Megan Clauson starts buying decor in the summer so she will be ready for her Christmas clients of The Ultimate Elf.
- We offer decorating services for other holidays and events, but our main focus is Christmas.
- We decorate from early November to mid-December, doing about 30 houses and 30 restaurants.
- The best part of my job is getting to work with different people — and working with my parents.
When I was 5, my mom started a business doing holiday decor in the Chicago area. I watched her transform big, beautiful houses into cozy classic Christmas scenes in a matter of hours. I admired her confidence — the way she’d climb a high ladder and how she understood a client’s style.
So when I was about 17, I started helping her with little tasks, like decorating the tree or helping unpack boxes of decorations.
I graduated from college with a degree in education, but I’ve always had odd jobs. In 2012, I was working at a small family-owned flower shop in New York City, and I started to wonder why I wasn’t working for my own family’s business.
So in 2013, I decided to move back to Chicago. I became a co-owner of The Ultimate Elf and made that my seasonal job from October to January.
While we do offer decorating services for other holidays and events, like Halloween and bridal showers, our main focus is Christmas.
We decorate from early November to mid-December, doing about 30 houses and 30 restaurants. We also offer a takedown service, which keeps us busy until the end of January. Most of our clients find us through word of mouth since my mom has been doing this locally for 30 years. We also reach out to restaurants that we notice could use more holiday decor.
We understand each client and their space first
When we have a new client, we first set up a time to chat so I can see what they have in mind. After that, I like to see pictures of the space so I can start planning how my team will decorate. We always share pictures and explain our plans before we get started.
We also find out whether the client has their own decorations or they want us to source items. We usually start buying Christmas decor in the summer from wholesalers so we’re prepared when the season starts.
We string lights through stairwell garlands, make bows, and add berries to trees and swags. Of course, we’ve also created every type of tree theme imaginable — including a Chicago Cubs tree, a Disney tree, and a Notre Dame tree.
It’s not as easy as it seems
A lot of what makes us good at this job is our attention to detail. For example, we make sure electrical cords aren’t dangling, bows are fluffed and not still flat from being in storage, and flowers are facing the right direction.
A big part of the job involves climbing up ladders and going into dusty storage rooms to remove and unpack boxes. Plus, everything we set up has to be secure so nobody accidentally pulls off a decoration.
Clauson moved back to Chicago and, as a co-owner of The Ultimate Elf, made holiday decor her seasonal job from October to January.
Megan Clauson offers decorating services for other holidays, but the main focus is the Christmas season.
Most places we decorate take a day, but depending on the size of the place, we’ll have anywhere from two to 10 people working to decorate. A lot goes into determining pricing, from the number of rooms to whether we need to buy items. We use that information to determine an hourly rate. Most of our installations take between six and seven hours.
We get some odd requests
Over the years, I’ve learned to understand whether the client is asking for my advice and if they are certain about what they want. Some clients have over-the-top taste. They ask us to incorporate oversize items, like a life-size deer, nutcrackers, or a mailbox for Santa’s letters.
I do as they say, even if it’s not my personal style. Some of their items are heirlooms or traditional pieces, and if that’s what they want to use as their holiday decor, we always respect that. Part of our job is to make the process light-hearted and easygoing.
A good elf is hard to find
One of the toughest parts of the job is finding “elves” every season. Because it’s a temporary job, we have some people who don’t come back the next year if, for example, they get a full-time job.
This year, we have 22 elves working for us. We like to find people with attention to detail who are a bit handy. We need to make sure everything looks perfect and is set up safely, but we also need reliable people who can work quickly.
Here’s what I recommend for Christmas decorating
When people ask me for holiday-decorating advice, my best tips are to add battery-operated candles and candlesticks because they add height, plus they create a warm ambiance. Incorporate fresh greens into artificial greens for a more natural look, and add your favorite holiday photographs.
The best part of my job is getting to work with different people and working with my parents. After the holidays, it can feel a little weird. After taking down people’s decorations, there’s a bit of relief, but I am quite sad, too. I put away my Ultimate Elf hat and count down the days until the next holiday season.
Megan Clawson moved back to Chicago and, as co-owner of The Ultimate Elf, made holiday decor her official seasonal job from October to January.