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Bryce McFall has lived in many places, from apartments to houses all over the country — countless moves during more than six decades of marriage and a long career as an insurance executive.

But the octogenarian saved his easiest and best move for last.

What could have been an overwhelming, uncomfortable and even emotionally painful ordeal of downsizing a lifetime of acquisitions into a 500-square-foot, assisted-living apartment was, according to McFall's accounts, not only smooth, but downright pleasurable.

For the first time, McFall brought in a full-service professional mover, not just to schlepp boxes, but to help him decide what to take and what to toss and where to put everything, right down to the last spoon and tube of toothpaste.

Betsy Grodin of the relocation business Moving Matters managed the whole process, from disposing of McFall's unwanted stuff to hanging the pictures and arranging the furniture in his new apartment at Vintage Brush Creek in Santa Rosa.

"She had a difficult task. ... She had to deal with my inadequacies when it comes to this kind of thing. Always before I didn't have to do anything," said McFall, who conceded that his wife had always managed such details in the past.

Grodin is a senior relocation and transition specialist, one of a growing number of trained movers who help people — particularly the elderly — downsize with dignity and a minimum of stress.

"It's hard work but it's heart work," said Grodin, who lives in Forestville. "I've been moved to tears on a few occasions when they come home at the end of the day and see what I've done. They're relieved. It's stressful, very emotional and a very hard time."

Grodin makes sure the entire apartment is furnished, organized and decorated and the bed is made before her clients come home. She tries to do the entire move itself in a day for cost efficiency and to minimize the stress of upheaval.

The prospect of winnowing down their possessions and then moving everything to a much smaller place can leave many elders, and frequently the adult children helping them, feeling almost paralyzed. This is not just any move. It may be the last move they'll make.

"Seniors are attached to everything," Grodin said. "Not all, but most, want to just take it all. It's up to me to make some decisions."

Helping them get through the process is a series of baby steps, according to Mary Jago of Managed Moves, another local senior relocation service in the North Bay. "They do change their minds, they are emotional and they need to do things at a slower place."

Whether you use a professional service or try to do it for yourself or your elder parent, there are some good tips from the experts to help the process go more smoothly.

One of the first things experts like Jago and Grodin do is measure the new living quarters. You'll want to know the dimensions of the room or rooms, including available wallspace and where outlets, windows and doors are, so you can decide well ahead of time what furniture to take and where to place it.

Determine which pieces are favorites and the most functional. Jago says she manages in many if not most cases to find a place for truly beloved pieces. If there is room for only one easy chair, which one is the most comfortable? In McFall's case, there were two sets of living room furniture, one in the front room and one in the den. The leather sofa and chair from his den wound up fitting better in his tiny new apartment's living room area. Maybe a loveseat will fit better than a full-size couch.

McFall really wanted to keep his queen-size Tempur-Pedic bed, but he was willing to give up his big office desk and downsize to a small computer table so it would all fit in his new bedroom.

Grodin and Jago both methodically go through the entire house with their clients, starting with the kitchen. Patience is important. Give yourself or your loved one time and respect to make difficult choices about what to let go of.

Some decisions are easy. Most elders moving to assisted living will need only a fraction of their kitchenware since most if not all meals will be provided. Sets of formal tableware like china and silverware probably will never get used.

It takes time to gently guide someone into realizing that not everything can go with them, or that not everything they have will be needed. Elders may have been in the habit of being thrifty and saving everything. Help them decide what kind of clothing they will really need in their new life. They may not need multiple heavy coats or lots of dressy clothes or suits. In the bathroom, take stock of the multiple jars of lotions and creams that accumulate and take just one of each.

With sentimental items and collectibles, Grodin says she gently talks her clients through their things, closet by closet. "What are your favorite things? It could be a picture on the wall, their statues, their knickknacks or family photos. What I strive to do is create a nest and surround them with beautiful things and the things that mean something to them."

The painful reality for most downsizers is that they will inevitably have to give up things they care about. But it makes the emotional process of letting go so much easier if you can find the right home not just for heirlooms but furniture and objects that have come to define a person. Grodin and Jago help clients make that decision. Ideally there will be offspring or other relatives who will value certain items.

But what of things that no family member wants? First try to find a friend who would appreciate them. For non-heirloom things, find a friend, acquaintance, neighbor or young person who could use some of the everyday items.

Moving experts may also find it helpful to bring in appraisers or an estate sale service. Many people don't have any idea of the value of their possessions. Expert advice can prevent you from giving away valuables. Frequently, it's not the expensive dining room set, paintings or silver that proves to be the most valuable. There can be hidden value in the seemingly commonplace items stuffed in the closet or cupboard that in fact are hot collectibles commanding high prices. Items can be sold by the piece at auction or en masse at an estate sale in the home.

Rosalie Bulach downsized from a three-story Victorian in San Francisco to a two-bedroom apartment at Varenna, an upscale senior retirement care community in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove area. Before contracting with Grodin to manage the move, she sifted through her own things. It wasn't as hard, she said, as one might have thought.

"I didn't want to give things away willy-nilly. I wanted to give them to people who could really use them," Bulach said. "My mother's furniture I gave to a good friend. A dining room set imported from France I gave to another friend. My black lacquered bedroom set I gave to another friend. All these people are using and appreciating the things I had. As far as the dishes and essentials, I knew a lot of young people just setting up and going away to college I could give to. I felt they were being put to good use."

For what is left over, seek out a charity that you or the parent you are helping supports.

Jago said while the letting go is difficult, sometimes all a client needs to emotionally release an object is to talk about it and tell its story — where they got it, when, who gave it to them.

"I had one client who had three different piles. It really worked well with him when he put things he was undecided on in a separate box. But by the end," she said, "95 percent of that stuff he had come to terms with and that it was time to let it go."

Staff Writer Meg McConahey is at 521-5204 or meg.mcconahey