Episode 159 | Simple, Affordable, and Cozy Christmas Decor | Emily of Handmade Farmhouse

I love talking about home decor on my podcast every now and then because I think it is such a beautiful part of being a homemaker.  As the Christmas season quickly approaches, I am excited to bring you this conversation all about cultivating elegance and beauty in your home for Christmas without spending a fortune.  Emily of Handmade Farmhouse has a way of adding beautiful touches to everything she does, so I knew she would lend the perfect inspiration to this conversation.  This episode is FULL of practical ideas, simple DIYs, and affordable ways to bring the magic and wonder of Christmas to your home this season.

In this episode, we cover:

  • How Emily and her husband built their own home from scratch
  • Creating family traditions around Christmas decorating
  • Ideas for decorating your space with functional items that serve a festive purpose
  • Finding a theme for your Christmas decor in unexpected places
  • A few staple decor items you can use year after year
  • One simple home decor piece you can use to elevate your Christmas look
  • Rethinking and rearranging your existing furniture and decor at Christmas time
  • How the color of your lighting can change the atmosphere of a space
  • Surprisingly simple ideas for Christmas decor on a budget
  • Mantel decor inspiration that transitions well from Christmas to January
  • Using faux wrapped gifts to spruce up your decor
  • Changing up your tree decorations from year to year
  • Keeping the Christmas season simple and focusing on what matters most

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About Emily

Emily @handmade.farmhouse is a mother, wife and homemaker. She shares daily ideas for DIY projects for home, seasonal decorating, easy recipes, gardening and intentional living. Emily believes home should be a safe haven from the chaos of the world and always be the place you find the most comfort and joy. Some of Emily’s work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Ideas Magazine, Country Sampler magazine, and will have a home and garden feature printed in spring 2023 in Modern Farmhouse Style Magazine. 

Find her recipes and home projects on her blog www.handmadefarmhouse.com and daily happenings over on Instagram @handmade.farmhouse.

Resources Mentioned

7 Inexpensive Christmas Decor Ideas by Handmade Farmhouse


Emily Barlow of Handmade Farmhouse | Blog | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | YouTube 

Lisa Bass of Farmhouse on Boone | Blog | YouTube | Instagram | TikTok | Facebook | Pinterest

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Lisa Bass Welcome back to this Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today we are doing the Christmas decor episode. I like to do something like this every year. I bring on different people who I’m very inspired by their Christmas decor. This year, Emily Barlow from Handmade Farmhouse was my top guest of choice, and that is who I got. She has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens for her Christmas ideas. She creates the most beautiful baked goods and packages, more than just the decor. So we’re going to go into inexpensive, thrifty decor ideas, handmade ideas, but we’re also going to go into if you get none of that done, the meaning behind and the feeling behind Christmas this year is going to be more important. And so we’re going to go into all of that. And there are so many good ideas that I’m really excited to implement really soon here in our own home. All right. So join me for this interview. 

Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way. 

Lisa Bass Well, thank you so much for joining me, Emily. I’m excited to have you on to do a Christmas decor episode. It’s really crazy to me that right now we’re thinking about this, but it is time to think about it, especially with some of the stuff we’re going to talk about in the planning phases to get that out of the way. So I’m excited to chat about that. So first, let’s start with some introductions. Tell us about you, your blog, your Instagram, your family, or whatever else you want to share. 

Emily Barlow Okay. Thank you. First of all, thank you so much for having me today. I’m super excited to be on. I have three kids. I’m a mom and a wife. I’ve been married for almost 17 years and my husband and I, gosh, about six years ago, our family had kind of outgrown the home that we were in. And we decided we wanted to look for a space that we could buy and make our own. So we started house hunting and looking for something that we could do as a fixer upper. My husband is an engineer and I’m a creative, so we have a good balance of the technical and creative brain between us. And we wanted to fix something up, but we looked for months and had no luck finding a home. So after we were really frustrated, we both kind of came to the conclusion that building might be something that we would be interested in. So we talked more and more about it and decided to build our own home, but we decided to do it all ourselves. So it took us 21 months of nights and weekends and him going every night. After he got done with work, he would spend three or four hours. Anything he could do, he would do each evening. And we worked for so long to get into our home and we really just dreamed of having a space that was a little more open where our kids could run. I wanted to plant a huge garden and be able to do a little bit more on the homesteading side with canning and eating food that we grew ourselves and that kind of thing. So it was a long process and a long journey for us, and I could probably meet with you a whole ‘nother day to just talk about that journey. But once we got moved into the house, I started documenting just simple things here, like how I decorated with thrifted and vintage items for our home, seasonal decor, and cooking from scratch. My favorite recipes, intentional living, gardening, kind of everything that encapsulates homesteading and I guess farmhouse living is what I really wanted. So you can find all that and daily happenings on my Instagram and then my blog is HandmadeFarmhouse.com. 

Lisa Bass So I’ve been following you for a really long time. I find your decor beautiful, all of your baking. You do everything with a very beautiful touch. So usually, whenever you make cookies, you package them beautifully. Or you’ll make bread, you will do a really beautiful score. Very beautiful. I have to tell you, for all these years I’ve been following you, I don’t think I knew that you and your husband built your home yourself. I knew you built it, but I didn’t realize you built it yourself. 

Emily Barlow Yeah, it’s kind of a crazy story because a lot of people do try to build their own home. But what that means for them is that they will general the home and they will hire subcontractors. And for us it was very unique because we did the work ourselves. I help my husband lay the flooring. And he had about 20 years construction experience. That’s what he did to put himself through school. And he kind of just is so talented in so many different areas and knew how to do everything. But it was a massive sacrifice for our family. And a lot of time, I don’t like to talk about it because it’s hard to remember those times because my kids were really little and I was home doing stuff with them and he was gone. We were apart a lot, so it was a really hard time for us, but it definitely made us appreciate living here now. And I mean, every inch of this home, there’s blood, sweat, and tears poured into it, so it’s special.

