Making seniors feel at home
Pack With Compassion sees demand grow for move-consulting service
Treva LindApril 21st, 2011
Carlyn Morisset has her favorite chair, handmade porcelain dolls, and an oil painting she did as an artist. She picked these few possessions with the help of Deb Fry, who through her business, Pack With Compassion: Living & Moving Transitions, assisted the 88-year-old's move into a small assistant-living studio apartment.
Morisset came to Providence Emilie Court Assisted Living in July while recovering from a leg injury, but she intended to return to her two-bedroom, two-car garage apartment in Lincoln Heights. When told she had to stay in assisted living for medical reasons, Morisset sought help to move permanently and learned about Pack With Compassion.
"She encouraged me to bring some pretty things," says Morisset, who kept a small quilt hanging, photos, her dolls, some knitting projects, and a University of Washington blanket among a few possessions that fit into about 440 square feet of living space. "She was a great help, helping me decide what to bring. It's very nice, very comfortable. I look around, and I like it."
Fry describes herself as a move manager for seniors, which involves helping them move into a smaller house, a retirement community, assisted living, or a nursing home with as little anxiety and as much of their most cherished belongings as is possible. Her work for Morisset took about two months, and they finished at the end of February.
Through Pack With Compassion, Fry typically helps two or three clients a month, she says. She and clients examine the old and new spaces, and she talks them through what they most need and want. She takes photos of the original home with the idea of re-creating favorite spaces. She and the client then decide which possessions to give to family, friends, or charity, and they also select items to sell, perhaps at an auction, or throw away.
Fry then packs what remains, but she doesn't do the physical move, instead offering the client references for local movers. Once the move is done, she helps unpack and decorate.
"I help the person set up their possessions in their new home so when it's all put together, it looks like the home they just moved from as much as possible," she says.
For example, Fry helped Morisset sell close to 50 paintings at an auction, but she and Morisset decided to move the single art piece that was most personal to her, depicting a lake and deer, and the pair also picked out other favorite decor.
"The difference between my business and a moving company is a moving company just moves everything," Fry describes. "I take the personal touch and help them decide what will fit in a smaller home or apartment. I help a person decide what defines a home for them."
Fees range from $350 to $4,000, depending on the needs of her clients and the amount of time they require.
She says she has spent as little as a few hours with some clients and as much as several days spread over two months with others. For the longer jobs, she walks a client through what are often 30, 40, or 50 years of accumulated memories and possessions.
Fry says most clients are widowed or single women, with an average age of around 80, although she does work with a few younger people who are disabled or for medical reasons have to move to a smaller space.
Her clients are mainly in Spokane, but she has gone to Coeur d'Alene and Lewiston to work with seniors.
She started the business, which she lists as insured, licensed, and bonded, out of her North Spokane home three years ago, but the service really took off two years ago when she created a website, and she had more time to do some marketing. She completed a degree in organizational management in 2005 from Whitworth University, where she also works part time as a library program coordinator.
"I love working with older people, and I love organizing stuff, so I decided to put those two passions together," says Fry. "I didn't know what I'd be called and then in my research I found there's a National Association of Senior Move Managers, of which I'm now a member."
Founded in 2002, the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) has more than 600 members in the U.S and Canada. It asks those members to complete certificate programs called "Senior Move Management Ethics and Accountability & Senior Move Management Safety." The organization's website lists 11 members in Washington state.
While relocations to smaller, unfamiliar living spaces are emotionally difficult for seniors, Fry says she focuses on keeping the experience as positive as possible. She says that many of her clients don't have family nearby, or she can help in situations that may be too emotional or overwhelming for families.
"A big part of my work is I'm building a relationship," Fry adds. "When you have a whole lifetime of memories, it takes time. I have to be a good listener and patient and compassionate, then move them along so the move happens in a timely matter. It's kind of like re-mapping their lives. It's time to remember, but it's time to let go."
She also keeps in mind what is safe in a senior's new home, such as removing clutter and throw rugs that might cause them to trip.
Fry is the sole employee of her business, although she sometimes hires temporary workers for runner jobs such as taking items to a charity. Her business has grown enough, she says, that she is considering hiring her first employee in the next month or two, which would be an assistant position. She definitely expects to expand in the future.
"I'm picking up business on a regular basis," she says. "I'm passionate about serving the older population and building relationships with them."