By Marni Jameson
“Mom, HALP!” My oldest daughter is on the phone. I hear panic in her voice. “I’m having a holiday party.”
“Why?” I ask. I can’t keep the are-you-crazy tone out of my voice. Though I have a gold medal in over-extending myself, I thought I’d raised my daughter better.
Paige is a graduate student in Houston, where she rents the top floor of a duplex. Between her studies, and part-time job, she is short on time, and shorter on cash. Ditto for her boyfriend, John, also a grad student there.
“Never mind why,” she fires back. “I just am, okay? I invited a bunch of people from school and work, and so did John, and they are all coming, which is great, but now I need some fast, cheap decorating ideas.”
“Oh, honey, I have so been there. One night you’re in your pajamas, sitting on the sofa with a dog snuggled in your lap, and a holiday commercial comes on, and you get all nostalgic, and think, ahh, wouldn’t it be nice to have some friends over for the holidays, and that is the last time you feel relaxed the whole season.”
“Mom, this isn’t about you. Can you just help me decorate without turning this into one of your columns?”
I choose to ignore that. Instead, I say, “For the record, I’m in Florida, and not in the next room anymore, which is entirely your fault.” I am not above exploiting the moments when my help is needed to dish up a generous serving motherly guilt.
“Mom, please? You’re Mrs. Merry Christmas with all the bright ideas. Could you just shed a little twinkly holiday light this way?”
“First of all, you’re a student. Nobody expects your place to look like the lobby of the Ritz Carlton, so take some of the pressure off.”
“Umm-Hmm,” she says, “like you never stressed out about holiday decorating.”
I know she’s thinking about the time she came downstairs and found the banister half-wrapped in pine garland and baubles, and me sitting on the floor alone with a fork and an entire chocolate cake surrounded by a squad of nutcrackers and a strand of dead holiday lights. It must have been traumatic.
I flip through the Filofax in my brain and look under: Holiday decorating tips for those with no time, no money, and no storage space. Then I called interior designer Lizzie Grover, co-founder and creative director for Hutch, a new interior design app targeted to millennials on a budget.
Her hurry-up décor ideas are also great for holiday travelers — folks who want that festive feel without investing a ton of time because they won’t be home much.
Together we came up with these fast, frugal, but good-looking holiday decorating tricks:
- Make an alternative tree. Don’t want to put up a tree, or don’t have the room? You can create a wall tree by attaching strips of fake or real pine horizontally on the wall in gradually longer lengths. Start small at the treetop, then get successively wider with each centered row below, forming a tree-shaped triangle. Space horizontal rows several inches apart. Or decorate a large indoor plant or tree you already have by wrapping it with lights. A tall cactus or ficas tree works well. Add a few small ornaments. “Both alternatives are happy, simple gestures, and super inexpensive,” said Grover.
- Borrow from nature. Some great looks may be right outside your door, she said. Head outside with some clippers and snip branches off evergreen trees and bushes. Wash them, then stick them in a vase, or lay them on shelves, mantles, or entry tables, filling in around other decor. “Make it balanced but not perfect looking,” said Grover. If you live in an urban area without access to cuttings, buy greens from a florist. They are much less expensive than flowers.
- Cluster the candles – Group candles on a table or hearth. To create a cohesive, styled look – as opposed to a hodgepodge – keep candles one color (try all ivory, gold, red, or burgundy), but vary sizes for interest. Mix high and low. Place them on a mirror or festive tray to unify them. According to a recent online survey by Houzz, candles are the second most-used decor item for Christmas.
- Consider off-tree ornaments. Hang glass-ball ornaments from places other than your tree, say on a chandelier. Or fill a glass bowl or hurricane lamp with ornaments for an easy, no-maintenance touch of sparkle.
- String lights strategically – Strands of lights indoors can easily veer from charming to tacky. Pick warm white lights that give off a slightly yellow rather than bluish glow, said Grover, and look for the newer twinkle lights that have almost invisible cords and sockets. Wrap lights around mirrors, windows or banisters near outlets.
- Let it snow. Fake snow is cheap, and easy to use, store and clean up. Grab a bag and strategically sprinkle a handful around your holiday centerpiece, candle cluster or other tablescapes to add that winter wonderland feeling.
- Think small—If you do go out and buy holiday décor, think about storing it. In the Houzz survey, 44 percent of respondents said that pulling their decorations out of storage was the most stressful part of the holiday decorating process. Keep it light.
Now, don’t stress, and get the party started.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.