There’s a lot going on this time of year. As you prepare for the holidays, take a moment to pause and look for ways to simplify — especially this year, when your gatherings may be smaller or include just immediate family. Keep decorations understated and inspired by nature. Look for ways to freshen up 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.
1. Make a Foraged Centerpiece
You can collect 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 an interesting centerpiece, look for brightly colored leaves, branches covered in lichen and textural elements like pine cones, seed pods and berries.
2. Skip Raking Leaves
Give yourself permission to be lazy. 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. Add a Fuzzy Throw
One purchase can instantly boost the level of coziness. Sheepskin (real or faux) and faux fur throws are commonly available and bring a plush, luxurious feel to rooms. Soft chenille, cotton, fleece, wool and cashmere throws also add a cozy touch. Toss one over the back of the couch or place it on a chair as an invitation to relax.
4. Fill Containers With Potted Mums
Pick up a pair of potted mums. Skip planting them 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 decor?
6. 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.
7. 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 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Hang a Fall Wreath
Create a welcoming entry 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.
11. 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.
12. Freshen up Your Entryway With Cut Branches
Unlike flowers, branches with green leaves last for weeks. Pick up a bundle at the farmers 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.
13. 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.
14. 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).
15. Collect Leaves for Day-of Decorations
If you have family at home 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.