Category: Uncategorized

DIY Painted Tray

March 3
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A few weeks ago I purchased a new coffee table for my living room. After setting it all up I realized that it needed a little something to brighten it up. After looking at images on Pinterest and Instagram I decided what I needed was a nice tray to hold the little things and kind of break up the space. Now my coffee table is a nice medium wood tone. Because of this I knew I wanted to go with a tray that was not a wood color. I wanted something light-colored but not metal or glass. What I wanted was a white tray.
I did some hunting for the perfect tray but found nothing until, one day while wondering Target I came across a light wooden tray in their craft section. The thing was only $6.99 and perfect to paint.
I grabbed the tray and brought it home. I knew I was going to want to paint this white and distress it to give it a slight shabby-chic farmhouse look.
To achieve this look I started by staining the tray with a wood stain. Although this worked for me, if I were to do this again I would have purchased a gel stain which would have produced a darker result. After the stain tried I covered the tray with a few coats of chalk paint. I make my chalk paint by combining regular interior house paint with plaster of paris. Find out more here. After a few coats I then grabbed some medium grit sandpaper and sanded a few areas of the tray to give the piece some definition and let the stained wood show through. I distressed with the sandpaper along seams as well as throughout keeping a light hand. When this was all done I went back over the tray with an furniture wax to seal the piece and protect it. I then added felt pads to the bottom corners so that it would not scratch the table.
I am using this tray to hold remotes, a book, a plant and a candle. Just a nice little collection of things that are nice and relaxing. My favorite part of this is that if I need to remove the things from the table I just need to pick up the tray and move it to a side table and my coffee table is free for games or whatever. Nice and simple. How do you store remotes and books? Do you use a coffee table or tray?
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Day Designer Flagship Planner – review

February 25
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I’ve been a fan of Day Designer products for years, but I had never owned one of their flagship products, just their Blue Sky for Target line. (Love those.)

This year I finally got around to purchasing one of their flagship daily planners and I love it. These planners come in both regular and mini size and I went ahead and got the mini. Although smaller, it is not too small and is big enough to work well both at home and in the workplace.

One of my favorite things about this planner is the cover. It is a simple yet elegant marble. Other options include classy stripes and florals.

This is a daily planner with a schedule and a to-do list. This is great for busy people who want both to list as well as mark out their day. I am thinking about trying out Time Blocking, so this planner would work great for that.

Each weekday also includes a place to write down your top three tasks for the day, what is due, money, dinner and a reminder. There is also a space on the bottom for notes and a daily reminder. Important holidays are also marked to help you remember.

The weekend is shown on one page with just a daily schedule for each day. This works well to schedule your busy weekend, but not to plan it as much.

I love the gold tabs on this planner, perfect for finding what you want, when you want it. It also comes with a clear plastic bookmark that you can use to mark the day to make flipping directly there nice and easy.

My favorite thing about this weekly view is that weekends are lightly shaded so that when making plans you don’t accidentally schedule a work meeting on a Saturday. The shading helps me keep track of where in the week we are.

This planner also comes with some planning sheets to help you realize your goals and focus for the year. This is always helpful when starting out. One thing I particularly liked was where you could kind of rate yourself in different areas of your like to find both where you are doing great, as well as where you might want to focus some time for improvement.

One of my favorite things about Day Designer is that they have a blank copy of their planner page online for free so you can test out their style and see if it works for you. Find their entire free printable library here.

This planner is the 2019 daily option. Right now they are on a pretty good sale as the year has already started, but if you wanted to wait, new 2019-2020 academic year planners will be out soon.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Day Designer. I paid for this planner with my own money, but if you choose to purchase one via a link on this page I will receive a small commission.

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My favorite budget hair styling products

