Beware of These 6 Dangerous Things That Can Spark a House Fire


house-fire-state-farm

davelogan/iStock

With temperatures (finally!) dropping, many of us crank up the heat at home—but a higher electrical bill isn’t the only danger we face.

Winter is the prime season for house fires: Nearly a third of all total-loss house fires occur in the months of December, January, and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Even scarier? The average household can expect five fires in the lifetime of its members.

That’s a lot of fires. And while most are small, they collectively cost us $7.3 billion a year in property damage—plus there’s a 1 in 10 chance that fire will injure someone in your home.

The good news? Most house fires are easily preventable. Watch for these risk factors to prevent things from going up in smoke.

1. Space heaters

Many houses, especially old ones, have cold spots that central heating simply won’t reach—which makes plug-in space heaters a godsend. Unfortunately, these toasty devices are the leading cause of house fires in the winter.

We’re not telling you not to use them; just be sure to respect these rules. Make sure your heater is at least 3 feet away from anything flammable; plug your heater directly into the outlet rather than an extension cord; and although it may be tempting, do not go to bed with the space heater on.

“Most space heater accidents happen while everyone is sleeping,” says Peter Duncanson, director of disaster restoration training for ServiceMaster. You’re much safer bundled up in pajamas and warm blankets.

2. Cooking

We all know how easy it is to step away from the stove for just one moment. But stovetop cooking is the leading cause of house fires year-round, and most occur within the first 15 minutes of cooking.

Know the song “Stand by Your Man”? Well, safety experts say, “Stand by Your Pan.” Make it a rule to turn off the stove if you must leave. If you’re baking something, you can leave the room, but check back at least once every half-hour, and don’t leave the house without turning off the oven.

Also, make sure that oven mitts, dish towels, and other flammable items remain 3 feet from the stovetop at all times—you’d be amazed by how quickly heat can travel.

If the worst happens and you’re suddenly faced with flames and spattering grease, don’t panic. Turn the stove off, then put on a pair of elbow-length cooking gloves. (Go ahead and order some now to have on hand.) Cover the pan with a lid, and let the oil cool down. Don’t move it—you don’t want to spill the fiery contents. Have a fire extinguisher when you eventually remove the lid.

3. Electrical cords

We’ve all done it: We want the electric kettle, laptop, iPhone charger, and toaster to run from the same power outlet—so we add an extension cord or adapter to accommodate all of our appliances. Yet every year, overloaded or damaged circuits cause 3,300 fires.

Make sure you’re not one of them by, for starters, giving your cords a feel: If they’re warm, they’re overloaded. Also, never run extension cords under rugs, tape them to floors, staple/nail them to walls, or string several together to make an extra-large extension cord.

4. Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves

While it’s recommended you get your fireplace checked regularly, the reality is, it can start a fire even if your chimney passed inspection with flying colors, says Joe Torrillo, a firefighter who served in the New York City Fire Department for 25 years.

“It’s called pyrolysis,” says Torrillo, who now tours the country speaking as a fire safety expert. “It gets very hot in the fireplace, and the heat can transfer to the [connecting] wooden structure.”

So when you use your fireplace, make sure to extinguish the fire completely before leaving or sleeping, and keep flammable objects at least 5 feet away.

Be careful with the embers, too—they can smolder for up to two weeks and ignite other trash you throw out with them. The best policy is to empty ashes into a metal container and store them away from anything flammable for at least two weeks. Be sure to clean your fireplace and flue at least annually.

5. Candles

From 2009 to 2013, candles caused 3% of home fires and 3% of home fire deaths, according to the NFPA. But before you ditch all of your sweet-smelling blocks of wax, know this: The main problem is not the candles, but how we use them. Too many people light them on top of tablecloths or near curtains, which can easily catch fire.

“Candles should be burned within sight on a stable surface, away from anything that can catch fire and out of reach of children and pets,” says Carol Freysinger, executive director of the National Candle Association.

Because wax gets soft as it melts, a hot candle can tip out of its holder, igniting wood surfaces and shelves. That’s why you should never leave a candle burning unattended, or switch to battery-powered ones—these days they look and smell just like the real thing.

