The Web site of Retirement Living, a consumer guide, has articles and information for seniors looking to downsize; www.retirement-living.com.

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