Well folks, it’s the most wonderful time of year again. ‘Tis time to deck the halls, trim the tree and untangle the effing lights. For those overachievers who are already done, congratulations! You are annoying! This one is for the rest of you, and no pressure, but you’re a little behind the eight ball. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “’We have all day Saturday, a little Home Depot, a little Valley View and home just in time to crank the Mariah, open a bottle of red and get to work…it’ll be fun.” Please stop lying to yourself. The likely reality is that you will be drunk by 6:45, on the brink of divorce by 7:30 and screaming at your kids — “Mommy Dearest”-style — about ornament placement by 7:45 sharp. Not exactly Norman Rockwell.

On Sunday, panic mode will set in and you’ll begin to exhibit frenetic behavior. The voice in your head that says, “just get it done” will be at full volume and set on repeat. You will no longer concern yourself with “minor details.” You will put a red bow on the Halloween wreath still hanging on the front door. You will forgo all fire safety and plug 12 sets of lights into the same outlet. You will boldly display the faded nylon poinsettias your mother-in-law gave you. Your results will beg the question: why even bother? If you need evidence of this phenomenon, please stop by my neighborhood and see the house where the owners placed just one of those light nets atop a single random shrub and called it a day. Tell me they weren’t just checking the box. 

So how do you avoid becoming a drunken whirling dervish and come up with a result you can actually be proud of? I think it starts with developing a methodical game plan and a strong set of rules. So put down the staple-gun, come down from the ladder and ponder some guidelines to trim by. Hopefully, they will set you on a course for your calmest and most attractive holiday yet.

Rule # 1

Keep the bigger picture in mind.

Your holiday adornment should reflect your home’s style and decor. Traditional stately house? Traditional stately decorations. Sounds simple but it involves restraint. All those store displays of similarly themed decorations can be damn beguiling. For example, I have recently found myself dreaming of a white Christmas…tree. In my mind, it’s flocked and adorned with candy-colored ornaments: peachy pink, Tiffany blue and peridot green. Very late 60‘s-Sharon Stone-“Casino.” I envision completing my vintage holiday look by wearing a hostess gown and using a punch set. Sadly, this is a dream that will have to wait. My house is Cape-Cod-cottagey and all that fabulousness would look incongruous and confused here. If I ever get my hands on this mid-century masterpiece, however, I will do that white tree thing to the nines!


Rule # 2

Be consistent. 

This one is a biggie and the most broken rule of the bunch. As your Aunt Lucille’s house demonstrates, not everything “holiday” goes together. There are dozens of genres and subsections within. A pulled-together decor relies on an understanding of the nuances and displaying like with like. A few examples of holiday “looks” that are popular today:

Vintage: Think Zooey Deschanel, bird motifs, Hampden thrift shops, milk glass, Anthropologie, boxwood and Etsy.

Mod: Think Lady Gaga, graphic shapes, Home on the Harbor, bright white, CB2, lacquer, and the BMA store.

Woodland: Think Snow White, acorns, Irvine Nature Center, birch wood, your yard and Terrain.

Grand Traditional: Think Charlotte Moss, magnolia, Scully & Scully, Sunnyfields, bows and Horchow.

Once you pick your look, consistency is key. If you are going kitsch, then by all means gather your hub caps and flamingos and get to work. If you are going rustic, start gluing your pine cones and moss. Just don’t mix the two! They will cancel each other out and look like one hot holiday mess. Want to incorporate multiple styles under one roof? Keep them in separate rooms. A brightly colored and more casual tree in the family room (put the kids’ macaroni ornaments on that one) and a dressier one in the living room will keep things cohesive.


Rule #3

Purge. Purge. Purge.

It might be time to re-evaluate the following: The “country” snowmen hand towels, the neon tomato-colored velvet ribbon, the teddy bears dressed as angels, the MacKenzie-Childs high-heeled Christmas stockings, the mauve ornaments from the 1987 “Victorian” themed tree, the Krinkles collection figurines, the “I love shopping!” purse ornament, the gold and burgundy tree skirt, the mantle carolers and, obviously, the Christmas sweater!


Rule #4

Think outside of the box.

This just in: Orange and teal are the new red and green! Well, not exactly but holiday decorations today are not as literal as they used to be. It’s less about putting up cliched signs of the season and more about creating an atmosphere of warmth and sparkle. This can be achieved by using colors that complement the room’s existing scheme rather that visually announcing “It’s Christmas!” with gingham bows. This approach also means you can move beyond the mantle. Add lanterns, mirrored objects and metallics throughout the room to create an overall glow. If you still want to to incorporate a bit of tradition, do it in unexpected ways. Instead of evergreen boughs and holly, try a big glass bowl filled with pomegranates and limes. It’ll be just as festive without the cliche.


Rule #5

Less is more.

The final rule addresses the most beloved holiday decorating mistake: going too far. Do not take any of the above advice and apply the if-a-little-is-good-a-lot-must-be-better mindset. Trust me, it’s not. A single lit shrub is bad, but a lighting job that induces permanent retina damage is worse. Likewise, when executing a decorating theme, there is a fine line between pulled-together and overly-enthusiastic-decorator-on-diet-pills. You have been to that house. Every conceivable surface is covered in greenery, hundreds of huge wired bows abound and themed ornaments seem to breed before your eyes. It’s tiring just to look at. When in doubt, do less and do it better, and you will surely add some beauty to the season. Happy holidays!