Moving a Lifetime

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Sigmond sits while Moving Solutionsí Novack, far left, and Valencia Peterson unpack. Snapshots like the ones below helped Novack re-create a familiar setting in Sigmondís new digs

Bob Sigmond couldn't bear to pack his belongings and trade in his Philadelphia high-rise, even for a plush retirement community a mere three blocks away. "Just the idea of moving was stopping me from moving," says Sigmond, 83, whose children urged him to relocate three years ago after his wife of 61 years died suddenly of a heart attack. "I was grieving anyway, then to walk away from the apartment we'd shared since 1968 — it was like saying goodbye all over again," he says.

Beyond the emotional turmoil, there was a physical burden. Sigmond, a former director of the Albert Einstein Medical Center, owned a three-bedroom apartment that housed more than 80 cartons of books and stacks of professional papers. Downsizing to a smaller place meant days of sifting, sorting and lugging — more than he was willing to handle. So he didn't. Instead he called on Moving Solutions in Wynnewood, Pa., a senior-move management company, one of the latest specialty support services for older adults.

The company's president, Margit Novack, spent several days with Sigmond assiduously placing green and red stickers on items indicating what would go and what would stay. Senior-move managers sort, pack and unpack, and dispose of unwanted items, though they let the movers do the heavy lifting. Think of them as moving angels. When it was finally time for Sigmond to pack up, his son and Novack took control while he jetted off to the west coast to visit friends. "By the time I got back, the new apartment was all set up, so I could walk in the door and start living," he says. "There Was even food in the refrigerator."

Scores of older Americans like Sigmond are finding that there's help for the downsizing headache. Moving consultants (or relocation specialists) focusing on the elderly have been sprouting up around the country and can be a godsend to those who don't want to wade through a move alone. Often they are summoned by adult children too busy or too distant to help parents uproot from a family home or from one level of care to another in a retirement community.

For older Americans, moving can be even more arduous than for others. "Preparing for a senior move is a major organizational challenge," says Novack. "There may be 40 years of belongings to sort through. It's not uncommon to have items going to your parents' new home, to an adult son in Maine, a daughter in Illinois, a niece in Texas, the church bazaar, the Salvation Army and the town dump."

Novack's field of expertise is burgeoning as the population ages. She reckons that there are an estimated 150 senior-move managers around the country, up from a handful just a few years ago. Many are former social workers, nurses, gerontologists or other second-careerists who charge $30 to $60 an hour for their services. Depending on the size of the house and number of items to be packed, shipped and unpacked, the total cost generally ranges from $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment to $5,000 for a large, well-stocked house. Many move managers who cater to this group help choose a moving company and coordinate the move, scheduling dates and nailing down details. (The moving costs are extra.)

The key to their success lies in re-creating a familiar environment in the new locale. To do that, some consultants take photos of bureau tops or draw diagrams of knickknacks in a curio cabinet. Every detail is considered crucial. "Even the magnets were in the same place on the fridge. We couldn't believe it," says Robin Rose, 45, of Chicago, who helped her in-laws, Don and Edith Rose of Clearwater, Fla., relocate last March. In the midst of the move, her mother-in-law was hospitalized for a stroke. "Mom was so worried she wouldn't be able to find anything," says Robin. "But when she walked in the door, she said, 'This looks just like our old home.' All the china and glassware were in the right spot in the hutch."

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