Different types of clutter professionals

Frankie_in_zone_7April 29, 2010

My in-laws are getting closer to making a move to a retirement community/small condo from their home of 30 yrs. Home is pretty packed. Moving just a few miles away, in same town. MIL (and FIL) are and have been pretty stalled and not able to downsize on their own even though they've been talking about it for years.

Constraints are:

1) No set moving date yet, so is still somewhat "in the future" but looming closer.

2) MIL still very emotionally attached to most items--family ties, etc. She would most like, I'm sure, for everything to find a good home with the children and grands, but that won't happen.

3) She indicates that they intend to sell non-needed, non-adopted items--china, furniture, knick-knacks, "whatever's left"-- in a kind of estate sale process--hence, even if she could identify some things she will no longer use, she is not of a mind to be carting very much off to Goodwill, so not much is actually leaving the house before they do.

4) She wants us to come "take what we want" and we are planning to make a trip to "do" that, realizing that it won't really happen that way (we're not going to cart stuff off when she can't even say, I'm not going to use that. Instead she says expansively, oh, just anything that you would like, then we'd prefer for you to have it --so to deal with that dynamic, we will be happy to take back a few things if it's very clear these are "rejects," but for other stuff, where her need is very ambiguous, we've decided to use the Post-it method and say, keep us in mind for this if you don't end up taking it with you).

They ask us for nothing, have done things for us all our lives, and so this will be more of a support and social visit and just help in whatever way we can with no agenda to "fix" them.

5) They do have vast numbers of boxes and sacks of papers from prior jobs and hobbies, and these are discardable (not going to new home and not sellable) but likely MIL will have to go through each one--at least, the way she feels about it now.

6) Just recently MIL said that she thought it would work best if they would move, and then go back and get other things if they need...(remember this statement!)

7) MIL said directly that she does not want me or DH to actually go through stuff room by room and sort and help--only want us to "take what we want."

So....MIL has actually inteviewed a person/company that, for $10,000, will help them go through everything, sort for keep/sell/trash etc--aiming to do that in just a few days time; but does not include cost of moving to new home, does not do an estate sale of items. At least, that's how this was represented to us. She feels so stymied that she says, well, maybe we do need this help and maybe it is worth it.

So....what I'm thinking is, however it actually works, even if is not a rip-off, this company is selling a big-sweep, in and out approach and my in-laws are just not going to be big sweep people. So I'm thinking, they have some $$ and willingness to invest in professional organizing assistance, but I think they would be better off (and DH and I can help with search) with some kind of a professional that works on hourly basis, plus later hire estate sale person (though this might be same person). For example, pay hourly for someone to help sort through papers; do more when ready to make other decisions (meaning, tendency of my MIL is to do nothing or to churn, meaning, you go through stuff and at the end, it is all still in the cabinets ). Then, they likely will just "move out" and the move itself will clarify some needs and give some separation, and then again, either the paid person or the estate sale person can help some more, and maybe they would be at a point where we could help more, and so forth.

Sooo if you're still awake, anyone have experiences with hiring an hourly sort/support/estate person, and any things to look for, watch out for? I am going to try Angie's list, estate sale co's, and so forth.

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For ten grand, I'll fly out and take care of everything!

Seriously, I sympathize with your MIL. I, too, am a saver who doesn't want to stick her kids with a big mess like I had when my mom had to move to a nursing home four years ago.

Take her up on her offer to take what you want. She means it. Take a lot and dump it or sell it at your next garage sale. That sounds deceitful, but really, if it doesn't work out for you when you get it home, what can you do?

I'd work on getting rid of the stuff before the paperwork. That stuff can just be dumped....someday.

After I spent weeks at my mom's sorting things, I had a gigantic rummage sale that netted a lousy $350 or so - for about 6 weeks work! That was furniture, knick-knacks, draperies, clothing, kitchen ware - pots & pans, dishes, glasses, etc. She had current, beautiful things, lived in a nice community, but that's all it was worth. After two days, we still had to call goodwill for a MAJOR pick up of what was not sold. I was very disappointed.

I wish you good luck.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 11:28AM
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Or I'll do it for nine grand!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 11:57AM
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Sounds like a lot of money for going through things. If your MIL can't decide what to get rid of now how is she going to be with strangers going through things and deciding what to junk and what to keep. I just can't see it happening.

