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Gracious Moves    LLC

Senior Transition Specialists

Brooke's Blog


Possession Paralysis - Do you feel trapped by stuff?

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 6:42 PM Comments comments (6)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 28 July 2012
Possession paralysis, surprisingly, is real.
David Ekerdt, a gerontologist with the University of Kansas, was in search of answers.  He and his team wanted to know whether the sheer volume of possessions that seniors acquire over decades become an obstacle to late-life downsizing.
Specializing in senior move management and real estate services, I know how physically and cognitively daunting the process can be for my clients.  Not only are they trying to assist with packing and sorting, but making the hundreds of small decisions required to sell their home and make a move just wears them out.  To better assist my clients, I was especially interested in the outcome of Dr. Ekerdt’s study.
Dr. Ekerdt acknowledged that real estate closings and apartment leases create added deadlines and greater pressure.  Coupled with the emotional element of moving, the need to unload possessions in the downsizing process can be particularly difficult for seniors.  Nobody had really documented that the need to unload possessions affected seniors’ decisions about moving to more manageable quarters – until now.
Dr. Ekerdt was able to insert several questions into the continuing national Health and Retirement Study in 2010 and gathered data from almost 1,100 community-dwelling adults over age 60.  “It confirms all the anecdotal things that lawyers, geriatricians and families tell us: Stuff can be a problem,” he said.
We’re not talking about hoarding, a disorder in which the inability to dispose of even useless objects becomes extreme. This is normal clutter: 60 percent of respondents said they had more possessions than they needed. The proportion didn’t vary by gender or bear much relationship to personality traits, but people who were married (more acquirers per household) and wealthier, with bigger homes, were more likely to feel “over-provisioned,” probably because they simply had more space into which to stuff more stuff.
Many of the folks I talk to claim their stuff has sentimental value and the associated memories make it difficult to part with it.  But Dr. Ekerdt and his colleagues, who have conducted 100 interviews in movers’ households, learned that stuff may not even be particularly treasured.  “We hear somewhat about special, cherished things, but we hear more about just quantities of generic possessions,” he said. “It’s a problem of volume as much as sentiment.”
I’ve experienced this with seniors who buy in great quantities.  I might be packing their 30 rolls of paper towels, a case of liquid hand soap dispensers, loads of duplicate spices, pantry items, etc.  I attribute this phenomenon to Depression Era babies, who may have experienced rationing, and may still fear that supplies will run out!
It’s not so important when people can’t park in their garages or close their closet doors.  But when Dr. Ekerdt asked respondents how reluctant they felt about moving, considering the effort required to transfer or dispose of their belongings, he found that 48 percent felt “very reluctant” to move and another 30 percent were “somewhat reluctant.”  That adds up to more than three-quarters of people over 60 feeling trapped, to some degree, by stuff.
Are people so afraid to leave their stuff that they forgo simplifying their lives and moving to smaller abodes?  Do they choose to age in place because they feel trapped in a larger home?  In the study, more than a quarter of these older people said their families or friends had urged them to downsize, and of those, half said that family and friends had offered to help.
Almost always, I hear from my clients that their children will want their things - their china, crystal, antiques, photo albums, etc.  The truth is, in real life, their children are Baby Boomers who already have their own stuff and are beginning to shed what they have.  Unless they are extremely sentimental (which is rare), I do not see Boomers loading up their cars and hauling Mom and Dad’s beloved treasures away.  A few boxes of photos, maybe, but not much else.
Disposing of stuff is the hardest part of my job.  Dr. Ekerdt found that the proportion of seniors who had methodically disposed of possessions was not high. Only 3 percent said they had sold “many things” in the past year. “People have these ‘Antique Road Show’ dreams, but many of our possessions are not very salable,” Dr. Ekerdt said.  Only 14 percent had given many things away to family and friends, and 23 percent had donated to a charity or community groups, probably the simplest way (though still not simple) to get rid of stuff.
In fact, the study showed that lots of people hadn’t gotten rid of anything! Possession Paralysis was alive and well, and very, very real.  Their families will not be grateful when a safer or simpler home is needed, especially in response to a health crisis, and the whole job of downsizing and disposal falls to them.  Do you really want to leave this burden to your family?  REALLY?
Next week in Moving Mom…Are you sure that’s a bedroom? The truth about Gross Living Area. Stay tuned!

