By Susan C. Ingram
Anna Novak enjoyed her job as a real estate agent, but after a few years she realized what she loved most was helping people through the maze of downsizing and moving. She especially relished working with them to plan and design their new spaces.
Returning to her roots as a writer (she has a master’s in instructional design), Novak began blogging about the logistics and emotional challenges of downsizing.
“I started getting calls from people asking for help, so I decided to become a Senior Move Manager and form an ‘official’ downsizing service,” she said.
In 2019, she founded Simply Downsized, offering concierge moving services across the Washington metro area, for people who need to dramatically reduce their belongings, usually because of a major move or life change.
“People hire us to guide them through the entire process,” Novak said. “We create a custom approach that’s tailored to both their needs and the type of ‘stuff’ they need to release. Every situation is different.”
Move managers work in the home with the senior every step of the way. The soup-to-nuts process includes one-on-one help with sorting and organizing, donation and disposal, packing, unpacking and designing and setting up the new home.
“Many of my clients are downsizing the family home and need to reduce their belongings by 80% or more,” she said. “I help them preserve their cherished possessions, decide what to take with them, find buyers for their more valuable items, and then sell or donate the rest of the household to empty the home and prepare it for the next occupants. There’s a lot of heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively, that’s just too much for most people to handle on their own, regardless of their age.”
One project in Gaithersburg proved to be a unique challenge, when Novak was hired to downsize and move the owners of the historic Meem mansion at 104 Chestnut St., once part of a 200-acre 18th-century parcel.
“I cleaned out a ‘haunted’ mansion, one of the original buildings in downtown Gaithersburg,” Novak said.
The widow who owned the home loved to decorate for Halloween, amassing a huge collection of decorations.
“People would come from all over,” Novak said. “She had literally thousands of Halloween decorations, 100 different skeletons, including a dragon skeleton.”
Everything went to a “haunted hayride” attraction in Virginia.
“And now my client can go to Cox Farms every fall and see her dragon skeleton,” Novak said. “She had to let go of it. But it went to a good purpose.”
Novak is a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a group of move managers that found each other through an Internet chat room and launched the association in late 2002. NASMM now has 1,000 members in the U.S., Canada and abroad.
NASMM Associate Executive Director Jennifer Pickett said with the “Silver Tsunami” underway, as baby boomers age, senior move management “is a very viable business.”
“The very first baby boomers turned 75 last year,” she said. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of individuals who will require some type of downsizing service.”
Also a member of NASMM, Debbie Sokobin has been busy since launching Next Chapter Concierge, in January 2021, from her Rockville home.
After a career in senior services, senior move management was a logical step for Sokobin, who was formerly the director of senior adult programs at the Bender JCC for eight years and most recently, acting director of the Jewish Council for the Aging Misler Adult Day Center.“Working with seniors has been what I’ve enjoyed over the past 20-plus years of my career,” Sokobin said. “I decided to take a sabbatical and figure out what was next. During that time, I helped my parents downsize in Chicago. That inspired me. I worked with a senior move management company there and I thought, this is something I enjoy. And if I could do this with my own parents, I’m sure I could do it.”
Sokobin did NASSM’s Senior Move Manager certification program, which was most helpful with organizing the business side of Next Chapter Concierge. The most gratifying aspect of being a senior move manager is establishing relationships with her senior clients, she said.
“Moving is so overwhelming when you’re in your 20s, let alone when you’re in your late 70s, late 80s and you’ve been situated for a long time in one place,” she said. “And if you’ve gone through a serious loss of a spouse or partner, you don’t know where to begin. That’s a continuation of my work in the nonprofit world—I get to help people. But I also get to be my own boss and do things my way and set my own hours and make it work for my life.”
Pickett said NASMM is “very excited about the future” of the senior move management industry.
“Through the pandemic we continued to pull our community together so that they didn’t feel isolated,” she said. “I think we all came out smarter and stronger. And we’re really looking forward to what the future holds.”