What I'm thinking is that they really don't want to make the move. Maybe on some level she is thinking they should because it is getting harder to cope with a big house and yard. On another level she is thinking sentimental thoughts about the house and her things.

Really how do they know what they will need or want if they don't know even know the size of the place they will be moving to. Instead of getting rid of things now, she should wait until she knows. Then a lot of the choice will be made for her simply because of the size of the place.

You are in a sticky situation if she insists you take it now. Maybe you could help her decide on some things she can get rid of though. EG. If she has 4 sets of dishes ask which ones she would like to keep. Maybe if you put things in catagories it would be easier for her to make that decision. Then she could mark the ones she wants to keep. I really think though before they are given away she should wait until the move time is settled.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 2:45PM
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They already know where they are going and the floorplan. In fact one of the services offered by the consultant is to work on what goes where.

Sorry, I know it was a complicated post with a lot of details.

Of course they are ambivalent about moving.

Their "readiness" or lack thereof is one of the reasons why I wondering if they will do better without the turnkey, sort, dump, move consultant and need a lower-tech, companionable type person to provide some support while sorting, maybe even after they move.

As I said, I think this is an evolving thing--our conversation last week was the farthest-along type thinking they've expressed in the 35 or so years I've known them, so I think they are on a steeper learning and thinking curve now. So, I think DH and I are trying to listen and suggest here and there and not get too polarized on how to do or not do something, since it may be working itself out over time.

Also we hope to learn more about what the consultant actually did offer; maybe they do the estate-sale function, but I thought I heard they still take their 35% or so cut from the proceeds (which would be in addition to the large fee); whereas, if the $10k included doing the whole estate sale, that starts to sound more reasonable. We're interested in that because they expressed some interest in our advice on it versus other options.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 3:26PM
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Frankie, how old are your inlaws? Are they healthy?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 5:09PM
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They are in early 80's and basically healthy with some chronic problems. FIL has more energy than MIL. Both want to move while they have some control over move and not wait for crisis, but of course that makes it hard to know when. They had been awaiting the build of a new living facility that they liked better than the main one available to them, and they were okay waiting the past few years, but that has had multiple delays and does not appears will meet their timetable, so that's why they may have to try to "get into" the other community, which is in ongoing demand and you may have to "go" when a unit is available.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 5:42PM
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Reading through this, I was thinking it might be helpful to rent a storage unit, even temporarily, to bring some things to to give some space to sort other things at the house (When we moved, even though I was motivated, I found it impossible to sort things in a house full of stuff). It might also be sort of a "trial separation" of things - see if they could live without this or that. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 6:55PM
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A relative of my husband's had a similar problem. Her father was dead, Mom was in her 80's and rattling around a big house filled with "stuff". Her four children had been having Mom stay with each one several months, then moving along to the next. Mom finally said enough of this. She did not want to go into any kind of assisted living or nursing home. She can still walk pretty well(with walker) and loves to cook. So the daughter with the biggest house offered to make Mom a "suite" on the lowest floor of her three-story house, with a street-level entrance doorway. The suite is a bedroom and large living room plus a handicap accessible bathroom. They sold Mom's house for a lot of money, put in the bank for her future needs. (Now don't give me rants about "spend-down" for Medicaid.) They moved a lot of Mom's furniture into the suite and everyone together went thru the knicknacks, photos,etc, taking whatever each could use. A lot of stuff got donated or thrown away, this process took months. Mom is happy living independently with her daughter and they cook dinner and eat together. This worked out perfectly for this family. Just a suggestion.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 9:05AM
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"6) Just recently MIL said that she thought it would work best if they would move, and then go back and get other things if they need...(remember this statement!)"
When my parents moved to a smaller home about 3 miles from their old home, they did this, and then had a number of tag sales. One of the problems was that things were 'put away' in the new house just to be 'put away'. Stuff ended up in the weirdest places, and much has still never really been organized. It was helpful, however, in aiding them to see just how much room they had to work with.

If I had to pick, moving in this fashion would be my choice, as long as I had plenty of time to do it.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 11:36AM
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Wow. 10K. That's amazing. I'm in the wrong biz...

