Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Column: Decorating for the season on a budget

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

As new homeowners, my wife and I have a sizable challenge this year: Beyond just unpacking the boxes still stacked around the place, we need to make the place festive, but are not exactly flush with cash.

I’ve gone looking around the area to find some nice touches without emptying my wallet, and found that making a house look great is not too hard. With a little careful thought, it won’t take much time to set up, maintain or take down when the season is over.

Outside, we’ve got a few shrubs and a little fence. Local hardware stores and gift shops stock holiday lights in wide varieties, with anything from simple white bulbs to sparkling colors, and even lighted figures like cows, moose and Santa Claus.

Choose ones you like – make sure to get outdoor cords and bulbs – and for a few bucks a strand, you can light up the season. There’s no need to go overboard (though some love to, buying thousands of lights and footing large electrical bills through December). Just a few touches, near the entrance to your yard or driveway, and again near the door, are enough. Remember not to put lights on the ground, or you’ll have to dig them out when the snow flies!

If lights aren’t your thing, or you want to spruce the yard up a bit, head to a farm market. Most close in the fall, after summer’s bounty has ended, but reopen in late November with wreaths, greenery and other festive items. As with lights, there are wide varieties, from traditional evergreen wreaths to painted pine-cone ones. Many places also have garlands, perfect for draping along the top of a fence or hanging around a doorway. Other arrangements often include red berries and sticks in simple, elegant designs.

All of these items can go outside and look beautiful when first installed, as well as with a dusting of snow. Inside, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the possibilities.

Sure, it’s nice to have something in every room, but try to keep a space that isn’t totally taken over by the holiday, as a place you can get away from stresses of the season.

Some folks like candles in each window, though fire departments often worry about them igniting curtains or other window dressings. For safer alternatives that are cheaper over the long run, buy plastic candles that take Christmas-tree replacement light bulbs.

They plug into a regular electrical outlet and stay cool near draperies. There are also electric menorahs for celebrating Hanukkah.

The cheapest way to get pretty decorations is to keep around last year’s greeting cards. Hang a few around early in the season to get in the mood – attaching them to a few simple ribbons can be nice – and rotate them as you get this year’s cards.

Another cheap way to get in the holiday mood is to have a fire, if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace. Just make sure your chimney is clean and clear, and check the flue for leaks to keep smoke out of your home.

Many people get Christmas trees, and there are several Christmas tree farms in the area, as well groups’ sales. Those sales can also be good places to get
greenery and wreaths for both inside and outside.

Decorating a tree doesn’t have to be a huge production. A few lights, some colorful ornaments – your kids or grandkids will probably make some in school – and you’re all set.

Don’t forget the greeneries, which can look wonderful sitting on windowsills or over doorways, to bring the holiday spirit all over your home. Keep the greens misted from time to time to prolong their life, and always make sure your tree has plenty of water.