In Search of a Stress-Free Pesach? Try Calling Your Local Pesach Organizer

Chana Billet

A new trend finds frum uber-organized women fusing their talents with their religious sensibilities to help Jewish women organize their homes—and their lives.

Rivka Slatkin is a woman of ideas. As a professional organizer from Baltimore, she is used to brainstorming “organizing” solutions for clients. But one of her most memorable strategies came when she stayed home for Pesach for the first time in her married life.

“Instead of having a panic attack, I devised a plan so my preparations could be as smooth as possible,” says twenty-eight-year-old Slatkin. “I couldn’t afford to forget anything.”

Slatkin interviewed veteran balabustas who had “made Pesach” for decades. Coupling their advice with her own skills as a professional organizer, she arranged her findings in a detailed outline she used to pull off a wonderful, inspired and stress-free Pesach. Ecstatic with the results, she shared her plan with friends, who loved it, too.

Eventually, Slatkin created Pesach Perfectly Organized, the first e-book in what eventually evolved into the Yom Tov Perfectly Organized series. These manuals are the crowning jewel of her web site, http://www.jewish-life-organized.com, where she offers professional expertise to Jewish women in the US as well as in Israel, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries around the world.

As Slatkin attests, Jewish life, with Shabbat as a weekly benchmark and holidays every few months, could use a dose of organization any time of year.
That’s where the professionals come in. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, family coaching and home organizing is “a huge domain that is growing.” Indeed, this trend has caught on in the Orthodox community, with more and more uber-organized frum women fusing their talents with their religious sensibilities to help Jewish women organize their homes—and their lives. And while the niche of home organization is a profitable market, with magazines, television shows and chain stores dedicated to helping people improve their lives through orderliness, for the frum community, using resources from organizing experts who understand what it means to cook for Shabbat or how to pull off a three-day-yom tov is proving to be essential.

Holiday Tips

Slatkin’s e-books offer readers self-guided programs to prepare for Jewish holidays; highlights include advice on cooking, shopping and cleaning in addition to tips on how to store holiday paraphernalia so it will be accessible the following year.

In her introduction to Pesach Perfectly Organized, Slatkin writes:

The secret of successful Jewish homemakers is to keep the holidays in mind throughout the year. [These women] shop for Purim costumes at the end of October, Purim candy after Chanuka, and sukkah decorations when they see a sale at a home goods store.

“Through Rivka’s books, I don’t have to go through all the trial and error most women experience,” says Denia Kramer, of Baltimore, who has been using Slatkin’s system for the past two years. “Even her relatively simple ideas, like keeping all of my Pesach supplies in clear plastic containers, were huge ‘aha!’ moments for me,” she says.

The Team Manager

“Frum women are even more prone to [feeling overwhelmed] than the general population,” says Sarah Zeldman, a thirty-something certified “Family Manager” (a life coach who trains families to run their homes likes businesses). “All kitchens require functionality but kosher kitchens are more complex. And … large families, which are common in the frum community, make management skills critical for Orthodox women.”

Zeldman, who is from Toronto, adapts the principles of home management guru Kathy Peel to fit with a Jewish lifestyle. Peel’s revolutionary home management system takes the strategies used to run a successful business (managing by departments, delegation, team building and incorporating standard operating procedures) and applies them to running the most important organization in the world—the home.

Through the “Family Manager Makeovers” she offers on her web site, http://www.solutionsforbusymoms.com, Zeldman helps clients run their homes according to departments (home and property, food, money, family and friends, special events, time and scheduling and self-management) and fosters team building among family members. After a thorough online assessment, Zeldman, who claims to be the only frum family coach certified in Peel’s system, follows up by phone to discuss the current state of the client’s home and where the client would like it to be. Then she creates an action plan focusing on the departments and management skills needed to get the jobs done. (Makeover cost about $199.)

“Two people can have the same problem but since each issue may be rooted in a different cause, the solutions will be different,” explains Zeldman. “The Family Manager system doesn’t make moms perfect. Instead, it teaches how we can work with our strengths and minimize the impact of our weaknesses,” she says. “Delegate tasks you don’t like to people who are better at them, consider bartering [tasks] with a friend or make a conscious decision for a task to fall into the category of ‘executive neglect.’”

“If it bothers you to think of running your home as a business, then… look at it like you’re running the best non-profit organization in the world,” says Zeldman.

Cut Out the Clutter

“People who are not organized tend to blame themselves,” says Esther Simon, a Los Angeles member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and founder of http://www.traditionalhomeorganizer.com. “[But] being organized is not a magical talent; it’s something that can be taught.”