Working with Hoarders - Oh My! Part III

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (114)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 14 July 2013

Working with hoarders – oh my! Part III  

For the last two weeks, we have looked at various hoarding characteristics, levels of hoarding, and discussed the dilemma we find ourselves in when a hoarder must be moved to a downsized home or to assisted living. 

Most often, family members, estate attorneys or financial planners contact me to help them with cleaning out a home, moving the occupant and ultimately selling it.  Sometimes the elderly parent or occupant is still living there, but in dangerous and unsanitary surroundings.

I have seen every kind of hoarding situation:
  • too many papers/newpapers
  • vast “collections” of treasures
  • trash piled everywhere
  • water issues
  • broken pipes, roof leaks and toxic mold
  • flea, bug and rodent infestations
  • multiple animals left behind to fend for themselves
  • furniture stacked everywhere

My experience is that even if the hoarder is unsafe in their home and their health has deteriorated, their fear of losing their stuff overrides what is ultimately in their best interest:  moving.  It seems no amount of coaxing on the part of the family makes a difference, and although we can discuss the need to make it happen, the parent refuses to move.  It is often a catastrophic event that forces the move, such as an accident, a life threatening illness or death of the occupant.

There is no easy way to force a move, but when trying to help a hoarder agree to move to a safer environment, here are some ideas that have worked for me and other move managers:

Paper hoarders:  we move the person and the piles to the new residence and put it reasonably back the way we found it.  Piles can be labeled, photographed and organized so that the hoarder is again surrounded by the same piles that were moved.  If space in the new place is an issue and this is not possible, renting storage to hold the boxes is an alternative solution.  The occupant can be moved to assisted living and the parent has the peace of mind that their treasures are still there.  For reassurance, they can even visit the storage facility from time to time.  Seem drastic?  Maybe, but the psychological state of the parent must be considered when dealing with this disorder.

Collections of treasures:  I met with a woman who had dishes piled in every room.  It was not an unsafe situation, but there were hundreds of stacks of dishes, all in hues of blue, and very important to her.  Her daughter was desperate to move her to an assisted living community, and the new place would not fit the dishes.  We decided to take a sample of each place setting and combine them, then sell the rest.  Her mom was satisfied that she could still have the dishes she had chosen, but not have to take the full sets.  We showed her pictures of mix-and-match table settings in some of the latest magazines and that did the trick.  This can apply to other collections as well – keep a sampling and sell the rest.

Also, for legitimate collections, there are professionals who can assess their value, and sometimes selling the collections for a nice amount of money is attractive to a hoarder.

Furniture:  This depends on what we find.  If there are antiques, we call in antique specialists to determine the value and the best way to sell the pieces.  Consignment or auctions are usually the way to go, and again, the parent may agree to sell if the value is there.

Not antiques?  For high-end furniture, consignment or estate sales are an option.  If the furniture is not necessarily valuable, but usable, it may be consignable, or there are auction companies that will pick it up and sell it for you.  If selling it is possible, putting it in storage is an option.

Piles of trash:  Bag it up in black construction bags.  Simply put, if it is not toxic, move it to the next home.  If there is no room, consider storage.  I know this sounds crazy, but it can facilitate the move and keep the parent or client from having psychotic repercussions.   The goal is to make the move happen, right?

Animals:  This is where I draw the line.  Neglected animals are a serious situation.  The psychological well being of the occupant is secondary to an unsafe environment created by unsanitary conditions, affecting the health of the occupant and the animals.  The proper authorities should be contacted and the animals and occupant should be removed from the unhealthy house.  A Hazmat crew will need to clean out and treat/sterilize the home before it can be sold.   

In hoarding cases, project management is always involved, and once the occupant has moved out, preparing the house for sale is the next step.   The level of hoarding, and whether the property has been damaged in the process, will determine the amount of work to be done.  The process can be a daunting endeavor for the hoarder and the family, but it can be done.  Patience, compassion, and professional help will ensure a successful outcome, one step at a time.

Next week in Moving Mom…Ditch the lawn mower!  Is condo living for you?  Stay tuned!

Working with Hoarders - Oh my! Part II

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 6:08 PM Comments comments (3)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 7 July 2013

Working with hoarders – oh my! Part II  

Last week we cracked open a door on the subject of hoarding and I mentioned there are many types.  The toxic hoarders, requiring Hazmat suited professionals to do everything but tear the house down, are thankfully few and far between.  Today, we will explore problems associated with hoarding and the levels of hoarding that we face in the real estate and move management business.  