6. Christmas trees

Don’t use those old bubble lights on your tree, even if they’ve been in the family for generations.

“Each light is 5 watts. With 100 5-watt bulbs, that’s 500 watts of heat” on a tree that’s slowly drying out, Torrillo says. Additionally, keep the tree away from sources of open flame and don’t overload sockets. According to the NFPA’s most recent data, Christmas trees cause an average of 210 structure fires annually.

———

Finally, here are some life-saving tips for all households.

Install and maintain smoke detectors

Every home needs working smoke detectors—inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Test them every few months and completely replace them every 10 years.

Know your fire extinguisher

Just because you have a fire extinguisher doesn’t mean you know how to use it. For example, if you spray the extinguisher directly into a pan of flaming grease, flaming spittle can go everywhere. Now’s the time to check out some instructional videos. Better yet? Swing by your local firehouse and ask the firefighters how to use an extinguisher.

Plan an escape route

We’re not just talking about walking out the front door. What if the route is blocked? If you really want to be prepared, keep an escape ladder inside every bedroom, Torrillo recommends, and practice deploying it to get familiar.

The post Beware of These 6 Dangerous Things That Can Spark a House Fire appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com.

Got Boomerang Kids? 3 Reversible Bedroom Makeovers to Try


Boomerang kids

Maskot/Getty Images

Confession: I had my eye on my son’s bedroom ever since he started planning to go away to college. I looked forward to removing the painted planets circling his ceiling and stick-on neon stars, and installing a great big desk, a killer flat-screen TV, and a rocking recliner I could sink into as I binge-watched “Orange Is the New Black.” It would be my combo office/she cave, and my favorite new room in the house.

Alas, college lasted only one semester for our 19-year-old son (don’t ask), and back he slid into his childhood room. My dreams of a room of my own vanished along with the vision of “my son, the doctor.”

One source of solace is that I’m far from alone. Most of my friends with kids over 25 are still doing laundry for their kids as they look for a job in a changing economy or pad their resume with a master’s degree. In fact, a survey for Elizabeth Fishel and Jeffrey Arnett’s book “Getting to 30: A Parent’s Guide to the 20-Something Years” showed that 38% of 18- to 29-year-olds are still living in their childhood rooms.

Given that parents these days never know when their grown kids might return home for a while before venturing out once more—and that they may return home again, and again—parents who’d hoped to permanently turn their vacated bedrooms into a home office, gym, or whatever gives them joy may be wise to add a bit more flexibility to their plans.

Here’s how to remake those bedrooms into double-duty spaces that can fulfill your needs when the kids fly solo, but that also gives them a place to crash when they land back home.

A bedroom that converts to an office

These days, an office can be any place you fire up your laptop. The contents of those bulky filing cabinets can just sit in the cloud, and designers focused on small-space living are creating ever more inventive furnishings that fold, float, or disappear into a wall, corner, or some other piece of furniture when you’re not using them.

The most important thing is to ditch that childhood bed that functions only as a bed. Replace it with something you can relax in when you need a break from work, and sleep in if you need it. Ideas:

  • Daybed
  • Pull-out sofa
  • Chair bed
  • Futon
  • Murphy bed

 

Resource Furniture sells “transforming furniture,” including wall units that hide desks, beds, closets, and tables. When you pull a lever, the bed folds down or a desk pops up. Fold everything away into the wall, and you’ve got space to throw down a yoga mat; now your space is a bedroom, office, and meditation room.

A gym that goes undercover

Remember how you promised yourself to get in shape when the kids left home? Ah, memories… But don’t give up your promise just yet. Think of foldable and 2-in-1 exercise equipment that will work those muscles and then slide under the bed or into a closet when you’re cooling down.

Here are some choices.