Lisa Bass Right. Wow. That takes fixer upper to a whole new level. Just build it completely from scratch. That’s absolutely amazing. 

Emily Barlow Yes, it was a lot. 

Lisa Bass Do you follow Abbie from @M.is.for.Mama on Instagram? 

Emily Barlow Yes. And we actually connected while we were both building because we had a similar experience. So, yes, I love her. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, she’s probably the only one I know—I know people who’ve built, like small homes and things—but who built like a full house all the way by themselves that I can think of on the Internet. And I’ve actually been to Abbie’s house and it is incredible. Like it’s pretty on Instagram, but in real life I just was in awe that they did that. They completely built that thing from scratch. It’s really inspiring. 

Emily Barlow It is amazing. Her husband’s name is Sean, too. It’s kind of funny. We had a lot in common and we visited often during that time because we were both crazy busy with motherhood and trying to find balance in doing that. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s incredible. Hats off to you, because I feel like I’m the type of person who can have a lot on my plate, more than probably average. But I don’t know about that. I don’t know about that one. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. It’s hard. We would take off sometimes and just go to a park and take our kids for a picnic for even just an hour. And we learned to appreciate just little things like that because that was our only time that we had together. And so that was a good time for us to build a foundation for just simple joys and appreciating quality time together. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, because you don’t have a house to— usually we associate a lot of normal life within a house. Like we’re doing the dishes in a sink and we’re making dinner in our kitchen, and so having to appreciate all those things without actually having a stable home at the time is difficult, I can imagine. 

Emily Barlow Yes. Yep, for sure. 

Lisa Bass Well, okay, so lots more of that, I’m sure, over on your Instagram. Like you said, we could have an episode entirely on that, but we’re going to talk Christmas. So I was scrolling around on your blog and I saw that you were featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine for Christmas ideas. And what’s funny is I actually had you down as the person for this before seeing that you had that feature. And so clearly Better Homes and Gardens saw your Christmas talent and I saw your Christmas talent. 

Emily Barlow Thank you. Yeah, that was crazy. 

Lisa Bass It’s all very beautiful and simple. 

Emily Barlow Thank you. I remember getting that email from them, which I totally thought was a prank. I mean, I didn’t believe it at first. I’ve loved Better Homes and Gardens since I was a teenager. So for me, that was just a crazy, impossible idea. But I looked into it further and yeah, they came and photographed. They pretty much featured our kitchen, Christmas treats that we made, and I did some macarons that I painted with edible food coloring gels and did some cute Christmas designs on them, and the gingerbread cookies and things like that. So it was really fun. That came out in October 2020, which was a hard time for everybody in the world, so it was a real highlight for me and it was just a special moment for us for sure. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that was a really beautiful feature. Okay, so you mentioned a few things there, talking about the edible food painting. I want to talk more about that shortly because that’s actually something my kids and I have just tried recently. I had never done that before. Let’s first talk about traditions with Christmas. This is something I’m really excited about this year. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve really done a good job this year of in the summer, we did all the summer things. In the fall, we’ve done all the fall things. We’ve gone to the orchard, we’ve gone to the pumpkin patch multiple times. I’m going again today. 

Emily Barlow Oh cool. 

Lisa Bass How about Christmas? That season, it gets so busy that a lot of times if I’m not intentional about it, I end up regretting that we didn’t do a lot of the things. Do you have any Christmas family traditions in general or when it comes to Christmas decor and involving the kids in decorating your house? 

Emily Barlow I feel like you really do have to be intentional about what you choose to do with your family during the holidays because there’s always a million directions you can go in. I personally love to be home. I’m a homebody, so I love to make traditions at home because we’re always on the run with the kids. And so during the holiday season, I have to guard that time where we can slow down and make special moments. And a few of the traditions we like to do every year is I like to set up a little cocoa bar in our kitchen. So I just get a tray or basket on the kitchen counter and then I get glass apothecary jars and fill up with different flavors of hot chocolate. Maybe the kids can each choose a favorite that they like. I order those little dehydrated mini marshmallows every fall and winter and add those to a jar so the kids get to scoop a big scoop out into their cup. And then I’ll do different sizes of mugs. I do like Santa mugs. Hobby Lobby, last year I found these little tiny mini Santa mugs, and my kids and their cousins went crazy for those just to make little tiny hot chocolate tea party stuff. And then we also order to-go cups for guests that come so the kids can make them a hot chocolate to take. And it just ends up being this really cute little area in our kitchen that the kids love to set up and make special for Christmas. 

Lisa Bass That is a really cute idea. My kids would just love that. They’re like me. They like hot drinks. Like all fall, every afternoon I’m having a pumpkin spice latte. They always want a decaf version. So I think something like that would really warm up the kitchen whenever we’re tired of not being able to go outside. What are some other things? Do you do anything like candy cane sticks or any other fun little embellishments for the hot cocoa bar? 

Emily Barlow Yes, I love decorating my kitchen almost like it’s a bakery at Christmas time. I think using those glass jars, those glass jars are just a fun texture to bring in during the holidays because they’re neutral. But whatever you fill them with just reflects the season. So I’ll do candy canes or peppermints. I’ve done cupcake liners that are really cute with seasonal stuff on them. Decorated gingerbread cookies inside the jars. You can get just on Amazon some really cute bakery boxes that have the clear cellophane decorative window on top and baker’s twine and things like that that you can actually set out in your kitchen. So it kind of gives it a bakery feel, but we will bake cookies and treats and then wrap up in those boxes and take to the kids’ teachers or neighbors. And I feel like when the kids are having fun at home and they feel that sense of magic—the magic of the season—you want to share that with somebody else. And so that’s fun for them to have that stuff like readily accessible so that they can take it and share with other people. I do have a row of white shelves in my kitchen that have white dishes on them and I love to decorate those for Christmas time, just with small things that I’ve collected over time. Like I have some little nutcrackers and some cloth striped napkins, so I’ll do some stacks of those, bells, and the little brush bottle trees, and just kind of stagger everything so it feels balanced, but just adding those pops of red and green make the kitchen feel so special and cozy for Christmas. So that’s fun. 

