6 Festive, Frugal Ways to Spruce Up Your Home for the Holidays

Photo: bwats2

Commit this to memory: There is such a thing as too much.

Ever been to someone’s home at holiday time, and it looked as if the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Gaudy got blitzed on eggnog and vomited yuletide cheer all over the place? Singing wreaths on every door. Electric candles in all the windows. Blinking boughs of holly strung across the ceiling. And that’s just the basement.

People tend lose their minds as soon as the red-and-green rubber tubs come out of storage. My parents, for instance, place a five-foot-tall, animatronic, talking Santa Claus in the middle of their living room — like he’s part of the family. No matter where you go, the guy stares you down with his beady, black eyes, watching and waiting, I’m convinced, to make his move. It’s beyond creepy.

That’s exactly what happens when you don’t use discretion when decorating for the holidays — you scare the bejesus out of your loved ones and they refuse to visit. Then it’s just you and your soulless robot-elf friend stuffing your faces with fruitcake and watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time. Oh, the irony.

There is a solution, however, and it’s simple: Don’t go overboard. Keep it classy. Set a budget.

Believe it or not, you can decorate for Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah — whatever you’re celebrating — without alienating your family and drawing the ire of your neighbors. The best part is you can do it in fresh, fun ways without going broke. Here’s how.

Take Inventory

Twice a year — in the spring and fall — I clean out my closet. The rule is, if I haven’t worn an item in more than a year, it gets donated to charity. I institute a similar rule with holiday decorations. If I didn’t use an item last year — and I don't plan to use it this year — it must go. There’s no point in keeping things that you’re not going to use. They take up space, create clutter, and will eventually make you a candidate for an A&E documentary. Take a moment to love the item, cherish it, and say your goodbyes. Then put it in a bag with all the other past-its-prime junk and exchange it for a sweet tax-deductible receipt. If you’re still feeling bad about tossing it out, remember that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. You’re not throwing it away, but rather providing happiness to a stranger. Yeah, go with that.

Use Good Judgment

When you get dressed in the morning, do you put on every accessory you own? No. Why? Because you’d look stupid. Now transfer that logic to your home and ask yourself, would I put up every decoration I own? No, you wouldn’t, for a similar reason — your house will look a hot merry mess. Thus, after you’ve chosen the items that will go to charity, do another inspection. Are there items in your stash that you definitely want to display? Likewise, are there items that could be stowed away until next year? Sure there are. Put out the decorations that you can’t live without and store the others until next year. Your visitors will appreciate it. Heck, they might even stay for dessert.

Survey the Room

Before you start plastering every inch of your home with holiday paraphernalia, stand in each room for a couple minutes and devise your plan. Choose a few items from your inventory and place them around. Remember that you don’t have to overdo it; a little goes a long way. Plus, an even distribution of decorations will create balance from space to space. Also, try not to remove year-round décor to accommodate holiday swag. If you’re relegating cherished family photos to the hall closet from October to December, you’ve got too much stuff.

Make Your Own

Instead of buying new items, consider DIY decorations. Personally, I like to have one-of-a-kind pieces, and original art is the best way to accomplish this. You can pick up a bundle of magazines at holiday time that will teach you how to make all sorts of neat stuff. Blank canvases are inexpensive too, and they’re perfect for creating lasting family memories, especially when you involve the brood. Pick up some paint, brushes, and smocks and let the kids use their imaginations to make holiday-perfect wall hangings that will fill a void in your home for years to come — especially after they’ve left the nest.

Get Thrifty

Before you head to the nearest discount department store to stock up, try your local thrift shop. Remember when I said that one person’s trash is another’s treasure? Well, that applies to you too. You never know what hidden gem you’ll uncover at a Goodwill or Salvation Army. To save even more money, find out when deeper discounts are offered. Some shops have days — generally during the week — where specially marked merchandise is on super-sale.

Hit Up the Sales

An experienced shopper knows never to pay retail, and holiday decorations are no exception. Every year I head to Target for its annual unloading of all things seasonal, because prices plummet the day after Christmas. But, beware: Dec. 26 is for amateurs only. In fact, I don’t go until Jan. 3 or later — for several reasons.

