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Holiday Decorating Without Losing Your Mind

Get festive without going crazy — or spending a fortune.

Holiday Decorating Without Losing Your Mind

It might seem early (or too overwhelming) to start decorating for the holidays, but why put off tomorrow what you can do today? Besides, “the stores have great stock right now,” said Amy Cuker, interior design director at Down2Earth Interior Design, a Philadelphia area design firm focused on creating beautiful, low-maintenance, and sustainable interiors.


“Pinterest is great for gathering ideas, but don’t get fooled into thinking everyone out there is a crafty DIYer making homemade garlands and wreaths and finding time to bake cookies too,” she said. “Most of us simply don’t have time for that, so let go of unrealistic expectations and you’ll enjoy the season more.”


To help you fit decorating into all that parents are expected to do between now and New Year’s, we’ve tapped local sources for ideas that won’t leave your wallet empty — or drive you crazy untangling wires. Some don’t even require a trip to the store. So deck those halls with these tips:


Ask Mother Nature: “Take a vase you already own and pop red holly berries in it,” Cuker said. Recruit the kids for other nature-embracing items like pine cones, pretty pebbles, hydrangeas, or holly leaves. “The textures Mother Nature has created are very hard to replicate,” said Mary Borkovitz, of the Main Line’s Decorating Den Interiors. “Stretch your budget and fool the eye by using both fresh and faux greenery when decorating for the holidays.” Plus, you can’t fake the smell of fresh greenery. Spray paint the cones white or silver for added glam.


Try a Sweet Display: Fill Mason jars with extra holiday cookies (instead of eating them). Cover with decorative paper or fabric and tie with grosgrain ribbons or sparkly pipe cleaners.


Picture This: Start a happy dinner conversation by using framed recently taken family pictures as centerpieces. Choose similarly-colored frames, or mix them up to reflect your family’s style. Adding several small decoratively wrapped “presents” to the table adds fun to the holiday theme, Borkovitz said.


Personalize Seating: Make guests feel extra special with a monogrammed place marker. Find low-cost chipboard letters at Michael’s or other craft shops.


Go Festive With Ribbons. Buy two or three bolts of ribbon for decorating wreaths, adorning the mantle, or banister garlands. “Tie a simple bow on your candleholders for an additional special touch,” Borkovitz said. “Don’t forget to cut the ends of your ribbon on an angle or inverted ‘V.’”


Steal Art from the Kids: Chances are your kids are coming home with holiday-themed artwork and seasonal greeting cards are arriving in the mail. Display these items on a bulletin board or hang them on a holiday-inspired clothespin and string line, Cuker said. Kids feel proud you save decorating dollars, and it’s wonderfully personal.


When in Doubt, Outsource: Looking for an eye-catching, neat-clean display of lights but not interested in dealing with tangled strings of lights or burned-out bulbs in the cold? Nolan Painting offers the Shine Holiday Lighting service, where trained crews convert your house into a custom-designed showpiece — without having to step on a ladder — and then come back, take it down, and store it for next year. It’s more expensive than the DIY route, for sure, but time is valuable, too, during the holidays.


Remember, Less is More: Focus on decorating one or two key rooms, or corners of the house, where most of the celebrating will happen. Consider adding a “few small tables (24-inch or 30-inch decorator rounds) covered with pretty linens and two or three occasional chairs,”  Borkovitz said.


Know Your Audience: If your kids are young or you have frisky pets, avoid breakable items. Create a cozy atmosphere for family time by using battery operated candles, sturdy ornaments, and soft items, like pillows and throws, Cuker said.


Lead photograph courtesy of Amy Cuker.