Fargo business will declutter, pack and move Grandma's house, even the Hummel collection
Joan Windus and her Change is Good team specialize in moving seniors, which means they'll bring the boxes and pack your stuff, help get rid of items you no longer want, coordinate with your movers
FARGO — Following the funeral of Rick Rea's mother, Rick and his wife, Dawnette, had to hurriedly pack up the belongings from her rural North Dakota farm and move everything to Fargo.
Once here, they rented storage space for all the possessions — enough to fill five garages.
Over the next year, those garages sat untouched, adding the weight of dread and obligation to hearts already heavy with grief.
"Rick wasn't ready to get rid of everything yet," Dawnette says. "It was still precious to him. It was tough."
Through a co-worker, Dawnette heard of Change is Good, a business that specializes in helping older adults downsize, organize and move.
Change is Good owner Joan Windus and her team worked with Rick to tackle the job that had filled his family with so much trepidation.
After two days of a "very organized and very strategic" sorting process, Dawnette says the storage items were winnowed down to fit in just half of one garage. The Reas felt like a huge burden had been lifted — and were relieved by how smooth the process felt.
"She was so calming — like 'I got this,'" Dawnette says of Windus. "She helped us sort what was meaningful, what was salvageable and what could be sold."
Dawnette also was touched by the compassion that the movers showed to their family. "Overall, they were just very sensitive to the topic of how hard that can be," Dawnette says. "For Rick, it really helped with his grieving process ... to be able to move forward. We really couldn't have done it without them."
Stories like these aren't new at Change is Good, a certified senior-moving business which has served the Fargo-Moorhead area for 15 years. Launched in 2007 by Linda Lammers of Sabin, Minn., the business was purchased by Fargoan Windus in the fall of 2021.
“Now it’s a year later and we’re busy, busy, busy,” says a beaming Windus, who doesn't seem to mind one bit.
The majority of their business involves moving older adults from homes in which they lived for many decades into more manageable spaces like 800-square-foot assisted-living apartments, Windus says.
"The (business) name is cool but it should be 'Change is good, but change is hard, '" Windus says. "That transition, I can't even imagine doing that, when you're 70 or 80 years old and you've lived in your house for 40 or 50 years and you can't take everything that you have with you."
An organizer's dream job
Windus is so excited about her new career path that she talks about the venture with the enthusiasm of a proud parent describing a precocious child.
For her, it was a job that checked all the boxes for job satisfaction: a chance to tap into her natural organization skills and emotional intelligence, an opportunity to help make life easier for senior citizens navigating a huge transition and the ability to run her own business.
"I'm so happy," she says. "I finally figured out that old thing — maybe it's cheesy — that if you truly love what you do you never work a day in your life.
"It's just so dang rewarding," she adds, wiping a tear from her eye.
Yet it's an opportunity that almost didn't happen.
Windus first learned about Change is Good when she saw a social media posting by Lammers seeking buyers for the business.
Encouraged by her husband, Windus emailed Lammers, only to learn a buyer was already interested in the business.
Windus was disappointed but also believes in listening to what the universe tells her. She returned to her job selling real estate.
Then, several months later, she spotted another post seeking someone to buy Change is Good.
She immediately reconnected with Lammers, who told her the initial offer had fallen through. The two women met for coffee the next day and after a two-hour visit, Windus was convinced she wanted to buy the moving service. As of October of last year, that hope became reality.
Lammers initially worked alongside Windus to show her the ropes. Today, Windus is running the business by herself, along with the planning, packing and moving expertise of four part-time helpers/packing and organizing veterans.
"I was able to inherit her employees, but it's so amazing because they are the hardest working women I have ever met. They’re wonderful and they have the most amazing compassion with the people we work with," she says.
Windus is a certified relocation specialist through the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), which means she received training, passed background checks, is fully insured and annually completes continuing education courses to maintain her certification.
She believes she's the only certified senior-moving expert in North Dakota.
