Hired holiday elves take the stress out of Christmas

Kim North Shine
Special to The Detroit News

It's the time of year to make lists, check them twice and realize there's just too much to do.

The house needs decorating. The cards need sending. The shopping needs time. The cookies need baking. The gifts need wrapping. The meal needs cooking, and it feels like the list is only getting … longer.

But there are entrepreneurial elves that can do every holiday chore that needs doing, starting with nurseries and stores that will deliver a tree, place it in the stand, trim it with lights and put it all away at the end of the season.

Mary Ann Bury, a holiday decorator from Grosse Pointe, has decorated entire homes for 16 years.

Her first client came from her job with a florist that decorated homes and had too many clients one year. They pay Bury between $30 and $45 an hour to holiday-ize their homes.

"I didn't even know this was something that was done," Bury says. "I just figured people did their own decorations."

As word spread about her business, her client list — 16 this year — cemented her reputation as a holiday decorator. The list includes homeowners who are either too busy or just not interested enough in decorating, but love holiday décor.

The skills of Regan Wright, owner of Get Organized in Grosse Pointe, come into play on the other side of the holidays — when it's time to clean it up and put it away. Her rate starts at $40 an hour.

"Everyone loves when it all comes out," says Wright, who sorts and purges, if necessary, decorations so that next year is easier. "They're in such a festive mood, but no one wants to take it down."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's a list to attend to. Connie Elder, owner of Chateau Concierge based in Farmington, will shop, run errands and complete most any task, from the elaborate 12 Days of Christmas gift presentation she's doing for one local client to a routine run to Target for a gift card for the forgotten school gift swap.

She's a personal shopper, personal assistant and can decorate or arrange decorating, gift wrapping, catering and any number of tasks or errands.

She doesn't consider herself a service exclusively for the wealthy. Her hourly rate is $35 for online shopping, product researching, gift tracking and gift wrapping and as much as $50 an hour for travel-related needs such as shopping at stores, delivering gifts and running errands.

"People nowadays with dual incomes … being so busy, they can use the extra set of hands, and really time is money," she says. "Sometimes it doesn't make financial sense to spend your time taking care of these things. My clients range anywhere from middle class to people who spend more extravagantly."

Decorating, gifts made easy

For Birmingham resident and business owner Michael Kelter, Elder is the one phone call for all things holiday, be it gifts or a dinner party.

"Connie has done everything for me, from completing my shopping list of clients, relatives and friends," he says, including finding, wrapping and mailing the gifts. "And the gifts I send take time and research. They are going to people all over the world, and often they need to be unusual or unique.

"Time isn't something you can buy, but with someone like Connie it's possible to have more free time."

Elder expects emergency calls to start next week.

"Some clients actually pre-plan and want it all done and wrapped up before Thanksgiving," she says. "You also have people who forget things on their list, and they realize it on Dec. 22."

Elder often turns to someone like Lisa Gleeson, owner of Lisa's Gift Wrappers in Royal Oak, when her clients need gift wrapping.

Elaborate packages like the Santa Baby, which wraps gifts in Santa's bedazzled belt, are made in Gleeson's shop, which she opened a decade ago. Her customers are corporations, small businesses, families and the lone gift giver.

She has regular customers who "know our paper comes in in October and they get in early, and those who wait 'til Christmas Eve to shop."

"We've been wrapping Christmas for three weeks now. We will be wrapping nonstop until Christmas Eve." Among the packages are 50 gifts ordered by a New York City company for a national magazine and an order from a mom who wants the family's gifts to match her new rug.

"We ... have a couple of customers who come in and bring everything they're giving to their kids. We even keep track of the number of gifts so no one feels slighted."

So decorating and wrapping are done, but does the thought of making Christmas dinner turn your stomach? Freelance chef Brian Brenner of Brian Abner Culinary will do it. He's "inundated at the holidays" and meeting customers to plan meals he'll deliver for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and holiday parties.

"When you have a large group getting together, it can become a real nuisance in addition to getting the house cleaned and all the preparations done," Brenner says. "It kind of affects the entire group when so-and-so is doing the work. People kind of feel bad. If you're lucky enough to have disposable income to have it done for you, you can just relax and enjoy the day."

Interior designer Kristin Ross from Grosse Pointe will set a festive table for clients. She partners with designer Sarah LaRou Rozewicz for other aspects of holiday decorating.

"With my stock of stemware, plates, vessels for flowers, apothecary jars, we can create a tablescape that's special without having to buy everything," Ross said. "And I'm a huge vintage fan. I like to make the table different. And I like to use disposable fabric tablecloths so you don't have to worry about the wine or grease stains."

Managing the aftermath

Pamela Paris and her Paris Event Services can serve the food, wait on guests and clean up. They will set tables or decorate, too.

"We clean, refill food trays, consolidate food, and at the end we completely clean the kitchen and party area so the client does nothing," she says.

Lori Zieman of Rochester Hills will take the chore out of sending Christmas cards. She is a local provider for the SendOutCards system, based in Utah.

She provides customized invitations and greeting cards all year long for her customers, but "the holiday cards are the biggest ones because people send them in bulk," Zieman says.

She can design the cards or walk customers through the SendOutCards' online ordering process. She can also be hired to sort though customers' contacts and create spreadsheets for their distribution lists.

"Once the send button is hit, the company in Salt Lake City prints it, stuffs it, seals it, stamps it and mails it for you," she says.

And when the to-do list goes in the garbage, Wright of Get Organized comes in for clean-up. She advises putting Christmas decorations on a to-do list in July. Whatever time of year, she sorts decorations into must-keep, throw away and donate piles and will store them room by room so "next year if they have an hour here and there they can bring out a room at a time."

"I always recommend do it early in the season," she says. "It's a time of year when you can really see clearly what you don't like anymore. But in the month of December — put this in big bold letters — there are just too many demands."

Kim North Shine is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.