Lisa Bass I really like your idea of the bakery, and I’m already trying to picture where I would put everything in my kitchen because my kids are— I have some obviously babies, but I also have older kids that can do a lot of that stuff by themselves. And so giving them the opportunity to have all the supplies available and ready to share with friends and family, that’s a cute idea. And with anything with decor, I like whenever the decor is not just something to sit there and look at, but at least it feels like something you could be using. So all throughout the year, I like herbs hanging to dry and aprons. But then in the Christmas, the idea of having that bakery really sounds like it looks nice, but then also it is practical because you might actually make some cookies for friends or somebody who pops by or the hot chocolate. That’s such a cute idea. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. I also think you can use functional items like rolling pins in a crock or you can get those big glass jars. I think you can get like a gallon size glass jar at Walmart with the glass lid. You could fill that with Christmas cookie cutters. And those are fun to look at on a basket on your counter, too. So there’s so many different ways that you can incorporate those functional items and it just becomes the decor of your home for the holidays. And there’s lots of cute signs that you can get that, say, like gingerbread bakery or things like that, so that your home really does feel— your kitchen really does feel like a Mrs. Claus’s Bakery for Christmas. So that’s kind of fun. The kids love it. They love that kind of stuff.

Lisa Bass That is so fun. Oh, my kids, I’m just imagining how much my kids would like that. With Christmas cookie cutters, like you said, that is such a good idea because I never know where to put this stuff. Like during Christmas, that’s the one time that those all come out from the basement. But then where do I put it? Because I don’t have designated spots in my drawers for Christmas cookie cutters. So the idea of having a place out on the counter, it’s also decor. That’s really cute. I like that. I’m thinking a lot of ideas now. 

Emily Barlow It’s so fun. I mean, there’s endless possibilities. I even have this old scale —it’s like 100 years old for my great grandma, and she used to weigh her chickens on it. And so it’s pretty old and dingy, but it’s this bright vintage green that is so fun at Christmas time. And so I always find a spot for it to display on my shelves. And I think that also brings in a sense of family traditions or bringing like family from the past. And anything that you can bring in that has symbolism like that or reminds you of something special just makes home feel extra special for the holidays. And I love that. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. I really like that idea. 

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Lisa Bass So with Christmas decor, one thing I want to talk about with you—because this is something that you’ve really gotten creative with over the years—is themes. So do you plan a theme each year for your Christmas decorating? How do you choose one? How do you store stuff? Have you repeated a lot of themes? Let’s just talk about Christmas themes. 

Emily Barlow This is a good topic. We could go a long way with this one. A few years ago, I did start choosing a theme for my Christmas. And it’s not something I think too much about ahead of time. It’s something that I just— it’s like an idea that I let come to me while I’m decorating. So I don’t worry too much about choosing it before I start putting up Christmas. The reason I did that is because I feel like—kind of like what I just said—anyone can decorate for the holidays, but when you bring in items or do things with more intention, it just becomes more symbolic for you and it just adds so much more meaning and such a great feeling in your home for the holidays. So I was thinking about— I think it was during 2019 or 20 when things were kind of crazy in the world, I was decorating this gold and mercury glass tree in our office, and my little—he was five years old at the time—my little Knox, my youngest, he loves Christmas and he was just squealing with joy to take these sparkly star ornaments and all these things and help me put them on the tree. And I had Christmas music on while we were decorating. And the Judy Garland song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas came on, her version, and I love it so much. And when she said, “Let your heart be light,” it stopped me for a minute. And really I just stopped and thought about that, those words, and how important it was for me to shut off all of the stress and worry and craziness that I had during that time. And to let my heart be light for the holidays and soak up this energy of my kids, of feeling this magical season and all of the wonderful things that come along with that. And that it was okay for me to give myself permission to put that other stuff on hold for the season and just let my heart be content with where we were. And that kind of set the tone for my decor for the season. And I did things that were special to me. I pulled out some old ornaments from my grandparents and did some ornaments that were symbolic of certain things for me so that every time I walked by that tree in that room, I felt like my heart was light and it was so special. So that was a favorite one I did. Last year, I lost two family members unexpectedly. And I won’t go into that too much because I’ll get emotional about it. But last year at Christmas, it was my first Christmas after loss, and a lot of people who have been through that will, I think, know that you feel a little bit numb during the holiday season. It’s hard to decorate and be cheerful for Christmas when you’re missing someone, and you feel a little empty. But I have three kids that I knew I needed to still make it special for. So I decorated the tree and I was just feeling a little blah about it. And I remember that night I put my kids to bed and I walked back down to turn the tree lights off and I started tweaking the tree a little bit and kind of moving the ornaments around. And I ended up making these little clusters of ornaments. And so I would get different sizes together and make clumps of four or five or six ornaments together. And all the sudden, this beautiful tree that was totally different than the original one that I had decorated came to life. And I had this idea come to mind or this theme come to mind of “together always”. And I thought, there are still ways that I can make Christmas special and include those people that I’ve lost that are gone and make it feel like they’re still here with us. And it gave our tree a lot more meaning to me. It was a more beautiful tree. And I think if you’re ever kind of stuck on looking for a theme or feeling like your tree is unfinished or that it’s just not feeling like it’s inspiring to you, don’t be afraid to tweak it and redecorate or change things around a little bit until it feels right. Add or take away. And maybe as you do that, a theme will come to mind or something will inspire you while you’re doing that. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I love that. I think one of the ones I really liked was I think you called it a childlike Christmas. That one was really cute. Now do you usually do a whole house theme or color palette or do you do something a little bit different for each room? 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I loved that year that we did the nostalgic Christmas. I wanted to bring back a lot of feelings from the childhood wonder, going to my grandparents’ house as a child. And that year I did do a full house theme. I did our mudroom. And it can be a little overwhelming to decorate your entire house for Christmas, but I did the main areas: the dining room, kitchen, and living room, and our mudroom where we walk in. And I just kind of carried the pops of red and green throughout the whole house. But I would say if it overwhelms you to feel like you need to decorate your whole house, just stick to one room at a time and you don’t have to go all out with the kitchen. Just add the things that we talked about that might be reflective of the holiday season. And then it feels like everything’s kind of cohesive and you didn’t have to spend a million dollars to decorate your whole house. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. Speaking about not spending a million dollars, do you have anything that you’ve invested in that you pull out year after year that— you know, I’m trying to think of the things that don’t require you to buy a new Christmas decor every year. Any staple things that you’ve really loved that once you buy them, you have it, and that’s— you know what I mean. Something that’s an investment that you pull out every year and make your house look cheerful. 

