Ask Design Mom: Christmas Decorations

December 4, 2006

A terrific Ask Design Mom question from Lindsay:

What cool Christmas decorations can you recommend for a family like mine? We live in a very small apartment with a 2-year-old and an infant and have a tight budget. We don’t have room for a tree this year, so we’re a little disappointed. Any suggestions?

Um. Don’t have room for a tree? Total bummer. I’m tempted to be obnoxious and ask where are you priorities? Can you really not live without your kitchen table/couch/bed for a month while you make room for a Christmas tree? (Joking, of course.)

Luckily, even without a tree, it doesn’t take much to make your house feel really Christmasy. Here’s a little direction — keeping your tight budget in mind:

1) Think about the 5 senses. Put a little something Christmas in each room so you can see Christmas wherever you are in the apartment. Have some holiday spices simmering on the stove. Bake your Christmas favorites. Play Christmas music while you work through your day. Put on a cozy sweater.

2) Take advantage of votives. So inexpensive. You can get a bag of 100 for like $5 at Michaels or Ikea or Amazing Savings/Odd Jobs. Put them in votive holders (basic glass ones are also inexpensive, usually around 50 cents) and put them on bookshelves and counters and windowsills and anywhere your 2 year old can’t reach. Light them in the evenings and on gray/cold days. They go a long way toward making things feel festive. And one bag should get you through the month. Aim for a few groups of 3 and 5 throughout the apartment.

3) Put a wreath on your door. You’ll feel more holiday-like everytime you arrive home. You can buy a classic fresh fir wreath at any grocery store for around $10 or less. Replace the cheesy red velveteen bow with a pretty ribbon scrap you’ve saved from a gift. If you don’t keep ribbon around, ask one of your crafty neighbors.

4) Use ornaments to decorate — even without a tree. Ornaments are cheap. (Not all ornaments, but lots of ornaments.) Again, make use of Amazing Savings/Ikea/Target. They all offer containers of simple-good-looking-inexpensive ornaments. Fill empty glass vases or pretty bowls or trifle dishes you have on hand with the ornaments. I love seeing glass containers full of shiny glass balls or glittery snowflakes. Set a container on the nightstand, by the tv, on the kitchen counter, or near the votives. If you have ornaments you love from past years, display them in a basket or bowl or tray.

Even if you just followed these suggestions: wreath, containers of ornaments and votives — and did nothing else, your house would feel pretty darn festive. And I bet you could manage the whole thing for about $25 or less. If you want to go for more than these basics, here are a few more ideas:

5) Stockings. Lots of choices out there. Some cheaper than others. Pretty easy to sew if you do any sewing at all. If you don’t have a mantle, hang them on a bed post, or in a window — we hang ours on the banister.

6) Get a small artificial tree — maybe about 18″. Expect to pay about $10. Add a small string of twinkle lights, $5 or less, and put it in the Nursery on the dresser. It will function as a nightlight and your 2 year old will think she’s died and gone to heaven. You don’t even need to put on ornaments, the twinkle lights can be enough on a small tree. And don’t pretend it’s supposed to be your real Christmas tree — that would just be depressing. Let it be an accent in a bedroom. Think less is more. Keep the twinkle lights one color.

7) Don’t wait to wrap your presents. Find wrapping paper you like, maybe 2 or 3 coordinating rolls of something really holiday. Wrap the presents as you buy them and — since you don’t have a tree — start stacking them around the apartment in small groups. They’ll function as decorations until Christmas morning.

8) Devise a way to display the Christmas cards you’ll receive. And not just Christmas cards. Invitations, cute notes, 2 year old artwork, anything that looks like December. Hang several floor to ceiling ribbons on a bare wall or door and attach cards with pins/staples/tape.

9) Keep any Christmas books or December magazines you own on the coffee table or in some conspicuous spot. Don’t own any? Go to the library.

10) In a small apartment, you may get the most bang for your buck by designating one spot as the Christmas decoration spot and creating a small good-looking display. Maybe clear off one shelf of a bookshelf at eye level and put every Christmas thing you own together for a really holiday focal point.

Okay. There’s a start. Good luck. And as usual, I’m sure Design Mom readers will chime in with brilliant comments.

pic from Martha.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lindsey December 4, 2006 at 8:42 am

Thanks, Design Mom! You gave me so many great suggestions–a bunch of things I never would have thought of. Time for me to get decorating.


2 Debbie W. December 4, 2006 at 11:07 am

Design mom gave some great suggestions! When we were first married I began decorating with fruit and have continued this tradition now every year. Nothing makes a statement and says “Christmas” to me more than a big bowl of fruit. I think it looks best to stick with one type of fruit in each container. For example:
1. Big shiny Red Delicious apples with some cinnamon sticks tucked in
2. Every year my kids enjoy decorating oranges with cloves-so fragrant and pretty
3. My mom always has a big bowl of persimmons on her counter just waitng for persimmon pie
4. And I love pomegranates! A beautiful bowl with some greenery tucked in is so merry!
5. Don’t forget lemons and limes–I love the citrus smell and look!

Walnuts and hazelnuts mixed with the fruit looks wonderful too. Just go to the best produce store around and you’ll find some great ideas that won’t break the bank.


3 Jenni December 4, 2006 at 11:28 am

try a little rosemary topiary, both functional and festive, i see them all over for a pretty low price. when we had our first little baby, we opted for a little potted christmas tree and put it on the table so he couldn’t knock it over etc. i loved that. also, sugared fruit looks pretty sitting out too and you can put all your culinary skills into that. string cranberries for garland and hang over a doorway or window…and don’t forget the mistletoe!


4 Megan December 4, 2006 at 1:58 pm

What spices would you use? How do you prepare them for mulling on the stove?


5 Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 2:26 pm

we’re not getting a tree either lIndsey. here is what i did to spice up the decor. i hang faux garland around my main closet and the tv stand, wrap with faux red berries (on sale at michaels) and then hang our ornaments on them. the kid ornaments go down low so afton can play with them. i also buy ribbon i love and tie bows around everything…lamps, curtain rods, door handles.


6 Azúcar December 4, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Suspend ornaments from the ceiling on fishing line. SO fun to look at. You could do them over your dining table for a “chandelier” effect, or just over different areas in a room for fun holiday decoration.


7 Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 8:23 pm

My favorite tip – and super cheap! – is paper snowflakes. You can make the flat kind, but I like to fold the paper like a fan, staple the middle, cut each side the same way, and then open it out and tape each end. Then I hang them from the ceiling in little groups. I like to make all different sizes – very pretty!


8 Anonymous December 13, 2006 at 1:11 pm

target has some great garlands that once hung look super real–i then took wire ribbon in a red and olive stripe and wound throughout with jeweled bids clipped here and there–over both doorways

apples and acorns in bowls, i also love


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