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Outsource the Clearance of Your Parents' Stuff

Bereavement cleanout services and specialty movers can do the heavy lifting — removing, recycling or reselling possessions — when parents downsize or die

By Rosie Wolf Williams

M. J. Rankin and her husband planned to downsize from their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but they knew they needed some help with the project. A friend of Rankin's referred them to Karen Hyatt of Estate Pros, LLC, in Santa Fe. The company offers services that involve property distribution, organization and administration.

A person organizing dishes when downsizing. Next Avenue, bereavement cleanout service
Sarah Lueders of Smart Moves in Greenfield, Wisconsin, resettles the kitchen of a downsizing client. Senior Move Managers like Lueders pay special attention to what a client uses daily and place items in convenient places in the kitchen.  |  Credit: Leigh Anne Spears

The company's mission, according to the website, is to offer "exquisite service rooted in the values of respect, kindness, and transparency, to people in transition due to a move, illness or death."

"When Karen and I met, I was so impressed with her, and the breadth of services [the company] provides," Rankin says. "She and her team quickly got to the job of identifying the best way to approach our project, get things organized, sorted and distributed to the appropriate places — consignment stores, donations, recycling, etc."

The Difficulty of Letting Go

Rankin's needs became more complex a few years later, after her husband passed away. "I was devastated losing my life partner after 38 years," she says. "Not only was I dealing with the reality that I would have to start my life over in my 70s, but I was faced with the daunting task of sorting through his things and disposing of them in the appropriate manner. What made things worse was that he was a collector and never threw things away."

"They guided me through the process and made things disappear."

Estate Pros LLC stepped in. "With love and compassion, they guided me through the process and made things disappear," Rankin recalls. "They also helped me to hold on to some items that were important for me to keep."

Being sensitive is as much a part of the job for these specialty movers as efficiently clearing out a house. "I refer to my employees as 'estate pros' and remind them that we are operating in an atmosphere of grief," says Hyatt. "That calls on each estate pro to be as present as possible, and to be 'other focused' in the process."

"At any given moment, a client may tear up," she adds. "They may sob. They may get angry and bitter, but not necessarily at us. The brain is in a wash of chemicals which impair brain function. When we turn to a widow or widower who has lost his mate of 65 years and he can't answer a question immediately, it is just because it is impossible for him to do that."

You Are Not Alone

Estate Pros, LLC is a member of the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers, a trade association that supports the senior move management profession by providing training, certification and continuing education.

"We are proud of our certification because we really put them through the paces," says Mary Kay Buysse, Co-Executive Director of NASMM. "There is a lot of potential for exploitation in aging services, so we did just the opposite."

Association members must complete 13 courses to be certified, and document they have performed at least 40 senior moves. "They have to show us the invoices and communication with the client," Buysse says. "With the average senior move job averaging 20 to 25 hours, that is a lot of experience (under) their belt."

Multiple people packing up a kitchen. Next Avenue, bereavement cleanout service
Home Again Transitions employees sort and declutter at a home in Irvington, New York.  |  Credit: Joy Snyder

Processing and Pricing

NASMM requires its members to have insurance, and the association hosts a move manager map where potential clients can find NASMM members in their area.

Hyatt's company worked with Rankin to sort through and organize items so she was better positioned to move out when she decided to do so. Every client's needs and timeline will vary, and some clients are not able to make quick decisions on the process. The estate pros simply table that topic, and offer to move to another choice or task.

"At any given moment, a client may tear up. They may sob. They may get angry and bitter but not necessarily at us."

"I remind my estate pros that if the client is flooded with emotions, just stop the task. Turn to them and just hold the space until that emotion flows through them," Hyatt says. "Then you can gently pick up the task again. Let the person be who they are in that moment."

Costs for the service varies depending on the needs of the client, and hourly rates average from $50 to $200 per employee across the country. The company first visits the client to assess the contents of the home or properties involved. "There is no fee for that [visit] nor is there any obligation to use our services," says Hyatt. "I promise a written proposal within two days."

In the proposal, she outlines what she perceives as the client's needs, and includes estimated expenses. "I might suggest a way to orchestrate the process," she adds, "but we have learned in this business that surprises always happen."

In fact, Hyatt says her company has found firearms behind trap doors, secret rooms hidden behind bookcases, and other caches of valuable or sentimental items.


Hyatt includes ethical statements in her proposal to clients. "We want to respect the decision makers who may be awash in grief, so we try to make it clear and concise," says Hyatt. "Usually the proposals are one page, single-spaced, or a page and a half."

Estimates and Ethics

"If the estate has multiple properties, each property gets its own set segment of estimated costs and how to handle it. After the written proposal, usually there are questions," she explains. "We're very fair in our pricing, but it can be an expensive service because it is so detailed."

Two women boxing up supplies. Next Avenue, bereavement cleanout service
Tammy Key and Libby Wood of Senior Settlers in San Rafael, California, packing boxes while clearing out a house.  |  Credit: Todd Annell

For Rankin, choosing to work with Hyatt's company helped her to make important decisions while working through her grief. "For those that have lost a loved one and experienced the emotional paralysis of going through the bereavement process, finding resources like Estate Pros is invaluable," she says.

"They don't just take on the project as a task to get done as quickly as possible. They engage in a more strategic process, working with you to ensure that all aspects of your needs are considered as you make some difficult decisions."

Tips from the Experts

When considering whether to hire a senior move manager to help with an estate or a downsize:

Don't rush the process. Take time to process your grief before you start going through, sorting and organizing. Hyatt suggests that if a client can safely stay in the home for one year, they would be better qualified to make good decisions about an estate. "Having said that, not everyone should stay in their home if it is a two story, has a basement, or they can't safely live there by themselves anymore," says Hyatt. "Sometimes, financially, people can no longer afford to stay there."

Do not tackle the process alone. Hyatt says to consider asking an adult child to spend a week or so to help with decision-making. "If they hire a company like ours, we can work alongside those children and the surviving spouse," she says. "Choose the family member or dear friend that you communicate best with and trust the most to come in and help you."

"It is best to do this in a pair, or a group of three or more," says Buysse. "You are making significant judgements on what to keep, what to toss, and what to donate. You want to engage as much of the family as early in the process as possible."

Invite a neutral party to help with consignments or sales. "Companies such as ours can help facilitate that decision making and just become your arms and legs. We can carry the donated materials and recyclables out of the house at the end of every workday or have one of our movers come in and take away all the trash or deliver all the donations," says Hyatt. "People don't realize until they are in that situation how much physical labor is involved in handling a full home during a time of grief."

Rosie Wolf Williams
Rosie Wolf Williams is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in USA Weekend, Woman's Day, AARP the Magazine and elsewhere. Read More
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