Exerpeutic Folding Magnetic Upright Bike with Pulse: This 40-pound bike can easily fold up and roll away. It throws in pulse monitoring so you can see how the old ticker is holding up to all that spinning. ($169.99)

NordicTrack C700: Walk up a sweat, then fold up this treadmill and store it next to the wall. ($799)

The Fold-Away Rowing Machine: Rowing, which exercises abs, legs, and arms, is a great way to get that bikini body using one machine. When you’re finished, slide it under a futon or prop it in a corner. ($325)

Just for lounging around

A man cave or she shed is perhaps the easiest conversion, because it will have many of the same things that a bedroom would, minus the bed.

Buy a great pull-out couch for some comfy TV watching and the skinniest flat-screen TV you can afford, so you don’t close up the space visually. Under the TV, install a foldaway bar that could also function as a dresser if the space becomes a bedroom again.

Check out the Crosley Cambridge Sliding Top Bar ($480) with a top that extends in both directions and can double as an entertainment center.

Crosley Cambridge Sliding Top Bar
Crosley Cambridge Sliding Top Bar

Target.com

Stick a minifridge in the corner, and buy one of those space heaters that look like a fireplace to give the place some ambience and extra warmth. Then kick back and relax! At least, until you hear someone yelling, “Mom, Dad, I’m home…”

The post Got Boomerang Kids? 3 Reversible Bedroom Makeovers to Try appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com.

Check Yourself: Home Maintenance Tasks You Need to Tackle in December


check-yourself-shoveling2

AndreasWeber/iStock; realtor.com

December is a tough month to focus on home maintenance. There’s so much holiday cheer to hang up and drink down that doing routine chores seems like a wet blanket over the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus spirit. But you can give yourself an early holiday present by doing just a few maintenance tasks before cold weather truly sets in.

We’ve created a handy checklist of home maintenance tasks that need to be completed this month, plus tips for how to do them faster and easier—or with the help of a pro.

Check these to-do items off your list, then sit back with a few mugs of eggnog and enjoy the rest of the year. (Tip: Don’t drink while operating a snowblower. You’ll thank us later!)

1. Snow removal

Task: Clear snow and ice from walkways.

Shortcut: To use a snowblower and avoid constantly having to adjust the chute, start in the middle of the driveway and blow the snow to one side, then make a U-turn and blow the snow to the other side. (Yep, it’s that simple.) Just make sure to fuel and oil up your snowblower now, in case it’s suddenly needed.]

If you’re using a shovel, clear the snow after every 2 or 3 inches of snowfall, which is significantly better for your back, heart, and general disposition than trying to lift a foot or more of snow.

Call in the pros: Hiring a neighborhood kid will probably cost you $25 and a cup of hot chocolate. Hiring a professional will cost $40 to $65, depending on the length of your driveway and the depth of the snow. It’s best to contract with a snow-removal service at the beginning of the snowy season (read: now) and pin down a price. The last thing you want is to beg a plow driver to clear your driveway after a blizzard, when he’s the most in demand.

2. Prevent ice damming

Task: Prevent ice dams in your gutter and on your roof, which can push water into your home.

Shortcut: If you live in a frigid or snowy climate, you can install heating cables along the edge of your roof to keep snow runoff from freezing. Fifty feet of cable costs about $230.

Call in the pros: A roofing company will install heating cables on your roof for, on average, $817. If your roof is particularly steep or big, you’ll pay more.

3. Beef up insulation

Task: Check attic insulation to make sure it hasn’t deteriorated or flattened, which will reduce its efficiency.

Shortcut: Look across your attic, and see if the insulation is level with the attic floor joists, or if it’s packed below—which indicates you need more. (If it’s packed down below the top of the joists, then it loses some of its insulation power.) The cheapest way to beef up insulation is to lay down fiberglass batts, which cost about $100 to $500 for an 800-square-foot open attic.

Call in the pros: Putting down insulation is labor-intensive and can be messy. You can hire a company to insulate an 800-square-foot attic for $400 to $1,800, depending on the type and insulating value of the material you choose.

4. Put up/take down holiday decorations

You don't have to DIY holiday cheer.
Save time next year by winding your lights around a cord holder this year.

quavondo/iStock

Task: Before you hang decorations, make sure to replace your old, incandescent lightbulbs with LED lights, which stay cooler and decrease fire risk.