Here are a couple of suggestions, for what they're worth. Hire someone to do a couple of discreet (as in specific) jobs. E.g., sort the bags of paper. Do these starting now and work toward setting a deadline that's far enough out to be comfortable, but still doable (e.g, the next birthday, three months from now, etc.) for most, but not all of the items that need to be sorted. Don't try to outline what you're planning on accomplishing all at once, but tackle one small thing at a time. The trouble will be finding someone you can trust. I am not sure that I would advertise or look for someone on a list, though Angie's list might work. I would prefer to find this type of service through word of mouth. For example, is there someone at their church or social group or Senior Center that could help?

I think that an estate person will try to buy low, after all, that's their business, but that's just my feeling.

Have you thought of putting the vintage stuff on Etsy or Ebay? That might help them part w/ some of it.

Also, what if you sorted through some of the stuff and grouped it with like things. For example, my grandmother collected iron trivets. I bought all of them at her auction. Then, several years ago, I asked each of my girl cousins if they wanted one. Sometimes feelings change about whether or not it's wanted. When you group and organize, it becomes a collection and also more clear what's really worth something in that pile.

Let us know what ends up working for you. I am facing the same thing w/ my mother... Mountains of fabric to be gotten rid of. Much of it not hers... But I also can't stand the idea of throwing something out that might be "worth" something.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2010 at 4:40PM
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Before she hires anyone for 10,000.00 or ? find out from your state attorney general if there are any complaints. Find out the name, to see if they are licensed to do that in your state, and are they have insurance. Are they going to by buy the stuff? having auction? or exactly what do they do beside just sort stuff. To protect your parents, do as much checking up as you can. Also make sure all the checkbooks, legal stuff, is put away--identfy theft is a big thing right now. Are they bonded?
Hope things work out.
I do like the idea of putting alot into a storage shed, or you could have stuff put into a container on of of the kids property. I think they are called pods. Storage sheds do get broke into all the time. Not sure about the insurance on them.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 9:18PM
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Depending on their income level, you may want to try to convince your MIL that donating the goods to a charity would yield more than they would get in a yard sale. There are sites on the internet that will determine donation values of things. Maybe there is a charity close to her heart that would make her more receptive to giving it away.

Another idea is to suggest that they get rid of the obvious things to go out the door and then store the rest, similar to what your MIL wants to do. It is possible she isn't able to make decisions of what she will want in the future. I know my MIL would be incapable of doing this - she is a hoarder and everything is equally important.

Storing the stuff would allow her time to adjust to being without it and give her the option of going back while not tying up the house, which I presume they will sell. Your plan would be to let the stuff sit for a couple years until they pass on or until it is clear they have mentally separated from it.

What you can do for them is be the arms and legs that carry out the things that they determine they don't want. Bring boxes and mark them with signs such as SHRED, STORE, DONATE and encourage them to fill the boxes. Go to their house twice a week and empty the boxes. Explain that you will take the DONATE items and catalog them for tax purposes. I helped a friend clear out her house and the cataloging can be time consuming. You don't want MIL & FIL to have to do that part. Your job is to get the process started, keep stuff moving out of the house, and keep them focused on the task by giving dates for when you are coming to do a pickup.

But it doesn't sound to me like your MIL would be comfortable with the $10K service.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 12:52AM
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I don't know how much storing the stuff for a couple years would cost, but would you recover those costs from sales of the stuff in the end? Since that job will still have to be done anyway, I think it's a huge waste of money to store it.

I'd leave the paperwork for last - most of it can be thrown out. My mom had tons of paperwork, some filed neatly, some tossed in boxes. Going through that wasn't fun, but it was the least painful part of the process. I didn't find anything really worth keeping in the paperwork, so it was a waste of time. I'm not even sure what I was looking for, but I kept looking.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 11:28AM
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I appreciate the suggestions. I know it is hard trying to "solve" someone else's situation. I think maybe it is more moral support.

MIL does not want, at this time, to set anything aside or take anything, other than perhaps some clothing, to Goodwill. She wants me and DH (who is her DS) to come and identify things we might want. I believe she probably wants the other available children and grandchildren to do the same. She says she does not want my visit to be used sorting into piles--just looking over and saying yea or nay, I believe. I'm certainly planning to nudge her a little on that when we go visit, as in, we're here, we're free, why don't we do some sorting? But I'm not real optimistic.