Emily Barlow I think a Christmas tree is a big one, a tree that you love because you can switch out ornaments. If you go to Walmart or Hobby Lobby and get some of the big bulk packs of ornaments that are your base, then every year, if you feel like you want to switch things up, you can get on Etsy or Amazon or somewhere where you might be able to find some more expensive specialty ornaments. But you still have your base ornaments that make it feel like you don’t have to redo your full tree. So my tree’s a big one. Garlands, I think. I love using fresh garlands, but because I like to decorate early and it stays up for quite a while, I feel like I can’t do fresh garlands because they get so dry so fast in my house and then they just make a mess. So I think it’s so beautiful to use fresh, but I have invested in nice garlands that are faux that look realistic. They make some really amazing ones and that way I can have it up for several months and it stays beautiful. Another thing I love about that is they can stay up all through January and you just take the Christmasy stuff off them and then you’ve got evergreens through January, which is so nice because it’s so gray during January and February, so it’s nice to still have that pop of green. 

Lisa Bass Well on the garlands—because I was thinking garland, too—one thing that you can do with if you buy maybe like a garland a year, so that way you’re not spending like a million dollars on decor, to change that up, I will just do something with ribbon. Like, say, I want to do a blue Christmas. Well, then I’ll add blue ribbon to my garland that I bought years ago. Or a red and white Christmas, I’ll add the red and white ribbon. That’s one way that I take something that I purchased years ago— all you got to do is add ribbon and bells, and then it’s all good to go. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. And I think if you stick with neutrals with certain things— like I love pulling out chunky knit blankets. I do have a little throw pillow with like a vintage Santa face that I pull out every year because when I look at it, he’s just so cheerful and it makes me happy. So when you do that, then you can incorporate some throw pillows that are different colors but still have those base items on your couch to help it feel cozy. And it’s kind of fun to get mugs or maybe plates or something that you can reuse throughout those seasons, but then add colored candles or, like you said, ribbons or different little pops of color. But you’ve got those— I love using white plates with wood chargers because that’s something that’s going to always look beautiful no matter what your centerpiece colors are or whatever. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. So in the fall, winter, the days get short. And one thing that makes me okay with it is cozy lighting, and Christmas really allows for that. We bring in all of the Christmas light, the twinkly lights. You have a blog post about this. And I pulled some really great ideas that I’d love to talk about. One that I never thought about is mirrors around a tree. So can you tell us a little bit about that idea? 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I discovered that one kind of by accident when I did that gold and mercury glass tree that I told you about. I had that tree kind of in the left back side of our office music room, and on our piano I added a mirror which just reflected all of those sparkly lights from the tree and the gold. And it was so cozy and beautiful at night once it got dark and the tree was just lit up. And I realized, oh my goodness, that just like doubles the magic in any space. So if you had a floor mirror or even several floor mirrors that you could stack behind your tree or off to the right or left side of the tree where you’re walking by and you can see both of them. I think that just makes it so, so beautiful. And mirrors are such a fun thing to use during— I mean, all year long, but especially during the holidays. I love using them on my mantel and on the back of the piano. And floor mirrors, too, I think are so amazing. So yeah there’s lots of different things that you can do to reflect that light. So beautiful. 

Lisa Bass Mm hmm. I like that. I haven’t thought about that strategically. And I actually have a mirror that’s kind of displaced right now because we had it in the corner of our room and then we put our son’s crib there once he stopped co-sleeping. And so it’s kind of just over in a different corner. And I’m like, hm, how could I place that strategically next to a tree? So that way we can do that reflection and more cozy lighting everywhere. I like that. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. Yeah, it’s awesome. I love doing that. 

Lisa Bass Do you have certain mirrors that you bring out just around that time or you just rearrange what you already have going on? 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I usually just rearrange. I’ve got a lot of mirrors that I picked up at thrift stores and garage sales and things like that. Typically you can find wood framed mirrors or something that looks a little bit more unique in its shape. The one I used on our piano, I think I found at Home Depot or Wal-Mart maybe. And it actually looks vintage. It’s got a brass frame around it and then it’s got some beautiful designs at the top. And it was actually pretty inexpensive. It almost looks like that Anthropologie one that everybody loves. I can’t think of what it’s called. Primrose one, maybe? Anyway, it’s so beautiful. 