Shortcut: If you hang lights in the same place each year, install permanent hangers, which will save time every year thereafter. When you take down the lights, keep them from tangling by winding them around a cord holder or heavy cardboard, or threading them in and around an old Pringles can.

Call in the pros: The cost of hiring pros to light up your home like the Griswolds’ will vary from place to place and depend on the size of the project. For instance, this San Antonio, TX, company charges $149 to $1,399 to hang lights you own. Take-down prices range from $99 to $299.

5. Get your home ready for guests

Task: Spruce up your guest room for your friends and family. Launder sheets and blankets for the holiday rush.

Shortcut: You can buy brand-new bedding—comforter, sheets, pillowcases—for less than $50, which will give rooms a new look and feel. Fill a basket with bottles of water, bags of nuts, and tiny tubes of shampoo and conditioner you’ve taken from hotels (c’mon, we know we’re not the only ones doing it).

Call in the pros: Hire a cleaning service to help out. A one-time cleaning of a 1,300-square-foot, single-story home runs $95 to $300.

6. Clean the chimney

Task: This is a must-do, regardless of whether you are burning wood logs or have a gas fireplace. If you haven’t gotten a chimney sweep yet this year, now’s the time to get on it before you fire that baby up—dirty chimneys are a leading cause of house fires. (Pro tip: To keep things clean year-round, remove fireplace ash after each blaze. If you have a compost pile, throw ashes there, which will help make luscious soil.)

Shortcut: You can clean the chimney yourself, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll need plastic sheeting and tape, several types of chimney brushes, safety gear, and a reliable ladder—plus a willing desire to climb on top of your roof. Does this sound like you?

Call in the pros: We recommend this route to make sure your chimney has gotten the full work-up before you set a Yuletide log ablaze. The standard chimney inspection costs about $100 to $250, depending on roof accessibility and the type of chimney you have.

7. Prevent icy hazards

Task: Take steps to deal with any home issues that could prove dangerous in icy weather. Turn off water to exterior spigots, drain them, and leave them open throughout the winter to minimize chances of frozen, burst pipes. Make sure outdoor stair railings aren’t wobbly, which could cause someone to slip and fall on iced-over steps. Wrap exposed piping in your basement and garage with heat tape, which will keep water flowing freely in cold snaps. Trim overhanging branches that could cause roof damage if they snap under the weight of snow or ice.

Shortcut: If branches aren’t too large or hard to reach, use a pole saw or pruner. Just don’t venture onto the roof to get the job done.

Call in the pros: Tree limb removal costs vary, but it’s usually between $50 and $75.

8. Get rid of critters

Task: We mentioned this one last month, but it bears repeating during these frigid months. Squirrels, rats, and raccoons will crawl through any hole or crack in your toasty attic to stay warm. If you hear the patter of little feet overhead, or notice that the instant ramen in your pantry has mysteriously been invaded, you’ll have to set traps or lay poison.

Shortcut: It’s so much easier to keep pests out than to chase them away. Inspect your home’s exterior to make sure vents are covered, holes are patched, and cracks are sealed.

Call in the pros: Most animal removal companies will get rid of pests for you, but for a hefty price. If you have squirrels, for example, you’ll pay $300 to $1,500 for a professional to inspect, set traps, remove said squirrels, and seal entry points. Now, go enjoy the holidays already!

The post Check Yourself: Home Maintenance Tasks You Need to Tackle in December appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com.

Best Way to Get Rid of Cockroaches, and Other Creepy-Crawly Facts


getting-rid-of-roaches

tenra/iStock

Does the mere thought of cockroaches scuttling through your house make your skin, well, crawl? Totally understandable. Still, as a homeowner, you’re bound to encounter them, so you may as well know the best way to get rid of these creeping, scurrying, fast-multiplying household pests.

Here’s a guide to all you need to know about these tough critters and how to keep them from taking over your home. Let the Raid begin!