"It's pretty important that people know who is going in your home. I take 60 hours of classes every year on ethics and I get all kinds of certifications and know how important it is to have someone in there who takes it seriously. It's not just someone doing some side gig. It's someone who is a professional."
Here's what they do
Unlike movers who chiefly pack and move items, Change is Good offers a variety of services:
- Assisting in sorting and downsizing, often taking time to discuss with clients what is most valuable to them and what they'd like to keep.
- Arranging shipments and storage.
- Coordinating the move with the client, family members and the landlords or retirement homes involved.
- Packing items and overseeing movers.
- Transporting sensitive documents to a recycling center for shredding and disposal.
- Shipping items to family members who want them.
- Depending on the situation, they sometimes will help sell excess items on Facebook Marketplace or donate them to places like the YWCA , Furniture Mission of the Red River Valley or Heirlooms Thrift & Gift .
- Unpacking items at the new place and setting up the new home.
After a free consultation and some serious planning, Windus and two or three of her helpers can usually pack and move the belongings from a medium-sized home to its new space in two days, she says.
Windus will even sketch out a floor plan of the client’s future home so she can determine where their favorite furnishings and items can be placed. She'll track details like the height of the client's bar stools to ensure they’ll fit under the counter at the new place.
They will take photos of how the old kitchen was set up so they can arrange it as close to that as possible in the new place. They will also hang pictures that day and hook up TVs so the client doesn't have to worry about it.
By the end of the second day, the team will set up and make the client’s bed and arrange it in the bedroom as close as possible to how it was in their old home.
"It's so fun when they come back and see everything is set up — and we try to set it up similar to how it was at home — and the fact they can sleep in their bed, because they're exhausted," she says.
The cost of their services starts at $55 per person working per hour.
Not always family-friendly
Senior moving specialists can step in to help families who are too busy or live too far away to help their parents with this major transition.
In some cases, the client doesn't want their family to move them, even if they do live nearby.
"They think mom and dad's stuff is junk and they just want to throw everything out," Windus says. "And I say, this is mom and dad's journey. This is their story."
If necessary, Windus or a team-member will take the time to go through possessions with a client and give them time to talk about its history and why it means something to them.
"And that kind of helps them tell it one more time and then they're ready to part with it," she says. "It's so cool because we spend that small amount of time with them, but we really get to learn from them and learn their story."
Sometimes the move is voluntary; sometimes it's not. Mom or dad may have suffered a fall, prompting their kids to step in and insist they move to a smaller, safer place.
That's when Windus and her team's people skills come in handy. "We're not just packing up boxes," she says. "We're handholding and we're kind of counseling at the same time because they are so overwhelmed."
Decluttering and organizing available too
Windus also wants to make it clear that older adults don’t have to move to request services like decluttering.
Most of the time, people are thrilled at the prospect of losing clutter that has weighed so heavily on their psyches. "There’s such a weight off and it feels so good," Windus says.
Other times, it's not so simple. She tells of one client whose home had become so full it consisted of narrow paths leading from room to room.
The woman told her she had created a pile of items which could be donated. But during the visit, she had Windus rearrange piles throughout the room without getting rid of anything. When they were done, she requested the donation pile be moved to storage.
“Sometimes they’re not ready,” she says.
In just a year of doing this, Windus already can identify the items which tend to take up a lot of space but that loved ones typically don’t want. That includes pianos, huge curio cabinets, vinyl records, china, Christmas decorations and old fur coats.
“People think it’s valuable,” she says. “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable.”
If family members don't want an antique or collectible, Windus will work with one of her trusted partners in the antique business and have them sell the item for the client.
Clients also can tap into her extensive list of resources, such as house cleaners who do move-out cleanings.
Windus has learned Change is Good's work isn't easy, but it is rewarding. "It's just so nice that they're in a place where they're finally feeling safe, because there's weeks leading up to this move and they've been overwhelmed," she says. "There's such a sense of accomplishment after. The way it looks when you go and resettle them, the way it looks when it's done, is such a good feeling."