Family members fighting over their parents’ treasured mementos happen a lot in books and movies. Kristen Smart has found that real life doesn’t usually work out that way.
“Family legacies are very difficult because oftentimes the family doesn’t know why they are important,” Smart said one morning. “My mum or dad wants them to have it, but they haven’t heard the stories. That’s kind of sad.
Smart often encounters stories like these while helping senior Iowans and their families navigate downsizing and relocation through her Marion-based Designing Moves business. The business grew out of her family’s experience in the mid-1990s.
“My mother-in-law and father-in-law were desperate to move to Ohio,” she said. “I promised my mother-in-law that I would spend the summer there with my children and move them. When we came back, my grandparents needed to move.”
Smart, 59, grew up near Ames and moved to Cedar Rapids after high school.
“I moved here to go to Kirkwood Interior Design and I didn’t leave,” she said. “I met my husband, and we stayed here and raised a family.”
Starting a business
Interior design led Smart to work for a local furniture dealer, where she heard stories similar to those of her family.
“I started seeing people come in and tell me they had to move and that they needed to get smaller furniture,” she said. “Their wives were sick, and it was very stressful. She kind of knew how to do it.
The search led to Smart being inducted into the National Association of Senior Transportation Managers. The organization sets professional standards and practices for the industry, including liability insurance requirements and ethical practices.
“I trained with one of the founding members,” she said. The association certifies that only 60 of its 1,000 members nationwide are A+. Designing Moves is their only A+ rated agency in the state of Iowa.
Designing Moves opened in 2008.
The Designing Moves staff of nine begins with visits to the home of the person moving in and to their new home.
“One of the first things we do is put together a floor plan,” Smart said. “We measure where they’re going to move, we measure what furniture they’re going to take and where those pieces are. Then we start going into the cupboards and drawers.
Smart routinely works with families whose children live out of state. Staff take pictures of each room to count furniture and other belongings and to help decide what to keep.
“We usually talk to (families) to see if there are things they are looking for,” Smart said. “We take a lot of pictures. They always have a folder with interesting items.
This process may reveal valuables that families were not aware of.
During our recent work, she said, “we found savings bonds that had been forgotten and left in the treasury. We found the coins. We always take a picture of it and send it to the family and tell them what we found.
Get an early start
As with many major life decisions, starting early is key to a successful move. A lead time of six to nine months is ideal.
“Sometimes we get a phone call saying, ‘We’re closing our house for today, we have to move,'” she said. They will forget things at home, and you don’t have time to go back and get them.
For the moving itself, or real estate sales that may be necessary to vacate the old place, Smart refers families to movers and professionals who have passed background checks.
“We’re staying in our neighborhood,” she said. “We’re not movers, but we work with moving companies that have vetted staff and we know we can trust our customers’ stuff. We’ll supervise the whole process. We’ll supervise the packing, we’ll do the unpacking. We can hang pictures and make sure the furniture is put in the right place.”
The staff also works closely with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“Communities would love to know when this move will happen,” Smart said. “We try to keep them informed of what’s going on.”
Helping families through emotional times often leads to long-term relationships.
“I have some clients that we moved on years ago, and we still see them,” Smart said. “We’ll go and organize their holiday pillows, replace them, and get other pillows. Just do whatever needs to be done to make this customer’s little haven all right.”
Whatever the move, the good day at the office comes “when the house is finally emptied,” says Smart. “We’ve just done a two-week house repair, and it was so good to get to the day we clean out the garage.”
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phone: (319) 377-6891