6 steps to a relaxed Christmas: decorate simply

You might have already decorated your house for Christmas, but we’re just now in the thick of it. Our holiday gear is sorta all over the place, having moved a few months ago, so like every year, our overall goal is “simple and sane.”

I like the personal challenge of upcycling, going handmade, and otherwise thirfting as much as possible, and the kids love this just as much as myself (if not more). I don’t have as much time this year to completely decorate from scratch, what with an ever-looming book deadline, but I do want our home to feel festive.

So this week’s step for a more relaxed Christmas? Decorate your home. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with decor ideas when you scroll Pinterest, so I say stick simple and thoughtfully curated decor—less is more. Here are some of my favorite finds around the Internet for simple, doable decor inspiration, along with some of our own.

We’ll bring out the string balls we made a few years ago, and we may make a few more. I like the idea of stringing them together for garland.

Our Jesse Tree is a simple mason jar with twigs from the yard. Done. And last year I made ornaments with Shrinky Dinks.

Last year I made a yarn sweater wreath:

It was simple but time-consuming—I kept the supplies in the car and wound the base yarn whenever I was a passenger. Once that was done, I had the wool felt diamonds and contrasting criss-cross yarn done in a movie’s worth.

In a few weeks, we’re all going to show you our festooned homes for Nester’s Christmas Tour of Homes, but for now, here are some of my family’s decor inspiration.

Tomato cages plus a strand of lights equals a simple Christmas tree:

We don’t yet have our fireplace installed, so this weekend I bought some old skis at the thrift shop, thanks to this photo—a simple spot for hanging stockings:

I bought one at the hardware store this weekend, too, because I want to put our tree in a galvanized tub:

Popcorn string with dental floss—of course. Fun movie-watching craft:

We might get some dollar store animals (or the animals the kids no longer play with) and cover them with glitter for a fun winter scene:

Mason jars with Epsom salt makes for sweet votive candle holders:

I love this free “Joy to the World” printable:

And finally, I think gifts make up just as much of the decor as the decor itself, so I’m digging the new Martha Stewart line from Staples.

Classic with a hint of retro, it fits our family well. And I love that it’s shipping paper—nice and thick; easy to wrap.

So your task this week? Decorate your home without losing your head. Keep it simple. Less is more.


Head here to watch for all of this year’s six steps (and feel free to pin it to make it easy for you to find).

What’s one of your favorite items you have in your home for the holidays?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Even more than decorating with simple items, I like to decorate sparingly. We put up a tree. We hang stockings from the mantel and I put a garland on top of it. A collection of Christmas picture books (built each year from the time my kids were babies), and baby pictures with Santa go on the bookshelves. Our advent calendar. And that’s about it. Takes less than an afternoon to get it all up (and away after the new year). It feels different, and it feels festive, and that’s all it takes to feel like Christmas to me.

    • Yes! Very much agree. We don’t have much at all—if it ever gets elaborate, it’s the kids’ Christmas drawings taped all over the place. 🙂

    • We also have sparse decorations. I started paring down a few years ago when I realized how much I disliked having to take them all down after Christmas (so much work for a display that lasts only 30 days). So now we have our Christmas tree, plus an advent calendar that I made this year. Oh, and like Tsh said – the kids’ Christmas artwork taped to the wall! Honestly, I don’t miss the rest of it!

    • Rita, your decorating style sounds like mine. In our house, decorating is pretty much confined to the entry and living room. Our rooms are not large, so it doesn’t take much to move from “cozy” to “crowded.” Simple is key!

  2. Love the “Joy to the World” printable – thanks for linking to it!
    My best idea this year for a simple, uncluttered decor, was buying inexpensive red paper lampshades at Ikea, and swapping them out for the 3 white ones we have hanging in our living room. Easy! They’re the lantern-style ones, so after Christmas I’ll just flatten them and stow them back under the bed for safekeeping.

  3. I love that you made your wreath while being a passenger in the car, that is how I get most of my knitting done. My favorite Christmas decorations are the simple wood cut out decorations you can get at craft stores for less than .50 cents that I had the kids color with felts many years ago. They grown at the horrible job they did, but I cherish the memories of how little they once were.

  4. We made those string balls last year after your post on them. I brought them back out this year and Ethan is excited about making more. We also did the tomato cage Christmas tree this year. So easy and fun to make. I’m planning on covering JOY letters in Christmas prints and those Epsom salts jars look amazingl I’m all about simple decorating!

  5. Our main decorating is our tree…at least until the kids get a little older 🙂 I love decorating the tree though, because I was gifted ornaments every year since I was born and it is fun to look through all those, as well as now seeing the ornaments that my kids have received since their births.

  6. This year we are moving on the 21st of dec, so my usual all consuming decorating habit has been cut down to a little 2 ft tree 3 stockings and two outdoor led 2ft trees for our front door. It’s funny, but it still feels like christmas even though I didn’t spend 6 hrs putting up our 9ft tree (sold it on craigslist) The idea for the tomato cage trees is BRILLIANT!

  7. I am simplifying my Christmas decorations. I have put up about half of what I normally do, and you know what? I don’t miss it, and it still looks good.

