Decorating After Christmas — Taking Cues from Nature

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We took down the Christmas tree and the last of our decorations yesterday. I always find that process bittersweet. On one hand, I love getting the space back in our living room. On the other hand, with the merriment and music and magic of Christmas behind us, we’re left with…January.

The store endcaps jump straight from Christmas to springtime, but here in Minneapolis we’re solidly mid-winter (maybe even more like slightly past quarter-winter?!?). So where does that leave us with making our homes feel cozy and restful?

Taking Cues from Nature

I’ve discovered the seasonal decor I love the best is the stuff that echos what’s happening in nature. In January, here’s what that looks like:

Evergreen branches and pine cones. This year, knowing I wanted to keep some winter greenery in the vases on my mantel and coffee table tray, I got smarter about my faux branches when I approached my Christmas decorating. (Real ones would obviously be beautiful, too, but I’m going for low-maintenance, and by “low” I actually mean no.)

The branch I already had featured red berries that scream Christmas. I bought a couple new pine branches that didn’t. When I combined them, voila! Christmas in a bottle. Yesterday, I took out the red-berried branch, swapped in another plain evergreen branch, and the look is transformed to just wintry.

Pine cones also are great all winter long. In early December, Nate and I had fun using white acrylic paint and Epsom salts to make these snowy pine cones (tutorial here). They’re now on a book shelf at eye level, snuggled amidst some candles. That’s next!

Soft lighting. Yes, the solstice and its signal that longer days are coming was worth celebrating, but it’s still pretty damn dark at 5:00. In response, I’m continuing to try to up my cozy lighting game.

My favorite recent discovery has been the combination of electric candles in mercury glass votives (I bought these and these). The main thing I’ve never liked about electric candles is when I glance over and see a plastic “flame” staring back at me. But with these little votives tucked around the perimeter of our living and dining room, the only thing you see is flickering candlelight.

Photo taken around 4:30 in the afternoon. The little candles start to glow just as the sun dips low in the sky.

Wait, it gets better. They have timers. You turn them on at the time you want them to come on each day, they stay on for six hours, and then they’re off until that programmed time the next day. Mine come on shortly after 4, just as the light begins to fade and we’re settling in for the evening. There’s no way I’d ever float dreamily around my house at 4 pm each day lighting candles. But this way I don’t have to!

Also on the lighting to-do list is to get a lamp for the dining room/kitchen area for a softer lighting option in the evening post-dinner. And to repurpose my fairy lights–I’m on the hunt for ideas that hide the ugly black battery box.

Embrace Simplicity

When I took down my Christmas mantel decorations, I put my candles, vase, stack of books, and little owl figure back in place. Thinking I’d keep the lights, I used the owl, which is a planter, to hide the battery box; then I wove the lights around the rest of the mantel. But the lights looked weird against the bare wood, the orange owl looked too fall-ish, and the books seemed out of place no matter which ones I chose or how I stacked them.

Christmas mantel (with my face cut in half by a twine-wrapped tree – hi!)
Post-Christmas mantel still looking blech after many variations

Though I kept moving things around, I couldn’t get it to feel right. Ever notice how short the path is from feeling crummy about your home to feeling ready to buy a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need? I spent way too much of the afternoon half-ignoring my kids while googling “white ceramic owls.” They started acting up to get my attention, which made me more frustrated, and then I was frustrated at myself for getting frustrated at them.

Toward the end of the night, I was unsure how I going to complete this blog post when my mantel still looked crappy, so I turned to my classic procrastination strategy — cleaning (in college, my room never looked better than the night before a paper was due). As the clutter diminished, my mood improved and I discovered the perfect solution to the book/owl/fairy lights dilemma — ditch them. Here’s my final winter mantel.

After. Ahhh.

Its minimalism is exactly what my spirit craves after the holidays. In December I stuffed my mantel with beautiful little trees and a garland and lights and couldn’t have fit one more little thing on there if I’d tried. I loved its glorious abundance. But now it’s January and I’m craving white space, both literally and figuratively.

If you are trying to figure out how to winterize your space, add a few natural elements and call it good. Don’t let your Instagram feed convince you that you need to go on a spending spree to fill every nook and cranny with birch branches, lanterns, and tasseled throw pillows. Take your cues from nature and decorate simply. Lean into rest and renewal. Happy New Year.

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