The first is that stores are a mob scene right after Christmas. Everybody is returning unwanted gifts and trying to get new items on discount. I avoid this situation at all costs. A measly 25 percent off is not worth the headache. The second reason is that directly after Christmas the items aren’t discounted heavily. You might find up to 50 percent off, but if you wait until after New Year’s, you can scoop up bargains at up to 90 percent off — and that’s major money saved.

But I know what you’re thinking — by then, all the good stuff will be gone. Perhaps. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, which brings me to reason number three of why I wait until Jan. 3 to stock up for next year. By waiting until most of the heap is picked through, I lessen the chance that I’m going to buy on impulse. How can I? There’s not much left. I’m smarter about my purchases at that point and able to make informed decisions on whether I really need an item or not. Your goal should be twofold — to save cash and to replenish your supplies of wrapping paper, tape, ribbons, cards, etc. That's it. Stock up and walk out. You do not need that animatronic, talking Santa Claus. Trust me.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning writer/journalist and the founder of Paper Rox Scissors, a copywriting and creative consulting company in New York City. His work has appeared on CNN.com, LifeStylerMag.com, BrokeAssStuart.com and Recessionwire.com, among many others. He can be reached at mikey@paperroxscissors.com. Read more by Mikey:

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Guest's picture

I like the line about the accessories. This really reminded me of my Grandmother, but she enjoys going all out. I think she's just accumulated things over the years. Each year a new dancing Santa or ticklish elf will catch her attention and she just has to have it. I do mind when she starts getting us these things as well. I've sent I don't know how many knick-knacks, festive stuffed animals, decorative dishes, and holiday clothing to goodwill. Why on earth would I want a Santa cookie jar? I'd have to find a place to store it 11 months out of the year and our apartment is tiny! I prefer natural and homemade decorations anyway. I like this opportunity to get creative and project with my husband.

Guest's picture

Since I no longer have small children at home, we really simplified our decorating. We put wreaths on all of our doors, inside and out, hang stockings along the stairs, put up the tree and use some accent bath & table linens. No tchotchkes, got rid of the 50 million snowmen, angels and Santas that cluttered up every surface of the house. It looks simple and a lot less gaudy this way. Plus, it's easier to pack up at the end of the season.

Andrea Karim's picture

Yes, this! I swear, just reading your comment lowered my blood pressure by about 15 points.

Andrea Karim's picture

"Ever been to someone’s home at holiday time, and it looked as if the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Gaudy got blitzed on eggnog and vomited yuletide cheer all over the place?"

That is, hands down, the best sentence ever written on Wise Bread.

Even though I'm not religious, I do enjoy the holiday season and most of what comes with it. When we were young, my parents kept everything very simple - they had a collection of Christmas ornaments that were more or less all handmade. For decorations, we put up lights and painted the front windows with Christmas scenes. They looked pretty neat, if a bit amateur, when all lit up.

I always thought that our tree was incredibly beautiful. As the years have gone by, my mother has collected more store-bought decorations that are very pretty, but do tend to take up a lot of time and thought (and storage!).

Although I've lived on my own for several years, I've staunchly refused to build any collection of holiday stuff. We get a fresh wreath every year from a charity that I decorate, and I put some LED lights up around the door, and maybe plant some white decorative cabbage in the pots outside the front door, but that's about it for now.

One thing that I've heard of that people can use to help limit their Christmas decoration spending is to pick an unusual Christmas color palette. For instance, blue and brown. Or pink. Or beige. That way, your ability to find more stuff that fits in with your accepted colors is limited. Although I guess there really is no shortage of pink flamingo ornaments this year.

Meg Favreau's picture

It's not quite as bad as that hilariously terrifying animatronic Santa, but I considered it a big win a couple of years ago when my mother announced she was getting rid of the first-grader-sized Mr. and Mrs. Claus that would hang out on the landing of the stairs every December. Now my parents still put up decorations, but they've pared it down, with more focus on the sentimental.

Andrea Karim's picture

My parents also have an animatronic Santa and Mrs. Claus, and when they move, their arms make noises that sound very much like a fart. My dad stubbornly puts them up every year and then urges us not to laugh at the moving arm farts. Nobody has ever succeeded in keeping a straight face.