'Tis the season for decking our halls in festive décor. But before you pull out the box of ornaments and garland, don't forget that some decorating jobs can be more strenuous than others—particularly dressing up large trees and hanging up outdoor string lights. "Decorating for the holidays can be incredibly stressful," says Erin Swift, founder of Holiday Workroom, a New York City-based studio that specializes in holiday tree décor. "The best way to ease the process is to hire a professional to take the stress off you entirely."
Kathleen Neave, founder and décor manager of Neave Group, a firm devoted to outdoor landscaping solutions, including holiday exterior light installation, concurs. "Small mistakes can quickly escalate into big problems when installing exterior lights, including electrical fires," she says. "My best advice is to hire a professional and save yourself the time." Of course, there are still plenty of simple steps you can take to lighten the load without outside help. "Make sure you have all your decorating supplies handy before you get started," Neave says. "That way, you don't have to go back and forth looking for tools—or up and down a ladder—when you're trying to get work done."
Ready for some more expert advice on how to dress up your tree and hang your outdoor lights like a pro this season? We asked Swift and Neave to share a few of their go-to holiday decorating tips, and here's what they had to say.
Decorating the Christmas Tree
According to Swift, "the three keys to creating a spectacular tree are lights, the right tree stand, and a great tree skirt." Other than the tree itself, the stand is arguably the most important factor. That's why it's so important to invest in a quality tree stand. "Make sure you have a sturdy tree stand that can support your tree's height and weight," Swift says. "Once it's up, ensure that the hardware is tightened securely so the tree is balanced and standing up straight."
In terms of decorating, you should always start with the lights, and you'll want to take care to hang your lights carefully. "Start at the top of your tree and work your way down with the lights to ensure a full effect," Swift says. Next comes the ornaments. "To position your ornaments in a way that they're all on display, start with your largest on the top and work down, filling in as you go," the pro adds.
Last but not least, add the finishing touches. A tree topper is often what homeowners are most concerned about, but the pros argue that the tree skirt is far more important. "Get creative with your tree and don't limit yourself to what's traditional," Swift says. "A thin canvas drop cloth, a flokati, a sheepskin rug, or even a great knit throw blanket can perfectly complement the tree's design and your aesthetic."
Once all of those pieces are in place, survey your work. Swift says you can use zip ties and green floral wire to secure fragile ornaments and light strands, and to reshape any lopsided tree branches you notice at the end
Decorating with Outdoor Lights
It's no surprise that hanging up exterior holiday lights can be tricky. Here's what Neave says you can do to make the process go more smoothly. First, plan accordingly. "Before you actually install your exterior lights, work backwards from your outlet and layout the way you plan on installing them," says Neave. "This way, you can make sure everything works ahead of time." You'll also want to make sure you have enough product on hand. That may mean buying more than you think you really need. "Buy enough lights so that you have extra strings handy in case you run out or one goes out," says Neave. "Especially if there's a chance you won't be able to find the same lights next year." Whatever you do, be sure to read any labels carefully. It might seem like a no-brainer, but Neave says you'd be surprised at the problems the wrong kinds of lights and accessories can cause. "Make sure you're buying lights and extension cords that are specifically designed for outdoor use," she says. "Otherwise you could start an electrical fire."
According to Neave, outdoor light clips are a smart way to ensure your lights look nice and straight when you install them. "If straight lines are a problem, make sure to always have exterior light clips handy while you work," she says. But hanging everything in straight lines isn't enough. If you're not careful to avoid overcrowding your power outlets, all that hard work hanging everything neatly will be for nothing. Neave says an overcrowded outlet can create electrical issues—including a fire. "Use various electric outlets throughout your home to power your lights instead of just one or two in the same room," she says.