Simon offers at-home visits where she begins each session by granting the client permission to get rid of things. “We look at every object and identify if it’s needed,” says Simon, who is in her mid-forties. “If we don’t get rid of it, we figure out where to put it so it can be easily located.”

Simon comes armed with her two favorite organizational tools: a label maker and clear plastic containers. Brimming with strategies, she reminds clients to never leave a room empty-handed, to spend twenty minutes a day maintaining organized spaces and to simplify daily routines as much as possible.

For streamlining meals, Simon encourages women to double a recipe and freeze some of it for later use. She also suggests cooking two different dishes at the same time—serve one for dinner and refrigerate the second for later in the week, a system she calls serving “rightovers” instead of leftovers.
Simon is a pro at setting up kosher kitchens, where space is often at a minimum. She suggests using shelf risers to accommodate a double set of dishes, storing less-frequently used appliances in out-of-the-way places and organizing bulk items in air-tight storage containers.

“Our home used to be so cluttered,” says Esther Lubin, a Los Angeles mom of six who bemoans the small closets in her home. “[Simon] helped us decide what was important and what wasn’t. She showed me how to categorize, label and organize everything. …It was a real cleansing experience. I felt a sense of freedom when she left because I could find everything.”

Simon’s work has been life changing for many of her clients. But the ultimate compliment came from her daughter, Shifra, shortly after she gave birth to her first child. “I am a better mother and wife,” she told her mom, “because you taught me how to be organized.”

“It takes a lot of work to be organized,” admits Simon. “But having the skills to successfully run a household creates better parents, happier children and stronger marriages.”

In the motto of the Container Store, a mecca for those who crave order, life is more fun when you’re organized.

Felisa Billet is a freelance writer in Hollywood, Florida.

The Jewish Woman’s Weekly Planner

When it comes to staying organized, all the experts agree that a notebook containing daily notes, shopping lists and scheduling information is a must. Devorah Rosen Goldman of Teaneck, New Jersey, founder of http://www.inspiredjewishliving.com, understood this basic principle and set out to create the ultimate organizational aid for Jewish women.

Designed to be every Jewish woman’s right hand, The Jewish Woman’s Weekly Planner is a sixteen-month weekly calendar that includes organizational tips, inspirational messages and tear-out recipes. Each page has a grid on the back to record the week’s menu, shopping lists and Shabbat guests. As the year progresses, the recipes and notes can be stored in a folder to archive Shabbat and holiday memories.

The planner, which captures the glory and rhythm of Jewish life through gorgeous photos, inspires women to lead an organized and creative Jewish life.
“It takes a lot of work to be organized,” says Goldman. “But you need to be organized so you can be creative and have fun.”

Tips for a Pressure-Free Pesach:

1. Make lists of things that need to get done. Put the lists in a notebook or binder with dividers so you can create sections for cleaning, shopping and menu planning. By keeping your notes in a designated spot, you will avoid having to make multiple lists that may get lost. Use this notebook to streamline preparations for next year.

2. Create a timeline of tasks by working with the end in mind. When you plan your schedule, work backwards. For example, begin by writing “First Seder” on April 8th. Ask yourself what you want to get done on the morning of the Seder. If you want to set the table, buy flowers and prepare Seder activities with the kids, then all the cooking must be done ahead of time. For the cooking to get done, you must schedule when to shop for groceries. Before you shop for groceries you need to plan menus, and so on.

3. Break down each chore into bite-size pieces. Assign a time and day for each chore or activity, such as grocery shopping or cleaning yom tov clothes. It’s important to assign tasks in bite-size pieces so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

4. Understand the difference between cleaning for Pesach and spring cleaning. Set your goals and be realistic; this may not be the best time to clean your drapes. Evaluate how much time you really have to devote to getting ready for Pesach and leave spring cleaning tasks for after the holiday.

5. Involve your family. Divide up the chores and delegate each task to a family member. Young children can clean their own toys, bookshelves and games. To make it fun, hide money or kosher for Pesach candy between book pages or under the sofa as a reward for cleaning.

6. Plan simple meals and, if necessary, cook in bulk. Leave complicated dishes for shorter holidays like Shavuot. Some of the best dishes require no more than three ingredients. If you have a lot of cooking to do, double recipes and freeze the extra in food storage bags.

7. Explore the wonders of a crock pot. Even if you haven’t kashered your oven for Pesach, you can still get a head start on the cooking. Designate a small area in the kitchen for Pesachdik meal preparations. Prepare ingredients for soups and dishes like chicken, meatballs or roasts. Cook the food in a Pesachdik crock pot, transfer to a container, aluminum pan or food storage bag and freeze.

Tips were culled from materials from Rivka Slatkin, Sarah Zeldman and Esther Simon.

Posted with permission from the spring 2009 issue of Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union.