Decking the Halls for Empty Nesters in Small Spaces

Christmas 101 for decorating a small apartment:  A little goes a long way!

As many of you may know, Mr. Rust and Refind and I are empty nesters, sold our longtime large family home and moved into a small apartment a few miles from that home at Christmas time last year.  Most of our home furnishings and Christmas are in storage until we find our “retirement” forever home, but until then, we are blissfully content in our flat.  We brought many treasures from our travels and life here to enjoy this living small; after all, I’ve never believed in living temporarily while we were and are actually living somewhere temporarily.  I’ve painted walls in homes we lived in for one year; decorated them as we would a long-time home.  365 days of staring at college-style furniture and white walls for 30 years would be such a travesty!  So, on to Christmas decorating 101 for Empty Nesters living in small spaces.

First, let me start with the tree, which is the grand-dame of the Christmas decor.  When we moved from our family home to our flat 8 days before Christmas 2020, Christmas decorating was the last thing on our mind, as was what the future (2021) would bring.  So, we literally grabbed one small Christmas tree from the shop, a garland, lit the porch with Christmas lights, and brought an inherited and found vintage Santa over to deck the living room while our Army daughter was visiting for a few days prior to heading to her Army training in Fort Lee, Virginia.  There is VERY LITTLE STORAGE space in the flat…everything has a place and there’s a place for everything.  The Santas and small tree get stored behind the Turkish screen in the corner after the holidays.   On to Christmas 2021:  we find ourselves still Tennessee house homeless, still living in the flat, therefore in need of a little more Christmas cheer here at home.  I’ve been living Christmas at the shop since October, so one weekend with a bit of time, I finally broke out that tree and was depressed.  Mind you, I have been decorating homes for the holidays for 30 years and was up to 17 trees, so my standards are a wee bit high. But, there’s limited space to decorate and to store when the holiday is over.

Inspiration Ornament

So, with a tree to decorate, we set off on a day trip to Pennsylvania where we visited some small shops and found ONE SMALL VINTAGE ORNAMENT, this vintage wood camel, that ended up being the inspiration of our new tree. Minus our two Santas, all our Christmas decorations (the family ornament tree, the White House trees, the theme trees, etc) are in storage, and although I was a little woe is me and missing that part of our life,  I was also getting a little excited about creating a new tree!  This vintage camel ornament reminded me of my husband’s parents, who lived in Turkey for several years, and many of their Turkish items that we inherited are now in our Turkish-inspired apartment living room.  Now, before I get counseled about THEME trees vs. FAMILY trees, let me say I believe in BOTH.  Our family tree (you know, the one with all the ornaments collected throughout the years from our travels, ornaments received as gifts, children-made ornaments, first(s) ornaments, and so on) is our most treasured.  But, I love doing many trees, and every room in our home had one.  It usually starts with one ornament or idea/theme, and so here goes the “$400 camel ornament story” (because …other ornaments).

The camel ornament was lonely.  He did not look good on the current tree and as I sat staring at it for hours, I knew I had to start over.  In our efforts to #supportlocal , Mr. R&R and I headed to Merrifield Garden Center (our local garden and seasonal/home decor shop) and I found these boho wood print round ball ornaments that reminded me of Turkish-inspired old-world fabrics that set the tone for the rest of the tree.  We also added (from Merrifield) a few wood and felt beaded garlands to coordinate, and these super-cute old-world style wood toy ornaments.  A few more vintage ornaments found on our PA trip (the brown gingerbread style flat ceramic ornaments, and the primitive leather flat star/tree ornaments) complete the look.  It really can be super fun to do a theme tree.  If you’re stumped on how to do a theme Christmas, just find one inspiration ornament or two, and go with it!  From something that reminds you of your past, or a hobby, or favorite color, or anything.  Think Williamsburg trees, wildlife or rustic,  vintage ornament trees, family home-made ornament trees, or go back to popcorn and cranberry garlands!  So many options, and that is why I had 17 trees.  Because other than a few trees like the family tree (that is a theme in itself), mixing styles and colors can be jarring.  The trees can range in all sizes, too (because those large trees take a LOT of ornaments)!

Arguably, the tree is the foundation of Christmas decorations, but I love to deck the halls with favorite decor items like Santas, greenery, nativity scenes, and so on. At the risk of getting yelled at and being called a Christmas decor snob, I don’t think every nook and cranny, cabinet and corner  needs ornamentation or red bows.  Seriously, have you seen those Hallmark Christmas movies?  Who are their Christmas decorating consultants?  I believe less is more and keeping it simple really go a long way when decorating for the holidays, and I’ve noticed it’s a current trend with many of my friends.  Maybe because we are older and wiser (or perhaps after years of doing the decorating, a little tired because who LIKES TO UN-DECORATE)? And, it’s budget friendly, too.  There are so many ways to make your home or apartment (whether large or small) feel festive without going over the top.

Greenery on LightingOne of my favorite (and sometimes cheapest) things is to use fresh greenery.  If you buy it, it can pretty costly (especially this year) so we buy AND forage and mix them both.  Living small has its challenges and perks.  The perks:  you don’t need much to make the space look filled (save time, effort and money).  The challenge:  not a lot of space if you really like a lot of stuff.  :o). We filled our small flat well with large European art and furniture, and simply adding a touch of fresh greenery here and there has a lot of impact. With space limitations, there was barely room for the tabletop tree.  We got creative here and put it in a vintage iron base and on top of a vintage small stool for height and it’s near our fireplace (since it’s not real, we can have fires without worry of drying out the tree or causing a fire).


We purchased relatively inexpensive greenery from Trader Joes:  fresh wreaths for the front door, living room and bedroom windows, and a few small fresh garlands that I cut in half and placed on a few pieces.  A walking trip around our apartment compound produced a huge array of free greens:  cedar, pine, holly. I tucked in bowls and vessels around the flat.  The smell and the pop of green make everything look festive!  A small nativity that we purchased at Merrifield, the two vintage Santas, and a vintage ceramic old-world tree (ours is in storage, so this one reminded us of our grandmother), completed our decor.  I may add fresh greens as the holiday gets closer, since the fresh greenery tends to get crispy and lose its fragrance.  But, when this used to daunt me in the past due to the scope of a redo since our home was large, when #livingsmall, repeated efforts are minimal!

Living small and being empty nesters comes with mixed emotions, definitely.  Although I miss the family home filled with the girls and their friends, and all the decorations; I do not miss the craziness of the spin up to decorate and un-decorate.  I love the spare time to enjoy the holiday and it taking only a day, if that, to decorate our flat.  The past 30 years have been a huge blessing with many memories, and we look forward to the future.  Maybe we will decorate 17 trees again in our forever home.  But, for now, the break has been wonderful and we’ve made our Christmas in our Flat a celebration.   And, I’m thinking the trend to keep Christmas simple is catching on, what about you?  After all, there is THE reason for the season (celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior) that I’m glad we have more time to reflect on.

Until next time, happy decorating (even if you have that big home), and remember, smile and make life fun!

XO, Brenda


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