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The Un-Stuffing Of America: The #1 Business Opportunity Serving The Boomer Population

Reprinted from MediaPost Engage Boomers

It isn’t a technology solution. It is decidedly low-tech. It’s not a medical device, but it does ease suffering. And while we sometimes joke about hoarding, older adults are buried in stuff — the accumulation of a lifetime (or two). The resistance to letting go of it is an enormous issue for caregivers, senior living providers and aging in place experts. Of all of the issues of caregiving, this one is the gift that literally keeps on giving.

I profess my expertise. 

I come from a long line of near-hoarders. My grandmother, who passed away at 98 on our family farm, was a collector — antique furniture, dishes, books, family photographs, recipes … she had my grandfather’s college report cards squirreled away! And I had the task of helping to empty her home and prepare for her estate sale. (Read that as two truckloads of stuff making its way from Missouri to my very small Bay-area home — including her restored Victorian baby carriage — because who doesn’t need one of those?)

My mother, whose basement was nearly at intervention stage, had a fire and her house burned down. She lost everything, but continues to joke that she saved us from the work of going through that stuff. The positive outcome was that she and my stepfather moved to a very livable, beautiful home in an age-targeted community with plenty of features for aging in their home.

Caregivers & Professionals

In our research with family caregivers, it isn’t medication management or fall prevention that keeps them up at night, though they care deeply about those things. It is their worry over what to do with all of their parents’ stuff. The conversations with their parents can be as precarious as the “time to give up the car keys” talk. At a time in their life when seniors are losing friends, giving up hobbies and freedoms, their treasures are very important. The irony is that seniors believe staying in their homes as long as possible is easing a burden on their children. The reality is that it shifts the burden from the finances of long-term care to extended time and expense of wrapping up their affairs after death.

Senior housing professionals know that stuff keeps older adults from moving to homes that are better designed for their needs — both physical and social. Aging-in-place professionals and occupational therapists know the dangers all of the stuff creates in the home. Caregivers tell us that the aftermath of losing a loved one is so complicated by the dispensation of stuff that their mourning and grief is put on hold sometimes for several years.

The data is the stuff that companies are built on

Two-thirds of 18-34 year olds value experiences over possessions. They don’t value or want the stuff. And if HGTV is any indication, they are buying tiny houses with the storage capacity of a file drawer. That’s if they can afford to buy a home at all. Perhaps it’s growing up with the stuff that has created this desire for a simpler existence.

I work with smart entrepreneurs who have brilliant ideas for apps and devices that serve older consumers, some more scalable than others. You want scale, consider this:

  • There are 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S. — five times the number of Starbucks. That’s 2.3 billion square feet.
  • 50% of storage renters are simply storing what won’t fit in their homes even though the average home size has doubled in that last 50 years.
  • Currently there are 7.3 square feet of self-storage for every man, woman and child in the nation. One in 10 Americans rents offsite storage. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades (New York Times Magazine)
  • 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them; 32% have room for only one car (U.S. Department of Energy)
  • The home organization industry, valued at $8 billion, has more than doubled since 2000 at a rate of 10% each year (Uppercase)

Services like moving, packing, estate sales and auction sites are fragmented and require time, trust, and oversight. Rarely are there services of social workers, gerontologists or care managers to start the conversations, provide resources or support family caregivers. But everyday there are millions of families are trying to figure this out. This is a service worth figuring out. (After I figure out which key goes to which storage unit.)

*Data aggregated by becomingminimalist.com 

Four Ways Your Wrong About Boomers

I am very proud to have received this great review from the National Association of Realtors for my book, The Grandparent Economy: How Boomers Are Bridging the Generation Gap. Following is the blog:

It seems everywhere you turn these days there’s some new diatribe against the generational focus of commentaries on society. It’s boomers attacking millennials attacking boomers… Heck, we even played an April Fool’s joke based on the trend a couple of weeks ago.

As someone who’s always bristled at generational stereotypes, I’m cheering those who are finally agreeing we need to stop playing the millennials vs. boomers card in the media (as no one talks about generation x anymore, that needn’t be halted of course). But as I was working on the upcoming feature for our May/June issue about how brokers are attracting the next generation of real estate pros, I found myself unable to avoid the term “millennial.”

Is your image of grandparents woefully outdated? Photo: bandini, Morguefile.

Are your ideas of grandparents woefully outdated? Photo: bandini, Morguefile.

That’s when I realized it has nothing to do with the terms; it’s the inaccurate stereotypes everyone should be finished with. And that’s why I really liked Lori K. Bitter’s The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boomers Are Bridging the Generation Gap (Paramount Market Publishing, Inc., 2015). Not only is she seeking to help business owners and marketers better understand the boomer generation through the lens of grandparenthood using actual data, but she also busts a fair amount myths about boomers and grandparents in the process. Among them:

  1. Age and aversion to technology: Bitter says if you do an image search on grandparents in Google you’ll likely see “cartoon caricatures of couples with gray buns, sagging bellies and boobs, and canes… In reality, only 20 percent of grandparents are 75 or older.” She also points out that grandparents not only outspend other generations in traditional shopping environments, but they also “are outspending younger consumers two to one online… and they account for one in four mobile transactions.”
  2. Multi-gen housing as a temporary reaction to recession. Bitter, who was raised by her grandparents, points out that humans have been living with several generations under one roof since the beginning of civilization, and in many cultures around the world, it’s more common than it currently is in the United States. But as we become increasingly multicultural, it’s important to examine our biases and look at the facts: 2.7 million grandparents are raising small children on their own, and that doesn’t encompass the many who are sharing the task of raising children with the kids’ biological parents. She also points out that, far from being temporary, the trend will probably grow as people are living longer, and notes that grandfamilies occur in every area of the country and represent all income levels, races, and ethnicities.
  3. Midlife crises. Rather than fearing their advancing age, boomers are becoming less concerned with numbers as they mature. Bitter says this is the beginning of wisdom, or “the centered sense of the timelessness of all things.” She suggests thinking of marketing in the same way you might universal design: If you create something that can be used by anyone, it will be appreciated by everyone.
  4. The “Me Generation.” Bitter shows how the common trope of younger generations being full of themselves goes astray: All young people project that sort of bravado to a certain extent. “The images of self-entitled, self-centered, and materialistic boomers do not sit well, and the majority of those surveyed believe advertisers and reporters frequently get it wrong. From a developmental perspective self-involvement and materialism are features of a striving lifestyle typical of younger adults, which would be accurate for any generation, not just the Baby Boom.”

Though this isn’t a book specifically about real estate, Bitter includes numerous examples of housing communities that are successfully meeting the needs of this new batch of grandparents. And she clearly thinks highly of REALTOR® outreach to consumers: “Has an ad ever brought a tear to your eye? …Fast forward to the recent ads by the National Association of REALTORS® about the ‘American Dream of home ownership’ featuring a grandfather and his grandson. Mature consumers appreciate the art of a story well told.”

Now that’s a stereotype I think we can all live with.

Meg White

Meg White is the multimedia web producer for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine’s Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]realtors.org.

 

The Boomer economy: Caring has its costs

A lot has been written about Baby Boomers, who are doing a lot more to boost the economy than they are given credit for — a lot more — says author Lori Bitter.

Bitter, author of “The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boomers are Bridging the Generation Gap,” says Boomers are not only taking in their parents, but sometimes several generations of family members who have not recovered from the Great Recession.

The problem, she says, is that they are doing it all at great peril to their own retirement.

“The real story is they may have two or three generations of people living in their homes that they were working their butts off to support,” she says. “This generation just gets bashed. When you see what is really happening. It is more interesting that the headlines and misunderstood labels.

“They are literally holding up the economy by taking care of families who haven’t made it through the recession too well, taking care of their elders and grandchildren,” she says. “Even if they aren’t totally supporting them, they are contributing to all those households.”

Not only are they endangering their own retirement by supporting family members, but they are also doing it at the expense of their own health, she says.

“Fifty is typically is where you have your personal health concerns,” she says. You look at your health in a different way. Middle-age people are managing a number of chronic conditions of their own. While caring for people at the older end of the spectrum or younger end, they’re managing doctor appointments of others, and push their own health care needs to the bottom of the list. They can see the decline of person they are they are taking care and simultaneously ignore their own health. We urge this population to take care of their own health. If their health problems get worse, the whole system breaks down.”

13th ANNUAL WHAT’S NEXT BOOMER SUMMIT COMES TO THE NATION’S CAPITAL , MARCH 23, 2016

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Nation’s Leading Conference Brings Together Boomer Marketing Experts and Industry Leaders to Focus on “Seizing the Opportunity of the Longevity Economy”

Washington, D.C. plays host to the 2016 What’s Next Boomer Business Summit, the nation’s leading annual conference for the boomer and senior markets. Taking place on Wednesday, March 23rd at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the upcoming summit shines a spotlight on “Seizing the Opportunity of the Longevity Economy” and includes a prestigious lineup of speakers, sessions, and exhibitors. Learn More →

MediaPost Engage Boomers-The Psychology of Marketing to Grandparents

The Psychology of Marketing to Grandparents

Let’s face it. Psychologist Abraham Maslow never wanted to be a marketer. In his work Toward a Psychology of Being he describes the 13 personality attributes of the self-actualizing person. Often depicted as the top of the pyramid on the Hierarchy of Needs, “Self-actualization” is the realization of one’s full potential, with a focus outside of self. Learn More →

“The Grandparent Economy” on Yahoo Finance

Marketing to Grandparents

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Abraham Maslow never intended to be a marketer. But when it comes to creating products, services, and messaging for older adults, his “13 personality attributes of the self-actualizing person” from Toward a Psychology of Being provide focused guidelines for creating a great creative brief. Recall that self-actualization is the realization of one’s full potential, with a focus outside of self.

Many of the grandparents we spoke with for The Grandparent Economy considered this phase of their development to have begun with the birth of that first grandchild. It is described as a turning point, as a time when the future comes into sharper focus. There is a realization of their mortality, and of family life continuing after they are gone. Relationships take on greater meaning and a sense of selflessness takes over. Learn More →

Reaching the Mature Audience

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I have always loved the concept of AARP’s “Movies for Grown-ups.” Mature adults are different. Developmentally, as we age, we connect more with great stories and complex, layered characters; in many ways we process our own lives through the stories of others. Praise for the movie, The Intern, with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway resonates with older adults navigating the intergenerational workplace. Learn More →

Q & A with Lori Bitter now live at seniorhousingnet.com


Baby boomers are changing the definition of aging in America. Lori Bitter, a consultant who specializes in engaging with mature consumers at The Business of Aging, delves into the changes in American households and their broader social effect in her new book, “The Grandparent Economy.” She answered some questions for SeniorHousingNet.com on grandparenting, the golden years and deciding where to live. Learn More →

Is grandparenting the ultimate “do-over”?

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Lori talked to Huffington Post, on behalf of GRAND Magazine, on the evolution from parenting to grandparenting. Can bad parents make good grandparents? Is there a healing power in these multigenerational relationships. Read more here.