Lisa Bass I think I know what you’re talking about. 

Emily Barlow It worked beautifully for Christmas. But mirrors are such a fun thing to use in decor and design anyway, because they make every room that you walk into feel— it’s kind of like adding a window because you can— it makes the room feel bigger. But yeah, I also love just using faux candles in front of mirrors to get that flickery light going because it just adds that instant cozy feeling to your home. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I like the idea of putting up maybe a little table in our entryway and setting a mirror on it and then putting those faux candles in front of it. 

Emily Barlow Yes. Yeah. If you have an entryway like that where there’s a dresser and then a mirror above it, one idea that you could do is use a bucket or a bowl and put a cake stand in the center of it. And then you can use some greens and put that below where the cake stand is and then put your faux candles up on the cake stand. So it kind of props them up closer to the mirror a little bit and it just adds like a whole decor piece for your entryway. And that’s a fun one to use as a centerpiece idea, too. 

Lisa Bass Okay. I really like that idea. I’m actually thinking about— as you’re saying this, I’m like, okay, I have a little— we rearranged everything in our house, so where we put the tree last year won’t work this year. And so I’m thinking I could take the little side table, move that out of the living room, put the tree there, and then put that in the entryway and then add some stuff like you’re talking about. That sounds really, really pretty. 

Emily Barlow It’s so fun to be able to just reuse what you already have, too. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, it’s crazy how when you move some stuff around that you already have, it’s like you bought something. You’re completely reinventing, reimagining it, and it’s like it’s a whole new thing.

Emily Barlow Mm hmm. I love that. 

Lisa Bass We’re quick to buy stuff and not rethink stuff, and sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to help you see it—maybe somebody else from the outside—to see it in a new way. Because sometimes something’s been in a certain spot so long that you forget that you could make it all new just moving it all around. 

Emily Barlow Yep. I love that. And that’s something I look forward to doing in January. Like, I usually really don’t enjoy cluttered decor, but I guess cozy holiday decor can be a little cluttery, but it feels okay during that season. But then in January I’m like, okay, get everything out. We’re going to minimal decor and that’s a fun time when you can pull out old things and move around and feel like it’s a refreshing change for you. 

Lisa Bass It is funny, though, how all of these things happen every single year. Like as the leaves turn, you start to think about Christmas. And then as Christmas passes, you start to think, okay, we have to clean the slate. And then it starts to get a little warmer. It’s funny how the seasons really dictate how we feel about our homes because I’m the exact same way. Sometimes it goes all the way into February, like I’m still kind of riding that Christmas wave. But at some point, it all has to go. Everything has to get dusted. I need it to be a blank slate before spring stuff starts happening. 

Emily Barlow Yes, I agree. And that’s so fun too, because once you’re done with Christmas, then it’s like, okay, give me spring, give me garden, give me seeds, let me think about new growth and all that kind of stuff. So that’s a fun time of year, too. 

Lisa Bass Uh huh, yeah. Get the greenery out of here so we can get our potted little potted seeds starting pots out on in front of the windowsill. There’s always got to be something to keep us not bored. I love seasons for that. 

Emily Barlow Yes, me too. 

Lisa Bass Too. Another thing you talked about in your cozy Christmas lighting post was incandescent tree lights. So I put down on the notes that I’m not really sure. I know the difference between those and LEDs. So can you explain that and why those are so much cozier? 

Emily Barlow Yeah. I mean, there’s probably other people who know a lot more about the differences, but for me, I always gravitate towards incandescent versus LED because typically LED is a cooler blue white light and the incandescent is that warm— 

Lisa Bass Ooh, that’s what I do not like. 

Emily Barlow And I don’t either. I feel like it’s just not as welcoming. I love that warm yellow light that feels like a candle. So I typically always go that route. But I know that LED is so much more energy saving and the bulbs don’t get as hot as the incandescent. So there are benefits to it. And I feel like more and more they are creating LED lights that do have a warmer tone to them. So I think if you’re buying a tree that’s pretty lit with the LED lights or you’re looking for string lights, just be really aware of what the tone is going to be, if it’s going to be more of that cool blue or if it’s going to be the warm yellow, because I think that can make such a big difference on how your tree comes together. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s one of those things that I don’t really feel like I knew or understood when I first started buying light bulbs for my house. And I noticed that I didn’t like when certain lights were on and certain lights were off. I’m like, oh, that’s because this one makes everything blue and this one makes it feel warm and inviting. It’s really interesting how big of a difference that makes. And, you know, it sounds like you’re just really overanalyzing it, like what bulbs we pick, but it does really set the tone and make such a big difference. So I can see why that would really matter. 

Emily Barlow It really does. And even from the outside looking in, when you pull up to your house, if you’ve got that blue LED lights, it almost looks more like a medical office or a business versus like a cozy, welcoming home, you know? 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that is definitely something that I’ve noted in the last couple of years. You also have a blog post that has seven inexpensive Christmas decor ideas. I thought this would be fun to talk about because—like we’ve already mentioned a couple of times—some people feel like they can’t actually decorate because they don’t want to spend, they don’t have the budget to spend thousands of dollars every year on Christmas decor. I know that’s me. I don’t want to spend that much money on Christmas decor. So what are some of your very inexpensive ways to make your home look beautiful? Because you have a bunch of them. 

