How to pay for help downsizing and cleaning out stuff?
February 26, 2021 7:07 PM   Subscribe

My mom is ready to retire and wants to rent out part of her house or maybe move somewhere smaller entirely. But that requires downsizing and a bit of deep cleaning, and she has a health condition that limits her energy. What is the job title I should be searching for, and how do I find a good person with that skillset?

She wants to rent out the second bedroom. I believe it has been sort of a home office for her. She wants to move things from there into the basement, move things from the basement into the garage, and make room for that by taking boxes in the garage to e-waste or Goodwill. If I've got this right.

She thinks that what she needs is someone along the lines of a laborer. She sees the job as a mix of moving boxes, taking things to Goodwill or the recycling center, decluttering and deciding what to keep vs. toss, packing some things away, etc. I also wonder if it wouldn't help to have someone who can help design a plan and be a little bit take-charge about getting it done.

For example, I can't even figure out which e-waste centers are open and take walk-in customers. So rather than us having to find laborers and call eight possible e-waste centers, maybe there is someone who knows the best e-waste center's hours and has a hauler on speed dial. That said, we're not trying to spend thousands here and expect that a professional house-cleaner-outter might be more expensive. But I've also found that sometimes it's best to just pay the professionals from the get go.

I think that my ideal would be something like: a professional comes in and spends half an hour talking through a plan with my mom and then puts it into motion, bringing in (as needed) someone who helps organize, sort, and pack; someone who moves boxes and does the heavier stuff; and at the end, a hauling truck that takes everything away (to Goodwill, the dump, and the e-recycling center) and someone who deep cleans the rooms that were just worked in. In my dreams, this takes about 6 hours start to finish and costs like $600-750.

But maybe we ought to just find a laborer or hauling company and spend less?

Anyway, what's your experience helping parents clean out to downsize, or getting help yourself with preparing for a move?

This is in Loudon County, VA.

My mom is fully immunized so COVID exposure is only an issue as far as protecting whoever comes to help her.
posted by Spokane to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have never used one, but I would think an organizer could take charge. She could help your mom with the overall plan, then she'd either do the subtasks herself or probably have ideas and maybe contacts on who to hire.
posted by NotLost at 7:16 PM on February 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd try a professional organizer as a start for this. I think often they work with housekeepers and junk haulers and can make those tasks happen too.
posted by shadygrove at 7:16 PM on February 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

A college friend is a professional organizer (nowhere near VA) and everything you listed is something she could handle (she does it herself or outsources as needed). Clearly organizers' interests vary so you should be able to find someone but it might not be the first one you ask. She's a member of National Association of Professional Organizers which seems to have a directory of nationwide members.
posted by holyrood at 7:19 PM on February 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! How do you find a good professional organizer?

I'm also seeing that there's a thing called a "senior move manager." Anyone worked with this kind of team? Is that what I'm talking about? How were the prices?
posted by Spokane at 7:29 PM on February 26, 2021

Down in Florida they have downsize experts, one brand is “home angels”
posted by tilde at 7:41 PM on February 26, 2021

Some places have Senior Network Services .. they're good referrers for those kinds of jobs, using people who've been screened, and they'll have recommendations
posted by anadem at 8:29 PM on February 26, 2021

When we had to move my mom (on fairly short notice) to assisted living, then memory care, we engaged a senior move manager. She helped us find a place, but what's relevant here is that she knew lots of people who help move and downsize for a living...and they are good at disposing of the stuff that needs disposing.

The move manager was actually paid by the facility my mom moved into. We paid the mover/downsizer teams separately. It was a team of three packers/unpackers over two days, costing about $1850, and two movers for a day, $875 (this was in the Seattle/Tacoma area). They were fun to work with, very professional and worth every penny.
posted by lhauser at 9:22 PM on February 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Jessamyn gave me a heads-up on this post, as she often does when organizing topics come up. This is my bread and butter.

First, I'm a Certified Professional Organizer and have written a ridiculous number of words on this topic in past AskMe items, so I'd like to point out a couple of my past posts to give you a real sense of working with a professional organizer. The situations aren't exactly yours, but there's a depth and breadth of info there:

Second, a professional organizer is exactly the profession that can help your mom accomplish much of what you're describing. I understand that she wants a "laborer" for doing the physical part:

move things from there into the basement
move things from the basement into the garage
make room for that by taking boxes in the garage to e-waste or Goodwill

However, that's the "easy part." (Though my occasionally sore muscles rebuke me for calling any of it "easy.") The part that marks the professional in "professional organizer" is the next part you wrote, decluttering and deciding what to keep vs. toss...have someone who can help design a plan and be a little bit take-charge about getting it done.