February 14
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I’ve been sharing less style/beauty stuff here on the blog, but I wanted to jump in and share some budget beauty faves for #ThriftyThursday. Please note all links are affiliate links. I receive a small commission from sales from these links.
First up is my Holy Grail straight hair product. This L’Oreal Sleek It Iron Straight Spray is amazing. I use this before blow drying whenever I plan to wear straight hair. My hair turns out silky smooth and I only have to touch it up with a flat iron.
Next up, also by L’Oreal is their Blow Dry it Quick Dry Primer Spray. When I had long hair this was a godsend to cut dry time and add heat protectant. I still use it with short hair, but my dry time has cut down significantly.
As any good woman does, I love me some dry shampoo. I have tried tons of brands and my favorite budget option is Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Dry Shampoo. I love the one with the Warm Sugar scent. It does the job without leaving residue or the heavy “I’m wearing dry shampoo” feeling other brands tend to leave in your hair.
Last on the list is the Not Your Mother’s Double Take Dry Finish Texture Spray. I love this spray for clean hair days before I curl or braid to give my hair a little extra grab. It is also a great light hairspray when regular hairspray would be too heavy a hold. So those are my current budget favorites. I am looking for a budget option dupe for Kenra Volume 25 hairspray and Aquage Uplifting Foam. Have a suggestion? Let me know!
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Cleaning out your phone

February 11
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I am going to be honest with you, if my phone was a bedroom it would be that room that nobody dare go in. It would have clothes strewn around the floor, the bed would be unmade, and you would wonder how long those three glasses of water had bed on the nightstand. I think you get the picture.

So last month I decided to get a “new phone.” Ok, so it is not new, but I cleaned up the inside and the outside so it is like new.

On the inside I reviewed all the apps on my phone and deleted anything that was not needed. I keep apps I use at least once a month as well as apps that you need to have just in case. (I always want to know that an Uber is at my fingertips.)

I deleted apps for stores and restaurants I don’t go to, as well as airlines I don’t plan on flying. Be ruthless. You can always download an app that you have removed again for free, so it is safe. I then sat down to organize my apps. I keep the front screen for essential apps only. These are apps I use daily and want at my fingertips. (Yes, I use Amazon daily, don’t judge.)

Once your most used apps are on your first screen, consider using folders for other apps. Pick categories that work for you. My folders are named Blog, Read, Travel, Finance, Photo, Utilities, Shop, Eat, Listen, Health, Games, Watch and Work.  I know some people like to organize by color, but that really does not work for me. I am more of a location muscle memory person. These new locations will take a few days to get used to, but that is it.

Next I went into my settings and turned of notifications for everything except calls, messages, calendar alerts, and alarms. Every time your phone beeps or buzzes is a distraction that can cause stress and steal time. You don’t need to know that Suzy commented on your post this very second. You will open the app again sometime and see it. So many apps ask up to turn on notifications when we download them that our phones are constantly buzzing. Give yourself and your family a break and turn them off. You will thank me.

Lastly, take the case off your phone and look at it. Like really look at it. Is it gross? There is a good chance it is time to spend the $10 and grab a new case. Amazon has tons of great budget options. If you use a screen protector replace that as well if needed. now take a rag and wipe down the front and back of your phone before putting the case on. Icing on the cake? Update your lock screen and background image. I like a darker photo for the lock screen that way it does not create as much light when the screen turns on. For the background I like a very simple color or pattern. The apps themselves are busy enough as they are, a nice soothing background will keep things relaxing and make finding apps easier.

Training with Couch to 5K + three tips for new runners

February 6
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Last year I decided to challenge myself to do somethingI had never done before. Run a 5K. I know A 5K isn’t very far, but I was out of shape and for sure not a runner. I challenged myself to this because although I knew it was an obtainable goal, it was something that I could not just get up and do. I had to train, practice, and take my time to get there.

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Now that I have run the full 3.1 miles of a 5k a few times, I wanted to fill you all in on the process, the app, and how I felt going from nothing to being a runner.

First off, I tried a few apps before I found one that really worked for me. Most people start their running training running intervals, the first apps I tried had me jumping into 2+ minute run intervals right from the start. I was out of shape, remember? This was so not for me.

After doing some research I downloaded the 5K Runner app by Fitness22. Is this the only app that will work? No way. It is just the one that worked for me. I ended up paying around $10 for access to the entire program. Inexpensive price to pay for the tools to turn myself into a runner.

With the app you run three times a week for eight weeks. By the end of the program you should be able to run 35 minutes straight which is a good 5k time. (My time is slower.) In week one you just start out by running for one minute and taking a minute and a half off. Each time the longest run distance got longer I was worried I would not be able to do it, but I did. It was just enough push.

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I posted this on Facebook on Christmas day when I successfully ran 23 minutes straight.

The first few runs I did with my phone in my hand. That quickly got old and I grabbed this running belt which is now a necessity for me. I use the belt to hold my keys, phone, and anything else I might carry.