Emily Barlow I think this is a good one, especially for this year, where with inflation and what we’re paying just for groceries and gas and things, there’s going to be a lot of people who are stressed out just coming up with gifts for Christmas. And decor needs to not be a huge stressor in our life because anyone that comes into our home, it’s more about the feeling that you have and the company that you’re there with. And maybe it’s about filling the senses— the tastes of the season and smelling something pine scented and touching a cozy blanket and hearing Christmas music. It’s more about that than this over-the-top crazy decor. Now, I love Instagram. I love finding inspiration there, and I love seeing everyone’s creative ideas. But that is a double edged sword for us as we decorate our homes, because we feel like if it’s not that, then it’s less than. And then all of a sudden we’re sad about it and we can’t make the season special. Well, that’s not true at all. Last year we made a few, like you said on that blog post, a few different budget decor things. And I think that might have been one of my most popular blog posts, not necessarily because it was budget friendly, but more so because it was showing creative ways that you can transform things that you would never even think twice about. We pulled some empty boxes and packages from our pantry—like jello boxes or rice or macaroni and stuff like that—and we wrapped them in brown and white paper, which you can get at the dollar store, and then just put some twine string around it. And I hung it on this row of hooks in our— it’s like a vintage rack of hooks in our kitchen. I put a little bit of greenery over it and it was a total brown paper packages tied up with string. And it ended up just being so cute because we just hung and staggered these packages at different heights. And I think I even found some brown paper that had some little snowflakes printed on it, so it was really cute. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. I’m looking at the picture right now. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. So that was really a fun, cute way to fill that wall space. You could do that in an entry way. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s like a whole wall. 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I mean, you could do so many things with. 

Lisa Bass Maybe two, three dollars? 

Emily Barlow Yep. Super cheap, just using boxes that we already had. That would also make a really fun advent calendar if you wanted to put some little treats or dollar store toys or something Christmas related for your kids. I don’t know, maybe you put a piece of paper that says, let’s go do service for someone today or whatever your advent is counting down to Christmas. There’s lots of ideas that you could add to something like that. Another fun one that I did that’s really popular on Pinterest every Christmas is I took an old enamel bowl. It’s probably, I think, about 100 years old from that same grandma I was just talking about. And I took this enamel bowl, it’s got a red rim, and I put a little tiny faux Christmas tree in it and then some silver ornaments and just popped that in the kitchen and people went bonkers over that because it’s such an easy thing that you can make in 5 minutes. And it used something that was special to me. And it’s just a fun one for the kitchen or you could use as a coffee table centerpiece or an entryway table would be cute on that too. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s really cute. 

Emily Barlow I noted all the things in that blog post. The gingerbread houses in a sugar jar. Super cute and you can get— I store my sugar and flour in those jars anyway, so I had those on hand. But the gingerbread is so easy because you don’t have to make a full house. You can just make a flat cookie and stagger a few of them in there. 

Lisa Bass Yes, I’m looking through these and there are just so many cute ideas that none of them require you to go spend hundreds of dollars at Pottery Barn, you know? 

Emily Barlow Yeah, the paper bag luminaries, that’s a super fun one with little kids. Just taking white paper bags and putting a little flickering tea candle—just a faux one—inside the bag. And then you would have to help your kiddos with an X-Acto knife or help them with scissors to cut out little stars. But they could have that on their night table as a nightlight. Or you could put them on your mantel, on your front porch if you wanted to. I don’t know. There’s a few different ways that you could use those and I think they’re super cute. 

Lisa Bass Up the stairs would be really cute. We have a staircase that I really like to decorate and that would be something that probably my one-year-old would just knock them off. But it would be cute if I could maybe avoid him getting into it. 

Emily Barlow Yeah, that would be fun though. That’s a darling idea to have them all stacked up the stairway. 

Lisa Bass Okay, so let’s talk about mantel ideas. We have a mantel in our bedroom. I would like to put up a few more just because I love mantels, but what are some of your tips—you have a mantel in your living room—for a pretty styled mantel all season long? This is maybe something that sometimes when it’s actually time decorate for Christmas. I don’t necessarily feel like putting a lot of effort in, but then I end up leaving up my Christmas decor so long that it really is worth the effort to get it right. And I know that you probably have some ideas that aren’t expensive that would make it look beautiful. 

Emily Barlow Yes, I think it was— gosh, I’ve only had my mantel less than three years. So I had to use my console table for my mantel for a long time. But I have loved having it during the holiday season and draping the faux greens that I told you about. I love using mirrors on the mantel in the center or art. There’s a lot of digital art that you can get now that’s seasonal. It’s so beautiful just on Etsy. So maybe you could find some art that’s like an ice skating pond. Or I’ve even had one that was like a sheep herder. Just different winter scenes that are really fun. You could hang the word signs that have— I had one that said Hot Cocoa Station on it or something about Santa Claus. And those are really fun for Christmas time. But then maybe in January, what you could do is take the Christmas decor off the mantel, leave your greens and add a winter scene art picture where the Christmas stuff was. And that way you’re not having to totally change the look, but it’s refreshing for January and February. And usually what I like to do for Christmas time is to just stagger things in like threes and five, so it feels really balanced. So I have like my main mirror or art piece or sign of my greenery below it, and then I’ll stagger some candles or something to kind of fill that center that’s open. If you don’t have anything and you don’t want to go buy anything, then wrap some empty boxes and do different cute wrapping paper and just put a whole bunch of different tiny presents up there. I’ve also just taken ornaments on hooks and hooked it right on to the greenery and just made really cute little designs with ornaments on the greenery to kind of carry that color over. Yeah, gosh, candles are fun. There’s so many different things that you can do on a mantel. 

Lisa Bass I like your ornaments. I was going to ask you how you did that, because it looks very full. A lot of times, I think that’s the mistake I make with a lot of my Christmas decor is not putting on enough of it. So you have more ornaments than I would originally think. Instead of just having a row of them, there are several clusters of them, and then it’s behind several layers of greenery, not just one strand of garland. 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I love it when people incorporate two or three different kinds of greenery because of the textures. If you did like a pine one and then eucalyptus and cedar and stuff like that, it’s so beautiful to add those different textures. And that is something that looks beautiful through January and February too. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. 