In the last 5 years, with foreclosures and short sales being a significant part of our real estate world, we Realtors® have experienced trashed or neglected homes, some with animals left behind, and many that require professional clean out.   These environments create dangerous issues, such as flea, bug and rodent infestations, unsanitary conditions, water leaks with the inevitable mold issues, coupled with lots of stuff left behind. 

When you combine all of the above, it’s a toxic home, and we have tackled this type of situation though managing roof /plumbing/water leak repairs, mold remediation, bug and flea treatments, rodent capture, all followed by the eventual clean out of the house when it is safe to do so.  

According to Randy Frost, PHD, with the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is a complex disorder that is made up of three connected problems: 1) collecting too many items, 2) difficulty getting rid of items, and 3) problems with organization. These problems can lead to significant amounts of clutter which can severely limit the use of living spaces, pose safety and/or health risks, and result in significant distress and/or impairment in day-to-day living.  

Collecting Too Many Items: 
  • Too much shopping is the most common way that people who hoard collect items—3 out of 4 shop too much.
  • Roughly 1 in 2 people who hoard report excessively collecting free things.
  • The collection can also occur without any effort—for instance, food wrappers or the packing material that comes with new purchases.

Difficulty Getting Rid of Items:
  • The hallmark of hoarding behavior is not being able to let go of things. Throwing away, selling, giving away, or even recycling are very difficult for people who hoard.
  • While, to most people, the objects saved may seem worthless or worn-out, in truth, people who hoard usually can’t let go of anything and often have homes filled with otherwise useful items that are buried under the piles.
  • The reasons for saving these things are largely the same as for the reasons people who don’t hoard things. The most frequent reason for saving things is to prevent waste, followed by informational content, emotional attachment, and finally, liking the way something looks or feels.
  • Some people who hoard believe they can get rid of items, but the process is so time-consuming they often give up, leaving the clutter to grow.
  • Clothes, newspapers and books are the most commonly hoarded items, but the list can include almost anything.

  • In addition to collecting too many items and the difficulty getting rid of items, most people with hoarding problems can't organize their possessions. These problems may be associated with information processing, problems with attention, categorization, and decision-making.
  • Attempts at organizing usually result in hours of moving possessions from one place to another without any effective result.
  • The disorganization results in piles of possessions throughout the home that consist of mixtures of worthless and valuable items, complicating attempts to de-clutter.

Recognition of the problem: ·        
  • Not realizing the seriousness of hoarding is common among people who hoard.

  • Five Levels of Hoarding:  According to the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), there are five levels of hoarding that are outlined by the NSGCD Clutter-Hoarding Scale. Each level is defined according to several parameters, including:
  • condition of the building
  • number of pets and how well they are being cared for
  • presence of pests such as rodents or insects
  • whether or not the rooms of the residence are usable
  • accessibility of doors, hallways and staircases
  • sanitation and cleanliness of the residence

Level I- A normal or standard house with accessible doors and stairways, minor evidence of pet accidents, a slight presence of insects or rodents, some clutter but not excessive, and normal safe sanitation with no odors.

Level II- One of the exits is blocked, and one major appliance, heater or air conditioner has not worked for more than six months; there is pet odor and pet waste, limited care of fish, reptiles or birds, and moderate evidence of insects and rodents. The use of more than 2 of the rooms is prevented by clutter, and passageways are somewhat narrowed. There is little evidence of house cleaning activity such as sweeping or vacuuming, and moderate amounts of mildew in kitchens and bathrooms. Food preparation surfaces are soiled, garbage cans overflowing, and there are noticeable odors.

Level III- Clutter is seen outside the house, there are at least two non-functioning appliances, unsafe use of extension cords, and slight structural damage to the house. One to three pets exceeds limits set by the Humane Society (not counting litters of puppies or kittens that are being well taken care of.) There are unmaintained aquariums or bird cages, audible evidence of rodents, an infestation of fleas, and moderate amounts of spider webs. Hallways and stairs are constricted, and one bedroom or bathroom is unusable due to clutter. Hazardous substances such as broken glass or spilled chemicals are present. The house has not been cleaned and there is dust, obviously unchanged bed linens, excessively soiled surfaces, garbage and dirty laundry throughout the house.