For shoes I wore the shoes I already had. I did end up going to the Nike Outlet and grabbing a new pair last month, but I have not felt the need to be fitted for running shoes yet. If I ever start having foot-related problems I’ll go to the local running shop and have them help me pick a better shoe.

So, how was it?  To be completely honest the process was not fun. I did not like running when I started and I still do not like running. Do I still do it? Yes. Why? Because I love continually showing myself that I can do it. But it was doable. It was never too hard.  I am still running and I am running in a “real” 5k later this month. My goal is to continue running for all of 2019 and run a 10k before the end of the year. Will I keep up with the sport after that? I am not sure. We will let time decide.

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The best part of running? Experiencing great sunsets.

I do have three tips for those of you considering this program.

  1. Go slow: I wish someone had told me this before I started. Run slower than you think you even can. This is a mind game and as long as you are running and not walking you’re winning. Worry about going fast later, or never.
  2. Watch your breath: Remember those deep breaths we took in yoga? Bring them out. Ok, maybe not that deep, but be aware of your breath and take longer rather than shorter breaths. Your lungs will thank me.
  3. Just do it: Sorry to rip of Nike here, but this is really what it comes down to. Get dress, lace up, and run. Once you are dressed and ready just go and do it. It is easier to go run than complain and stall going.

I hope this helped those of you curious of the program as well as those wondering about my experience.

Have you run a 5k before? Would you do one now?

2019 Planner Lineup

December 28
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And now, the post you’ve all been waiting for…  (Ok, maybe three of you.) My 2019 planner lineup. Each year I like to sit down and reevaluate what I am using to ensure I am both getting the most bang for my buck as well as using products that really do help me. I don’t want to find myself wasting time trying to use more planners than I need or creating more work for myself. Here is what I came up with for this year:

 

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At home I will be using my DIY Happy Planner. I created this planner for myself when I didn’t love the other Happy Planner options. Read more about it here. I use this planner for all things home such as meal planning, activities, to-dos, my husband’s schedule and more.  This planner spends most of its time on my desk and is a daily reference and a great help through the week.

 

At work I use a Agendio planner housed in a Kikki binder. I love Agendio because they are completely customizable. Add whatever you want and have the planner start whenever you want. I created this custom planner to fit my needs with lots of space for notes and even an area to write down things for at home.  Read more about my experience with Agendio here.

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I keep my work planner at work to help separate my time and I love how this allows me to utilize two different planner styles. For many people one planner is enough, and I have done that in the past, however I really enjoy the work/home separation. For those of you who are self employed or work from home one planner might be enough for you.

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This year I will be using a digital calendar to help keep organized. I don’t like carrying a physical planner everywhere, but I do want to know important dates at a moment’s notice. I have started using Google Calendar which integrates perfectly for home, work, my iPhone, and Apple Watch.  This really helps when I want to jot down a date for a future event or appointment on the go. I have already utilized it a few times and was glad to have access to both my future plans as well as a place to add events. Keep an eye out for future posts about how I integrate this calendar into my planning system.

 

As I have mentioned here and there, I have started using PowerSheets by Lara Casey for goal planning. This is my first year using this system and I will share here about my experiences.  Although this is not as much of a “planner” I wanted to include it here as part of my lineup as it is a resource I will be using regularly.

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I know this is a lot of “stuff.” For most of you, one planner is enough but I feel that this setup really ends up being easier for me than one. Look at your life and see what you feel is good for you, everyone is different and needs really do vary. I know some people use even more planners based on their lives and howe they separate things. My goal is always to be as organized and efficient as possible and if additional planners make you less productive then it is time to find another system.

 

See how I use these this year b y following along on Instagram.

 

 

2019 Planner Guide

December 23
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Still looking for a planner for 2019? I’ve got you covered. Even though it is last minute, there are still tons of great planners out there, and even if you receive it after January 1st, it is fine, you can start planning any day.

First you need to decide what kind of planner you need. Most of my readers are interested in weekly and daily planners. Read a little bit about each of these here and then decide on what you feel is best for you.

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Weekly:

Weekly planners are great for people who like to plan out their week, see the entire week in one view, and mostly use their planner to to record appointments, events, meals, and some tasks. There is not a lot of space for notes, but you might not need notes in your planner. Like stickers? These planners are easy to decorate and super cute. See below for my favorite options for 2019.

