zero-waste decorations for fall.

October 10, 2016

zero-waste fall decorations | reading my tea leaves
In any season, filling a house with reminders of the passing time and seasonal celebrations is a festive thing to do. Happily, it doesn’t need to require a special storage bin, lots of landfill-destined waste, or a decorating budget to make it possible. I’ve written about some of these ideas before, but I thought it might be nice to have them all in one spot. Just in case you’re feeling like festooning the joint but feeling stumped, here are a few ideas for a zero-waste (or close to it) approach to autumnal decorating.
zero-waste fall decorations | reading my tea leaves
Edible Gourds:

Here’s my favorite tabletop tactic: Pile edible winter squashes onto the table and then eat them. Just think of it as decorative gourd season (mother#%@*&^!) , but replace the decorative with edible and forgo the dusty cornucopia and there you have it. In our house, we’re on a weekly look at ’em, cook ’em, replenish ’em at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning cycle and it’s keeping us both well fed and festive.

While I won’t deny myself my kid the absolute pleasure of carving a jack o’ lantern (or, as I now prefer to call them, a pumpkin moonshine), the best carving pumpkins are often really not the best eating pumpkins (better those to become food for the compost pile). But left uncarved, Kabocha squash, New England pie pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, and other beautiful and edible gourds sure look pretty on the table while you decide what to make with them for dinner. Even a pile of acorn or delicata squash can hold its own in the decorative and edible category. Heck, a bowlful of apples might be all that you need to brighten the mood.
zero-waste fall decorations | reading my tea leaves

Foraged Finds:

Bringing other bits of found autumnal beauty inside requires even less effort (and no cooking time). A fallen branch from a sugar maple stuck into a tall vase will add a bit of color on a rainy day. Being careful to place them out of toddler reach, fall berries like bittersweet, beauty berry, and pokeberry can be detangled from telephone wires and stuck into a bottle or perched on a mantle or windowsill. A handful of acorns or seed pods can be collected for a bit of instant (and free!) decoration. Late-fall bloomers like asters and Montauk daisies paired with wild grasses can be brought inside (or made into a beautiful wild wreath like this one by my friend, Katy!).

With a tiny bit more work, colorful fall leaves can be pressed inside the pages of a book overnight and hung on a wall with small bits of tape. (Not totally zero waste, but not too terrible either). If you’re feeling more ambitious, a basketful of collected fallen leaves can be pressed and strung onto thread for a celebratory fall decorations | reading my tea leaves

Seasonal Scents:

I recently had the experience of walking into a large craft store. When I walked in, I was immediately overwhelmed by the AUTUMN SMELLZ  getting pumped in from every direction. While those particular notes gave me an instant headache and a desire to flee, I do really appreciate the thought. (I will also definitely cop to filling my college dorm room with unlit fall-scented candles to remind me of home.) Nothing smells better than the spices that we North Americans associate with the fall: cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg and allspice. These days, I do what my own mom did growing up and keep a small pot on the back of my stove nearly all fall long filled with apple cores or ginger nubs or pear skins, plus spices and water. When I’m home, I let it bubble away to fill the house with a rich spicy scent, minus the headache. (I sometimes use a small enamel pan that we have to simmer, but it can take some scrubbing to get the cinnamon stains out of it, so a small cast iron pan is a better option if you won’t want to scrub or stain.)
zero-waste fall decorations | reading my tea leavesWhat about you guys? Favorite things to have around your place to celebrate fall?

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  • Reply jane October 10, 2016 at 10:06 am

    so pretty! love it all!

  • Reply Megan October 10, 2016 at 10:16 am

    A great big chunky knit blanket falls into seasonal decoration for me. Can’t go wrong!

  • Reply Diane October 10, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Erin, on Instagram you mentioned having sent a newsletter which I did not receive. Checked my spam then tried to sign up again but it said I was already on the list. ???

    Looks like a beautiful autumn in your apartment!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 10, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Hey there: Just checked the email address that you used here and I’m getting a note that says you unsubscribed on October 1. Feel free to email me with another address email address to add or check! (And double-check your spam and trash!) xo!

      • Reply Diane October 10, 2016 at 11:06 am

        Hmmm, how’d that happen? Have checked spam & trash. No other email address…

        Wonder why is shows me still on the list? I’ll try to sign up again.

        Sorry! (I’m saying all of this in an irritating, whiny voice.)

        Thanks, Diane

      • Reply Diane October 10, 2016 at 11:21 am

        working now. merci!

