Home Design

Holiday decorating

Simplifying the Season

Home Design

Seven years ago, I hit a holiday low. Our first son was six months old and I was dragging him around the house in a bouncy seat while I draped garlands, set up small, lighted trees, and arranged holly branches on the sideboard and china cabinet. Not content to simply gaze adoringly at me while I worked, the baby quickly grew fussy and I remember trying to jostle his chair with my foot while also winding a strand of faux fir around the front stairway railing.

Man, I wish I could get those hours back. The truth is I don’t like having a lot of stuff around. After awhile, living amidst such Christmas splendor made me feel itchy and claustrophobic, like I was being forced to wear one of those garlands. Making one’s home super-festive for the holidays just seemed like something grownups were supposed to do, particularly those who aspire to a respectable Instagram or Pinterest presence.

Well, I turned 40 this month, which, I think, grants me “too old to give a damn” privileges. I have curtailed my decorating in the years since the bouncy seat foolishness, but this season I did even less, putting out only those adornments I actually like, and can arrange quickly. These pretty much boil down to a lighted Mason jar ensemble in our family room inspired by one I saw in a West Elm catalog years ago:

Holiday decorating
I bought this unfinished oak bookshelf/elf hideout at the Housing Works thrift store in New York a decade ago (paying more to have it delivered to my fifth-floor walkup apartment than for the actual piece) and have always planned to sand and oil it. At this point, the water stains (from a plant normally parked on top) are a total embarrassment and I am resolving to complete this task over the winter!

And, on the dining room mantel, a little stand of bottle-brush trees I ordered from Save on Crafts last year after falling in love with a similar scene on Martha Stewart Living’s December cover:

Holiday decoratingBetween these touches, the live tree, and a display of the photo cards I love receiving, I feel like I’m approaching decorating equilibrium.

Holiday decorating

Ack, you guys, I am feeling really sheepish about sharing these photos with you. I love our house but it’s nothing like the places I usually write about or drool over on social media. However, in my advanced age, I am trying to lose some of my old inhibitions!

Anyway, how do you handle holiday decorating? Do you go all out or take a pared-down approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And however and wherever you’re celebrating this year, I hope it’s beautiful.

Cover photo submitted by Julie Clark


  1. Sarah L

    I love this. I am 60, and just forwarded it to my 20simething daughters.

    Simple, meaningful, elegant.

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Aw, thank you so much for the kind words, Sarah. I work with so many interior designers and architects who create jaw-dropping homes. It was hard to put my humble little place out there. But I do love it and I’m so glad the sentiment resonated with you. I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your daughters.

  2. Love your house and your perspective about paring down to focus on what is meaningful and enjoyable over the holidays! I wish I had that level of insight when I was 40….it took me a little longer!?

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Thank you so much Judy. I have the perspective but, whew, the practice is always a struggle especially at this time of year with so much going on. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and I hope you have a lovely holiday.

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