How We Decorate for the Holidays + Have a Full-Sized Christmas Tree in An Apartment

Most of you probably know by now that J and I live in a very small apartment–it clocks in at 540 square feet, and we joke that it’s even less because Millie’s crate + beds take up a generous footprint! We’ve made it work and there aren’t many times I wish we had more space but having a dog + a Christmas tree is definitely one of those times I’d love an extra 50 square feet. One of my friends (hi, OKK!) has been asking me to do a post like this for a couple of years and now that we’ve successfully managed to have a 6 foot tree in our home for two holiday seasons in a row, I feel equipped to give my two cents on how we decorate for the best time of the year!

We live in a high rise and I’m really not sure how many people in our building actually put up full trees. We’ve never really seen others leave behind a track of pine needles through the lobby or in the elevators and there are only a handful of trees piled out back for pickup at the end of the season. A few people have storage lockers so it’s possible they have artificial ones in there, but we don’t have that extra space so I wanted to share how we deck the halls (fairly comprehensively, I’d say!) while having minimal storage of our own.

Our holiday decorations

I totally get that having a 6 foot tree at home isn’t the way many apartment dwellers choose to decorate for the holidays, but we actually prefer a tree’s huge footprint since storing ornaments takes up way less space than festive mugs, plates, figurines, garlands, etc. (Though we do have a set of dessert plates from Pottery Barn as well as a set of four antique rocks glasses with holly, and I love them!). We buy ornaments when we travel and other than that, have a few simple gold and red balls, a couple strings of lights, and a few strands of gold beads. We also each have a stocking!

Where we buy our tree

Whole Foods in DC has quite the tree selection! They typically start carrying them the week of Thanksgiving and have an employee working a chainsaw outside–you pick a tree and they’ll cut it down to whatever height you request. I believe the store markets theirs as 7 or 8 feet and we’ve always gotten the top cut about a foot to accommodate our ceilings. They do sell some really small ones (around 3 feet, I think?) but we’ve only ever bought the full-sized ones! Our tradition is to always pick out our tree the day we get back to DC from Thanksgiving, and J literally just puts it on his shoulder and carries it the few blocks home. It’s more bulky and messy than it is heavy!

The only halfway decent shot I got of last year’s tree, apparently!

OMG, the mess

Fun fact: I’d never actually had a “real” tree–we had a fake one growing up! J warned me that real trees can be a pretty huge mess (#pineneedles) but the one thing I wasn’t ready for was the stickiness from the sap. When we bring it in and when we’re disposing of it (the latter of which is way more of a production) we make sure the path from the door to the tree’s final location is completely clear, keep Millie in her crate, and have a vacuum ready to hit the hallway and floor since needles get everywhere, even when the whole thing is wrapped from the store. As long as you’re watering the tree regularly and are prepared to sweep up pine needles for a couple minutes every day or two, it’s really not bad. Thankfully Millie didn’t express interest in eating them last year…fingers crossed that doesn’t change!

How we make the tree fit

I feel like most homes have a logical space for a tree and unsurprisingly, we really didn’t have more than one option! Ours fits by the window, on the right side of our TV console. It does mean we lose easy access to the cabinet on that side but it’s not a huge deal for a few weeks. That side of the apartment definitely gets tight because of Millie’s crate…last year was the first year we had her and we didn’t have a desk, which gave us some more flexibility in where to move things around. This year is going to be interesting because we do have a small desk and between our chair, her food and water setup, and crate so something’s going to get moved around.

How we store our decorations

This is probably the biggest challenge–storing everything! It’s also why having a real tree is completely worth the expense and pine needles–other than just the general joy of a fresh tree, once the the holidays are over, the tree is actually gone. Our tree stand is in its box under the bed, and ornaments are tucked into a couple different places…most are carefully arranged in a couple of these boxes (along with the beads and lights) and a couple of the larger more delicate ones are in their original packaging loose under the bed. The three or so boxes of the large ball ornaments get stored in our carry-on luggage. The stockings and tree skirt fold and stack easily!

P.S. What are your holiday traditions?

P.S.S. An easy, festive wine spritzer (feat. the aforementioned antique glasses!)

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