When Irene Carter moved out of her four-bedroom house 15 years ago, her spacious new apartment in Brooklyn Center could accommodate many of her precious belongings.
Some didn't make the cut, however, including Irene's matching dresses, hats, shoes and handbags from her days as a secretary in the 1960s. Her son Jonathan hated the thought of throwing away his mother's carefully assembled wardrobe, but the vintage clothing stores he called had too many similar items.
This winter, Irene Carter and her family decided it was time for her to move to an assisted living center. Jonathan Carter dreaded revisiting the process of sorting, keeping and tossing. A friend recommended Empty the Nest, a Golden Valley company that not only removes unwanted items, but also makes sure those that are reusable are reused.
"They took just about everything," Carter said. "They even moved out a couple of the appliances."
Empty the Nest donates many items and saves the most desirable to sell at its thrift store in Burnsville, which is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The store sells about 70 percent of its inventory every week, according to company owner Sharon Fischman of Golden Valley. (For a sneak peek at the items, look up Empty the Nest on Craigslist, like it on Facebook or sign up to receive its newsletter.)
Fischman worked for eight years for a different company that manages moves for senior citizens. She started as a packer and moved up to move manager. She noticed how many items that neither families nor charities wanted were discarded.
"What do you do with the things that you can't give away?" she wondered at the time. "This stuff was going to go into the landfill. It killed me because this was good stuff."
Fischman said she founded Empty the Nest not only to help families empty their homes, but to throw away as few of their unwanted belongings as possible. It takes about three weeks from the time a client contracts with Empty the Nest until the actual clean-out.
After visiting the client's home to assess what she can sell or donate and what must be discarded, Fischman calculates the cost of labor and a dumpster and estimates the value of items she believes will sell. For example, if that total is $2,000 and Fischman estimates the better goods will sell for $1,000, she charges the family $1,000.
Empty the Nest donates household items to Goodwill and Bridging. Electronics go to the nonprofit Tech Dump in Golden Valley for recycling. The company gives families receipts for all donations so they can deduct the items' values from their taxes.
The company's staff understands how difficult and emotional the moving and house-emptying process can be for seniors and their adult children, particularly when those children live far away.
Sharon Kadet, who handles business development for Empty the Nest, has used FaceTime to communicate with family members who want to look around the house before it's emptied.
Fischman advises seniors to move out with what they want to bring and to return before the clean-out to make sure they have everything they want. She tells families they only have to think about what they want to keep. If they forget where a particular item is, the company will find it and put it aside.
"I am a woman in my 50s, and I hire other women, and we get it," Fischman said. "We're about respect and honor, and so I say to them, 'The things that we would bring back to our store, they're going to have a new life, they're going to go to a family.' "
Nancy Crotti is a freelance writer in St. Paul: firstname.lastname@example.org