Lessons Learned From the SMM Trenches in 2015

If year-end is a time for reflection, then I have more than the usual amount to reflect on.

SAGE Relocation Services was launched in 2015 with a modest goal of providing Senior Move Management (SMM) services to the communities on the eastern fringes of Toronto.  As a business focused on seniors, we accepted and embraced the fact that the first year would be full of new learning and unexpected lessons.  What we didn’t anticipate was the strong degree of support and interest from our communities.

We are grateful! I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our clients for entrusting us with their projects.  We appreciate that we became part of your lives at a critical juncture.  Through working with each of you, we learned about each of your unique lives, the characteristics of your generation and the common challenges faced by seniors in transition.  It was a year full of joy and too many ‘AHA’ moments to recount.  

As a small ‘Thank You’ to our clients we’d like to impart a few ‘Sage” lessons learned that are worth sharing.

1.    YOUR home is NOT the messiest, most disorganized, overstuffed or cluttered house known-to-man.  Trust us when we say that we have seen worse - and have been able to create calm order out of seemingly insurmountable chaos.  Our message for new clients is this. “Feel free to invite us into your mess.”  Our job is to bring order to your world so that you can move on.

2.    The word ‘Collecting’ is a verb for a reason.  We have met avid collectors of fascinating artifacts of all description.  While each collection is impressive, the sheer number of items becomes a burden to an owner interested in downsizing.  Our message is this.  “There are creative ways to retain the joy and satisfaction of a collection – while letting go of many of the physical items.” Talk to us to find out how.

3.    Downsizing does not always equal less. It many cases, it equals more! How is this possible you may wonder?  It has been our experience that the clients we have downsized, emerge with a renewed sense of calm, energy and increased happiness.  They tell us this is due to their decision to let go of the previous chapter of life and move forward with less ‘stuff’ and more ‘purpose’.  Downsizing means fewer items to maintain, less housing-related costs, less space to clean and less home maintenance.  Inevitably, our clients state that they should have done it sooner.

These were just 3 of the many lessons we learned.  You are welcome to apply them to your own life.  Talk to us and we’ll be glad to tell you more.

In the meantime, SAGE would like to acknowledge and thank all our clients.  You made 2015 more joyful and meaningful than we could have imagined.  We move forward into 2016 with eager anticipation for the new clients, friends and experiences that lie ahead.  

Seasonal Gifts for Seniors

Holidays are on the horizon. Amidst the approaching cheer, a nagging question begins to float in your head. “Is there anything new I can give mom or dad this year?”  You want to delight them, but ran out of bright ideas years ago.  You don’t want to resort to the same predicable gifts that have become holiday staples. Is it even possible at this stage of life to surprise and delight a senior with a novel yet meaningful gift? 

AT SAGE we say YES and we’re here to offer suggestions that are fresh, affordable and easy to store.  As one of our primary services is downsizing, we expend a hefty amount of time helping seniors dispose of items they no longer have space for.  We invite you to fight the urge to add to their collections.  Adopt gift ideas that are space neutral yet guaranteed to evoke a smile.  Here are a few ideas:

The Gift Of Food

Food gifts can be practical, delicious and unique.  Seniors in retirement residences or small homes often have limited kitchen space, capacity to shop or the ability to prepare anything but the most basic meals.  Solve these problems with a custom gift basket brimming with foods your senior loves and has an emotional connection to. Make the time to add baked goods from family favorite recipes to elicit happy memories.  When selecting items, be mindful of dietary restrictions or perishable items.  Smaller appetites mean that perishable items may expire before they can be enjoyed.  

The Gift of Anticipation

Gift cards can be magic!  Small and versatile, they offer the promise of future gifts or experiences to enjoy.  Choose cards wisely to reflect the unique interests and capabilities of your senior. Restaurant, theatre or movie cards can provide a future outing to look forward to and possibly an opportunity to include a guest if you purchase the card with this in mind. When appropriate, include a taxi chit as well so that transportation will never be a problem.

The Gift of Music

Every era has music that evokes memories and joy.  Make a gift of an affordable MP3 player preloaded with music that is unique to the life and times of your senior.  By preloading the music, you make it possible for any senior to simply enjoy the music without having to own and operate a computer.

The Gift of Memories

Shoeboxes are for shoes, not photos.  Yet at SAGE, we regularly find boxes of all description packed with unmarked photos bearing testament to the lives and times of our clients.  Help preserve your senior’s memories by assuming the task of digitizing and organizing some of the collection.  Consider creating a digital book that includes a collage of photos, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs and invitations that they have spent a lifetime saving.