  • Reply EMac October 10, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Nice post. While I can’t even comprehend the concept of a “decorating budget”, I do love turning the house over from summer to fall (and subsequently, winter). Most of my decorations are hand me downs or antique store finds. I do love putting a pumpkin around (and, I have to admit, I’ve got a weak spot for beautiful, hand blown, glass pumpkins and have been slowly trying to collect them as the non-existent “decorating budget” allows).

    Love the idea for fall scent as 1. my little one is eating a TON of apples lately and I just throw away the cores/skins and 2. most commercial candles give me wicked headaches (we tent to just have them around, never burnt at the risk of my feeling ill for hours after).

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 10, 2016 at 10:27 am

      You know…money spent on scented candles and glass pumpkins 😉

      • Reply EMac October 10, 2016 at 10:46 am

        LOL. I really DID know what that meant. I just was saying that there is practically no budget for that around here so, we make do with what we’ve got and add on something new every now and again. 😉

        • Reply Erin Boyle October 10, 2016 at 10:47 am

          I gotcha! 😉

  • Reply Lindsey heringer October 10, 2016 at 10:50 am

    I always decorate with real pumpkins and mums. I love your leaf garland idea. I also tried spices on the stove last week and it was amazing.

  • Reply Brianna October 10, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    I love your leaf wall! Also, pulling all of my acorn squash from the fridge to put on our table top, many thanks to you. I throw apple cores on the stove top, but never thought to use pears (blowing my mind a little !) We like to collect things from nature as well, acorns and sticks and tiny pine cone garlands for everyone!

  • Reply Lauren October 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Speaking of “pumpkin moonshines”- if you are def. check out _A Time to Keep, the Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays_. A family favorite for all seasons. Can’t we all just be a little more like Tasha Tudor? The world would be a better place, I’m sure of it. Happy Fall, Erin!

  • Reply Anna October 10, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Don’t forget you can eat the seeds of the carved pumpkin, if not the pumpkin itself. We have been collecting bits of nature to bring inside and putting our golden nugget squashes on the table before we roast and eat them.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 10, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Not forgotten (post coming your way later this week ;))

      • Reply Amanda K. October 10, 2016 at 9:35 pm

        yes! i love pumpkin seeds — i roast seeds from all my gourds and squash.

  • Reply Another Erin October 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    These are all such beautiful examples of bringing autumn indoors – thank you for the never-ending inspiration you provide over here! Thinking of getting off the computer and outside to collect some leaves very soon.

  • Reply Charlotte October 10, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    These are great tips! My husband and I recently moved, with our two children, and I was just saying to him how I’d like to get rid of all our artificial decor and just use seasonal! Never thought to use seasonal that also could double as useful, though. And I see you found the book! That’s fabulous! Happy Fall!

  • Reply Libby October 10, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    I love your leaf wall. 🙂 It’s such a great idea. I’m going to do it in our entryway.

  • Reply Trish O October 10, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Very lovely. I do this as well, We have a garden in the back of our house. (It is my husband’s urban farm lol) and we grow squash. The last few years he grew little white “baby boo” pumpkins because he knew I loved them. They are fun to put around. They do get composed at the end, but they will last most of the season until thanksgiving.

    I do have some holiday specific decorations the children like to add. My boys are older, so,we have collected some things over the years. I have a large coat box from a Christmas years ago that stores our special Halloween and thanksgiving things to add around. We have crafts from school, a spookey spider garland for our mantle, and a few small tin ghosts with tea light candles we picked out at the farmers market one year.

    Also in the box are a few things for thanksgiving. We made a garland one year of hand turkeys. You know, we traced our hands and cut them out. The kids decorated them to look like turkeys. I strung it together on string and we add it to the mantle the week of thanksgiving. The boys were so small when we made it (they are 12 and 14 now) that i get really nestolgic when I see their little hands. We also have 4 thanksgiving plates we use that week and a carved wooden turkey we picked-up at the farmers market one year.

    anyway, the fall holiday box is full so we would need to get rid of something to add something else…but I don’t think I can. I get attached that way.

    I think fall is my very favorite season to decorate my home. Happy fall with your little one.

  • Reply Marie October 10, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Me too, love the leaf wall! I usually collect leaves and have them on a glass dish, looks nice too but your wall is awesome. As for my autumn favs, its got to be cinnamon, got my candle burning aaand – a cosy blanket.

    Thanks for all the ideas.

