By Lauren Dunec Hoang, Houzz
There’s a lot going on this time of year. As you prep for the holidays and get ready for an influx of friends and family, take a moment to pause and look for ways to simplify. Keep decorations understated and inspired by nature. Look for ways to update your home with small changes that have a big impact — like arranging candles on the mantel or throwing a cozy blanket on the couch. Organize now, and by the time Thanksgiving arrives you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourself. Here are 18 easy ideas to get you started.
1. Make a foraged centerpiece. You don’t need to buy anything special; just collect all the ingredients from your garden, arrange them in a group, and fasten with a length of twine. Place the natural arrangement on the table as the centerpiece or on a sideboard surrounded by votive candles. To create a more interesting centerpiece, look for brightly colored leaves, branches covered in lichen and textural elements like pine cones, seedpods, and berries.
2. Skip raking leaves. Give yourself permission to be lazy. There’s enough going on with the holidays that you may not have time to tackle everything on your to-do list. Sweep your pathway but skip raking the lawn, and let leaves cover the ground with a dusting of gold. Dried leaves and grass clippings will break down to act as a natural fertilizer. After Thanksgiving, set your lawn mower to a height of about 3 inches and run it over the lawn, allowing clippings to fall. Leave a layer of leaves and grass trimmings no more than three-quarters of an inch thick.
3. Throw down a sheepskin. One purchase can instantly up the level of coziness. Sheepskins (and synthetic lookalikes) are commonly available at home stores and can add a plush, luxurious feel to rooms. Toss one over the back of the couch, layer it on top of an area rug, or place it on a chair as an invitation to relax.
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4. Fill containers with potted mums. Pick up a pair of potted mums from your local nursery, which should be well-stocked with the cheerful bloomers at this time of year. Skip planting them properly in potting mix and simply plunk them down, plastic nursery pots and all, into existing urns or ceramic containers. Once the flowers fade and you have more time after the holidays, plant the mums out in garden beds and fill the urns with evergreens.
5. Refresh window boxes. Pull out the tired-looking warm-season annuals and — if you don’t have the time to replant for fall — replace them with piles of decorative gourds. Enlist the kids to help. It’s easy and fun and creates a charming, playful look. What other time of year can we get away with piling squashes outside and calling it décor?
6. Deck out your bar cart. Get started now, and by the holidays you’ll have time to relax and enjoy a drink with your guests. To keep things simple, get the fixings for a featured drink based around one type of alcohol and have a few other options of spirits for guests to concoct their own. For example, say you’d like to feature a whiskey-based drink for a holiday party. Invest in a bottle of good whiskey, pick up sweet vermouth and bitters and, with a few pantry basics on hand (sugar, lemons), you’ll have everything needed to make a Manhattan, an old-fashioned, or a whiskey sour.
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7. Stock up on candles. Make a simple and inviting centerpiece with a tray of flickering candles. Choose candles of different heights, and nestle them in a base of fall leaves (best to use freshly picked ones that aren’t too dry), small pine cones or unshelled nuts. When you’re ready to bring food out, move the candle tray to a coffee table.
8. Mulch beds and rake pathways. Laying fresh mulch on beds and smoothing walkways will take most of an afternoon, but it will go a long way in making your yard look well cared for. At least a week ahead of Thanksgiving, pick up a few bags of bark mulch from your local garden store and spread a 1- to 2-inch layer evenly over garden beds. Leave mulch-free rings around the crowns of perennials and trunks of trees to prevent crown rot. Rake pathways to smooth gravel.
9. Organize your kitchen hutch. Take the time now before the rush of the holidays to organize plates, bowls, and serving platters you’ll be needing by the end of the month. Hutches, kitchen sideboards, and other high-use surfaces can become cluttered quickly. Adding some order early on in the holiday season can help give a sense of calm.
10. Organize your mudroom. You can do it weeks in advance and help keep coats, boots, and winter accessories organized. Having a bench or stool to take off shoes encourages family members to remove muddy boots before entering the home, saving you from future floor cleanup.
11. Hang a fall wreath. Welcome guests with this season’s easiest fall decoration. Pick up a wreath of preserved fall leaves, berries, or understated green boxwood to use year after year. Besides the usual placement on the front door, wreaths can also be hung from garden gates, sheds, and mailboxes, or be brought indoors to serve as tabletop decorations.
12. Add seasonal throw pillows. There’s no need to make major changes to your room’s color palette to make it feel like the holidays. Adding a handful of inexpensive pillows in cranberry, copper, and gold will warm up the space and make the living room look more inviting. After dinner, dim the lights and bring candles to the coffee table to set the tone for a relaxed evening.
13. Freshen up your entryway with cut branches. Unlike flowers, branches with green leaves last for weeks. Pick up a bundle at the farmer’s market or cut them from a tree in your garden. Those with red and gold leaves will have a shorter shelf life, unless they are treated for preservation.
14. Prep your guest room. Do it before the holidays kick into full swing, because the last thing you’ll want to be worried about on the day of is running loads of laundry and locating the spare comforter. In anticipation of guests’ needs, layer cozy blankets for warmth and pile up extra pillows.
15. Stock your pantry. Get your ducks in a row in terms of basic pantry items while there is still plenty of time to spare. Organize your pantry so that everything is easy to find and within reach. Take stock of what you have and what you’ll need to purchase early, so you can knock the big grocery store trips off your to-do list before the mad rush.
16. Keep your mantel décor simple. The area above the hearth is narrow, and less space equals fewer objects, but it can still have a big impact. Choose your decorations mindfully, using the natural world as inspiration to create a seasonal display. Here, the designer chose a combination of decorative gourds, artificial branches with muted flowers, a vase full of striped feathers, and a fluffy little black owl statue nestled in dried moss to create a fall-themed vignette.
17. Plan for desserts outside. Spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the outdoors with a DIY s’mores station around a backyard fire pit. You may want to stick with the apple and pumpkin pies for tradition’s sake on Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t hurt to keep marshmallows, good-quality chocolate, and graham crackers on hand for more impromptu gatherings leading up to the holiday (or as a backup plan on the day itself).
18. Collect leaves for day-of decorations. If you have family coming for the holidays, send kids out on a leaf hunt. They’ll stay out of the kitchen, and the fallen foliage they collect can be used to decorate the Thanksgiving table.