Emily Barlow But yeah, there’s just so many things you can do. And that year that I hooked on those ornaments, I had a lot of people ask about that, if I glued them together or how I made it so that they weren’t just going to all fall down at the same time. And I think if one of my kids had yanked it or thrown a ball at it or something, it probably would have all come crashing down.

Lisa Bass It was going to go.

Emily Barlow Yeah. Because I didn’t want to glue everything because I thought, well, if I don’t want to do this same thing next year, then I want to be able to take it all apart. So if you want to make something more sturdy and you don’t want to commit to gluing, maybe you could use glue dots—the removable glue dots—to kind of help stick things together. But it works okay for me just to use the little hooks. You could probably use wire, too, and kind of thread the wire through.

Lisa Bass Yeah I was thinking like floral wire. 

Emily Barlow Mm hmm, something like that. But those ornaments up on there stacked together ended up being really fun. And it almost made my mantel feel as special as my Christmas tree. Because sometimes, like you said, you put all that effort into your tree and then you’re like, oh, my mantel. What am I going to do with it? But it was fun to make them equally special that year. So there’s lots of things you can do. Just get creative. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. It’s really pretty. And again, you can just pull from your ornament stash, add those, and then layer on some greenery. You could even do some faux, some fresh. I like the idea that you were just talking about with the packages. That’s a really good thing for all over your house. If you want to decorate any room, putting together some very pretty packages, that’s a great tip because you can layer two or three in a corner or on a mantel. Can you give us some of your package tips? Because your packages are really, really pretty. And I’m a person who rushes through this and ends up, like, oh, they’re just going to open up. But to keep them early and have them as decor— I imagine, too, sometimes you probably wrap up— I know you did on the string one, but even packages under or like on a mantel. Are you wrapping up empty boxes because who shops that early? 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I definitely don’t. I just save Amazon boxes throughout the year and stick them in my storage room or in your garage if you needed to. Because they do add so much and it’s so fun. And my kids know not to get into them because they know that they’re empty. But I think you can find some seriously cute, coordinated paper. I actually found a really cute paper at the Dollar Tree, the dollar store last year. And they had some really cute different patterns of paper, but that looked all cohesive together. And so I grabbed like five different ones from there. And then one really good one that was more quality one from maybe Hobby Lobby, or I can’t remember exactly where, maybe Walmart or something. And because I knew that those were going to be just for decor, I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on expensive paper, but they looked so cute. And when you coordinate it kind of with the colors on your tree, it just adds this whole other beautiful thing to look at below the tree and makes it feel special. And then you can add in your ribbons to it. Or the dollar store really does have some cute stuff. You could go get a little snowflake ornament or some little bells or something to add in where your bow is. And all of that just makes everything feel really whimsical and fun. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I was starting to think, what if you left open or wrapped it in such a way that one side you could open up and slip a gift in later whenever that time comes, so that way, you could utilize that. 

Emily Barlow Absolutely. 

Lisa Bass That might be a good idea. 

Emily Barlow Yeah, I’ve definitely done that. If you’re careful, just slip a little butter knife under the tape. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. Because, you want to decorate early on. That’s a really nice, inexpensive way to make things look full, because you can stack them up, you can layer them. But then later on, whenever you actually are bringing a gift to your grandma or your aunt, being able to slip something in there is— never thought of that before. But that’s noted now in my head for this year. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. It would totally work. 

Lisa Bass Taking another quick break to tell you about the School of Traditional Skills. I’ve told you about this on this podcast before, but I have had a chance to dive into some of the classes, and they are so well-done and so informational. They’re packed with what you need to preserve food, build a garden, dairy, homesteading, fermenting. All of the topics that a lot of you—if you listen to this podcast—are probably interested in. The School of Traditional Skills is the perfect way to continue to learn those skills because they are constantly adding new classes. All very well done. They have pressure canning, reclaiming pasture, pasture-raising meat chickens, gardening, curing pork, a nourishing bone broth class with Sally Fallon Morell. You can get all of this by visiting bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. Again, that’s bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. Sign up for the School of Traditional Skills and continue to get their classes, learn new things that you can implement in your home that will help you to be more self-sustaining, save you money. So much good information over there. I am looking forward to continuing to watch all of their classes as they put them out. Again, that’s bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Share with us some of your favorite places to shop for ornaments. I struggle with this. I have done handmade ornaments. I’ve done packages of ornaments. But I feel like I’ve never found something that I really love. 

Emily Barlow I think because I like to switch things up a lot, I never spend a lot of money on expensive ornaments. There’s some that you can get that are glass and they’re so beautiful. I have little kids that they break them. And so I just don’t want to be heartbroken over it and I don’t want to be getting after my kids if they accidentally break one. I just don’t want to do that. So yeah, I typically just buy the big bulk ornaments from Hobby Lobby. Walmart has great ones. And then once I fill my tree with just kind of the more simple ones, then you can spend a little bit more on a package of six or ten of the really fancier ones. I think when you mix both the nicer and the cheaper, it can really add a great variety and nobody’s going to look at it and think, oh, that doesn’t look very special or nice because you’ve got a mix of both. I think also getting a ribbon that’s pretty and unique makes such a difference. I know on my trees, I didn’t always used to do ribbon, but over the last few years I usually get two coordinating ribbons and I’ll put them together and kind of loop them throughout the tree and then separate them just a little bit, so you can see both of the ribbons, and it just adds so much texture and variety to the tree and makes it so beautiful. And that’s another fun thing that you can coordinate with your wrapping paper, with your gifts, and then all of a sudden you’ve got color and texture and pattern and different kind of things all over your tree that make it really fun to look at. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. 