Fact 1: They get much bigger than you think

The largest variety, found in South America, grows up to 6 inches and has a 12-inch wingspan. (Aren’t you glad you don’t live there?) And contrary to popular belief, most of the 4,000 species of cockroaches live in the wild like other insects; only 30 species are considered house pests. The most common in your home is the tan, winged German cockroach. Damn you, Germany.

Fact 2: They can eat anything—really

Although their favorite is sweets, they can eat just about anything: grease, glue, soap, leather, even hair. (Are you still reading?)

Fact 3: They really can make you sick

“People don’t realize that cockroaches aren’t just a nuisance, they can spread a lot of dangerous diseases,” says Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association.

The critters transport bacteria—including E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus—that can cause afflictions from cholera and polio to urinary tract infections, dysentery, diarrhea, and pneumonia.

Then there’s the toxic stuff they leave behind. “It’s really gross,” says Mannes, “but the saliva and droppings of cockroaches can trigger asthma and allergies in children.”

That said, expert insist that it’s a major misconception that the critters are mostly in unsanitary homes. They can show up anywhere.

Fact 4: There’s one easy way to spot them

Assuming you haven’t already spotted a sucker skittering around, cockroach feces are relatively easy to spot. Look for small, dark, “pepper-like” bits (as some exterminators describe it) on countertops or in drawers. The nocturnal bugs seek out dark, wet places to hide and breed, so be sure to check behind refrigerators and sinks first.

Fact 5: Keeping them out of your house takes work

Of course, don’t let your Chinese takeout containers sit on your coffee table for weeks—but the outside of your home matters, too.

“To prevent cockroaches from entering your home, it’s essential to properly maintain the property, caulking any cracks in the walls and making sure the walls are dry,” says entomologist Bert “The Bugman” Snyder, who owns the South Carolina Palmetto Exterminators chain.

Outside, keep bushes and plants trimmed back from the home by at least 1 foot. “This will allow for air flow around the foundation keeping things drier,” Snyder explains.

Fact 6: Getting rid of them is tough

Granted, these critters don’t go quietly. They can survive without food for a month, without water for a week, and without a head for a week. (You are still reading, right?) While over-the-counter poisons (sprays, fogs, traps) kill roaches, they’re largely useless against eggs. Your best bet to beat the buggers is to enlist a licensed pest control professional.

“Infestation may require an intense cleaning of the areas they’re hiding in and the food sources,” says Snyder. That may mean getting inside walls, underneath floors, and behind appliances to root out roaches for good. Typically, an exterminator’s first visit ranges from $100 to $300 and follow-ups generally go for $50 each.

Fact 7: Homes with cockroach infestations can be fixed

You can get the upper hand.

“Cockroaches do not structurally damage a house, and every infestation can be controlled and cleaned,” Snyder insists. “I would just make sure it is treated and cleaned up before you move in.”

Mannes agrees. “Home buyers really can’t tell on their own the extent of an infestation,” she adds. “And it actually might not be as bad as you think. So if you suspect a property has cockroaches, call in a professional, determine if it’s an ongoing problem or something that’s perhaps one-and-done, and come up with a plan. Cockroaches can be controlled.”

The post Best Way to Get Rid of Cockroaches, and Other Creepy-Crawly Facts appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com.

8 Unexpected Housewarming Gifts a Hostess Will Never Forget


housewarming-gifts

Odds are you’ve made the rounds to plenty of people’s homes for parties, be it for a housewarming, the holidays, or other event. And, as you should know by now, a prime way to work your way into the party host’s good graces is to bring a little housewarming gift. Only what?

Allow me to fill you in. When it comes to parties, you name it, I’ve hosted it. Super Bowl? Every year, without fail. Triple Crown race? Twice, in fact, for 30 people each. New Year’s Day soirees, spring fling cocktail parties, Thanksgiving for 24 (two turkeys, seven pies), and even a Kentucky Derby/Cinco de Mayo combo.

As a result, I’m an expert in hostess gifts. From the good and the bad to the downright ugly, I’ve gotten it all and I’m here to say: No one wants your cast-off bottle of chardonnay. Same goes for that rancid candle in a jar. Instead, do the right thing and offer up something your hostess really wants.