  8. Love this post! And love your wreath. I tend to get a little carried away at times with the decorating or fussing about how old our decorations have gotten.. But then, I get a nice reminder like this from the Universe and am back to being sparing and simple with our decorating. Bliss! An added bonus is keeping the decorations away also doesn’t take long at all:-)

  9. I have been letting my kids decorate for the last 5 years. I get everything out and they can put it where they want to. The mantle is where they choose to put the Nutcracker collection and we put the creche on the front hall table for all to see that enter our home. Other things go here or there, whatever they choose. It’s not about a perfect house but about letting them take ownership of the decorations. They are now 15, 20 and 24 now and btw all have Down syndrome. I will add my house looks fabulous!

  10. This is a treasure trove! I really wish I’d seen the tomato-cage-as-Christmas-tree idea before we bought a more elaborate lighted mini-tree. There’s always time to take it back, though!

  11. My goal is to not buy any decorations this year, including a tree. So its back to the fake three foot tree from before we had kids. We have it up on the sideboard, so its out of reach of little hands (a big stress last year) and right next to our Nativity sets, which the kids are way more into than the tree. I did make a hanging advent calendar with salt dough Christmas trees (pictures on my blog) and I’m loving it the most!

    I just want to say how much this series help me really enjoy this season so much more. Our holidays have been so much less stressful since we had kids and I found your blog. THANK YOU!!

  12. A couple of years ago, my Father-in-Law sent us stockings with our names in Chinese on them. They are absolutely gorgeous and unique. Now that we have another baby on the way, I’m afraid we won’t be able to have one made for her that will match!

  13. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Loving it, Tsh. Between the Simple Design post on how to decorate with lights, and a couple of minimalist Christmas tree ornament how to’s I should be set to decorate soon!

    Thanks for this coupon for Staples, too. I about had a fit when I found out that Martha Stewart and Avery teamed up. And now Christmas things are involved?! Hold me back!

  14. I always keep it simple just because we haven’t accumulated much, but I try to do one small homemade thing a year. This year it’s cinnamon ornaments.

  15. oh, I LOVE the tomato cage wrapped with lights! We are keeping Christmas decorations really simple here this year, but next year I might even skip the tree as we will have a newly crawling baby in a smallish house. I will have to remember this (or have pinterest remember it for me!).

  16. I am loving the string balls! We just cut down our tree today and decorated. The Christmas spirit has arrived! My new favorite Pandora station… Baby It’s Cold Outside – Zooey Deschanel. Sweet holiday mix.

  17. Love those string balls! Years ago, I started making a garland by tying strips of homespun material onto lengths of jute. Every year, I take some time to add to the garland. It is getting close to covering the whole tree!

  18. Sarah-Jayne says:

    I love how you’ve decorated the tree! I’m getting Christmas decorators in this weekend, I love the house when it’s trimmed ready for Christmas!

  19. I love the Jesse Tree mason jar idea. Thanks for the great idea and the reminder to keep things simple!

  20. Oh I LOVE this post. May need a galvanized tub for next year…
    I love to decorate for Christmas, I really do, but this year we are going very minimal, because our new home has much less horizontal display space compared to our old home. The VAST majority of our Christmas decor is made to sit on a shelf or table (wall space was lacking in our old home). I was fretting about where we would hang our stockings– we had stocking hangers that sat on the shelves of our built-in entertainment center at the old house, but no shelves or mantel in the new house. Then I realized our banister had as many spindles as we have family members, so we will be hanging them there.

    I’m actually enjoying the minimal decore this year.

  21. There are some really good ideas here; I am going to use them in my home! I have been put in charge of decorations at my work place; I love coming across inspiration. I may end up getting professional help though!

  22. I absolutely love the old skis idea! What a cute solution for stockings!

    My favorite thing in my house is a felt Christmas tree that I made for my son so that he can decorate his own tree. It’s simple, cute, and helps him keep his busy little hands off MY tree!

  23. I love that tomato cage idea! I think I might put my cages to use for front yard decorations, since they still have some dirt on them from the summer’s tomato plants! I think I’ll have to consider those string balls this year, too. One thing I want to do each year now is to make dehydrated oranges for the tree and decorating; we have prolific orange tree in our backyard and I love to bring that natural element in to our decorating (just saw a post on Apartment Therapy about this that was so inspiring!).

  24. I will visit your blog again into a couple off days to check if you have some new articles.

  25. I love the Christmas atmosphere and buying some new Christmas decorations is an inseparable part of it. But to be honest, the idea of making my own decorations never came to my mind because of the lack of time typical of this period. But now I see these wonderful products and I have to say they look even better then the stuff I usually buy at Vancouver Christmas market which is one of the most visited events here in Vancouver every December. Now I can say I will definitely add some handmade decorations to the ones I have collected over the last years.

  26. Verena Dorris says:

    I might put my cages to use for front yard decorations, since they still have some dirt on them from the summer’s tomato plants!

  27. Lizzie Saito says:

    I love your Christmas Tree idea! I simply love the wooden tags and dove ornaments and will adapt these ideas for my tree. Though, I’d still add hand blown glass figurines that will make my tree beautiful and mesmerizing (I buy them from eBay and

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