Emily Barlow So I’d say for ornaments, walmart and Hobby Lobby are great. Amazon sometimes has some good deals. Etsy maybe for the more special and unique ones if you like the vintage. I know Grandin Road and Balsam Hill, they have the more expensive glass, unique, beautiful, nicer ones. So if you wanted to kind of—

Lisa Bass Like shapes. 

Emily Barlow Uh-huh. Different shapes. I think it was Grandin Road that just came out with a vintage line where they have the ornaments that look like the ones that my grandma used to put on her tree. And they’re kind of like pastel pink and greens and things like that. So that would be super cute. And really, my grandma’s tree was covered in tinsel and things like that too. So if you wanted to do a vintage theme, you can really have fun with that. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I remember doing that, too. When we were kids, my mom had tinsel on there. Another thing I was thinking about was with the ribbon, using the ribbon that you put on the tree and on the packages, have you ever taken that and found a way to display that? What got me thinking about it was you displaying your cookie cutters and other things that you use. And I’ve never done this, but I was just thinking about, as you were saying it, displaying the ribbon somewhere. 

Emily Barlow Yes. I think when Better Homes came, I actually did a tablescape where I had a few different ribbons and an apothecary jar or one that I had just kind of unraveled throughout the table that was kind of cute. But I know I’m thinking of an idea that Michael over at Inspired By Charm shared. 

Lisa Bass Oh I’ve seen his ribbon collection. 

Emily Barlow Did you see his little cabinet? I love that. He’s got those beautiful ribbons just on spools in that cabinet, which I thought was such a cute decor idea. So that was a fun one. 

Lisa Bass And that’s nice too, because I always get real messy when I’m doing this whole thing. Like I have ribbon everywhere and there’s the ribbon from the tree. There’s ribbon that I’ve been putting on the packages, and then I’m shoving it back into the tote just to store away. And sometimes you need a little bit more. Like maybe a kid pulls a bow and you want to add a bow. So to have it still out but out of reach, seems like a really good way for it to be beautiful. But then also you could actually pull from it whenever. Say you bring in another greenery from outside, quickly you can wrap it up because it’s all right there. 

Emily Barlow Yep. I love that. And I think that’s another thing you do for budget decor. I used to have a console table that had two little shelves on the bottom, and one year I did a basket full of faux wrapped gifts and then I actually put the tubes of paper right by it because they were such cute paper. And so I displayed those. So you could do another small basket with your ribbons in it. And then it’s all of a sudden, like reflective of a wrapping station and it’s just got all the colors of the season. So yeah, I say make what’s functional to you part of your decor and I think that’s super cute for Christmas time. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s giving me a lot of ideas with you doing the bakery and the cookie cutters and leaving all of this stuff out that I have to figure out how to stash away. That’s a really good idea. Okay. Do you have any other Christmas decorating tips, tricks, ideas that you want to mention? We’re all ears. 

Emily Barlow I would just say find meaning, make your priority of the season making things special and meaningful and symbolic. One of my favorite things that we do, too, that’s a traditional thing is we have this little— I think it’s called the giving manger. It’s a little manger with Jesus inside, and it comes with these little straw pieces. And each time you go and do a service or something like that for someone else, you can put a piece of straw in the manger. And that helps us kind of refocus our season around serving others and being Christlike. So that’s a big one because that kind of sets the tone for what Christmas is really about. And my kids find just as much joy in dropping off gifts to teachers and neighbors or doing surprise things like that as they do decorating for Christmas. So don’t overthink the decor side and just spend time with your family and make meaningful moments. Make gingerbread houses and cookies and have your own little traditions, whether they’re big or small. And that’s what helps you avoid overwhelm and being exhausted during the holiday season, which for moms, I think is such a big thing that happens because we’ve got school music concerts and end of season stuff and projects at school that are due. And it just gets to the point where there’s so much going on that I’m like, am I enjoying this season or am I surviving this season? And so I think guarding and defending time for things that make you feel special and make your family feel cozy. Watching a movie together or baking, you’ve got to make time for those things so that you look forward to Christmas time and not just have it be, wow, this is a lot going on. And I also have the stress of buying gifts for everyone and planning ahead and making food and things like that. So I think that would be my biggest tip. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. If you don’t want to decorate at all, like you were saying earlier, fill the house with a Christmas scent, bake some cookies, and put on Christmas music. And that could be it. Maybe don’t even put up a tree. But that all makes it feel like Christmas. You could even just do a vase of greenery, the scent, the music, the cookies. You don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. So yeah, refocusing is a really good tip. 

Emily Barlow Yeah. I think when we think about what was most special to us growing up with Christmas, we don’t necessarily remember specific things, right? It’s more of the feeling of Christmas time.

Lisa Bass Oh, absolutely. Yes. 

Emily Barlow That’s what we want for our kids and for our family, too, is just to feel like, oh, this is such a magical, special time of year. 

Lisa Bass Yep, yep. Well, thank you so much. You gave me so many good ideas. I’m really looking forward to implementing a lot of these in my own home. For anyone who wants more inspiration, Emily is over on Instagram primarily, right? I mean, I know you have YouTube and your blog, but where you share stuff in real time is at @Handmade.Farmhouse— or is it “the” or just Handmade Farmhouse? 

Emily Barlow Just @Handmade.Farmhouse.

Lisa Bass Okay. Awesome. Well, thanks again so much for sharing. 

Emily Barlow Thank you for having me. I had a blast. 

Lisa Bass Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. I hope that you got a lot of ideas. Again, make sure to go check out Handmade Farmhouse. Also, it’s been a while since I have asked you all for a review, so if you’re enjoying this podcast, it helps me so much for my listeners to leave a review. So a five star review over on Apple would be so appreciated and anything that you want to say about it or even if you don’t want to include any of that and just give a review, that would be highly appreciated. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. 

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