What is frustrating is that I've already "reviewed" all of the china and many other items on past visits, but apparently that did not register, as she keeps mentioning the same items. That is just part of her letting go issue, though, I think, or kind of, this is your last chance!

Yes, the company has a website, national listings, says it's bonded. Of course there is more that can be investigated to be sure.

I'm not too keen on storing stuff--in their situation.

I think the biggest issue is getting down to deciding do they think they need to have a "living" estate sale of the items they don't want to take with them. This is actually a big roadblock because a) it inhibits "letting go" of stuff, because it's being "saved" for the estate sale, rather than taking stuff bit by bit to Goodwill (or whereever) b) they can't really have the sale until they move out, and further can't have the sale until they've moved out AND removed a large volume of other stuff, like papers, and they're not working on that now and c) it doesn't make sense to tightly box up lots of stuff for estate sale (unless using one of those types of companies that holds it off-site),. So it may be possible for me to try to engage them in a discussion of, to have an estate sale, you would need to pursue strategy #1--estate sale readiness and also try to consider costs of doing vs. proceeds; if you forego estate sale, your de-cluttering strategy is then #2 approach. It's not so much that one is wrong or right, but just the pros and cons. It's interesting because, with all of their "stuff" and if priced right for vintage items, I think it would bring a fair amount of money, so you hate so sound like, oh, just give it away, when talking to people about their home furnishings and china and things of a lifetime. But, if you were to factor in a $10k fee plus estate sale percentage plus, perhaps, the constraints of the professional person , you then begin to ask, is the reason you need to have such a person, and such a sale, just because you think you need to have the sale, whereas,if you could just let go, your DS's and DIL's could be, and could have been, doing stuff for you all along the way.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 2:33PM
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I agree with saving the paperwork for last. After MIL died, we went thru all her papers, which were "neatly" placed in file cabinets and various strong boxes. She had saved the darndest stuff! Like her dead husband's old expired passports. He wasn't going anywhere soon. and heating bills from their house from the 1950's. Bet they had no rebates or tax refunds due from way back then. Other than humorous value, all her papers went in the trash after she died. But we did have to sort. I admit we did find one old bank book she had forgotten about. Worth a couple of grand to her three surviving children.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 2:34PM
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Last year we helped my mother downsize from a four bedroom home of 40 years to a one bedroom apartment.
Not easy! But here are a couple things that helped: I started by calling "Moving Mentors" a company who has some very nice and smart people who helped my mother create a plan. Most importantly, they validated her process and were able to gauge where she was in terms of keeping and letting go and then helped her identify her trouble spots. They came up with some good compromises to bridge the gaps--for example, instead of keeping all of my father's old sports trophies, have one of the grandkids help her take the metal tags with the info (date won, tournament etc) and make a scrapbook.
Another thing was for me to just take stuff I knew she was having a hard time saying to toss but we both knew it was the right decision--sort of an unspoken agreement that I would throw it away later and she wouldn't have to.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 12:39AM
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jannie, I'm not sure what you mean by saving the paperwork for last, when they are planning to have an estate sale and sell their home after they move out, and they currently manage all their investments, medical bills, retirement and so forth. All of their necessary documents and files need to go with them to the new apartment. And their unnecessary "papers" may include personal information they don't want a stranger looking through. Doesn't that mean that they need to identify and corral all their active paperwork and discard/shred stuff with identity information? This is assuming that to some extent, it is mixed up together, meaning, in same rooms, though they likely can identify various boxes and files.

I believe one of our issues is whether MIL and FIL are really going to be able to do this "on their own" (which includes with a professional that they hire) vs. whether a lot will be left to us to help out with as things go along. That creates a problem, because I think the approach is different, depending on who's doing it.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 10:53AM
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Frankie, of course all current paperwork should stay with your in-laws. I think Jannie and I were imagining old gas/electric bills, etc. filed away from the the nineties and beyond. That stuff must be dealt with eventually, but to my way of thinking, it can be gone through - just in case there is something there - in the future. To me it is all the china, glassware, furniture, sentimental things, etc. that present the urgency.

