As Christ followers, Dino and I do our best to model for our kids the kind of love Jesus modeled, which was a serving-others love. We’d spent the past few years living in tight quarters, and one of the unexpected blessings of being crammed together was that it forced Dino and me to work out our differences rather than isolate from each other. We got to practice what it looks like to love authentically and sacrificially. How deeply we needed the lessons these homes taught us. No matter what our next seasons hold, we’re packing those lessons along for the ride.
The holiday season will always stand out in my mind, not only for what it taught us about serving each other, but because it was our first Christmas in a traditional home after living in a trailer. I loved that we maintained our value of experience-focused gifts beyond the trailer, but what about decorating? Now that I was in a traditional home once again, I was free to go crazy and decorate, right?
Nope. My love for simplicity outweighed my love for holiday decorating. November and December can be a crazy and stressful time. Eliminating the strain of over-decorating your home is a great way to start the season fresh and enjoy it with a clear mind.
In the trailer, I’d relied heavily on nature to create ambience inside our walls. I applied the same principle here. This approach excites me because it allows for more flexibility and creativity. Inspire yourself with these decorating ideas that require little to no year-round storage.
Pull from nature
I love foraging in my backyard for plants, flowers, pine cones, acorns, and sticks that can add to the decor of any particular season. Even if you don’t think you have an eye for flower arranging, you can place an assortment of them in a vase and it will look great. I promise, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is.
If you have a mantel, a wide windowsill, or open shelving, place some sprigs of green along its length as your base, and then plop a few red berries or pine cones randomly throughout as focal points. Use odd rather than even numbers for your focal points (three candles, not two, or five pine cones, not six, for example), because odd numbers of items are more aesthetically pleasing. Stand back, assess, then tweak as needed. There is something so peaceful about bringing nature into your home. And the fresh aroma of outdoors just smells like an old-fashioned holiday.
If you live in a condo or apartment without a yard, check out Costco and Trader Joe’s. They’re a great source for the fall and winter seasons, offering inexpensive greenery, flowers, pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, and more. Even grocery stores carry cinnamon-scented pine cones this time of year. Christmas tree lots also offer good prices on fir or pine branches that make great centerpieces, bouquets, or garland.
Make a statement without feeling overwhelming…
Pull from your own home
Every season I change out my bed’s duvet cover with one that matches the colors of that season. It’s a fun way to decorate without actually buying holiday decor. I love keeping pillow covers in a few different colors on hand as well. When a new season comes along, I can simply swap out to a color I feel best represents that season. During fall, I pull out my rust-colored pillow covers. Red ones work for Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and even Independence Day.
Although this means I’m storing a small handful of covers during the off months, they don’t take up much space, and they add to my home’s coziness without adding clutter.
Candles, too, come in a variety of colors and scents. Choosing colors and aromas that match the holiday or time of year makes my whole kitchen or living room feel festive. Burning through the candles by the end of that season means I don’t have to store them.
These simple touches make a statement without feeling overwhelming. They make my home feel cozy without the stress of knowing everything needs to be stored in the dreaded bins for another eleven months once the holiday is over.
Maximize ambience by using all five senses
When planning to decorate for holidays or special events, don’t limit yourself to what others will see. Think of what they’ll hear, touch, smell, and taste as well. By triggering all five senses, you’ll create an atmosphere your friends and family will never forget.
I love to be able to walk into a room and know instantly what season we’re in simply by the colors. Pillows, a vase of flowers, or a colored jar candle is all it takes. It’s okay to get a little creative with the traditional colors too. Add a little purple and green to Halloween, or blue and gold to Christmas. Maybe mix a few fuchsia or orange flowers into a traditional red Valentine’s bouquet or some burgundy into a Thanksgiving centerpiece.
Another easy way to use the sense of sight in your decorating is through lighting. Swap out a white porch light bulb for a green one at Christmastime. If replacing old string lights, consider buying multicolor lights with remotes that allow you to display a different color each holiday, as well as white for year-round use.
The scent of candles can quickly bring back a memory or feeling of nostalgia. One of my favorite money-saving tricks is reusing an Anthropologie or Yankee Candles candle jar. After the original candle is used up, I drop in a more affordable pillar candle from Trader Joe’s, which plops perfectly right in the middle as if they were made for each other—and for about one-eighth the price of replacing the original candle.
Baking is another way to really target the sense of smell. I love walking into a home that has something yummy going on in the oven, don’t you? Even if you’re not a master chef, you can use the kitchen to your advantage. Fill a saucepan with apple juice, then toss in some cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Instant Christmas potpourri that you can drink!
We always have music playing through our home. Dino is a big fan of playing music in the background regardless of what we’re doing. Turn on your favorite playlist and relax to the sounds of the season—not just Christmas tunes, but whatever songs fit different times of the year. Play beach tunes in the summer, jazz in the fall—whatever style of music your family loves. By being intentional about playing the same type of music each season, you create instant ambience for their ears.
Favorite holiday recipes create lasting memories, especially for kids.
I’m a terrible baker and cook, but even I can put some store-bought cookie-dough slices onto a sheet. Think through what flavors your family members associate with each holiday, and then bring their taste buds to life.
You don’t need to make stuff from scratch to maximize taste. And you don’t need to stick with traditional menus. Maybe eating at a Chinese buffet on New Year’s has become a beloved tradition for your fam. Or maybe you eat pizza instead of grilled hot dogs on Independence Day. Great! Roll with it.
A cozy faux fur blanket or pillow never hurt anybody, that’s all I’m saying. Snuggly textures just make me want to sink deeper into a sofa and enjoy a cup of something warm with someone I love. Soft goods add a cozy element to your sofa, tables, and chairs. They’re like people magnets, enticing your friends and family to want to stay for hours.
Adapted from Designed to Last: Our Journey of Building an Intentional Home, Growing in Faith, and Finding Joy in the In-Between by Ashley Petrone and Dino Petrone with September Vaudrey, releasing in April, 2022 from Tyndale House Publishers.