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Daily:

Daily planners are great if you need a lot of space to write. Most daily planners have a section for your daily schedule to write down meetings and appointments as well as a section for notes or a long to-do list. One of the downsides of this planner format is that you don’t get to see the entire week in one view. Although you can for sure decorate a daily planner, most users are more focused on their to do list than stickers.

 

Have you decided on which one you need? Here are a few of my favorites for each:

 

Weekly:

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The Happy Planner is one of my favorite budget-friendly weekly planners. Grab one for 2019 here. One thing I love about this planner is that it uses the disc system so you can add, remove, and move pages at will. To see how I use mine click here.

Looking for something with a coil? The Erin Condren Life Planner is for you. This classic weekly planner is sturdy, bright, and super popular. Although these are a little more spending, you can get $10 off yours here.

Looking for something ASAP? I have created a list of weekly planners available on Amazon with two-day prime shipping. This list includes Moleskin and other brands. I have not used these planners, but they have good reviews.

 

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Daily:

One of my favorite daily planners come from Day Designer. These daily planners are coil-bound and super elegant. (Especially the marbled cover!) Their flagship line includes planners that will last the year and look great on your desk.

Looking for something a little more simple? Check out a Simplified flagship planner by Emily Ley. These planners are similar to the Day Designer but a little more simple and in some more fun prints. They also sell weekly planners that are bound like a book.

I am currently using a daily planner from Agendio. These planners are fully customizable so you can select when it begins and what sections are included. You can even add dates to a calendar so they are printed on the planner itself.  See more about mine here. Oh, and did I mention they can be bound, coiled, or sold as inserts? WIN

NOTE: These three brands sell weekly planners as well, so if you’re looking for a great week, check them out as well.

 

So I hope this little roundup has been helpful. If you have more questions or what to show off your choice, tag me in a photo on Instagram! I’m @amberdownsblog

 

Note: Affiliate links are in use on the post. I may receive a small commission for purchases made. This does not affect your price or my opinion of these items. 

 

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Powersheets by Lara Casey

December 10
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I have been aware of Lara Casey and her Powersheets for a few years now and have eyed them every year as they are released but I never bit the bullet and bought them. This year I Finally changed that.

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Powersheets are designed to help you realize your goals and then make them happen. Lara (Author of Make it Happen and Cultivate) guides you through a workbook that gets you to dig deep into your needs and desires. Once you have gone down to the core of your goals she then provides steps to guide you into creating action steps for getting these things from goals to action to done.

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Although the Powersheets look like a planner, they are really more of a guide and accessory to your planner. With weekly, monthly, and quarterly checkins to help you see where you are and gauge progres. I store my Powersheets on my desk within easy sight so that I access them regularly.

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Every Sunday I sit down and plan out the next week. This is a time where I go over schedules, meal plans, goals, and tasks. I will add time with my Powersheets to this weekly meeting with myself to check in on where I am at with my goals.

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I have not yet gone over the preliminary sheets in my Powersheets as I am waiting until mid-December, but I plan to take some time, grab some coffee, and really sit down and connect with myself and find my real goals and intentions. I will share again here about it once I find my goals. I may not share all of them as they will be personal, but I plan to share some as well as more about this process.  I truly hope that this investment helps me find the best in myself and to get the most of of my next year.

Powersheets are on sale now for 2019. Join me in making this the best year yet by being intentional with our goals.

Have you used Powersheets? What did you think of them?

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Please note: Affiliate links are in use on this page. If you purchase powersheets I will receive a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay and this helps fund running this site.  Thanks!

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My favorite gifts on Amazon

November 28
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I love Amazon for gifting. I always wait to grab something at the last minute, so with two-day shipping I can get gifts just in the nick of time. Today I am sharing a few of my giftable favorites from Amazon that are perfect for your or a loved one.  Click the link to be directed to my Amazon page where you can see m favorites and what I like about each item.

 

Happy Gifting!

 


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Find these items, as well as my other Amazon favorites here.

 

 

Amazon.con Holiday gift ideas

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Holiday Home Tour 2018

November 25
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Well Thanksgiving is finally over so it is time to decorate for the holidays. I shared about how I decorated my home in 2016, but I wanted to share more about my style and system here again for 2018. My husband and I both love holiday decorating and it is for sure a family affair for us, but we have also been taking the time in recent years to focus on how to decorate and make our home festive without too much effort, space, or time.  In this tour I’ll share tips on how to decorate in a way that is simple and enjoyable without being a burden or making your home look cluttered.

