When you look at a picture of a home that’s beautifully decorated for the holidays, it can be easy to assume it isn’t attainable — how did they decide to put that there, and what went into planning each room?
Sarah Reese‘s decorating strategy, however, is all-too-relatable: emptying everything she had onto the living room floor, and then trying to find a home for it all — now that’s something we can get on board with.
Like so many of us, Sarah knows that her decorating style changes year by year (sometimes it feels like ours can change by the week), so she talked to us about how she budgets for decorations every year, and where she loves to shop for them knowing her taste is ever-evolving — she also let us in on her favorite Christmas traditions, and what her Christmas morning will look like this year.
Name: Sarah Reese, Art Teacher
Location: Davenport, IA
Sq. Ft: 1,956
When do you start decorating for the holidays?
I typically don’t decorate until after Thanksgiving, but this year I couldn’t wait and started the weekend before!
Tell us about your holiday decorating process.
My process this year was really just emptying everything I had on the living room floor and then trying to find a home for it all. When I put decorations away this year I am going to try to be organized so next year’s decorating is a bit more streamlined.
How do you budget when it comes to decorating seasonally? (Things can get expensive for such a short time of the year!).
So expensive! I am very lucky that my mom and I (and grandma before she passed) have been collecting decorations for several years now. We always go after the holidays are over and everything is 75 percent off. Many of my decorations have been sitting in storage in my mom’s basement for five years! It’s not always the most appealing to shop for decor after the holiday is over, but you can save a lot of money and it’s a nice surprise when you unpack your decorations and find that cute thing you forgot you bought at the end of last season.
Where do you shop for holiday decor?
Our local garden center has amazing holiday decor. I also have been eyeing a few decorations from Terrain, but will wait to see if they go on sale for next year. Home Depot has good basics like lights and wreaths, and Home Goods has some very cute garlands and wrapping supplies. Most of my pillow covers — both Christmas and everyday — have been dug out of the sale baskets at Pottery Barn. I also really love another local shop called Dwellings that carries the best home and holiday decor. If you don’t know exactly what you want then local shops are the place to go. They always have cute displays that can help you figure out how to decorate.
Do you have any holiday traditions that are special to you?
My husband’s family has converted me to a real tree person. I grew up with an artificial tree, but now one of my favorite traditions is going to cut down our tree. My mom and I also have a tradition of trying out a new church each year for the midnight Christmas Eve service. We are mostly in it for the choir singing Christmas music and beautiful architecture. We have also been decorating gingerbread houses with my nephews for the past several years. They usually end up looking like a heap of sugar and icing (boys!), but it is so much fun.
Do you have any tips for readers who may live in smaller apartments (and who are on a budget) who might not be able to decorate to their heart’s desire?
I sometimes have a tendency to overdo it with decorating. I love simple, minimal decor — yet the Clark Griswold in me always tries to take over, so sometimes having a smaller space or budget is a constraint that can work in your favor. I love the look of small, Charlie Brown trees that only have a couple ornaments on them, and simple wreaths hung on windows or cabinet doors. The wreaths that I have hung on my cabinet doors were made from a few pipe cleaners, faux pine, and ribbon! They were inspired by some I saw at Terrain, but couldn’t justify the expense — now I love these even more and they only cost a few dollars in supplies. I also love natural decor like dried oranges or cranberries strung into a garland. There is so much you can make on your own if you get a little crafty, and in the end a little goes a long way in holiday decor.
What was your childhood home decorated like at the holidays, compared to your own as an adult? Did you take any influence from your childhood when putting your own together?
Our childhood Christmas tree was always bursting with ornaments; my tree now is now also chock full of ornaments and baubles. Besides in that regard, my decorating is much more minimal than when I grew up. I don’t have as many knick knacks and toy-type decorations as we did in my childhood home.
How has decorating for the holidays evolved over the years for you?
This is my first year decorating a home for Christmas. Last year we were just finishing up remodeling our kitchen and didn’t decorate much more than our tree. I’m still trying to find my style and can already tell it will change year by year. I think that is half of the fun of decorating seasonally — you have the freedom to do it differently every year! It is also a good reminder when trying to stick to your budget for decorating seasonally — if you aren’t sure you want to use it year after year, then don’t spend the money on it! It will just end up in storage, which most people don’t have a lot of.
Have you slowly been collecting your holiday decor over the years, or did you purchase it all at once?
I have been collecting holiday decor for many years. Most of it has been in storage for quite a while. My grandmother used to own a restaurant with an attached shop called Julmarknad (Swedish for Christmas Market) that sold Mary Engelbreit needlepoint stockings and other classic Christmas decor. I have a few items from her store that were originally purchased by my parents and are probably close to 20 years old. I have also been collecting the ornaments for my tree for several years. In high school a friend hosted an annual ornament exchange party and I still have those ornaments on my tree today. Other items, like the staples, I had to purchase new when I bought my house. Lights, wreaths, garland… those are the things that you really need to see the space before you buy.
Do you have a favorite ornament on your tree?
Ooooh it is so hard to pick just one! Certain ones have memories attached to them and they are always the most special. The ones that were gifts from people, or once belonged to someone else, or represent a significant milestone are my favorites.
What’s your favorite piece of holiday decor that you own?
My favorite decoration is an old advent calendar that is paper with silver sparkles all over it. It’s not really a focal point, but it is so beautiful up close.
Overall, what’s your favorite thing about celebrating in your home?
I’m a homebody by nature so making it cozy and warm is fun to do. I also love to celebrate with other people. My husband’s birthday is just before Christmas so I’m excited to have people over for a double celebration.
What does your Christmas morning look like?
We go over to my in-laws on Christmas morning and open presents with his family. His sister brings her kids so it is really fun to watch them open presents on Christmas morning.
Do you have any holiday traditions you haven’t started yet, but are planning to?
This year we are celebrating Christmas with my mom and brother’s family by going skiing in Colorado the weekend after Christmas. I’m really pulling hard for this to become an annual tradition 😉 I’d also love to start some sort of friendship tradition — a cookie exchange or secret santa. We used to do this in college with my girlfriends and it was the best.
And then there are lots of traditions that I hope to start in the future with children. When I was a kid my parents had the tradition of setting a “trap” for Santa, along with his milk and cookies. This was usually just an accordion coat rack propped open with a stick on the fireplace hearth. We would sprinkle some flour underneath it, and every Christmas morning the stick would be broken and a boot print would be left in the flour. It might sound sort of odd trying to trap Santa, but I remember loving it and want to pass that along.
Sarah Reese is The Everygirl…
Hot chocolate or hot cider? Hot chocolate
Favorite Christmas song? Classic: Carol of the Bells/ Remake: Anything Michael Bublé
Favorite Christmas movie? Home Alone
Favorite Starbucks holiday drink? Caramel Brulée Latte
The best gift you’ve ever given? Last year I got my husband a golf membership for Christmas — it wasn’t my favorite thing to give but I think it has definitely been the most used gift of all time.
The great debate: when do you start listening to Christmas music? ASAP! Not the popular opinion in my house, but I start listening before Thanksgiving.
What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? A wedding photo album from Artifact Uprising (and somebody to do the upload and layout for me if I’m lucky!).