The Downsizers

Adapting During COVID -  Careful Planning + Creativity + Customer Service on a Whole New Level

01-03-22 1:00 PM

Written by Ibby Wooten and Cathy Meerbergen

In early 2020, Bill was looking forward to moving to a continuing care retirement community where life would be simpler and he could enjoy the array of activities and outing offered. Multiple restaurant venues would provide him with endless dining options. And having family regularly stay over in his guest room would be a joy and comfort. 

Then Covid happened.  Bill’s world and future plans abruptly turned upside down. 

For many years Bill has been battling Rheumatoid Arthritis. The disease and treatments had weakened his immune system, leaving him highly susceptible to germs and communicable diseases.  Bill has always been mindful and taken precautions to protect himself.  But Covid was the game changer that wrecked his plans to move in late April.

What should have been a simple packing up of his belongings and moving them half a mile down the road to the retirement community, became a mission as complex as sending man back to the Moon.  As the world closed down in March, Bill’s physicians advised him to go into quarantine in his home. No visitors. No trips out. Groceries and supplies were delivered to his garage where an elaborate sanitizing process ensued before the items were brought into the house. No move to the retirement community. Bill’s life was put on hold and he was shut out from the world.

Pre-Covid, Bill hired The Downsizers hired to manage his move but now he wondered, how was he going to be able to have The Downsizers team in his home to start this process?

And if a move could safely happen, then what would life be like in a retirement community in the midst of a global pandemic? Communal living with 400 other residents. Staff coming to work and possibly bringing germs in the community.  No visitors or family allowed in to provide that extra support he was accustomed to having to help ease the burden of living life with a debilitating disease.  Throughout the coming months as the pandemic spread wildly around the world, Bill and his family repeatedly postponed his move. For them the risks were too great; the fear was all too real.

But as the months passed, Bill’s need to be in the retirement community grew. And the odds of being vaccinated early would be greater if Bill was living in the community.  With a great deal of trust in The Downsizers, Bill and his family decided his move would happen the first week of January.

For The Downsizers, Bill’s situation was one of many complex and challenging moves in the midst of a pandemic, but it was unique all at the same time.  Our careful planning, creativity and customer service reached a whole new level. 

With that being said, we had a bigger challenge . . . How do you move someone and actually have no contact with them? The Downsizers Team and moving crew would not be able to go in his house.  What was essential for setting Bill up for success in his new home? The team had not even met Bill or seen how he was currently living. 

And how do you develop that critical understanding and level of trust with your client? The only safe tools available were cell phones, Zoom and that garage at Bill’s house.

In early December, The Downsizers team arrived at Bill’s garage and unloaded brand new, never used packing materials and supplies.  A plastic tarp was put down on the garage floor to protect the supplies and Bill’s belongings. Several tables were put in place. Everything was routinely treated with sanitizer.


Each week, Bill would place small personal items and supplies in the garage.  Cathy and Ibby, The Downsizers team who managed his move,  would call Bill from the driveway. He would come to the upstairs window, wave and remotely open the garage door.  Cathy and Ibby would briefly remove their protective masks to smile at him and then the work would begin.  Items were packed up and loaded on The Downsizers’ van.  For each session, Bill and his family had prepared a detailed dossier of where items were to be placed and what was to be accomplished.


Since movers would not be able to enter Bill’s home, essential large pieces of furniture were purchased new and delivered to the apartment.  Many new supplies were ordered online.  Each session, Cathy and Ibby would spend hours unpacking – kitchen tools and accessories, sheets and towels, personal products and toiletries, electronic devices, TVs, artwork, family photos, office supplies, PPE, toilet paper and paper towels, dry goods and canned foods.


The kitchen was settled with food and equipment.  Electronics were charged, tested and synchronized. Clothes were hung up and placed in his dresser.  The bathroom had new shower curtains and fresh towels on the towel bars. Artwork was hung and family photos placed around the house.


Toward the end of the day, Cathy and Ibby would connect with Bill and his family via Zoom to show them the progress made.  Tweaks were made to Bill’s liking.


Bill’s world was getting ready to drastically change.  Even with all of the instructions on placement of items from Bill and the tweaks he made, there was no way to replicate his life in his current home. His routines and familiarity that comes from living in the same place for years would be completely different.


As move day approached, the team shifted to showing Bill how to use everything in his home.  It was Bill’s goal to remain in self quarantine in the apartment, so no one would be there to help him with the new items.  Pictures of the remote controls and the operational panels on the appliances were sent to Bill.  Ibby and Cathy spent hours coaching Bill over Zoom on what buttons to push and knobs to turn to make everything work.  Bill took copious notes. Ibby and Cathy would test him by posing different scenarios. 


On January 5, 2021 (nearly a year later after our initial consult with Bill), Ibby picked up Bill’s suitcase and last items in the garage.  Once Ibby had unpacked these items and sanitized his apartment for the last time, Ibby called Bill to come over.  Bill walked out of his house for the first time in months.  He made the short trip to the community. He walked in the front door and went straight to his new apartment.  And Ibby was there to welcome him home – a very safe 20 feet down the hall from his front door.


Elizabeth Hirsh