This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Meagan
When it comes to decorating for autumn, there was a time when I went all-out. I had bins and bins of autumn and Halloween decorations in the basement: fabric and glass pumpkins of varying sizes, glass bowls filled with acorns and tiny gourds, little birds shaped out of foam and covered in jet-black feathers, with wire feet that could be bent to cling to a variety of surfaces, wall-cling decals shaped like black cats and bats and ravens. I’d start in September with some harvest-themed decor, ramping up the spooky factor as we got closer to Halloween. On November 1, we’d go back to harvest, and stay that way until after Thanksgiving.
Things are a little different now. When the kids and I moved into a much smaller house (less than ½ the size of the old one), we simply couldn’t bring all the old decor with us – and besides, the discovery of a dead mouse in one of the bins had made that one an automatic Dumpster donation. (It just had to be the bin that held most of my favorite non-surface-cleanable items). Of what remained, probably 75% was ditched before we moved.
Even though we came to this house with a seriously scaled-back decor collection, there’s still plenty of it that hasn’t seen the light of day since. In a 1200-square-foot house, of which the majority of space is taken up by bedrooms, there just aren’t a lot of windowsills or surfaces to adorn. I realized that some of my favorite objects were simply too big to find a home on the small bookshelf or narrow window frames – three, to be precise – that represent the decorate-able area in our current combination living/dining room.
Last year, I struggled to make the old items fit, and was never happy with how it all looked. So this year, I decided to take a different tack. I realized that while I don’t have a lot of broad, empty surfaces to decorate, I do have a few narrow spaces, enough room on my bookshelf for small bowls and candles, two closet doors, the back of the front door, and a dining-room table that you can see the minute you walk in the door. All prime places to add a touch of autumn.
With those limitations in mind, I headed to TJ Maxx with the intent of surprising Clara with some new items when she returned home from her dad’s house today. A narrower set of choices meant that I had to make some hard decisions: the abstract wooden turkey I loved simply wouldn’t fit anywhere, and at least two delicious-smelling candles were too wide to fit on the bookshelf. But the parameters helped, too. I invested in a couple new tablecloths, a metal turkey narrow enough to fit on the windowsill, a couple autumn-scented candles, a delicate string of lights on a copper wire, yellow-and-orange plaid cloth napkins, and some new hand towels for the kitchen featuring whimsical foxes in a fall forest. The entire shopping trip took less than 20 minutes and was much gentler on my wallet than decor-hunts of years past.
When Clara got home, I wonder if she’d be disappointed by the relatively meager haul. But I didn’t need to worry. “YESSS! A new tablecloth!!” she squealed, jumping up and down. “And look at all these candles!” We got busy putting everything up, and as the living room seamlessly came together, I realized that she was delighted not only because the objects I’d bought were new, but also because they worked. Everything had a purpose and a place, and there was no frustration trying to make too-large items fit in a much smaller space.
Sometimes we hang on to things (or hobbies, or ideas, or routines, or relationships) because we love them and it’s worth finding a way to make them fit into our lives. But sometimes, we hang on because they used to work, or we think they should work – even when we’d be better off letting them go and using the limitations of a new home, job, or season of life dictate the best way to live right now.
I’ve never been one to love the idea of limitations, but when pressed, I have to grudgingly admit that they have an important place. Having a “container” to work within can actually inspire great creativity and satisfaction – when we let it. But when we fight those limits, we tend to create frustration and dissatisfaction with what actually is – not to mention, messy tableaus stuffed with objects that just don’t fit.
As we move into the holiday season, I hope you’ll let whatever “limits” you’re facing right now – whether it’s your physical space, or a tight budget, sleepless nights, a traveling spouse, or any other number of factors that make it hard to go all-out – shape your seasonal efforts, rather than getting too wrapped up in how it used to be, or how it should be, or how it might be one day. Life will change for you, again, and again, and again, and there will always be other Octobers and Novembers and Decembers to get it all right. This year, let’s just focus on getting it “right” for the right-now.