And finally, remember to offer the gift of TIME throughout the year.  The joy of the holidays is lovely but transient.  Remember that the life of the senior you love can be enriched by the regular gift of your companionship throughout the year. 

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” 
― Mark Twain=

Can Old Keyboards Find a Place to "Play On"?

It stands silent in the middle of the room.  A wooden box with 88 keys that represents a lifetime of memories of music and song.   Now the question is – what are you to do with it?  You’re packing to move to a place the box cannot follow.  Perhaps there’s no space.  Perhaps your hands can no longer coax magic out of the keys.  Perhaps its’ just time to embrace new passions.

Whatever the reason, the challenge is very real.  How do seniors find homes for pianos and organs that were once a vital part of their lives?

The immediate options are discouraging.  Downsizing generally entails moving to a place with LESS space making the instrument an impractical piece of furniture.  Adult children often don’t share your passion or talent for music and many don’t have space either.  Cultural tastes have changed resulting in fewer enthusiasts for these instruments. New enthusiasts often prefer smaller and more portable digital keyboards. And finally, moving and maintenance costs for such items can be prohibitive.  They require special handling to move and resettle plus ongoing tuning and maintenance.

At SAGE Relocation Services, we have advised our fair share of clients on how to deal with this conundrum.  Here are a few suggestions that might work for you.

Offer the instrument to a local music school, church, retirement community, theatrical group, community organization or school.  They may or may not have the space or desire for the item, but they may be able to direct you to an enthusiast or student who would welcome it as a gift.  Note that someone (maybe you) will still be responsible for the moving costs.  Advertising it on platforms such as Craigslist will broaden your reach to potential buyers that you might never have considered.

Should none of these options work you may have to resort to disposal of the item.  Note that you will still have to budget for removal and disposal fees.  These are generally based on weight.

While saying good-bye to an old musical friend is difficult, we encourage our clients to focus on the ‘upside of downsizing’.  It can bring a freedom of relief when there are less items to maintain and make space for.  And while the piano itself may not be able follow you, rest assured that music itself knows no such constraints.  It will find you, sooth you and bring joy to your life no matter wherever you call home.

“Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!” 

― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Are There New Homes for Hummels?

Simply saying the name ‘Hummel’ evokes a clear mental image of child-like porcelain figurines that once dominated the North American ornamental goods market.

These lovely artifacts were originally based on the graphic renderings of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, a Franciscan nun from Germany in the 1930s.  When her artwork came to the attention of Franz Goebel, a noted porcelain maker, he quickly recognized the opportunity to transform the images into ornaments that would appeal to people’s hearts – and wallets.

Originally sold in Europe, Hummels made foray into North American in the mid-1930s.  German immigrants brought such treasures with them as they resettled and North American soldiers posted to Germany after the war sent them home as popular gifts. While this limited exposure helped create awareness, the true explosion of Hummel-mania reached its zenith in the 70s through a combination of smart marketing and a strong speculator’s market. 

Excited by the increased demand for his products, Goebel ramped up production and flooded the market through retailers such as Woolworths and Hallmark.  To satisfy the emerging class of collectors, he then released limited editions that quickly became adopted as speculator’s favourites.  The combination of increased demand with quick appreciation forever seared the name Hummel in North American culture.

However, today’s picture is radically different.  Demand for Hummels has been in free fall as the volume of original owners ages and divests themselves of their collections.  This has resulted in a market saturated with figurines at the very same time as consumer tastes have changed.  Today’s collectors have moved onto other items leaving vast numbers of Hummels literally ‘in the dust’.

This presents a pressing question.  "What is one to do with a cabinet-full of collectables that few people seem to want?"

Based on our experience, here are a few suggestions:

1.    Adjust your expectations.  Rather than seeking monetary value for your collectables, reflect on the satisfaction that they have brought you throughout their tenure with you.  If they brought joy and colour to your life, then you are already ahead of the game.

2.    Offer them up first to friends and family who may appreciate them simply for the place they have played in your family’s history.

3.    Research current market values on websites such as eBay and Craigslist.  This will give you a quick ‘snap shot’ of current supply, demand and pricing.   Based on this, you may decide to offer some of your own items on these websites.  

4.    Offer the items to local dealers or consignment shops once you have done your basic research.  While research can inform you about online pricing and demand, you may need to adjust your expectations to suite your local area.

5.    Donate the items to your favourite non-profit.  You may receive a tax credit for a collection of suitable size.  If not, you will still enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you have taken a step towards ‘downsizing’ while making a contribution to someone else’s enjoyment.

Regardless of what solution you adopt, remember to appreciate all the years that your Hummels have been part of your life – and the pleasure that they have provided.