Here are eight perfect picks that are all but guaranteed to result in a return invitation.

Breakfast the next day

It sounds obvious, but almost no one offers up this godsend: After a late night of wiping up spills, doing mountains of dishes, and putting away every piece of glassware I own, I’m exhausted. The next day, all I want is to sleep in and enjoy a ready-to-go meal. It doesn’t have to be homemade jam or granola (though both are excellent choices). Instead, a yummy loaf to slice and slather with butter is ideal, especially if it’s an almond stollen from Red Truck Rural Bakery ($31).
Stollen
Nutty, buttery, divine!

Red Truck Bakery

New dish towels

I use at least two or three every day, which means after a few months they end up looking stained and frayed and downright nasty. A guest who brings a pretty tea towel or dishcloth gets extra meatballs and the top-shelf bourbon in her Old-Fashioned. I literally leap for joy when I see this gift coming. These beauties from CypressInk ($10 each) are a good place to start. (I love the jellyfish and the octopus!)
dish towel
These towels are hand-printed with eco-friendly ink on soft cotton

Cypressink.com

Something personalized

My husband loathes fancy cursive monograms, but he’ll live with personalization at home if it’s a very simple version. Coasters or cocktail napkins with the host’s last initial are very welcome. Even better is this useful and unusual gift ribbon from Namemaker ($21) for the endless holiday wrapping that’s coming up. Personalized ribbon is also a two-fer, eliminating the need for a name tag.
ribbon
Personalized ribbon is cute and useful.

Namemaker.com

Candles

I don’t mean boring white tapers or those 100-pack votives, though I do stock a cabinet full of each. Instead, seek out something really beautiful—maybe one that’s shaped like the pear below ($6), or a couple of big pine cones or sparkling silver Christmas trees. Anyone who entertains with any frequency goes through a ton of candles in every shape and size.
pear candle
A lovely shape in an autumnal hue

Amazon.com

A better bottle

Guests bring wine because they think it’s appropriate, plus it’s easy to just grab a bottle and go. But if I’m throwing a party, I’ve definitely ordered a case or two already. If you must bring vino, up the ante and make it Champagne, which I don’t normally keep around. Or be more interesting and choose mezcal for a friend who likes tequila or sherry (which you can cook with if you don’t drink much), or for the Manhattan lover, pick up some Hella bitters ($15.50).
hella bitters
A bottle of bitters beats wine any day—that is if you love Manhattans.

Amazon.com

A two-in-one

One of the best housewarming presents I received was an inexpensive juicer and a bag of oranges. The couple who gave it knew this was a smart midwinter gift (and they’d just returned from Florida).
Other two-in-ones: popcorn kernels and sea salt, or apples and a wedge of cheddar. I’m crazy for figs, especially with cheese from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. Try the Ewe’s Blue ($35 a pound).
blue cheese
A tangy sheep’s milk blue cheese to pair with fruit

Murrayscheese.com

Dog gift

Don’t forget pets when considering a hostess gift. You’ll be my friend for life if you bring my pup a squeaky chew toy or some yummy biscuits from a nearby bakery. Or make it easy and get these from Food52 ($28 for two bags). If your host has a kitty, consider toting along a new scratching post, cat nip toys, or a container of cat grass.
dog treats
Made with natural ingredients for your sweet pooch

Food52.com

Something to share

A group gift the whole family can enjoy is another good option. One year a friend brought the most adorable pencils carved to look like tree branches and tied them with a piece of twine. The kids flipped for them—and I squirreled away a few for my own personal fun. Other ideas include a new game or a big batch of candy, like this jar of Swedish fish ($8.50) that we can dive into on movie night.

candy jar
Who doesn’t love Swedish fish? Bring them to my next party, please!

Queensboro

The post 8 Unexpected Housewarming Gifts a Hostess Will Never Forget appeared first on Real Estate News and Advice – realtor.com.

6 Cheap Christmas Decorations for the Home for Under $5 (or Free!)


cheap-xmas-decorations

Andrejs Zemdega/iStock

The holidays are fun for sure, but they’re also a huge drain of cash—so if buying gifts has depleted your bank account, there may not be much left over for a huge Christmas tree or major light show out front. But hey, no one said holiday decorations need to cost an arm and a kidney.