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I love having the Christmas tree in front of a window facing the street. Growing up, we did not have a front window that worked for a tree and I always loved driving by homes with visible trees. Before we even made an offer on our home I knew where our tree would go and we use that spot every year. The tree is at the corner of two windows so it has lots of street visibility to spread lots of holiday cheer. If you don’t have a spot  by the window, no need to fear, it is just something I have always enjoyed. Of course, if you are in the market for a new home, do consider tree placement if that is important to you. Not having a great place for a tree can be super annoying as it leads to the tree aways being in the way and that can start to take some of the joy out of the season.

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We decorate our tree with family ornaments and some fillers. I know trendy trees are always in, but I am not in the market to spend money on pieces that hold not sentimental value and that I will discard after only a few years. This Library of Congress ornament was purchased after we were engaged in their lobby. It is for sure one of my favorites.

If you don’t have family ornaments yet consider asking parents or grandparents if they have some they could hand down to you. We love buying ornaments while traveling  and now have special decorations commemorating our engagement, anniversary, and other special events. This makes our decorating time extra special as we get to reminisce on these events in our lives while we decorate. Oh, and yes, our tree skirt is just an old tablecloth. If you need a skirt check your linen closet. No need to spend money on a fancy one, you probably have something that can be used and then put back. One less thing to store!

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Our decorating tradition is after Thanksgiving, once the guests have left, we have a few drinks and put up the tree. This is special to both of us and something we always do together. As I mentioned before, it is a time to remember the past, celebrate our time together, and get excited for the season ahead of us. Charlie always plays his christmas playlist, and when it is cool enough out we light the fireplace. Afterwards you can usually find us cuddled on the sofa in our holiday pajamas. This is truly one of my favorite parts of the season.

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This year I did go a little further and purchased a small flocked tree for our bedroom. I wanted to add a little bit of holiday twinkle to that space, and this tree was perfect. I added some inexpensive decorations from Amazon and the Dollar Tree and I love how it turned out. Will I keep this tree next year? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will only put it up if I have the time, energy, and space. When decorating becomes work then it is just not worth it.

 

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We have some household decorations which we put out here and there throughout the house. Some of these are heirloom pieces like Charlie’s nutcrackers and some are fun finds. I always like to take a moment when deciding what to put out to think about items that match the feel of the space and are not to distracting. Although I enjoy decor, in the end I still want out home to have a cohesive, relaxing feel. Our goal is for decor to be an accent and not an intrusion. If decorations are to loud we move them or rehome them. Heirloom decorations can be held on to for future use but not put out if needed. I also like to remember that we don’t have to keep everything. Just because a former coworker in 2007 gave us an item does not mean it needs to be on your tree or in your home. Feel free to take a photo and then donate it for someone else to enjoy. (This is totally one of the Marie Kondo tips I love.)

My grandmother gifted her Christmas Village one year. I was so excited to put it up the following year, but it was so much stuff that it ended up being so much work for me. There was so much stuff to go through that it was just overwhelming. I ended up getting rid of most of the “stuff” and just kept the main kit. My grandmother had wanted to get rid of the village, and nobody else wanted it, so I was not offending anyone by cutting dow the collection some. Now I have a nice, easy to store set that I can use or hold on to. We did not put it out this year, but I do intend to keep it for future use.

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When decorating shelves I love to add just a few holiday elements to our usual decor. This add color and a pop without removing all my things. I did this with our coffee bar shelf (below) as well as in our dining room (above).

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Any nicknacks that I replace with holiday decor are placed in one of our decoration tubs. This way when we go to put everything away we will find our other things.  Speaking of storage, when we put everything aways for the season I like to take a few minute to divide the “holiday stuff” by type so that next year I can easily find what I need. I have a tub for main tree ornaments, gifting supplies, home decor, party supplies, and extras. This way I can go in and find what I need without opening everything.

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We do decorate the exterior of our home each year. We just add a simple strand of white LED c9 lights which give our home a classic look. Our personal rule for this, like everything else, is that it only goes up if we have the time and energy. Right now all our decorating work fits in to one day and we enjoy it. Take down is just as easy. I never want to add so much “stuff” that it takes days to remove. It is just not worth it to me.

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How do you handle decorating for the holidays? Do you go all out or keep it simple?