zero-waste decorations for fall.
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.
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.
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 garland.
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.)