This December, for the second year in a row, Chrys Kefalas and his husband didn’t deck the halls. Instead, they hired a friend to do it.
Kefalas, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his husband, radio and television host Tommy McFly, enlisted the services of his friend Heather Cooper, a Washington-based interior designer who previously served as the resident artist and designer for The Executive Residence of The White House. She arrived at their condominium at 8 a.m., and by the time they returned home from work that same day all of the decorations were finished.
Beyond making their home look even more beautiful for the holiday season, having someone decorate was a major stress-reliever for the couple. Between holiday events and end-of-year work, Kefalas said it was difficult making time to get their home ready for the holidays.
“This is definitely a new tradition in our family and one we hope continues,” Kefalas said. “It is really a gift to us to make the holidays a little less stressful and easier and to get into the holidays in a faster way.”
To decorate the couple’s home, Cooper used some of the décor that the couple had collected over the years, but supplemented it with new items she had purchased, especially for them. Over the years, Cooper said she will continue to build on her clients’ decorations collections. “It might take a decade, but that house is going to be over time more and more amazing looking,” she said.
Cooper typically charges $1,200 a day for her services — though larger homes can take multiple days to decorate. For friends like Kefalas and McFly, she gives discounts.
Cooper describes her typical client as “the ultra-professional.” “They are the type of person who has a billion events to do and activities that go on at the holidays, she said. These clients typically err on the side of the traditional when it comes to holiday décor, but Cooper has created some wild and creative designs.
While at the White House during the Obama administration, she once created a gigantic, functioning gumball machine that had a winter scene inside and gave people white candies. She also crafted festive topiary versions of the Obama family’s dogs, Bo and Sunny, out of chicken wire and pom-poms.
For her private clients today, she continues to make out-of-the-ordinary designs. One family in California hired her this year to produce Christmas decorations that could double as decorations for a baby shower. The trees were covered with pink ornaments — including cupcakes, ballet slippers and unicorns — and white lights. Other requests she has received recently include candy-themed Christmas trees and trees with bird-shaped ornaments.
Kefalas and his husband were drawn by the creative flair. “You don’t go to a lawyer to do your dental work — you go to an expert,” Kefalas said. “I want to go to an expert when it comes to putting together a creative design that speaks to what I love about the holidays and what I love about Christmas.”
Many Americans are stressed out by the holidays
If you get stressed out by the holidays, you’re far from alone. Research has shown that the holidays can increase people’s emotional distress. A 2015 survey from medical-advice website Healthline found that 62% of people describe the holidays as “very” or “somewhat” stressful.
One problem: A lack of time was reported to be the biggest source of stress during the holidays, followed by a lack of money, according to a 2006 study commissioned for the American Psychological Association. Moreover, this research suggested that women disproportionately endure stress during the holidays.
Much of this stress stems from the expectations we think others have of us at this time of year. “The reason people have stress is because most of us care too much about how we’re viewed by other people and carrying the extra burden of feeling responsible for somebody else’s happiness,” said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychologist.
That’s where “outsourcing” the holidays comes in. Many families across the country, like Kefalas and his husband, will pay for a host of services to alleviate some of that stress.
‘People are really busy these days — they value time more than they value material items.’
Laura Fabrizio, who runs Coastal Concierge Management, a personal concierge service based in The Hamptons, N.Y., said business is brisk this time of year. She offers a wide range of services tailored for the holidays, from planning Christmas parties to decorating homes to putting together gift baskets.
“People are really busy these days — they value time more than they value material items,” Fabrizio said. “If someone wants to throw a holiday party with the festive buzz, the right music, the right lighting, that takes a lot of effort and time to put that all together.”
But hiring someone to handle these tasks often isn’t a cheap proposition. MarketWatch researched the cost of various holiday-related services for hire across the country for everything from hiring a landscaping company to install your Christmas lights for you to ordering a fully-cooked holiday meal from a grocery store.
Here’s how the costs of “outsourcing” the holidays break down:
You don’t necessarily need to be wealthy to afford these services — and savvy consumers will be able to find ways of cutting the costs while still reducing the amount of effort they need to spend on various tasks.
Kathrine Eldridge, a personal shopper and fashion blogger based in the Chicagoland metropolitan area, offers a special online-shopping service this time of year that costs roughly half her normal rate for personal shopping.
“A lot of my clients dislike shopping, and they’d rather be spending time doing something else,” Eldridge said. “I’m always online. I know where to look, and I know all the tricks to find the best things.”
Unlike with her typical personal-shopping service, Eldridge doesn’t meet in person with her online-shopping clients and mainly communicates over email with them. Her customers tell her who they’re shopping for — whether it’s their husband, wife, parent or best friend — including as much detail regarding the gift recipient’s likes and dislikes.
Similarly, organizing food can be a major hassle. But full-service catering can be well outside of most people’s price ranges.
Allison Davis, founder and principal producer at Davis Row, a New York-based wedding and celebration-planning company, suggested people reach out to local restaurants to explore whether they deliver on the holidays. When choosing what food to get prepared for you and what to cook yourself, Davis recommended focusing on the big-ticket items.
“A lot of people don’t have the experience or wherewithal to cook a turkey,” she said.
Buying a pre-made turkey or ham for a holiday dinner party can go further than buying smaller items like pies or cookies. More importantly, it frees up oven space to make other dishes and ensures that the main dish is properly cooked so no one gets food poisoning during the holidays.
‘All you can do is lay out and present the best of what you can offer and hope that people can take joy in what you’ve presented.’
There are, however, other ways to reduce the holiday stress. Much of that comes down to swallowing your pride, Walfish said.
If you’re hosting a holiday get-together, but don’t have the ability to take time off work for the preparations, Walfish suggested turning the event into a potluck to save both time and money.
“People are happy to bring something,” Walfish said. “Most people don’t want to come empty-handed anyway, so they’re relieved when you assign them what to bring.”
As for handling the decor, Cooper said she has given tutorials to groups of people to teach them her decorating strategies, from how to come up with a color scheme to how to tie ribbons properly. For a reduced price, she will also give people one-on-one consultations to help them sort through their decorations. “They’ll be able to take a few things home that they create, and they leave with skills and can incorporate those,” Cooper said.
In the meantime, Walfish recommended not letting other people’s expectations sour your enjoyment of the holidays. “All you can do is lay out and present the best of what you can offer and hope that people can take joy in what you’ve presented,” she said.