In your 20s, it’s easy to move. You call a friend, toss your few belongings in his truck, throw them on your new floor, and hand him a beer.
In your 30s and 40s it’s tougher — but manageable. Odds are you’re moving to a same size or bigger house. Your company may even foot the bill. You know the drill.
But when you’re older, making what may be your last move can be daunting. Your spouse may have died. You’re leaving a home you love for a smaller place. Most difficult: Look at all that stuff you’ve got!
Figuring out what to keep and what goes can be paralyzing. Add in other hard questions — who gets what I’m giving away, and how does it get there? — and it’s no wonder some people simply give up and stay put.
They should call Patty Gabal.
She and her husband Jim have lived in the same Westport home for 23 years. They raised 3 kids there. But this is not a cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes tale.
In 2005 Patty — who had been a registered nurse and an executive recruiter — heard about an emerging industry. “Senior move managers” were helping older folks downsize, and move into a new type of community: independent and assisted living.
A few dozen companies had formed the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers. They were helpful and kind — just the sort of people she’d have wanted to move her own parents.
She and a childhood friend, Paula Meighan of Larchmont, researched the field. They formed a company: Stardust Move Managers.
It was a natural “move” for Patty.
“I’m very organized,” she explains. “When I was a nurse, I learned to do things in order. Whenever I moved, I kept a notebook of things that needed to be done.”
To prepare for her new role she took classes, went to conventions, learned the industry’s code of ethics, and paid for insurance and workmen’s compensation.
She and Paula filled a huge need few folks even knew existed. They’re full-service. too. Stardust — which employs 7 people, including Westporters Diane McCoy, Judy Raines and Lillian Krause (Paula now has her own business, in Westchester) — hires movers, supervises packing and unpacking, ships items that are given to children and others, and works with other managers if someone moves outside this area.
For items that don’t make the bring-or-give-to-kids’ list, Patty arranges donations to organizations like Homes with Hope, Neighbor to Neighbor and Goodwill.
Of course, not every senior wants to move. For those who stay in place, Patty can de-clutter to make a home more livable.
But a recent moving client is typical, Patty says. Julie Belaga was downsizing, from her Westport home to The Residence, our town’s new independent living facility.
She felt overwhelmed by the task. Like many in her situation, she had no idea where to begin.
Patty helped her choose which furniture she wanted to keep. Patty got a Residence floor plan, measured each item, and figured out what could go where.
Julie’s children came from their homes across the country. They decided what they wanted. Those items stayed, and helped Julie’s realtor stage the home for showing.
Patty stickered every item: go, give to (child’s name); give away. She has strong relationships with moving companies; the packing process is quick and efficient.
Patty was at Julie’s new home for unloading. Her staff unpacked everything, hung all the clothes in the closet, made the bed, then got rid of the boxes.
When Julie walked in with her daughter, her eyes lit up. “It’s beautiful!” she said — like a recreation of her home.
In her 15 years as a senior move manager, Patty has realized “how much things mean to people.”
She appreciates the delicacy and impact of what she does. “People share their most intimate things with us. They do it because we’ve built trust.
“There’s no judgment. If someone is really attached to something — anything — we try to make it work.”
She also sees family dynamics at work. “You’d be surprised at how much goes into breaking up a home.” (There’s a book about this: Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?)
“But we’re a neutral party. We help them negotiate it. Children of adults love us. We help guide them all.”
Patty pauses. “And when we’re there, people act better.”
It is rewarding, she says. “to see seniors transition without all the physical work and decision-making. And to see them in one piece, not exhausted, able to start right out enjoying their new community.”
Another reward: listening.
“Seniors have been through a lot. They tell amazing stories,” says Patty.
“When I was starting out, I moved a lot of World War II veterans. They had some amazing collections, including art. Some of them were like museums.”
Of course, even museums deaccession their collections. If they’re smart, they’ll call Patty Gabal for help.
(Click here to contact Stardust Move Managers.)