If your mom knew exactly what she wanted to keep, exactly what she wanted to donate, and exactly the right resources, then a laborer would be in the cards. But gently guiding someone so they can confidently make decisions, and possessing the expertise and professional knowledge of, and relationships with, purveyors of the right resources (like e-waste centers and haulers) is the province of professional organizers. We know who is affordable, who is trustworthy, and generally who the boss is (and the workers know their bosses know us).

Third, when you say, a professional comes in and spends half an hour talking through a plan with my mom and then puts it into motion,, I'd say you're underestimating the amount of time it would take to evaluate the situation and spell out a plan (unless there's not very much clutter and it's all in that one room). But professional organizers will be able to combine their expertise in the field with their skill at evaluating a situation to accomplish things as swiftly as possible.

A professional organizer who takes on this job will be like a project manager, identifying what needs to be done, in what order, and then will do the organizing/sorting/packing in concert with your mom. She won't have to do any labor, but will help your mom make the decisions about downsizing so she won't have any regrets. A professional organizer should be able to help you identify who should come and cart it all to the appropriate places. Most of us are in NAPO chapters where we have relationships with associate member partners who specialize in the carting away. In my chapter, we have a few, but one favorite who will ensure that the donations get taken to the preferred non-profit, the e-waste sent to where it can be handled/recycled, and so on.

The professional organizer doesn't usually do the heavy lifting and carting away, but possesses the expertise and contacts to find you the right options who will.

In my dreams, this takes about 6 hours start to finish and costs like $600-750. Without seeing the space, knowing how much is in it, or knowing your mother's ease and comfort level with making decisions and letting things go, this could be appropriate or low. This is why a professional organizer will do a consultation with your mom (or with you and your mom), either by phone/Zoom or in person, depending on the situation, to help you determine the right choice (or balance of options) for her needs.

Fourth, you referenced Senior Move Managers, and we NAPO peeps not only like our NASMM colleagues, but there are many residential organizers in NAPO who are also Certified Senior Move Managers in NASMM.

I Googled the zip codes of Loudon County, picked one, and did a NAPO search and was delighted that one of my veteran colleagues who is also a close friend, Maria White, is in that service area. I can wholeheartedly recommend her as someone with expertise and the right connections. I know a number of the others on the list, but not as well.

Beyond that, I'd encourage you to visit and use the zip code/search radius search. The default search radius is 25 miles, but you can reduce it to about 10. Beyond that, you can select a specialty from the residential panel, and you'd want to pick "downsizing."

When you click on a professional's name, you'll get to see a short list of information, including years in the profession. I'd encourage you, for what your mom needs, to pick someone in the 6-10 year category or higher. (For comparison, I'm in my 20th year. Certainly, professionals in their first five years can be excellent, but the more experience, the better the professional resource contacts you desire.) From that page, you can also click over to each one's website, to get a sense of their approach and style.

Pick up to three you think your mom might like, or who seem like a good fit. (You can get a good sense of most professionals from how they/we talk about our services and our clients on our sites.) Email or use the contact page of their web sites to present a summary of your mom's needs and arrange to set up a phone consultation, and talk to them. They'll ask questions about her situation, explain how they work, their rates, etc., and you can make a decision from there.

I also did a zip code search (again, taking a random zip code from Loudon County) at the NASMM site, and half of the names that came up as senior move managers are not only also NAPO members, but I know them all! (Note that the "date joined" in their profiles is not an indication of how long they've been in the field, as NASMM hasn't existed nearly as long as NAPO.)

Finally, I've helped a lot of MeFites in this regard, so if you come up against something in your search that puzzles you, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:12 PM on February 26, 2021 [58 favorites]

About five years ago, we used a Senior Move Manager to assist in moving from a stand-alone home we had lived in for over 40 years to a condominium. (The house had a half basement for laundry and utilities and over the years we of course said, when we thought we should dispose of something, "Oh well, put it in the basement.") We were old but healthy and did a lot of stuff ourselves but there was more we could not do. The SMM we hired was great, listened, knew resources to add to do some tasks. But she coordinated with us. For example, we had a good deal of framed art, some with some resale value. The SMM offered to have it professionally boxed so it could be safely moved. But the condo was only three miles from our home, we had ownership for about two months before we had sold and had to vacate the house, so we declined and each time we visited the condo, took a picture or two with us. Less cost! Professional art boxing is expensive.

Our SMM had training, was part of a regional partnership. She mentioned she'd specifically had training in communicating with Alzheimer/dementia clients. We were of sound minds but I thought, How useful!

I couldn't recommend this kind of expert consulting more.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:43 AM on February 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

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