Just check out these cheap Christmas decorations for the home that cost under $5—or, better yet, nothing at all! Bonus: They’re not only easy on your wallet but on your time, too, so you aren’t running around like mad trying to pretty your place up.

“When the holidays sneak up on you, decorating can seem overwhelming—like another expense and mandatory project instead of fun,” says Angela DeYoung, founder of Designs by DeYoung. “The good news is that there are lots of ways you can repurpose or ‘dress up’ things you already own to make your home seem seasonal without spending a fortune. A little creativity goes a long way!”

With that in mind, here are some budget-but-still-beautiful tips from top designers to bring some holiday cheer to your house.

Frame a festive card

Don’t trash ’em: Make decorative use of cards you receive from friends
Don’t trash ’em: Make decorative use of cards you receive from friends

Jill Hosking-Cartland

Holiday cards can be stunning, so why not use them?

“When you receive a card that has special meaning to you, or an especially beautiful image, trim it to fit inside a standard-size frame and use it as tabletop decor,” suggests Jill Hosking-Cartland, owner and principal designer for Hosking Interiors. “Shop the existing frames in your home before purchasing a new one. Changing out photography or art in existing frames is a great way to get a fresh look without spending a thing.”

Borrow from your yard

Pine cones as decorations
There are pine cones aplenty outside your door, so why not decorate with them?

Angela DeYoung

For holiday decor, “don’t overlook the most budget-friendly decor source there is: your backyard,” says Hosking-Cartland. “Clip green branches from a tree or large bush, place in a pretty vase or garden urn you already own, and add color and texture with faux or real berries or other natural material.”

Also, DeYoung suggests a bowl or arrangement of pine cones. For a little more flair, top it off with an ornament.

Dress things up with your costume jewelry

Pin a little costume jewelry to a stocking for extra pizzazz.
Pin a little costume jewelry to a stocking for extra pizzazz.

Angela DeYoung

Nothing says “the holidays” like a bit of sparkle, and what better way to use your glittery jewelry collection than to deck out your home?

“Up-cycle vintage jewelry for some added bling to fur stockings and other household items,” suggests DeYoung. Try draping sparkly necklaces around vases, pinning brooches to pillows, or hanging crystal bracelets where the light will catch them. Cost is free if you own the jewelry already; if not, check out places like Claire’s or Michaels for inexpensive accessories.

Tie it up with a bow

Adding big bows dresses up your abode.
Adding big bows dresses up your abode.

Angela DeYoung

Packages shouldn’t be the only thing tied up this holiday! Adding big, beautiful bows everywhere instantly makes your whole home feel like a present. Put them on lamps, doors, plants, or anywhere that needs a little cheer. Odds are you have some ribbons lying around, or else they’re easily bought for a song at crafts stores.

“Most crafts stores will make beautiful bows for you. … All you need to do is buy the ribbon and pay the fee to have it made,” says DeYoung.

Hit the books

Feature your festive titles for fun
Feature your festive titles for fun

Jill Hosking-Cartland

“Using holiday-themed books you already own or can pick up at a discount store is a great way to help add color, texture, and height to your mantel decor or a tabletop,” says Hosking-Cartland. “Or, shop your bookcases for books with seasonal colored bindings, tie them with a satin or burlap ribbon, and place them on a cake plate to elevate them and make them the focal point of tabletop decor.”

The idea is to feature your festive titles, either for people to actually read or just appreciate that you’re holiday literate.

Try a tabletop tree

Let’s face it, live Christmas trees can get expensive, and the bigger the tree, the more bucks you’ll spend. So if all you can afford is a sad little Charlie Brown–style Christmas tree, don’t despair—there’s an easy way to give it some stature and style.

For one, try putting it on a table, suggests Liz Toombs, owner of Polka Dots & Rosebuds Interiors. “If you live in a cramped apartment, a tabletop tree frees up valuable floor area,” she notes.

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