When it comes to holiday décor, there are definitely two camps. “One is a camp of fabulous, benevolent, generous people who put all this effort into entertaining the rest of us,” said Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador for Barneys New York who will be a judge on “Making It,” a coming NBC show hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman about crafting. “You’re either that person or you’re not.”
And if you’re not, then you likely fall into Camp No. 2. Somehow, I have a sinking feeling that these are my people. Here, you find “people who don’t know how to go about it,” Mr. Doonan said. “It’s a combination of lacking the motivation and not knowing where to begin.”
Curious about the breed of benevolent, generous decorators, I decided to check on the neighbor with the festive house, Aggie Zelazko, a school psychologist. She was breathless, standing beside an array of nutcrackers and decorative Santas as she finished hanging ornaments on her tree. Just looking at her living room, cluttered with stacks of red and green plastic bins, was exhausting. But she didn’t seem to mind. “I love it. I just love it. It makes me feel warm and happy,” she said. “I even got the reindeer antlers on my car.”
The car? I hadn’t even considered the car.
I admired the enthusiasm. I might lack it, but I could have goals. Maybe I could start small — I’m not trying to keep up with the houses in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, here. I’m just hoping to rival an ordinary well-decorated one.
I wondered if, with nominal effort, our house could get into the holiday spirit, festooned with something more than a cursory wreath. I have typically dismissed the idea of Christmas décor because I’m Jewish. But my husband is not and we do celebrate Christmas, so maybe I could give it a whirl.
Watch a few minutes of a Lowe’s how-to video and you can’t help but feel inspired. The homeowner in a plaid work shirt looks so happy sizing up his arts and crafts style house in the video set to jolly music with a cheerful voice-over. How hard could this be? But when he pulls out a clipboard, pencil and measuring tape, I begin to suspect that those homeowners up on ladders are just putting a happy face on an otherwise grinding chore.
Michael Fanelli, an electrician who lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with his wife and their two children, doesn’t even bother with the happy face. “I do it with a frowning face,” he said.
Mr. Fanelli normally enjoys fussing with the outside, describing himself as an avid gardener. “My landscaping is bar none,” he said of his yard, where he grows fig trees, dahlias and roses. “I have this beautiful landscaping and then I’m putting this cheap, plastic garbage on it.”
Of course, if you don’t want to clip wires to the gutters, you could just plunk a projector on the lawn and spray your house with dancing stars for around $30. But that just feels like cheating. And you’re not fooling anyone — we all know you had very little to do with those twinkling candy canes floating across your siding.
To do it right is not cheap. Installing holiday lighting on a house in this country costs, on average, about $386, according to HomeAdvisor. But you could easily spend much more. A five-foot-tall faux lit berry tree from Pottery Barn will set you back $199. By the first week of December, a pre-lit deer and sleigh was on sale at Pier One Imports for $438 (down from an eye-popping $730).
Ms. Zelazko said she spent around $750 on outdoor decorations to cover her three-bedroom house. The red bows in the windows cost $32 a piece and “those light-up Rudolphs are pricey,” she added.
Hire someone to do the job for you (there is a service for everything) and expect to spend even more. George Apap, a house painter and the owner of a Shine Holiday Lighting franchise in Patterson, N.Y., said his professional decorating service costs, on average, $2,000 for a two-story house. The price includes materials, installation, removal and storage. His priciest residential installations cost around $5,000. “Most people want a custom design,” Mr. Apap said. “They need direction because people just don’t know what to do.”
You could always channel your inner crafter, instead. Mr. Doonan suggested repurposing copper pot-scrubbers, of all things. “You could make yourself a wreath for your front door and people say, ‘Look how clever! You’ve made a wreath!’”
But somehow, Brillo pads and fairy lights don’t cut it for me. What I do like to see outside are plants.
So, rather than trek to the Christmas Tree Shops, I paid a visit to the local garden center, where I picked up a wreath made of fresh-cut pine for the front door. And for the stoop I bought some potted spruce saplings with decorative bells hanging on the branches and holly in shiny red planters wrapped in ribbon. You can’t see them at night, but they smell lovely.
And my daughter, resigned to the reality that she will never live in the house that twinkles at night, thinks they’re fabulous.