Mischa Greenberg was 58 when her professional life seriously contracted: She was laid off after 38 years in pharmaceutical sales.
Her bounce-back move? A business helping others live smaller.
Greenberg launched Moves-Made-EZ.com in September 2013, serving as a consultant to those who need help with those heart-rending decisions about what not to take with them. She has tapped into two trends that show no signs of waning: downsizing and the difficulty people have letting go of their possessions.
A self-described minimalist, Greenberg had helped friends and family prepare for moves "all my life" and thought "doing it as a business was a really unique idea."
It wasn't. In doing research for her business plan, she discovered the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), an Illinois-based organization that got its start just outside Philadelphia.
Instead of being discouraged that others had already thought of her business niche, Greenberg was inspired, concluding that it must mean "there's so much work."
That was a correct assessment.
"I made money my first year in business," said Greenberg, who declined to disclose financials but said she charges $50 an hour and reached "90 percent of my five-year [revenue] goal in Year 2." With no overhead - she does her work in others' homes - and no employees, she is averaging four jobs a month and has done almost 60 since she started the business.
Demographics paint a rosy picture for the industry, according to NASMM's website. It notes that by 2030, the elderly will account for one-fifth of the total U.S. population, and that those 85 and older comprise the fastest-growing segment.
This year marked a significant milestone: The first baby boomers turned 70, said Jennifer Pickett, NASMM's associate executive director.
"This is the first generation that has outsourced everything: yard servicing, laundry, housecleaning," Pickett said. "They've used wedding planners for their children. It's not out of their realm of expectation to outsource this."
The rate at which the number of downsizing consultants has grown confirms that, she said.
When Margit Novack of Moving Solutions in Havertown led the effort to form NASMM in 2002, it had 22 members. Members now number 1,000, including Greenberg, who is believed to be the only one in the city. All can be found at www.nasmm.org.
NASMM members - who have demonstrated that they have insurance and an operating company and website, and have taken courses in safety, ethics, the moving industry, and risk and liability - are coordinating about 500,000 moves a year, Pickett said.
The typical fee is $40 to $60 an hour. A 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom house requires 20 to 25 hours of planning, packing, possessions-dispersal, and resettling help, Pickett said. (That doesn't include the actual move, usually handled by moving companies.) Move managers in business more than four years are netting "well over $200,000 a year," she noted.
Greenberg said her new career goal is threefold: to make a difference in people's lives, to do something physical, and to make a positive environmental impact by seeing that "the fewest number of things go to a landfill."
That last initiative brings particular solace to her clients, she said, recalling one woman's delight in meeting the bride-to-be who got her wedding gown.
"It's often very difficult for clients to give things away," Greenberg said. "But if they see the continuum of joy, it really makes a difference."
That recognition led GreenDrop, a Bensalem-based company that converts donations of clothing and household items to funding for charities, to add a home-cleanout concierge service. It has grown from two to three jobs every other week to five or six a week, said Colleen Blair, a program specialist.
Sometimes, a move coordinator just needs to let a client inspect every nail in the can on the basement workbench.
"I have learned that this business is all about empathy," Greenberg said.
And contacts. Realtors are her biggest resource, she said.
"If the client is feeling a little overwhelmed or we get the sense they will need a little help, that's when we recommend Mischa," said Lisa Budnick, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors.
She referred Susan Shapiro, 69, who was relocating from a three-story rowhouse in Philadelphia to a two-bedroom apartment in Bergen County, N.J.
"Not only did [Greenberg] help us find places to donate to, she even brought us . . . a little video saying, 'We really appreciate your things,' " Shapiro said. "Who does that?"