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Five tips for moving the elderly

Practice makes (nearly) perfect.

Not recommended for moving boxes
© 2010 Gail Hunter

Were you with us when we had a totally botched move from Exeter, New Hampshire to Burlington, Vermont? Did you suffer with us? Did you wonder how anybody could be so stupid?

Well, we've moved again. That was 2010. Now it's 2012. The month is March and the new location is Mystic, Connecticut, a small waterfront town directly on Long Island Sound. This time we've profited from practice, read on for moving tips.

Tip 1: Allow enough time to pack - weeks if necessary

We, the elderly take longer to do everything and don't do it as well as before. Movers are fast. They want to be in and out to get to other jobs, their time is their money, so be prepared. Mark boxes clearly and pack related items in their own boxes. Plan ahead where movers are to place the boxes. Packing room-by-room is helpful if you are this organized.

Armed with my Senior Wisdom, this was a half-piece of cake. Husband Cor was the first to get smart. No banana and liquor boxes this time. Whether it was from embarrassment of having people see our shabby boxes, or from fatigue of searching the back rooms of liquor stores for sturdy cartons I don't know, but he announced he'd found a website, Cheap Cheap Boxes and checked them out.

Order more boxes than you think you'll need.

Tip 2: If packing yourself, splurge on new boxes

A small box (16"x12"x12"), filled with books or other paper weighs upward of 30 pounds. Have seveal boxes you can lift yourself. Some movers will provide you with wardrobe boxes; great for moving your clothes still on hangers.

For slightly over $100 (shipping included) we accepted delivery on small boxes for heavy things (books, cookware, tools), medium boxes for almost everything else, and extra long boxes for framed pictures, of which we have too many for our wall space. They were knocked down, but the order included several rolls of strapping tape. We added magic markers to identify each one.

We were very lucky. Our mover, Barnes Mayflower in Mystic, gave us two wardrobe boxes. Being in a Navy and Coast Guard area, Barnes is always moving military families and happened to have a few used wardrobes on hand.

Tip 3: Use a system to know what is packed where

KISS - "keep it simple, stupid" is especially true with seniors. Use large, easy markings to identify boxes, and put them on all surfaces. On a past move, we pasted paper labels on the end of each box. Guess what? Most of the boxes were stacked with the labels facing the wall and they were too heavy for us to turn. As stated, movers are in a hurry, and that particular one was paid by the hour, so at least I give him credit for not dragging his feet.

Now wise, I created a spreadsheet divided into several sections both horizontally and vertically. Across the top: Size Box, Marking, Contents, Where to Put. The vertical sections became:

  • Small Boxes-marked A 1-infinity;
  • Medium marked B 1-infinity;
  • Odd boxes, mostly used became "C" plus numbers:
  • Liquor boxes LIQ 1-infinity These were great for glasses and small breakable items, because of the dividers;
  • PP - Framed pictures and mirrors (we only had two of these - should have had more)
  • BB - big black trash bags used for plastic cookware, shoes - marked with labels taped on.
  • Furniture was just listed separately (pretty obvious)

One small box was designated "First Night" (my husband's brilliant idea). It contained a flashlight, a couple of light bulbs, a box cutter knife, usual toilet kit articles, nightclothes and a fresh set of underwear. It also contained enough food for a light supper and breakfast.

Tip 4: Allow "break times."

The elderly tend to get confused when everything comes at them at once, so have everything ready to greet your belongings when they arrive at your door. Keep cool and don't be rushed. Remember, the movers are working for you, not vice versa.

Except for the predictable panic time when you throw anything you can grab into the nearest open box, things went pretty smoothly (for us).

"You're taking those old shoes with you?"
"Where's the other piece of this chair?"
"Do you have the keys to the new apartment?"

The questions started out calmly, but the intensity and pitch mounted higher as each hour progressed.

Time for a complete break.

Tip 5: Moving Day - Keep cool and stay on track.

Our plan for moving day:

  • Load the goods on the truck.
  • Notify the apartment managers that we would return in the morning to clean up the mess.
  • Rush to the new apartment, get settled with a chair or something to sit on, a mug of ice water and my computer.
  • Prepare to become "The Director." So good.

Actual Happening:

Van left the apartment and swung by the office scale to be weighed. Our contract called for a per pound price...$0.20. Generally, Interstate movers charge by the weight while some Intrastate ones charge by the hour. Also, Interstate want full payment by cash or money order on delivery. A local mover will usually take a check or credit card. Establish this beforehand. To continue:

Clump, clump down the hall, then a knock on the door. In came the two movers to take a quick scan of the layout. Simple enough: kitchen, living room, bedroom, studio and two baths - what could go wrong here?

The boxes arrived fast and furiously. "To the kitchen." "To the bedroom." And so it went. The studio received everything I couldn't process fast enough. (Processing thoughts speedily is a talent that diminishes with age.) The result is that it will take me weeks to get through those boxes. Even with The Plan, I fell short at the end and many boxes ended up marked "?"

As darkness set in we discovered the "First Night" box was missing. Days went by and we didn't find it. I was sure I'd be able to sniff it out. It contained a block of Cabot's "Seriously Sharp Cheddar." After a week, I called the movers to see if they had seen it. Well, it turns out they had found it under the blankets when they emptied the truck. In fairness to them, we had disconnected the landline phone so they couldn't let us know.

Three weeks have passed. Being able to identify the box contents without having to open them was a blessing. Knowing where to put things is an ongoing dilemma. Placement of furniture and TV depends on learning the pattern of sunshine at different times of day. Which wall do we want the headboard facing? Kitchen cabinet arrangements are continually changing.

Several years ago, 1976 to be exact, a new neighbor came over to welcome me to the neighborhood. Looking at the bedlam she said, "Don't worry. Housework is your best friend; it will always wait for you."

And now we have time! Time to discover our new surroundings in Mystic, Connecticut.


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