A Professional Organizer Is Offering “Surrogate Moving” Services to People Who’ve Left NYC

published Sep 1, 2020
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Few things are harder than packing up your life and putting it back down somewhere new. Add stay-at-home orders and a general sense of uneasiness into the mix, and it becomes even harder. 

But for those who fled their city homes for more space in the suburbs in the wake of the pandemic—and then decided they wanted to stay there permanently—there has been a unique moving challenge: getting their stuff out of the city without actually going back into the city.

Coronavirus has prompted industries from restaurants to retail to change overnight—and the business of moving is no exception. Professional organizer Sandy Busken has recognized the hardship of moving when you’re not actually there. Recently, she’s been offering her services through her New York City-based consultancy, Dear Mess, to help with “surrogate moving,” a term she coined to explain the process of having someone else do all the sorting and packing and most of the decision-making while the resident phones it in remotely.

“Usually the client is there for the hand-holding process if I’m helping them move out. I’m there as support during the stress of moving. That being said, I’ve done variations of surrogate moving before, but never have I experienced the whole process being driven virtually through ongoing face-to-face video chats as I go through their belongings and uproot their life someplace,” Busken says. “I’ve never directly worked with landlords to get security deposits back for other people. To go through someone else’s space by myself, all alone, is strange, because I felt like I was moving, too. I was the one who closed the doors of many people’s experiences in New York.”

One of the people Busken moved out is actor, director and professional business coach, Chris Roe. He’s moved around 20 times in 20 years and says that his most recent, a surrogate move out of Sunnyside, Queens, handled by Busken, was his “oddest and easiest.” 

“I felt so uncomfortable with the idea of hiring someone to come in and move things,” Chris shares. “I knew Sandy previously and that she organized professionally. She offered to take care of the move for me and when I say that, I mean she literally took care of everything. I thought about putting my stuff into a storage unit, but she made me realize I really didn’t need most of it and I shouldn’t pay for storage to only forget what I had put away in it. She also made my move one with zero-waste, even the packing tape! Everything was sold, kept, donated or recycled. She even coordinated returning my router!”

While the idea is novel, surrogate moving is more or less one of the most viable options for moving out of New York City without returning, or, in some cases, navigating how to collect a loved one’s belongings after a tragedy. On one occasion, Busken has remotely worked with a family whose adult daughter passed away while in quarantine in her Brooklyn apartment. Busken navigated the storm of collecting the young woman’s belongings and coordinated donations and an open house for people to come and take her objects to give them a new life.

“Nicole was the first person I got to know personally, but I never got to meet. Through her art, costuming, belongings, books, I felt so connected to someone my age that I had never met,” Busken reflects. “Organizing and moving all of her belongings for her mother felt like the right way I could help during the pandemic. I felt like I was meant to meet her mother and handle all this for her. I became part of the daily grieving process and tried to help the family find peace in making sure Nicole’s belongings made it to new homes and were loved just as much as she loved them. I even captured little moments from people finding joy in taking some of her old stuff and sent those videos to her mom so she would know they were going to the right place. It felt like the memorial service she couldn’t have.”

Nicole’s mother Chris, who lives in Indiana, says she was relieved to have someone take over the process.

“Sandy did everything she said she would say would do. She took care of everything. She even told people in Nicole’s building, her neighbors, who didn’t realize what had happened,” Chris says. “When you’re going through grief it’s so hard to just think clearly and Sandy certainly helped with that. She was just what we needed to get through this hard experience.” 

While the need for surrogate moving services may wane once a vaccine arrives, Busken explains it’s a way for her to do her part to help out during a difficult time.

“What organizers do is fun—we get to turn something that is normally stressful for someone into a pleasure for us. It brings me so much joy to help people,” Busken says. “I’m not a first responder and I wanted to help during this hard time. I wanted to help my community and part of helping your community is doing what you love.”