  • Reply gillian October 10, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    Love this! I’m trying to find appropriate ways to decorate for & celebrate fall in the October heat of Southern California… where there are also very, very few changing leaves… I know “the grass is always greener” etc, but as a Connecticut born-and-bred lady your posts do make me homesick for the East Coast! Wonderfully so, though..I always love your photos and descriptions of a place close to home and dear to my heart. Keep up your great work!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 11, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Get yourself some New England-y spices to burble on the stove-top and you’ll be all set 😉 Thanks for your kind words!

  • Reply Cecilia October 11, 2016 at 3:11 am

    I have a quince tree in my garden. I bring the fruits inside and put them on a window sill in the sun where they look beautiful and smell amazing. And then I get cooking…..quince jelly, membrillo, quince sorbet, baked quinces….

  • Reply Vera October 11, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Great tips! What kind of tape do you use for the leaf wall? I’m a bit hesitant, because the blu tack that my daughters used for an impromptu art gallery in their room left stains on the walls.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 11, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Japanese masking tape called washi tape! It’s the best and doesn’t leave behind any residue at all. The MT brand is my favorite.

      • Reply Vera October 13, 2016 at 3:51 am

        Thanks, Erin! Will definitely try.

  • Reply Cat October 11, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Love these simple tips and that leaf wall is beautiful.

  • Reply ladylyn October 12, 2016 at 12:21 am

    I’m also decorating with edible gourds. Plus tacked some twine to my mantle and am using tiny clothespins that are usually for craft fair displays to hang autumn leaves on it. It’s super fun and super easy and now I actually have something to do with all the leaves the kids and I inevitably collect when we go on walks! They look stunning fresh and are still lovely when the have shriveled and their colors have muted. (You can see a badly lit photo of it on my instagram: the.ladylyn)

  • Reply Kristien October 12, 2016 at 5:57 am

    I love this! And it gives me a good excuse to keep on adding pumpkin to all my meals 😉

  • Reply Mun October 13, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Dreamy. The leaf gallery wall I like!

  • Reply leslie October 29, 2016 at 12:03 am

    I love the look of your lamps without shades. I have two questions: the part of the fixture where you screw the light bulb – mine are a brassy gold – do you have any suggestion about how I might tone them down to look like ages brass like yours? also, where do you get the silver topped light bulbs?

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 29, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Hmm, not sure if there’s something you could do to artificially age them! My gut is that the brass might be a faux finish which means it stays shiny and doesn’t tarnish the way natural brass would on it’s own. Maybe worth a search! The silver topped bulbs are from Schoolhouse Electric!

      • Reply Elizabeth October 28, 2017 at 1:35 pm

        Re: the silver-topped bulbs. Love the idea of ditching a lampshade, but I’m curious what sort of glow these bulbs throw when lit, next to a white wall like that. Would love to see a photo of your bedside lamp at night, switched on. (Also, I fully belly-laughed at “AUTUMN SMELLZ” — I grew up in France and that pumpkin-spice-candle smell is so uniquely North American to me.)

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE October 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

          Hi there: The light is pretty soft! I’m afraid there’s almost no way to get a true representation of light from a nighttime photograph, so I don’t think a night shot would do the trick here, but I use the bulb to read by every night and love it!

          • Elizabeth October 29, 2017 at 2:40 pm

            Got it. Thanks very much!

  • Reply Deanna Costa November 5, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    In addition to edible pumpkins/squash and gourds, I forage in my own front yard for pods and leaves from my magnolia tree. We have two non-fruiting Bradford pear trees in our yard and the wind blows down small twigs and branches that I put in vases, candle holders or coffee mugs. I line my kitchen windowsill with sage, thyme & rosemary. It provides some much needed green when the area I live in is shrouded in tule fog. I also drap twine across my fireplace mantel (we are not able to use our fireplace) and attach found leaves on it with wooden clothespins. I love your idea of taping the leaves on the wall. So lovely!

  • Reply erika September 12, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    revisiting old posts as fall is near. . . may i ask where you purchased your towels that are under the gourds? i love the idea of something versatile that could be used for decorations, napkins, etc.
    thank you kindly!

  • Reply Mrs. Ainee C. Beland October 22, 2021 at 9:05 pm

    I like the edible gourd/pumpkin idea on the table and the leaf wall. I would never think to do this. I like to dry leaves in books and it is a lovely surprise to find them some year (s) later. We have one very large pumpkin front and center by the window; and smaller gourd in each room; one with neck craning out of a beer stein; it is lovely to peer at. Other gourds are in basket on the floor beneath planter with silk flowers coloring this autumnal season. Stay festive and keep journaling.

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