Level IV- The house has structural damage, mold and mildew, damaged walls, electrical hazards and a backed-up sewer system. Four animals exceed Humane Society limits, and there is animal waste, pet dander, spider webs, and evidence of wild animals such as squirrels, bats or raccoons inside the house, as well as an infestation of fleas and lice. The occupants are unable to use the bedrooms, and are sleeping on the couch or floor. There are hazardous materials and flammable material in the living area. No clean dishes can be found, and there is rotting food in the kitchen.

Level V- The house is basically unlivable. There is structural damage, no water, power or sewer, standing water, and excessive hazardous materials being stored. Obvious rodent and insect infestations are present, the bathroom and kitchen are unusable, the occupant may or may not be sleeping in the house, and there is human waste and rotten food present.

These definitions of the levels of hoarding are helpful for professional move managers or organizers and mental health professionals or social workers to determine what type of intervention or treatment is appropriate. We will continue to explore what to do when you or a family member is faced with a hoarding situation and ways to tackle the toughest move.

Next week in Moving Mom…Working with Hoarders, Part III, oh my!  Stay tuned!

Working with Hoarders - Oh My! Part I

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 5:56 PM Comments comments (424)
As published in the Savannah Morning News - 30 June 2013

Working with hoarders – oh my! 

Hoarding has become a popular subject, written about in magazines and is even the focus of television reality shows.  This is the first of a two part series, as we explore hoarding from a real estate and move management perspective.   

It is often a source of embarrassment for the person who suffers from this disorder, and is always frustrating for the family members who spend their lives trying to “fix” the situation.  I have spent quite a bit of time studying the subject, and this psychological condition is very real, requiring professional treatment to effectively help individuals with hoarding disorders. 

In the past, hoarding was regarded as an obsessive compulsive disorder; however the medical community now recognizes the disease as one that has earned its own category.  I am not a doctor, so my intent is not to write from a medical point of view, but as a Realtor® and Move Manager.  From time to time, I do face the challenge of selling a hoarder’s property and relocating them to another home.   

All the hoarders I have met are single.  This disease does not always manifest itself in obvious ways until the hoarder is older, so later in the marriage, spouses lose patience with it and cannot live in the condition they find themselves.  They divorce, and the children, feeling helpless to cure the problem, distance themselves as well.  It can be a very sad and lonely existence for some hoarders, but others can hide the disorder by keeping people from entering their homes.  They can simply go about their lives on the outside without the world knowing.  

My first point of contact is usually with the adult children, attorneys or even financial planners trying to help their client.   Most often the “client” is not the hoarder, but they are obviously the fragile part of the puzzle that must be considered.  

The move is initiated because of concerns for the hoarder’s safety, and usually motivated by physical ailments that require assisted living.  With children, there is always frustration expressed on the other end of the phone, and embarrassment to have to bring an outsider into the mix.  It is difficult for them to expose the situation, but I assure them that in my profession of selling homes and moving people, there is very little I have not seen.  

When I am called to list a home for sale, the family secret is out, and the hoarder must expose their condition to me.  I become the obvious threat to their continued way of life, and the comfort they feel surrounded by their stuff.   Upon entering the property, I am not only assessing the home, but I am also considering the owner.  Removing a person from their home, throwing away all their “treasures”, and simply expecting them to adjust, is not reasonable.  This remedy, as simple as it seems, can cause psychological damage.  Care must be taken to ease the concerns and fears that hoarders feel when threatened by this situation.  

There are many forms of hoarding, so when I enter a home I am also assessing the environment; is it safe for me and my crew to be there?  My job is to move the parent to a new location, then prepare the house for sale and get it sold. 

If the house is toxic, however, our safety and health become the primary concern.  Yes, I have turned down toxic jobs, and will continue to do so if we are in danger.  The only solution is to call in a company who covers themselves with protection against air born and physical hazards.  Once the house is cleaned out, we can perform our duty to get it sold. 

Fortunately, most of the hoarding situations I see do not require hazmat suited professionals, and we can handle the task.   So how do I approach these situations, and what are some of the solutions for successful moves with minimal collateral damage?  Next week I’ll describe some of my experiences, and how they were handled.  

Next week in Moving Mom…Working with hoarders, Part II – Oh my!  Stay tuned!