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Culture People June 2, 2016

Janice Willis

Janice Willis is one of those special people you warm to immediately. Settled in the corner of the lounge at Grace Joel Retirement Village in St Heliers, framed by views sweeping from Mt Wellington to Glendowie and chatting with the various people popping by, Janice is obviously in her element.


I am meeting Janice to talk about her passion — helping elderly people declutter and downsize their homes, often to move into a retirement village setting. “We take the stress out of this very sensitive and often difficult move,” she says. “Having done this for four years, I know that most people move out of their family home after 30 or 40 years living there. Their rooms are full of belongings and interests and memories and when it comes time to move, it is the first time they have had to think about actually rationalising all of their possessions. For some people it is incredibly overwhelming, especially if they are on their own.”


This is where Janice and her team step in. Elderly Assist is a hand picked team to help declutter your house, pack you up, move you to your new home and then unpack — but they never take over. “We are the arms and legs,” says Janice. “We do all the hard physical work but our clients have to make the decisions about what to keep and what to take, and that is tiring.” Which is why the team tends to do just four or five hours a day to give everyone a chance to catch their breath. “Sometimes it takes us weeks and weeks,” says Janice.


>> Compassionate Team

We all know moving is stressful — up there with divorce, apparently — but factor in being elderly, maybe also grieving or with cognitive impairment, and you’ve got a unique situation requiring much sensitivity and empathy.


“I recruit my people based on their temperament and morality,” says Janice. “I can train people to pack, but I cannot teach ethics and empathy and I run an ethical business.” Janice uses Human Resources consultant Sandy Clark from Heartstone who helps with recruitment and profiling by using psychometric testing. “This has been really key to my business,” she stresses. “We are working with a vulnerable group of people and I need to know that my team will act responsibly in every situation. My team members are really compassionate; they never stand and judge.”


Janice is very proud of her team, which includes people from all sorts of corporate and manual working backgrounds, all united in their love of working with the elderly. Coming from a corporate background herself, Janice has put in place solid foundations with robust processes, systems, manuals and guidelines for every aspect of the business. “Everything is documented and inventoried,” she says. All staff are trained and they hold regular team meetings to debrief jobs and share ideas.


>> Tailored Packages

Over the years Janice has built up many valuable add-on services such as liaising with estate agents, lawyers, retirement villages, dealers, collectors, even builders and other contractors.


“We tailor-make a package for everyone,” she says. Most people opt for the complete service but some prefer to cherry pick. The full service takes you from making the decision to move, through to helping to sort what does and doesn’t make the cut, packing up, moving day and then setting up the new home. The team will take photos of everything in the old house (china, photo frames, ornaments) so they can set up the new one with everything in its place.


“Because we work so closely with retirement villages and know the layout and storage available in the apartments and rooms, we can help make those decisions about what will fit. We don’t take a commission on anything we sell on behalf, so we don’t have a vested interest in encouraging our clients to make those decisions.”


Janice stresses to clients that they are going to make the most out of selling their house rather than the things in it. Anything that can be sold, is, and everything else is recycled, given away or disposed of ethically. “My team researches all this. We give hearing aids and spectacles to church missionaries to take to the islands, sewing machines always find a worthy home and tools might go to a prison or tech workshop.”


>> Glowing Testimonials

Janice is also extremely proud of their 99% positive rating on the No Cowboys website as well as the vast number of glowing customer testimonials, written and spoken. “I’ve had people tell me that I’ve changed their lives! The elderly people we work with are so appreciative, even of the small things we do. It is very, very rewarding working with them.”


In fact, Janice has proven so popular with the families she has helped out that she has now branched out and set up a new company. Moving Assist is for all the ‘time poor’ people who are not elderly, but just need that someone special to help them sort out their belongings and move.


I’ve taken up an hour of Janice’s time and she is raring to get back to work. “I just love my job,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”


Words: Suzy Fraser

Call Janice on 0800 839 874 for testimonials

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