For example, I was amused to find the receipts from the first fridge my parents bought in 1948, the coal bills from the house we lived in in the 1950s. Mom had boxes and boxes of stuff like that, and I assumed your in-laws do, too. Yes, the paperwork needs to be corralled, but all of it will fit in a few boxes to be dealt with later, after the estate people have done their job, after you have taken the things you want from what your in-laws are offering you.

I'm sorry this wasn't clear in the first place; I hope this helps a bit. Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 11:25AM
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She would most like, I'm sure, for everything to find a good home with the children and grands, but that won't happen.

If the family came together and agreed that everyone would take some of the stuff, smiling and lying to the grandparents, you could save the in-laws the angst of having to deal with it. The family members with the biggest basements could take it and store for a decent period until it was sent off to be donated or sold.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2010 at 7:25PM
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I here all of you my mom passed away suddenly now us four girls are going thought everything and she has lots i mean lots yes a hoarder we are tring to get thought everything including have the house sold my prolbelm is i have to live here till sold promise i made my mom i took care of her for two years till she died my problelm is i want evrything and i only live in a one bedroom with my Boyfriend so i.m trying to get rid as much so i can have my mom's stuff yes i'm a hoarder please help we do plan having a estate sale and garage sale .

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 7:45PM
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They are likely going to hire the professional service to do the work they need. They did have an in-home interview and evaluation with 2 companies in their area, and one looked overwhelmed, one said they knew what to do and gave the plan, which includes sorting and packing (move/sell/discard, etc), which as best I understand will need to involve multiple days and visits to allow for the limited energy levels of our folks; doing the estate sale and hauling off remainder, helping settle in new apartment.

We visited, offered whatever help they would like, realized we can't be there for the number of days and at the intervals and intermittent pace needed, plus they don't want us to do it. We've come to the conclusion it's likely their best option at this point. We went to see the apartment they have dibs on if they decide to go through with it; we went through some things together, took a few things and made arrangements to move a few larger things in a few weeks, and I think that was appreciated. We did not take the approach of appearing to want something just to get rid of later-- in their situation it would not have made a dent, and with the relationship we have it would not have been respectful.

I think it will all work out. But, it is a good lesson in what we need to do year by year if we want to avoid being in this situation in our later years!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 7:17PM
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We hired a professional organizer when my elderly father in law had to downsize from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom condo. He lives on the West Coast and we live on the East Coast, and we got a call from our nephew three weeks before the moving date, "Grandpa hasn't done anything, and Mom and Uncle John (my husband's siblings who live near Grandpa) are on business travels overseas." After a few minutes of shock and considering whether we should take leaves of absences from jobs to fly out, I found the NAPO website and sent emails to the professional organizers in his area. We telephone interviewed the four who responded by the next day and chose the two who were available to interview with him the next day. He chose one of them and she worked like the dickens for the next three weeks, recruiting her husband also. She was WONDERFUL in that she listened to all his stories and gently helped him to separate from his cherished possessions that would not fit into the new condo. She was able to sell or donate almost everything so that he did not feel like it was "thrown" away. I honestly do not think that it would have gone so well if we had flown out there- we would have been under tremendous time pressure, and would not have been nearly so patient. It cost us about $4000 (just downsizing and packing) but was worth every penny. If we'd taken time off from our jobs it would have cost us a lot more and might have strained our relationship with him severely. So I am a big fan of getting outside help for this sort of thing, if you can afford it!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 9:43PM
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My husband has a male cousin. His parents downsized from NY to a small home in Florida when they retired in their 60's. That was around 1990. When they moved, they offered their furniture to anyone who wanted it. They wanted "all new" for Florida. Hurray for them! I took a beautiful corner hutch, which I have to this day in my kitchen. DS two sisters took the aunt's collection of Hummel figurines. Don't know for sure but I think they sold them. The Hummels are NOT on displayed in either SIL's home. When Uncle and Auntie died about 15 years ago, their son and his wife went down to Florida and spent just one week cleaning out the house. They kept nearly nothing, sold or gave away the parents belongings, put the house on the market and sold it too. Just an example in real-life of doing things the right way.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2010 at 10:45AM
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